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When History Called, This Dude Answered

Surfing chronicler Drew Kampion had stories to tell, slides to show and a book to push to a 'Stoked' crowd in Dana Point.


They came in Mercedes-Benzes, big Suburbans and cherried-out vans with surfboard racks. Definitely a SoCal crowd. Just ask the dude valet-parking the cars at the Chart House, an upscale restaurant overlooking Dana Point Harbor where they were congregating this evening.

The attraction wasn't the food, the booze or the harbor view. It was a 53-year-old former Californian whose name, Drew Kampion, would hardly raise eyebrows or draw much attention from those outside surfing's mainstream.

But there he was at the microphone. Hawaiian shirt. Balding pate. Quick wit and generous smile. Kampion had stopped by Orange County to pitch his new book, "Stoked: A History of Surfing Culture" (General Publishing Group, 216 pages, $29.95).

"This is really some turnout tonight," said Mark Cousineau, who as chapter president for Surfrider Foundation in San Clemente, called the December meeting in recognition of Kampion, one of surfing's premier historians, a guy who was there when it happened.

Already, nearly 10,000 copies have been sold, Kampion said. The book has been so successful that the publishing house is considering a second printing, said Lori Rick, from General Publishing.

From his vantage point as an editor, Kampion chronicled some of the sport's best and weirdest times while at Surfer magazine (1968-72) and then at Surfing (1973-82). Both magazines still publish in Orange County. Kampion now lives in Washington and is editorial director for Wind Tracks, a windsurfing magazine.

Kampion has been a fan ever since he began surfing in California in the '60s. As he wrote in "Stoked," it was Bruce Brown's famous surf film that kick-started the love affair with the ocean.

"I stood in line with the throngs on a perfect spring afternoon outside the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium beneath the marquee that read, 'The Endless Summer.' And, when Terrence led Mike Hynson and Robert August over the dunes to Cape St. Francis, and I beheld the most perfect waves I'd ever seen, I could taste them, and, I admit it, I lusted in my heart of hearts for a go at 'Bruce's beauties.' I was insatiably stoked."

Nice phrasing for a surfer. But then, Kampion always was the "best encoder" of the surfing lifestyle for a mass audience, says friend Steve Pezman, publisher of Surfer's Journal magazine.

Only this group at the Chart House wasn't a Barnes & Noble crowd. It was a mix of hard-core surfers and men and women who personify the sport's aloha spirit. Many wouldn't be caught dead attending such a pedestrian scene as a book signing, or quaffing hot lattes at the coffee bars on Robertson Boulevard in West L.A.

Of the crowd, Cousineau said it was large, but then Kampion's presence guaranteed the turnout, he added.

Those in the crowd included Steve Hawk, Surfer magazine editor; Peter Townend, former world champion; and Tom Morey, surfer and inventor of the Boogie board.

These were also regulars, who, on any given morning, could be found checking out the waves from South Bay to Trestles. No wannabes. No nose rings. They came to see Kampion, spend a few bucks on his book, swap stories and enjoy the stoke.

As for the Mercedes, it belonged to filmmaker Greg MacGillivray. But he isn't a ringer. MacGillivray of Laguna Beach, who has been surfing since the '60s, made a ton of surf films before working with the larger 70mm film format. Kampion wrote the narration for the classic MacGillivray-Freeman surf film, "Five Summer Stories."

"Drew is one of my dearest and oldest friends," MacGillivray said. "I was the godfather to his oldest son, and we've traveled around the world together . . . . I wouldn't have missed this event for anything."

Kampion has mined this audience before and knew to bring the three required props: A slide projector, screen and plenty of bitchin' surfin' slides.

"Here's a picture of Rolf Aurness," Kampion said, as a skinny kid popped up on the screen. "It's Rolf in Australia in 1970 after winning the world championship. He took up piano playing and lived up in Hollister Ranch for a while. Of course, his father is actor James Arness and I think Rolf lives in Pacific Palisades now and is getting back into surfing again."

Switching from the historical, Kampion also showed his pictures of big Waimea Bay in Hawaii, where monstrous, 20-foot waves thundered onshore. Inevitably, the audience oohed and ahhed.

"You know, Drew's pictures were really moving," said Lisa Eilertson of San Clemente. "He said, 'I'm not a photographer. I'm a journalist.' But it was a pretty cool slide show. He had all the shots you would think a journalist would take, including interviewing Michael Ho where he snapped a picture of him as a little boy. That was really interesting."

During an interview, Kampion talked about the history of surf culture and surfing's most outrageous personalities, including many from Southern California.

Though many will argue that Orange County's Hobie Alter helped start the surfing craze for the masses, Kampion points to the city of Malibu as the epicenter.

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