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4/04/17

It felt like I needed permission somehow to make this little Latin-flavored throwaway video, set in fabled old Club Waikiki, on the beachfront of Lima, Peru, during the 1965 World Surfing Championships. Club Waikiki, when it finds its way into the better, more righteous area of my head, makes me squirm. A surfing country club, for God’s sake. The one-percent of the one-percent. I have no idea what it costs now to join, but Club Waikiki membership in the mid-’60s was a cool $25,000. Which of course was nothing to the Lima gentry. Trip on a table leg on the way to the marble-floored bathroom, and you’d spill your drink on an shipping magnate, or a Formula One champion, or the Presidente himself.

The first photo I remember seeing of Club Waikiki showed a white-coated valet standing in the dirt parking lot at the club’s entrance in 1955, head inclined solicitously, looking every bit the House Negro. In his 1993 book Morning Glass, Mike Doyle wrote that “servants waxed your board for you. If you lost it [after a wipeout], they would run over and shag it before it hit the rocks. You could surf right up to the beach, step off and walk away—the servants would run out, grab your board, and carry it up to your locker.” Young Club Waikiki members, Doyle continued, were “mostly bored rich kids, like spoiled princes.” Older members, Peru’s original surfers, would paddle out, catch a single wave “to show they still had the old animal prowess,” then return to shore for lunch and cocktails on the deck. Doyle’s conclusion—and mine too, by proxy—was that Club Waikiki was “unnatural, and made me feel uncomfortable.” 

Oh you big hypocrite, Mike Doyle! “We drank huge pitchers of pisco sours and had a great time,” Doyle writes a paragraph or two later, describing in detail how they then smashed up a local restaurant (a Club member dropped a stack of bills on the table to pay for the damage), then stuffed themselves into somebody’s Jag XKE before hot-rodding out to a colonial mansion for some high-end whoring.

And oh you equally big hypocrite, Matt Warshaw! Fifteen years ago my wife and I gladly accepted an all-expense-paid 10-day trip to Lima—word was out that I was contracted to write a big surf history book; the Peruvians wanted to improve my knowledge of local surf history—and of course we ended up having a long, boozy, very pleasant lunch in the main dining room of Club Waikiki, with servants and white linen and zero chance of me having to open my wallet.

I love that surfing has done it’s small part in social leveling. I love that the sport is filled with people from flat broke beginnings who clawed their way to the top of the lineup, who stole donuts and wax, who learned on garage-sale boards and sailed right past all the rich surf-dabblers who never bothered to put the time in. Tom Blake, David Nuuhiwa, Adriano de Souza—take a bow. There is a special place in Surfing Valhalla for those who start with nothing.

But I also love, or at least take full advantage of, all the things that have been handed to me. Family money. A breadwinning wife. Peruvian swells who wire me plane tickets and book my hotel and usher me to the best table at Club Waikiki.

Ah well. I’m not going to square that circle this morning. Or ever.

The permission I needed to make this clip begins at 1:45. The tall guy in the white dress shirt and black tie, tearing it the dance floor—that’s Joel de Rosnay, French surf champ, the pride of Biarritz, and recent graduated of the University of Paris with a degree in Organic Chemistry. University of Paris. French intellectual. Connect those dots and you get . . . Socialist!

If de Rosnay can set aside his better self and take full guilt-free advantage of Club Waikiki, so can I.

Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité, Watusi!

  • MikePizzo

    Remember Matt, surfing “is” equal opportunity. Rich surfers are entitled to have success and fun too, and good on them!

    Only one thing really wrong………why’d they build their club in front of a break with such mushy waves?

    • Matt Warshaw

      Just guessing, but when the club was first built (1940s) those slow-rolling mushy waves were just right for the locals, who were of course all beginners.

  • Samuel Ortegón Pepke

    Gotta love those Frenchies!

  • curtis

    Does it still work like this? Is the club still going?…despite its over-the-top high class vibe, it looks like a lot of fun.

    • Matt Warshaw

      looks like its still there, but really low profile. Almost nothing online.

    • Juan Diego de Lavalle

      It is still going, now in a more developed Costa Verde (originally it was one of the first buildings there)

      • Matt Warshaw

        Juan, are you related to the surf photographer Jose de Lavalle?

        • Juan Diego de Lavalle

          Matt, he is my father, he is also one of the funding members of Club Waikiki, so glad you remember him (he is almost 91 now!).

          Great article by the way and video!

          • Matt Warshaw

            Jose is the best surf photographer that nobody, here in America anyway, has heard of. I’ve been through the black-and-white files at SURFER a bunch of times, and your dad’s work always stands out. Please give him my regards!

          • Juan Diego de Lavalle

            I will!

          • Matt Warshaw
          • Juan Diego de Lavalle

            Great shot, thanks for sharing, I have to organize some of these pictures my father still keeps from Pico Alto, Punta Rocas, Waikiki also (in negatives). Felipe Pomar, Hector Velarde and other surfers from that era. Some pictures from de 65 world champinship also. Happy to share some of these pictures once I scan them.