It’s Not Just Another Brick in the Wall

The city of Malibu currently rests on acres upon acres of land originally awarded to early California settlers through Spanish land grants.  The most notable of these settlers was May K. Rindge, the fourth and final owner of the sacred Malibu Rancho, who fought a long, tough battle in attempts to keep the railroad, and later, the highway, off of her isolated land. Despite her efforts, the Roosevelt Highway was opened to the public in June of 1929, marking the beginning of the end for an era of cattle ranchers and secluded country living. In response to the construction of the infamous highway, now known as the Pacific Coast Highway, Mrs. Rindge constructed numerous fences and boundaries in hopeless efforts to reclaim her domain and privacy.  One of these barriers was built on the site of the Rindge family’s beach home, called “Vaquero Hill,” located at the Malibu Lagoon, adjacent to a beach that has since obtained popularity through the surfing culture: Malibu Surfrider Beach. What May Rindge created was a brick wall that separated die public highway and, die then private, Malibu Beach. The wall was designed with the Spanish influence that was popular at the time – constructed from concrete brick and accented with terra cotta and colored tiles that were manufactured at the family’s tile and pottery factory located at the south end of their private beach. Although the wall signified the Rindge family’s claim to territory that was rightfully theirs, the wall also later became a symbol of privilege and territoriality for a long line of surfers who called the beach and surf break “home.”

Malibu has long been associated with glamour and affluence: first, the noble Rindge family and their saga to keep the vast property exclusively their own, then the arrival of Hollywood royalty, and later American post-War youth culture that came to be epitomized by the Malibu surfing and beach scene.” This high level of visibility that Malibu began with, carried on into later generations, most significantly with the development of the surfing craze of the 1950s and ’60s, especially at Surfrider Beach, coined to surfers as – First Point. The wall that May Rindge vainly constructed years prior, became a central focal point for not just frequenters of First Point, but for an entire conglomerate of inspired surfing enthusiasts all around the world. This phenomenological occurrence exemplified the affects of social and behavioral geography, as well as the language and meaning created from the wall’s existence as pertaining to the theory of social construction of reality. Through this wall, a unique society was born, derived from one family’s rightful territoriality; a proud society that created its own rules, regulations, language, and overall identity that eventually became the epitome of the surf lifestyle. The wall acted as a doorway for all who wanted to find acceptance and acknowledgement, almost like a filter for eliminating the undesirables and only those who could maintain composure amidst the chaos would be given the keys, a privilege only the most elite obtained.

Erected around the time of the Great Depression of 1929, the Spanish-themed, concrete-constructed wall’s original intention was to ensure privacy and prevent access to the beloved beach owned by May K, Rindge and her family. The Rindge’s were early-day environmentalists, possibly even deep ecologists, who were overcome by the advancement of a dominant worldview that was not concerned with treading lightly on the earth.  Fredrick Hastings Rindge, husband of May, was quoted in 1898, “Oh, the happy vaquero! Who would be a banker when he could ride the smiling hills and hide himself and horse in the tall mustard! Who would be a slave to desk and electric light darkness in a back room, when sunshine is free to all? Aye, a liberal competence is splendid, but slavery is often its price. But then we cannot all be vaqueros.” Mr. Hastings died in 1905, which left his wife the duty of protecting their tranquil homestead by the sea. Although May Rindge fought off the big Southern Pacific Railroad, she was not able to thwart the construction of the Roosevelt Highway- the thoroughfare from Santa Monica to Oxnard along the Pacific Ocean. The main goal of the Rindge family was to hold on to the natural splendor they had known for so long, but when they were defeated by the encroachment of modern technology, their strategy focused more on defensive measures, as with the fortification of what remaining territory they could call their own. With this came the wall’s creation and the conception of a new society who will eventually bear the same characteristics of privilege and righteous indignation, but also have a true love and passion for the environment around them.

Surfing at Malibu began somewhere between the 1920s and 1930s and was not generally a problem for the normally territorial woman. “Once they passed the tough and rigorous check-out [armed cowboys at the southern entrance to the ranch, they would head up the Pacific Coast Highway to the recently opened Rancho Malibu. The lads with their boards would crawl through a “friendly” hole in the fence at Malibu Potteries to hit the surf and paddle out to Malibu Point.” In the beginning, Mrs. Rindge’s efforts in keeping the pristine area private resulted in regularly empty beaches and surf lineups. Legendary surfer and surf photographer, Leroy Grannis said, “Before the war, you’d call somebody before you went to Malibu because you didn’t want to surf alone… What we considered to be a crowd, back then, would be a beautiful day, today.” However, “when experienced surfers returned from WWII and went to Malibu, they were alarmed to find their secluded beaches “crowded” by as many as ten surfers at a time. By 1949, “a crowd of surfers” in Malibu meant twenty-five surfers.” As time progressed and surfing boomed in the late 1950s and early 1960s, especially with the idolization of “Gidget”, whose story arose from her experiences at First Point and at the wall, Malibu was soon considered the “Mecca” of the sport. The influx of new riders and eager spectators created the perfect stage for the regulars, or locals, to demonstrate their superiority both in and out of the ocean. The wall at First Point became a home for these locals, where standouts like Lance Carson, Johnny Fain, and most notably, Miki “Da Cat” Dora ruled the roost and laid the foundation of rules and regulations that would be followed for years after. Dora had been surfing waves alone at Malibu long before surfing became a fad, which, when the boom of surfing hit, caused him to feel much of the bitter territoriality that May Rindge must have felt when powers larger than herself destroyed her adored land. Contrary to Mrs. Rindge, Miki Dora’s chosen method of retaliation was to impose a strict code of acceptance that revolved solely around the waves and the wall at First Point.

A dynamic hierarchical system based on time and ability was soon the established method of acceptance. At this time, my father, at the young age of thirteen, began surfing First Point and even back in 1962 there was a segregation of surfers that is still witnessed today. He was taught that those who spend the time learning the environment- the waves, the land, the people- will gain respect and earn ‘rights’ to waves and respect in and out of the water. However, showing patience was not the only factor already recognized locals used to impose their power on others. With the great stylist, Dora, at the head of this newly forming family, the level of ability and style greatly impacted how one was received among the establishment and could determine how successful one was at obtaining waves. Also, hi-jinx and mischief became daily occurrences as Miki and the boys frequently performed pranks and schemes that antagonized, but entertained many on the beach, and most importantly, indicated to all others, who was dominant and in control. Malibu, although often unbeknownst to many, was and still is dictated by a unique pecking order based on the criteria stated above as means to enforce a proper rotation of surfers and waves.

My earliest memories of the wall at Malibu go as far back to when I was still in diapers. Later, as a teenager, I became enthralled with surfing and began hanging at the infamous concrete barrier that was once meant to keep average-day citizens like myself off the formerly isolated, private beach. My dad was the first to educate me on the importance on how to earn my ‘rights’ out in the water. Early on I knew there was a specific code to follow that would ensure my acceptance; anyone that maintained face in the First Point lineup understood and accepted this code. I adhered to these guidelines and gradually earned local status, a privilege that grows grander the higher up the hierarchy you manage to climb. For decades, there were selected places on the sand that designated one’s status and ‘coolness’ within this society. The stigma of cool that was once obtained by hanging at the wall all but disappeared in the 1990’s, right around the time of my induction, and soon hanging out at the palapa – a man-made Mexican-style hut with a palm frond-thatched roof – became synonymous with being popular, accepted, and a skilled surfer. The first year or so was a typical newlywed period; however as time went on, I found that I was beginning to be treated as a second-class citizen and discovered I was under regular scrutiny by the powers-that-be. The mischief that had been inducted into the First Point culture at the wall earlier before had now perpetuated hi-jinx under the palapa. There were rock wars, wrestling matches, I was called names and snaked on waves- for a few years I felt like the palapa was nothing but the ‘devil’s den.’ The game I had to play in the lineup and under the palapa was far more involved than just defending myself on the sand and jockeying for waves in the water. As a woman, I was also faced with all the other ‘non-locals’ and tourists who were unaware or still carried the notion that girls were not serious surfers, but just trying to get a tan.

The reality I had constructed for myself instilled a sense of territoriality and righteous indignation within me. Like my cohorts of yesteryear, Miki Dora and May Rindge, I felt I had the right to preserve the society that I knew and loved. At all times I had my guard up and was ready to impose the rules that I was forced to adhere to, yet because of the varying ghost voices from the past-I automatically used aggression, as opposed to proper assertiveness, when I had confrontations while surfing. I was no stranger to the use of foul language and minor physical force. A feeling of entitlement to behave in such manner consumed me because I had endured more than the average up-and-comer at First Point. I was experiencing internalized oppression, where I began to believe this oppressive behavior was justified and deserved and, in turn, partook in its perpetuation. In a sense, I had become a modern-day May K. Rindge, desperately trying in vain to keep the beloved Malibu a pristine a sacred place, but my, like Mrs. Rindge’s, efforts were thwarted by an environment that I was not in control of. The transgenerational phenomenon that was established many years ago and eventually engrained into me by my father and peers, as well as the lack of awareness from the constant exchange of unfamiliar and inexperienced newcomers, caused me to feel the need to aggressively defend my home and my status within it. It was as if “Rindge’s Revenge” had taken shape for me as the ghost of May Rindge herself! The hardheaded woman had joined me in my cause!

Today, on the site of the once fabled palapa, rests one of three county lifeguard towers whose lifeguards patrol the sand and ocean at Malibu Surfrider Beach. On the contrary, the wall at Malibu has seen a much different fate than that of the short-lived palapa. Memorialized in the minds’ of not just surfers, the wall penetrated the imaginations of millions thanks to the high visibility that was brought on by the millions of people around the worried that witnessed the concrete image on print and in film. Thanks mostly to characters like Miki Dora, the wall has become an icon for surf culture, so much so, that Dora’s own name frequently has been known to appear on the wall almost as a reminder that his spirit lives on. The wall has served as the backdrop for many photos, including the 1964 cover of “Surf Guide,” which donned a smiling Dora. Photographer Leroy Grannis’ took numerous photos of Malibu and the wall, which have been viewed by thousands. The movie “Big Wednesday” hit the big screen in 1978 and was a semi-fictional visual depiction of the events surrounding the society at the Malibu wall nearly two decades prior.  Malibu’s infamous wall has also functioned as the basis for an annual surf contest, proclaimed as the “Call To The Wall,” where men and women of all ages compete in the hot July sun. These examples validate the existence of a nominological occurrence, whereby the entrance to First Point Malibu in the form of a concrete brick wall reinforced the notion that passing through it allowed a person into a world that was comprised of complex systems of acceptance and recognition, spearheaded by individuals who created the rules, mainly for themselves, and who intended on staying at the top of the hierarchy.

The patrician Rindge family of the secluded Rancho Malibu battled to keep their expansive, pristine estate exclusively to themselves. When the highway was forced in and the influx of Hollywood royalty followed with it, the very private life, away from publicity on her isolated ranch by the sea, ended up selling her land to the very people whose presence and lifestyles were to make Malibu famous throughout the world.  Later the surf-crazed culture made Malibu Beach the progressive epicenter for the sport.”  The high profile Malibu commenced with continued into later generations, most significantly catalyzed by the popularity of Gidget during the 1960s.  The wall that the protective May Rindge constructed years prior in an attempt to hold on to her last bit of ownership, became a fundamental icon for an entire collection of motivated surfing aficionados, not just in the surrounding community, but all around the world as well.  Explained by the theory of the social construction of reality, the phenomenology that occurred through the erection of the wall and the palapa at Malibu epitomized the influence of behavioral geography, as well as the verbal communication and implications produced merely from the wall’s existence.  The construction of this wall planted a seed that lead to an exclusive society, rooted from a justly territorial family whose way of life was being threatened.  This structure grew into a self-righteous civilization that was dominated by its own policies, laws, and language that eventually materialized into the quintessence of the surfing scene for the entire surfing community.  As the wall was positioned at the entrance to the infamous First Point, it became a symbol of initiation and acceptance, a gateway, if you will, into a world where its citizens were living by their own agenda.