Even if you live and surf in La Jolla doesn’t mean you’re welcome at Windansea. “This is one of the last places in San Diego with a visible and well-known reputation for localism,” says 17-year-old native surfer Joe Aguirre. “But they say it’s not what it used to be.”
One of the younger members of the Windansea Surf Club, Aguirre has only heard about the “good old days,” when the parking lot along Neptune Place at the foot of Nautilus Street was the domain of a closed society. Says veteran surfer Bill Andrews, “When I was in high school [in the early 1960s], lots of big guys surfed. Football players surfed. There were a bunch of tough guys who were pretty mean, and they all seemed really big. They thought we were all a bunch of pussies at La Jolla Shores because we were younger guys.”
“I surfed the Shores initially, because the older guys wouldn’t let us surf at Windansea,” says surf club member Jim Neri, who grew up in the ’60s and ’70s just blocks from Windansea on Kolmar Street. “There was ownership at Windansea back then,” says Neri. “Militant ownership which no longer exists.”
A popular spot since the 1940s, by 1963 Windansea was definitely the place to be. Beach culture had grown into a national phenomenon. Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello had just made their debuts in a movie called Beach Party. “Surf City” by Jan and Dean was the number-one hit on the Billboard charts. The Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ USA” was number two. “All over La Jolla and Waimea Bay,” they sang, “tell the teacher we’re surfing — surfing USA.” The Surfaris rounded out the top ten with “Wipeout.”
Except perhaps for Malibu Beach, Windansea was arguably the epicenter of California surf culture during this golden age of surfing. Many who surfed Windansea in the 1950s had already left to pioneer big-wave riding on the North Shore of Oahu — guys like Ricky Grigg, Pat Curren, Mike Doyle, Joey Cabell, Mike Diffenderfer, and Jim Fischer. Former Surfer magazine publisher Steve Pezman once called them “the heaviest beach crew ever.”
But the most colorful, if not the greatest, surfer ever to emerge from Windansea was Butch Van Artsdalen. “Patrolling Windansea with an iron fist, Butch was known to be able to drink a case of beer then casually rip,” wrote Fred Stoughton and Andrew Tyler in a March 1978 Surfer article. “Butch was a habitual fighter and built such a widespread reputation that outsiders would constantly challenge him, hoping they could whip the king of the lot. And they never did.”
Van Artsdalen had a personality described repeatedly by people who knew him as “larger than life.” Standing six feet two inches tall, in his prime Butch was a lean 190 pounds with a triangular torso. He had very broad, almost perfectly square shoulders and a narrow waist.
By 1963 Van Artsdalen had joined the exodus to Hawaii and became one of the first persons to conquer Oahu’s Banzai Pipeline, now the world’s most photographed wave. Butch was the original “Mr. Pipeline,” achieving worldwide star status through his surfing, his appearance in movies, and his infamous reputation for drinking and fighting. Behind the tough-guy image, however, Windansea’s first enforcer was an insecure and incomplete person, truly understood by just a few close friends and family.
Born Charles Van Artsdalen on January 31,1942, Butch was the oldest of four children, with two sisters and a brother. Butch’s father was a chief in the Navy, and the Van Artsdalens grew up in Navy housing along Archer Street in north Pacific Beach. Butch’s brother Marvin was two years younger and eight inches shorter than Butch but shared his brother’s interests. Butch played baseball, basketball, and football for La Jolla High School from 1958 to 1960. Marvin lettered in football, wrestling, and track.
According to one teammate, Butch was as aggressive on the basketball court as he was on the beach, an early-day Bill Lambier who was brought off the bench as an enforcer. “If our guys were getting shoved around by a physical team, the coaches would put Butch in to mix it up a bit,” says former teammate Bing Drastrup. “But Butch would get too carried away.... If we didn’t win, he would want to go over after the game and take the other team on.” If Butch didn’t show up for practice, says Drastrup, “the conclusion was the surf was up. That’s where he felt he had it all together. That’s where he was comfortable — in the water.”
Football teammate Bill Helming remembers Butch as being like a kamikaze pilot. “He could display tremendous athletic skill, then minutes later he would turn around and do something really dumb — a personal foul or a late hit. Butch was famous for making late hits. He wasn’t a smart football player. He was an aggressive football player. Too aggressive.”
Butch would later be offered a contract as a catcher with the San Diego Padres (when the team was still in the Pacific Coast League). But his brother and other teammates agreed: Butch was missing something. “Coaches tried to show Butch how to be a team player, but he was too much of a rebel,” said Marvin. “I can remember [football] coach Gene Edwards really lighting into Butch,” says Helming, “telling him, ‘grow up or get off the team.’ ”
The strong competitive nature of the Van Artsdalen boys often developed into intense sibling rivalry. Marvin remembers one nasty day on the gridiron. Butch was a varsity fullback. Marvin, on the B team, scrimmaged against his brother as a linebacker. “I caught him behind the line three times that day. He was furious,” recalls Marvin. Moments like that kept little brother out of the water. “I promised Butch I wouldn’t get involved in surfing. Even though I wanted to, I stayed away.”
Butch and Marvin shared a bedroom in a converted garage decorated with bullfight posters and “a lot of things from Mexico,” according to Marvin. His friend Jeff Junkins recalls Butch also had pictures of quarterbacks getting hit by linebackers. “Butch hated quarterbacks,” says Junkins. Several teammates remember Butch wasn’t too fond of his own team quarterback, Doug Manchester, now a successful San Diego developer.