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Legends & Legacies: 1960s mixing of music and aspirations

The rise of the ski and surf bum in the 1960's: Did the music and movies reflect the times, or did they drive them?

Tim Willoughby
Legends & Legacies
Spring 1967 luau party at the Chart House founded by famous surfer Joey Cabell. One of the crowd identified as Annie Burrows.
Aspen Historical Society, Chamberlain Collection

Aspen teens in the 1960s were inculcated with surfing songs. The Beach Boys and the Beatles were duking it out on the Top 40, and, for a long time, Beach Boys were winning. Songs like “Surfer Girl” and “Surfin’ Safari” suggested there was another culture to consider besides skiing and living in the Rocky Mountains. Beach Boys album covers even influenced fashion — making Pendleton shirts popular.

We were blessed with live music at high-school dances and with “Coke night” at Galena Street East, where garage bands played surf songs. One of the few garage bands to record albums, the Astronauts, featured surf music like Pipeline and Baja. (For those of you wanting to relive your teens, you can still get Astronauts’ CDs, including “Surfin’ With The Astronauts.”)

This was not just an Aspen teen experience. Surfing and California culture spread nationwide. California beach-town colleges like UC Santa Barbara were flooded with out-of-state applications. But, there was an interesting balance: Californians wanted to come to Colorado for college, hoping to ski. The Astronauts were a popular band in Boulder, merging the cultures.



A 1965 article and photo spread in Life magazine, with a title something like “Surfers Invade Aspen,” displayed an Aspen that locals were unaware of. It rankled many who did not like the link made by the author between ski bums and surf bums. The author invented a term for surfers in Aspen, skinniks, and likely did not know Aspen’s connection to the term beatniks.

Restaurant owner Guido Meyer waged war against the new youth generation that he labeled disparagingly as beatniks. To him, that was anyone walking around who looked like they didn’t have a job or needed a haircut and a bath.




Word spread quickly that the photographer looked for surfer-looking youth and invited them to a party with plenty of free spirits. He directed them to do crazy things like hanging on the face of a stone fireplace, implying an over-the-top debauched lifestyle in Aspen.

The article claimed there were around 200 surfers in Aspen. Locals thought it was more like 50. Local businessmen were afraid the article would attract more, and, since the article came out just before college spring break, the fear was that college students having seen the Life photos would come to Aspen to check it out. That, in turn, prompted three additional state liquor inspectors to be on duty in Aspen during spring break.

There was not a similar article about skiers invading Venice Beach.

Add one more cultural item: movies. In that same period, the movie “Endless Summer,” a surfing movie, entertained those wanting to live the surfing life, as well as those who already did. The skiing counter were the annual Warren Miller skiing films. Following the snow to Chili in the summers was as alluring as traveling the world in search of the perfect wave.

I have never seen comparison numbers of surfers to skiers, and the number of how many did both. The number of skiers, however, grew more in that decade than at any other time. I suspect the same for surfing. There was no famous musical group doing songs about skiing, but skiing appeared in many popular movies, like those with James Bond.

Did the music and movies reflect the times, or did they drive them? The answer is not important, but, for those of us who were teens in the 1960s, even if we didn’t move to California and take up surfing, we still have surfing songs circulating through our memories.

Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while teaching at Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. Reach him at redmtn2@comcast.net

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