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Malibu's Forgotten Left
By Joel Shultz

Although Malibu Surfrider beach is primarily recognized (and rightfully so) for its long, often perfectly shaped point break rights, it also once boasted (from the mid 60's through the early 70's) a lesser known, less crowded jewel of a left that broke off of the famed right, Lower Trestles style, but not quite as long a ride.

An excellent, less crowded option to "The Pack" sitting at First Point, this left elegantly cascaded its way, every particle of water in place, running northward towards the Colony, to an awaiting bank of the Malibu Lagoon. It would peak over a cobblestone bottom adjacent to the first point right but would quickly find a sandbar and provide a short-but-sweet machine-like dependable ride all the way to the sand, fifty yarders tops, but a little longer, of course, on a dropping tide. It was a versatile wave, better at medium to medium-low tide but still rideable on some swells at higher tides. And the beautiful thing about it was that the prevailing westerlies blew offshore into the lefts creating spray rainbows and giving it an "Ala Moana" look minus the warm water. It rarely blew out; only south wind and crosswinds compromised it. Usually it would blow light offshore or just remain sunny and glassy for hours at a time, the only changes coming from the tide. The wave was angular and had a tapered shoulder, perhaps as large as five feet at the peak, quickly sloping down to one foot at its ending.

The odd thing about it was that considering how many surfers were in the lineup (even back then!), there were relatively few takers. Sure enough, some of the regulars, guys like Don "the goofy foot wonder" Webster, Tiko Planter, and Price Blanch would occasionally take full advantage, but most coveted the more visible, prestigious, longer classic point break rights. After all, reputations, pride and sometimes even careers were built on how well one rode Malibu.

I can remember walking up the beach after a go-out, summer of '65, munching on a turkey and yellow cheese hoagie bought from Sam's "Beach Boy Liquors", and suddenly catching "Moto" (Richard Coglin) at the top of First fading into a nice right (as if he fully intended to go right) but then, with catlike finesse decided to go left, as he drop-kneed a right-go-left turn on his pink-railed Larry Felker with the green competition band.

"Buzzy" (Buzz Sutphen), sporting that Nordic, thick blond mustache, an icy cold stare, and the chiseled "pre-Laird" physique, more or less singlehandedly controlled First Point through the summers of '65-69. But even he would on occasion snag a larger, fuller backhander and impose his trim and power over the wave.

Flashiness wasn't his forte; power turns and solid long nose rides were. Not many dared to snake him; most knew better. But if you made that error and snaked him, it was practically a given that you would get either the tip or the rail of his board driven into your body. He always took off deep and created such wicked speed that he would invariably catch up with surfers sitting inside trying to poach his wave. Nobody ever seemed to challenge him-it certainly didn't hurt that he won a prestigious Malibu Invitational in that time frame. His victims would usually get back on their boards, shell-shocked from the painful impact, tail between legs, and sheepishly paddle away, checking on their wounds where Buzzy had nailed them. Often, since there were no leashes then, they were forced into the Rock Dance.

For Buzzy, it was just business as usual. He'd get back on his clear Dave Sweet, clad in navy blue baggies with an original M.S.A. patch on them, and just paddle back to the top of First Point and settle into his place at the top of the pecking order, on the prowl for his next set wave.

But as far as this now extinct, rarely mentioned or thought of Malibu left is concerned, for its relatively short existence, it was indeed an elite wave. Zuma Beach, it's true, offered faster and more hollow lefts, but it would usually blow out at the drop of a hat. Zeros didn't blow out easily but its shape wasn't in the same class.

They say that no two waves, day after day, break exactly the same. That somehow each wave is technically different from the one before it. But this old Malibu left nearly defied that description, never sectioning ahead of itself in ruler-edged symmetry. It's Achilles Heal, though, was that it was a relatively short (but oh so sweet) ride, rarely lasting longer than ten seconds, and also it tended to flee into hibernation as soon as the surf got to be overhead.

The left was undoubtedly formed by the Malibu Lagoon flushing out a brew of mud, silt and sand from its then usual location just north of First Point, and south of second point. But when the lagoon, whether by bureaucratic bulldozing, or maybe due to Mother Nature's eroding rainstorms, shifted the opening (where the lagoon empties into the sea) to random spots along the shore, the sandbar that formed the left gradually disappeared and a rock bottom took hold, ultimately erasing the left from existence, and negatively affecting the quality of both second and third points. Sadly, it went the way of "Stanley's," "The Oil Piers," "First Jetty," (of which you'll soon find a separate story about) and other defunct surf spots that once basked in their former heyday and glory.

For those of us lucky enough to have witnessed and rode the left in that special time frame, it will always go down as personal, private, even sacred memories. Though it was nearly as crowded as today, it was special mostly because the ocean then was still pristine, starfish and urchins were abundant, and a certain angular left reigned supreme!

"Joel Shultz is surf geography professor, cultural historian, and efficiency expert rolled into one..."
-- Los Angeles Magazine

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