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Sixties Surfers

Tim Willoughby
Aspen Times Weekly
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Skiing and surfing were the “in” sports of the 1960s. Many enthusiasts dabbled in both sports, seasonally migrating like birds between beaches and ski resorts. Adolescents, stuck in midwestern towns, vicariously participated while listening to Beach Boys’ surfing songs or while admiring photos of stretch pant-clad skiers.

Colorado’s high school students dreamed of attending college in California or Hawaii. Californians flocked to Colorado. The most popular garage band at the University of Colorado was the Astronauts, who played playing surf music to skiers. Today’s ski slopes continue to attract those who discovered skiing in the 1960s, many of whom attended college in Colorado. No doubt Hawaii fosters a population of the snow-born.

Aspen’s greatest population spurt happened in the 1960s. The school population doubled, dominated by Texans and Southern Californians. Many moved to Aspen following years of visiting as tourists. The list of such converts includes Joey Cabell.

Cabell, born in Hawaii, moved to California. As a teen, he vacationed in Aspen. After graduating from high school he split his seasons between skiing in Aspen and surfing in California and Hawaii. Cabell won surfing competitions in the early ’60s, developing a reputation for his, “down the line speed runs.” By the end of the decade he was considered the most successful competitor of the ’60s. But Aspen was still his favored winter home.

As is true for many professional surfers, Joey’s surfing income had to be supplemented. Restaurant jobs fit the daily routine: surf all day, work at night. Cabell took the next step by opening the first Chart House restaurant with his partner Buzzy Bent. The first Chart House, a steak house decorated with nautical charts and surfing photos, opened on Durant Avenue across from the base of Little Nell in 1961. A second site opened in Newport Beach, Calif., in 1963. The business expanded to a national chain over a couple of decades.

Word about Aspen spread among legions of surfers-turned-ski bums. The trend attracted the attention of Life Magazine writer Robert Bradford. His 1965 article, “Aspen’s Awful Problem – Surfers on Skis,” caused a local stir. Bradford worked in ski resorts during college and attempted to comment on the “live now” 1960s youth culture, using Aspen as an example. He presented a story of reckless skiing and round-the-clock partying.

The generation gap of the period was as pronounced in Aspen as elsewhere. Older business owners, especially Aspen’s European immigrants, found their youthful employees repugnant. Long hair, foul language, alcohol abuse, sexual looseness and absent work ethic did not square with their ultra-conservative values.

The Life expose was cause for concern in a town trying to market a first-class resort image. Surfers as well as other restaurant/bar employees featured in the article felt equally appalled because they knew the article was contrived. The author had bought a keg and advertised an open invitation to party. During the staged event, Bradford had encouraged several guests to scale a two-story stone fireplace, and then photographed them, implying out-of-control behavior.

The ’60s surfers were rapidly replaced as new waves of residents from other locales discovered Aspen. The community has long been divided over whether the “surfer invasion” was better or worse than those preceding and those after. Ocean surfers were but a harbinger of a future trend: youth on surfboards minus fins, sliding on snow.


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