ROSEMARI & JOHNNY RICE
by Thomas Takao
On a clear and sunny day with a sea breeze flowing I walked into the garden of Rosemari and Johnny Rice. Johnny was sitting on a bench table next to a small pond just off to the side and Rosemari was nearby the kitchen porch. After saying Hi to Johnny and waving to Rosemari, I sat down across from Johnny. Rosemari walks up and joins us. We were talking about how things were and the surf. I had stopped by before and talked to Johnny about his adventures. There are stories and article about Johnny in surfing magazines and in local newspapers; his legend has span two continents.
But not much is known of his wife Rosemari who was one the top female surfers in Hermosa Beach during the late 1950’s and early 60’s. There were hints of her abilities from the photos in Johnny shaping room and in their house. With that in mind I asked her about her early beginnings in surfing and how she met Johnny. With the sound of water falling beside us, she told me her story.
It seemed like only yesterday she said when wearing a cashmere sweater, a wool dress and white buck shoes in high school. On this one occasion she was looking across the campus and could see Johnny looking at her. This was the start of their relationship at Mira Costa High School in 1954; he was a junior and she a sophomore. It wasn’t long before they were attending the school dance.
Johnny was a surfer who was learning to become a surfboard shaper. Rosemari lived in Hermosa Beach and enjoy everything about the ocean. As she explained there walks along the beach in her teenage years, sitting at the beach where the sand sloped to the water’s edge. The afternoon winds would blow her hair into a windswept style as she watch the surfers riding the waves. Thinking how fun it would be to do so and wanted to do it, but needed someone to teach her. It wasn’t long after Rosemari met Johnny that she would be on a surfboard and surfing.
Johnny was working for Dale Velzy’s surf shop in Venice, sanding and learning how to shape. One day Velzy told Johnny to test paddle one of the boards at his shop. So Johnny got Rosemari to do the paddling since this would help her in gaining more experience in handling a surfboard. They walked across the street and down into the Venice Canal. “The thing I hated was when you would get in and out of the canal, it had a mushy mud shoreline. Feeling the crabs on the bottom of my feet and trying to move away with each step that I took” said Rosemari remembering that day.
Johnny had an old 1930 Milk Panel Truck that got him where he wanted to go, only problem was that he had to pop the clutch to get going. Either he would park it on a hill or have someone push him to get going. Rosemari soon learned if she wanted to get somewhere with Johnny she had to push him. They would travel from school to their favorite spots around town. Places like the Manhattan Beach Pier, the Hermosa Beach Pier, the Palos Verdes Cove and to Venice where he worked. Then there were the times he would take her surfing.
Since the waves in Hermosa Beach were more difficult to teach on back then. Johnny would take Rosemari and her brother to San Onofre. Where the waves rolled and had better shape, compared to the Hermosa Beach’s waves which would wall up and collapses all at once. Inspired by Rosemari, Johnny shaped and glassed his first surfboard for her, wanting it to be the best for his girlfriend to learn on. This surfboard was special for Rosemari too, it was the first time a boyfriend had built something for her. It was a balsa surfboard with dark blue pigment and had her name across the nose of the board in yellow letters. His gift was like music to her. She breath his song and her heart sang.
There seemed to have been parties every weekend and the Manhatten Beach Pier was the place to be. Those who were there were either friends or a friend of a friend. A special group of Hawaiians would show up, Alan Gomes, Chubby Mitchell, George Kepo’o to name a few. There were others but their names have been forgotten over the years since those days. Those who attended would bring varies item, somebody would bring the snacks, someone else would bring different meats, cold cuts and bread while somebody else would bring the drinks. With the make shift luau happening, anyone who happened to be there were welcomed. After the meal some of the Hawaiians would play their Ukuleles and Slack Key guitars and would sing songs that they knew.
With darkness settling in and the flames of the camp fire creating a glow for the melody to transformed those listening into a tropical frame of mind. The fingers gliding across the neck of the ukuleles and guitars were like the trade winds through the palm fronds. The listener’s mood would sway with the thought of Hawaiian surf rolling to shore. Into the night they would play as the sound of the surf nearby added its measure to the ambience. Rosemari and Johnny held hands and viewed the moment with warmth. Well into the night the flames from the pit swirled and kindled their young love for one another.
Those were the days when surfing was growing. Just a few of the beach cities had a gathering of surfers and the South Bay was one of them. The guys would plan surf trips to far off places like Rincon, San Onofre and San Diego. San Onofre was the main spot for those in San Diego and the South Bay to meet and surf. Not long after going steady, Rosemari and Johnny would drive down to San Onofre in the old milk panel truck with the boards in the back. Many a times they would take Rosemari’s little brother with them and he would have to sit in the back with no windows to look out of. Sitting there on top of the surfboards, he was always asking "are we there yet?"
Rosemari and her brother were athletic and enjoyed being in the ocean. They both caught on quick to riding a surfboard and looked forward to each surf trip Johnny would take them on. Johnny would teach Rosemari how to surf on her balsa surfboard that he made. “One thing I will always remember Johnny telling me, never take your hands off the board until your feet are under you and I still tell people that today” said Rosemari. Continuing with her story on a return trip from San Onofre and they were driving through Laguna Beach. Johnny was talking about surfing and surfboards when through the corner of his eye a dress catches his attention. It was an oriental style dress with a mandrian collar and a slit along the seam line.
He pulls the panel truck over and parks it in front of Waltah Clarks Dress shop. With Rosemari in hand they enter the dress shop. The clerk comes up to the teenage couple and asked can I help you. Johnny says to the clerk ” Would you have that dress in the display in her size” pointing to Rosemari. After returning from the stock room the clerk said she did. Rosemari tried it on and looked into the mirror. A few hours earlier she was surfing in her bathing suit and hanging out at the beach. Now she was putting on a stylish dress in Laguna Beach and making Johnny feel like a fashion designer watching his top model getting ready for the runway.
He bought the dress for Rosemari and they were back on the road again. Johnny resumes his conversation where he had left off. Rosemari still thinking of the dress and what has just happened, she answers Johnny back regarding the waves. They passed Thalia Street and the Greeter waved to them as they drove by. Leaving Laguna Beach behind, Hermosa Beach is still a couple of hours away.
There was this one time Rosemari mentioned about she and her friends Sandi and Judy stole (more like borrowed) a car from Dick Henderson. The guys were going to Trestles and didn’t have room for the girls. Rosemari, Sandi and Judy wanted to go and would not be left behind. They convinced a guy who they knew, that they had lost their key to the car and needed to get somewhere. He obliged by hot-wiring the ignition for them. They weren’t the Ra Ra or the Goody Goody type, but were in a class of their own. They were beach girls with a free spirit, the ones that many of the surfers would marry.
Anyway they were driving down Pacific Coast Highway after the guys in a stolen car. With Judy behind the wheel and Rosemari sitting shotgun the girls were on their way. They could hardly wait to see the guy’s faces when they walked up to them at Trestles. As they passed Lomita the discussion was about school and the latest gossip about so and so. Crossing the bridge from Wilmington into Long Beach, they talked about the Pike.
It wasn’t long before they approached the Long Beach Traffic Circle in the fast lane. Both the fast and slow lane entered the circle. If you were in the fast lane meant that there would be traffic on their right side. With oncoming traffic from Pacific Coast Highway going north, Los Coyotes Diagonal going west and Lakewood Blvd. heading south all merging into the Circle. After going around in a circle a few times, Judy got in the outer part of the Traffic Circle. She put her foot to the floor and made a dash for the street outlet. Unfortunately for her it was Pacific Coast Highway going back from where she came. Judy looked at Rosemari and Sandi with the expression of do you want to drive.
Looking at the gas gauge the needle pointed to empty, showing no sign of movement. The girls decided to stop at a gas station and fill up. They proceeded to put $2.00 worth of gas into the tank. That was about 13 gallons enough to get them back. Having a few close calls and relieve of not having had an accident. The girls were satisfied in having gotten to where they were and decided to head home. Dick never knew his car had been stolen. But it will be the last time the girls would steal a car. Their boyfriends would take them from then on.
Back then in Hermosa Beach a popular place to go says Rosemari was the Foster’s Freeze on Hermosa Ave. next to 14th St.. She and her friends would hang out there. Another place was Lulu White’s Stop Café next to the Manhatten Beach Pier. With a smile she continued “They had great food and ice cream there”. It was a favorite spot for eats and if the café were closed they would hang out in the parking lot nearby to the cafe. One of Rosemari’s friend was Sandi, who lived next door to Leroy Grannis. There were parties at her house with Rosemari, Judy, Sue and some of her other friends showing up.
Whenever the cars started to fill the street in front of Granny’s house, he knew Sandi was having a party. This must have kept Granny on the edge of his seat Rosemari recalls. Sandi’s mom didn’t mind, knowing she was keeping an eye on Sandi and her friends at her house instead of worrying about where they were or what they were doing.
Johnny and Rosemari's friendship grew during High School, but would fade as each would take a different direction on life’s road in development. Rosemari would marry Charlie Reimers in 1957 and they move to Hawaii. Charlie had been drafted into the Army and was stationed at Schofield Barracks in Wahiawa.
They lived in Waikiki and Charlie would commute to the Schofield Barracks every third day. Meanwhile Rosemari was surfing almost every day on her Matt Kevlin balsa surfboard. She got pregnant with their first child, but would surf until a couple months before having her son. This time period was classic Hawaii, cottage shacks and palm trees along the beach. No high rise except for the Royal Hawaiian and Moana Hotels, it was a picture postcard moment. After a year Charlie was re-stationed on the mainland. He moved his family back to Hermosa Beach in 1958 and later was discharge from the service. They would have their second child in 1960.
Living on 30th St. and the Strand, it wasn’t long before Rosemari began surfing more and more. With a V-W Van to take her on surf trips, Rosemari, the kids and Connie the babysitter were off in search of surf. Farthest north she would go was Rincon and the furthest south she would go was to Tamarack Beach in Carlsbad. At this time she was one of Hermosa Beach’s hottest female surfers. Dewey Weber was very much impressed by Rosemari that he and Caroline Weber went over to Rosemari’s house at 30th St. and asked her to be on his surf team.
The board she was riding at the time was a 9’+ balsa board shaped by Joe Quigg in 1959 at his Newport Beach shop. It had been glassed by Sonny Vardeman at his father’s garage. One day she opened her garage door to get her board. To her surprise, someone had stolen her board. Rosemari was feeling bummed for a while; then one day she got a call from Sonny Vardeman who was working at the Greg Noll Shop on PCH. He says “You might want to come up here and look at this board some guy wanted to put footprints on the nose”. So she did and sure enough it was Rosemari’s surfboard. When the surfboard got stolen Rosemari reported it to the police and had filed a report. She also had the glasser who did the glassing as a witness to the fact. The guy who brought it in didn’t have a chance to make his case. Rosemari got her board back and was very happy.
Even though she was on the Weber Team, competition wasn’t her cup of tea. During the Huntington Beach Surfing Championship at Huntington Beach, Hev McClelland announced her name as she was about to stand up on the wave. She developed stage fright and her knees locked up and couldn’t stand up for about 5 seconds, eventually wiping out. In the late 1960’s she would divorce Charlie and become a single Mom. She would move up to Santa Cruz in the 1970’s and raise her two children there. With the responsibility of 2 children she would surf only occasionally. In November of 1986 Rosemari saw Johnny (who had been married twice) at the Harvey West Longboard Contest dinner. It was Déjà vu of the campus of Mira Costa High School 1954.
Johnny and Rosemari got back together and married. They have shared many fond memories together, he the shaper and she the number one team rider. Her inspiration started his career. His inspiration made her one of the best woman surfer in Hermosa Beach during the Balsa and Early Foam Era. A time when it seemed like 99 percent of surfers were boys and men. Still surfing today, her story can relate to the many girls and women who are starting out and to those like Rosemari who love surfing. Johnny has passed away, but his legend lives on.
Johnny and Rosemari Reimers Rice Santa Cruz, California