Legendary Mike "Bones" Bright


By Thomas Takao

Mike Bright 

Surfing was becoming more popular in the 1950’s and the first wave of surfboard builders who transitioned from balsa wood to foam surfboards was developing in California. From San Diego to Santa Cruz a major move in the development of the surfboard was under way with Hermosa Beach and nearby coastal cities becoming the epicenter for the mass manufacturing of the surfboard. There were shapers such as Bob Simmons, Joe Quigg, Matt Kivlin, Hap Jacobs and Dale Velzy who would lead the way in the advancement in design and construction, with others soon to make their brands available in the growing surfboard market.

Dale Velzy would influence many and had a following of young proteges that would follow in his footsteps. They would be the second wave of surfboard builders who would be the foundation from which surfboard building would take off from. With Hawaii and California, Australia, New Zealand, the East Coast of the US, Peru, France and South Aftica took up the movement and other nations would soon follow.

There have been and still are surfboard builders contributing to the sport of surfing by way of their workmanship in building surfboards. One such person was Mike Bright, in 1956 Mike was staying in Waikiki and preparing for the Catalina to Manhattan Beach Paddleboard Race in September and the 1956 Olympics in Australia in December. It was the beginning of his legacy from which others would appreciate

Beside surfing and glassing surfboards he was an outstanding paddleboarder whom many of his peers thought of him as the best in California and Hawaii during 1956 and 57’. Not only a legend in paddleboarding but also a legend in volleyball. Twice a State Champion in Beach Doubles Volleyball and a 3 time Olympic participant, once in paddling during the 1956 Melbourne, Australian Olympics), twice in volleyball during the 1964 games in Tokyo, Japan and in 1968 at Mexico City, Mexico. There was an almost a third time in 1972 at the Munich games in Germany, but the team lost out by a couple of points in the qualifying round prior to the start.

Not to get to far ahead, Lets return back to his early beginnings. Mike grew up in Hermosa Beach on 17th St and the Strand which is next to the beach. He had many fond memories growing up there. There was this one time when he was 6 years old and was on the old Hermosa Beach Pier located at the end of Pier Ave. He saw a few fishermen rushing around fellow anglers, trying to keep his fish on the line. Looking down through the guard-rail Mike saw a monster of a fish.

It was a Giant Black Sea Bass swimming ever so close to the barnacles that were sprouting from the Pier's pilings. The fisherman was walking it closer to the beach to bring it in. It was the surest way to catch it. It wasn't uncommon to see such a fish of that size in the waters of Santa Monica Bay prior to the 1950’s. Mike would visit the Pier many times with his dad when he was young. There was a public library on ones side and the Chamber of Commerce on the other at the entrance to the pier.

The Bright's lived nearby, one street north of the Pier. Mike started surfing with his friends, at the time surf clubs were becoming popular, so Mike and his friends started one. They became well known in the community and if you happen to be on the beach one sunny afternoon during a spring day in 1950, you would have seen a bunch of kids with their surfboards lined up for a photograph. The Daily Breeze newspaper was doing an article on surf clubs and there in the sand was their reporter / photographer. Mike Bright and the other members of the Hermosa Beach Seals Surf Club. They were all stoked in having their picture taken.

It meant bragging rights in school, and notoriety at the hamburger stand. The reporter had his camera ready and told the boys to get ready and after a few remarks and laughter, they heard the count down 3,2,1, and the reporter tells everyone to say “cheese” and a loud cheese was heard as the reporter clicked the camera.

After the picture was taken, everyone walked back to the Strand and to their homes, for most it was a few blocks away. Hermosa Beach at the beginning of 1950 was just starting to develop, but there were still a lot of open sandy lots in between the houses that the guys would cut through to get home. It wasn't long before they would become freshmen at Mira Costa High School.

Mike and his friends were known as the 17th St. guys and only later were they allowed to hangout at 22nd Street. 22nd St. was the hangout for the older guys who were 17 to 25 years old. The 22nd St. location had a small hamburger stand and a market. The guys there mostly sat around the wall at the Strand or down a couple of blocks where a homemade catamarans was parked in the yard with a palm frond shack and an old tiki carving. A perfect setting for a few storytellers to tell some fascinating stories of summers gone by.

Mike would learned to glass a surfboard during his Freshman year at Mira Costa High School. There would be days when Mike would go over to see Dale Velzy shape his early balsa surfboards at his mom's garage, which was located up the street from Hermosa Ave and Pier Ave. A couple years later Mike would do the same at Velzy's shop in Manhatten Beach. Living around the ocean meant swimming, paddling and surfing, which was a major part of Mike's life. So glassing surfboards seemed like the next step for him. There was the time when Mike did his first glass job on Greg Noll’s first shape at his house at 17th St. 

It was foggy all afternoon, the kind that lingers into the night. While Mike poured the resin onto the cloth, ribbons of fog glided by and the moisture beaded on the house windows. Greg was watching and Mike was glassing, both excited about the moment. It was all new to Mike, especially the ratio of catalyst to resin and the surrounding temperature. After the first couple of passes and working the resin in. All the green resin slowly dripped off the cloth and onto the red brick patio of his parent’s backyard. It left a perfect outline of Greg's board permanently preserved in Mike's mind and his parent’s backyard. After that experience Mike would dodge seeing Greg for the next few weeks at school.

When Mike was 15 years old he was repairing boards under the Manhatten Beach Pier until he was told to go elsewhere. Then he would be glassing at a few of his friend's garages from Manhatten Beach to Redondo Beach. Trying new ideas on glassing techniques, he used different tools and one of them was using a Churchill swim fin to squeege a board with. Though Mike liked the way the edge of the swim fin worked the resin, the swim fin was to bulky to work with. Bill Bahr was the first to get glassing down, most of the early guys kept the information and technique of what they did to themselves. “So you learned on your own” Mike said.

While in High School at Mira Costa, he and Johnny Rice went to Rincon one day. They didn’t stop once while going to Rincon from Hermosa Beach. They hit all the signals green. If one of them got tired of driving the other would slide under as the other would slid over. The waves were small at Rincon that day. After coming in and drying off, Mike was watching Johnny paddling in. He notices 2 large dorsal fins a few feet apart serpentining behind Johnny.

“I don't think he heard me or saw them, but they came within inches of his board” Mike said. At that moment there was a few different scenarios running through Mike's mind, all of them not good. Just as Johnny got off his board and stood up to wade the board across the rocks, the sharks disappeared. Johnny thought Mike was joking with him as he placed his board down on the shoreline rocks. It was a nice trip up and a safe trip back. Mike and Johnny were on a roll that day.

Talk about weekends, back then Friday and Saturday nights along Hermosa Avenue was the place to be. People from all over came to cruise the street and check the other cars that were cruising. Besides cruising, some refreshments were dranked. Mike and Mike Stange tried to see how many quart bottles of beer they could squirrel away in their pants from a local Liquor store. Stange got three and Bright got four. That night, feeling tipsy Stange was bullfighting cars on Hermosa Avenue and causing a scene. It wasn't long before he got gored by a V.W. Bug. He was really hurting and was pulled to the side, for reasons not known his shoes were still in the street, right where he was wearing them at the time the bug hit him. Being in a state of what happen and nothing looked broken or he wasn't bleeding. It was home from there.

They got him to bed that night and Mike would visit him the next day. Mike went to the Foster Freeze before going over to Stange house and got him a malt. Malts were the rage for the guys then and so Mike thought it would cheer him up after having one. He drank it and became violently ill. The malt was a peanut butter malt and after finding out that Stange was very allergic to peanuts. Mike made a quick exist from the house somewhat alarmed.

While still in high school there was this time when one of Velzy’s friend Billy Ming, whom became close friends with Mike and Sonny Vardeman would go on a surf trip. Never in Mike’s life had he been associated with a more laid back guy. “Nothing disturbed him” Mike said. He was a small red haired guy that was a tad older than the rest of them. He had a deuce pickup, a 32’ yellow customized Ford. One day during high school (1952-1955) Mike and Sonny took a day off and went to Trestles with Billy. The surf was a perfect 8 ft. with no one out.

Perfect weather and glassy conditions all day, but there was one drawback to the perfect conditions, you had to sneak in and by passs the Marines in those days. Sometime it was more fun getting by them than surfing Mike recalled. They were out in the water all day, except for having a lunch break when the marines who would waited for them to come in, but had to leave and continued their patrol. They sat on a big old trunk of a Sycamore tree which had become driftwood. Mike and Sonny forgot to bring a lunch on this occasion, but Ole Ming as he was known pulled from his backpack a couple cans of pork and beans and made the day.

After finishing high school Mike was becoming a good paddler who got better and better. In 1955 the first Catalina to Manhattan Beach paddleboard race was started, the first of many Catalina races. Originally the idea for the Race was developed by the Manhattan Beach Recreation Department and would be sponsored by others. To enter, each paddler had to have a chase boat to follow the paddler during the race. Mike would enter the race and his boat skipper for the 1955 race was Dave Perumian, known as Black Bass. Black Bass was the skipper and Fred Kerwin was his first mate. Actually Fred was a fine skipper himself, so Mike had two skippers who knew the waters around San Pedro Channel.

They went to the Isthmus the day before the race and were ready to go. Mike had come in first the last few paddleboard races that he had been in and was pumped for this one. The night before the race Mike and Greg Noll got a jug of wine and decided to sleep on the beach by the starting line. This way they would be awoken before the 5 a.m. start. Mike and Greg did not go to the pre-race instruction meeting. Since this was the first of the Catalina to Manhattan Beach Paddleboard Races, there may have been a miscommunication by the race committee. As it turned out, neither Dave nor Fred was at the pre-race instruction meeting. Race officials did not have written instruction for the skippers. One skipper didn't even fuel up for the race.

The day of the race was pea soup fog. Mike was even more confident in his skippers of finding their way to the finish line. The gun sounded and the race was on. They passed Birdshit Rock without seeing it, but you could smell it. Mike’s boat guided off to the left or more north of the pack of the other boats.

Mike figured that his skippers had been studying the currents and would give them a hell of an advantage to finish with the current behind him. Around a half mile out Dave gets a radio message from one of the other boats. It seemed he had forgotten to fuel up for the race and would have to leave his paddler. It turned out that his paddler wouldn’t get in the boat and wanted to finish the race.

After a lot of cussing, Bass was ordered by the race committee to stand by that paddler and escort him the rest of the 31 ½ miles to Manhatten Beach. While Bass and Fred went looking for and finding their second paddler. Mike went from a knee paddling position to sitting on the board and waited for his boat and the other paddler to catch up.

It was so foggy Mike was going in a circle while keeping them in sight. They would catch up and Mike would start paddling normally for a while. Then went into a sitting position for the other paddler to catch up. It was a routine that repeated itself again and again. Eventually Mike gave up hope of winning and just sat and paddle next to the guy for about twenty more miles.

The other guy just wouldn’t get out of the water, thinking he was doing well. A bit of luck came Mike’s way. Some black dorsal fins were breaking the surface outside of them. Dave mentions to the other guy they were Killer Whales, while Mike stayed quiet, knowing they were porpoises. The guy got in the boat finally, but as Mike put it “We were screwed from the start. By missing the meeting, we were some forty-five minutes from my house in Hermosa, heading for Point Dume.” After getting in they heard that they were supposed to go to Pointe Vincente light-house at Palos Verdes. Then make their way from there and stay along the coast to the finish line. It was disappointment for Mike and his crew.

The standing for the 1955 Catalina Race: 1st Ricky Grigg, 2nd Charlie Reimer, 3rd Greg Noll, 4th George Downing, 5th George Chalekson, 6th Donald Anderson, 7th Allan Nelson, 8th Larry Cocke, the following were DNF Did not finish or DQ Disqualified. Mike Bright DNF, Tom Zahn DQ, Bill Graham DNF, Bob Hogan DNF, Sheridan Byerley DNF. The fog was thick, from the start to the finish. After the 1955 race, Mike Bright would come in first at the 1956 and 1957 races.

After the Catalina Race, in October of 1955; Mike Bright, Bing Copeland, Rick Stoner, Sonny Vardeman, Steve "Hog" Voorhees; somehow he got the name of Hogan Twanger and Velzy changed it to just Hog, and George Kepo'o went to Hawaii. George was born in Hawaii and was returning after a couple of years to visit family. Mike, Bing, Rick and Sonny would rent a place out by Makaha Point. They would surf Makaha, Town and the North Shore. While living at Makaha the guys bought a 1937 Plymouth sedan.

One day they drove around Kaena Point to get to the North Shore. Following the tank tracks, the dirt road went along the side of the mountain. The side of the road became cliff and plunges into the breaking waves below. They got out and checked out the waves at Kaena Point. A few of the guys thought of going out but had second thoughts after realizing their balsa board would become toothpicks after hitting the rocks remembered Mike. So they got in the car and were off to Sunset Beach.

At one point making a turn around a corner, one of the wheels hung over the side of the cliff while making the turn. Nervously they all shifted their weight to the mountain side as the Plymouth slowly rounded the corner. The dirt road turned paved as they made it to Waialua passing Dillingham air field, Mokuleaia and rounding the traffic circle at Haleiwa, through town and out to Sunset Beach.

Stopping frequently at every gas station along the way to re-supply the car with reused oil. Whenever they drove over a puddle of water, the hole in the rear floorboard acted like a blowhole and the muddy water would splash the guys inside. They arrived at Sunset Beach in one piece, to captured the achievement of getting there, a picture was taken and then they all went surfing. On the returned trip, they took the long way around.

The following year Bing and Rick enlisted in the Coast Guard, while Sonny and Steve joined the Navy. Mike moved into Waikiki and stayed in a flop house at 219 Liliokalani and trained with Tommy Zahn and Charley Reimers. "I had gotten so fast that Tommy decided to temporarly retire from paddling and helped me to get in better shape. He would row in a racing skull with his stop watch and time the paddling" said Mike. Mike would break the current half mile record by 25 seconds and would make a new unoffical record for the mile. Joe Quigg was in the 1956 Diamond Head Race and took second.

After winning the 1956 Catalina Race, Mike was on a plane for Down Under with Tommy Zahn, Greg Noll and the rest of the US Life Saving Team. Australia was hosting the 1956 Olympics and their exhibition sport was life saving which had a lot of paddling. So there was Mike, Tommy, Greg and the others in the thick of things in the 1956 Olympics, paddling away. At this same time the guys had brought over the first Balsa Malibu boards, it would change Australian surfing from that time on.

After returning from Australia, Mike would win the 1957 Catalina Race and retire from competition paddling and begin his career in surfboard glassing. Having been glassing a board here and there, Mike started a surfboard glassing business with Sonny Vardeman. Nobody really knew how to glass a lot of boards at that time. Mike give credit to Dan Bendikson for figuring out a way of making the gloss really shine. He would lay the first coat on and before it completely set up, he did another one on top of the first. The heat from the first one made the second one go off perfectly and caused a lot of wax to stay in the solution. Rather than float up and seal the resin off as it supposed to do. The result was a shinny and zit free coat.

Occasionally they would have others stopping by the shop to see what they were up too. One day Richard Deese who was Dewey’s glasser came by one day. As a practical joke Mike had rigged up some wires from a battery to a shinny gloss job. For all intent and purposes it looked like electricity was making the boards shinny. Deese was told all about the effects of electric-magnetic gloss coats. As the saying goes he took the hook, line and sinker. He went off to try it, later Mike was told that the gloss job Rich did came out shitty.

A side note before Richard worked for Dewey, he had worked for Velzy as his glasser and after working for Dewey he started South Bay Surfboards on Avenue I in Redondo Beach. One of his shapers back then was John Mel and one of the salesman was John Lininger. South Bay Surfboard’s factory was on the outskirt of Torrance, now known as the City of Carson.

"A lot of boards in those days were just finger wiped instead of taping the gloss coats" Mike recalled. There were no labor pool to speak of and to have quality work done by someone on that many boards in all kinds of weather was impossible. The only way to get good work was to do it yourself. One Christmas eve Mike had worked a 36 hour shift with no drugs. After that shift he fell asleep on James Arness’s board because it seemed the most comfortable place at the time.

Mike and Sonny had 14 surfboard accounts to service and the reason for having that many accounts was that they were charging $22.50 for glassing a board. With the advent of color foam, which was 40% weaker than the regular foam, the board as a whole became weaker. You could stick your thumb through the glass when finished. Mike who was also the sander got the blame for what they thought was the cause, which was sanding through the overlap.

In those days almost no one knew the trade. Jack Pollard had figured out a way to do a flip hen wet treatment and Mike would have to tell you that the results were genius. If it were Mike’s board though, they seemed pretty heavy from the amount of resin used. Still, they were the best for the times. When the demand for lighter and lighter boards came about, problems with pin air and thinner laminates presented cosmetic problems. Timing the “go off” for the resin was critical. A little slow and pin air occurred. The knife rails some of the shapers liked to make on the boards were impossible to wrap around. Do to the available materials, giant air bubbles appeared if your timing was about a minute off.

Remember that these boards were around 25 lbs. And would be damaged by their own weigh if lost on the rocks. So 20 oz. nose patches and giant overlaps on the rails were the thing of the day. There was this one board Mike said that he glassed and was lost at Sunset Beach, Hawaii and it drifted the Pacific until it was found in the Philippines. There were only minor sun damage to the glass. “Those glass jobs in them days would preserve a mummy for a thousands years” Mike said with a grin.

After retiring from competition paddling Mike became more serious about volleyball. In 1960 Mike Bright and Mike O’hara won the State Beach Open Doubles Tournament. At the time, this tournament was considered one of the biggest in Beach Volleyball. They had defeated the legendary team of Selznik and Lang in the finals by a lot of points. That same year Mike joined the Hollywood Y team that was the best team in the country in the six man game. Still in the same year he joined the national team and went to the world games in Rio de Janeiro.

From then on the level of play that they were at was consider to be the best in volleyball. Besides having been on the national team for twelve years. Mike won the first five Manhattan Beach Open with Mike O’hara and win 4 other tourneys with other partners. Back in the beginning of Beach Volleyball there were only 7 or 8 tournaments a year, compared to the 50 that are run today. Even though Mike won 18 tournaments total, the years involved are comparable to those with much more wins. After retiring from Beach Volleyball Mike’s friend Lang would go on to win 50 tournaments.

Mike said “If anyone is to claim the best beach volleyball player ever, it is this man Ron Lang”. Mike was a member of the 1964 and 1968 Olympic Volleyball Team. The 1972 team had to qualify in pool play. They went to France and were required to win their pool of five teams. In their pool was the Polish Team, which were the reigning world champs. They had won all of their other matches and had the Polish Team down 9 to 3 in the final game of five. The Polish Team pulled it together and eliminated the US team from the final ten that would go to Munich. The Polish team ended up winning the gold.

In 1969 Mike founded Malibu Diver, a place of diving supplies and diving classes. During the mid 1970’s Mike had a diving accident of the bends that placed him in a wheel chair. In 1979 Mike sold the business to an associate at Malibu Divers. Through the years Mike and his wife Patti raised their four children, Jodi, Lari, David and Bonnie in Malibu. After the passing of his wife in 2004. Mike would reside in North County San Diego until his passing.