by Merangue Keru
Jamie Budge started surfing in 1960 on his 16th Birthday.
Within a year, he had begun taking 8mm movies his friends surfing. And having his friends film him. Soon Budge’s scope had expanded to include filming the top surfers of the day; including Johnny Fain, Dewey Weber, Lance Carson and Miki Dora.
His first films, called “Hard up for Surf Movies” and “North-from-Topanga-to- South-of-Rincon” played in his friends’ living rooms and in back yards for 25 cents. When the Santa Monica Airport Optimists found out about Jamie’s “business” they voted him “Optimist Boy of the Year” and awarded him $100 towards his film productions.
Jamie gained further surfing notoriety when he was asked to appear on Stan Richard’s TV show, “Surf’s Up!” The television studios of the time couldn’t broadcast 8mm film, so Jamie was asked to give a speech on surfing. The speech involved various illustrations to show take off, trim, bottom turn and a curled up piece of paper to show what the inside of a tube looked l like.
By 1963, Jamie was voted in as a member of the exclusive and prestigious Malibu Surfing Association, partially on the strength of showing his films at MSA meetings.
But when Jamie won the Hermosa Biltmore contest over such renowned surfers as Mike Doyle and Bill Fury, the members of the MSA carried Jamie off the beach on their shoulders, calling Budge “The New Deal”. About that time Budge was voted president of the MSA (something that eventually happened to every member, for two months).
Jamie threw himself into all aspects of surfing. He worked for Dave Sweet Surfboards: repairing boards in his garage and selling boards in the showroom. Jamie was “Another Top Surfer Riding a Dave Sweet Surfboard”. And then made a dozen “Surfboards by Budge”; at first from Dave Sweet pre-shaped blanks. And then later, shaped his own designs from standard blanks.
Budge became active in the rapidly expanding California surfing contest circuit, winning several Santa Monica Residents contests and placing high in contests throughout Southern California. At one time, Budge was 22nd in the amateur contest standings and was included in Surfer Magazine’s “Best Surfer in the World” pole (but didn’t win).
But Jamie did place 5th in the second Tom Morey Noserider Contest in Ventura, (winning $250) and making him the 5th rated Professional Surfer in California. Until the next contest: the Laguna Master’s at Redondo. Jamie wasn’t invited, so instead he filmed the contest for his first feature length surf film, “The Living Curl”.
“The Living Curl” premiered at Miles Playhouse in Santa Monica in the spring of 1965. Because the film was shot entirely in regular 8mm, Budge’s presentations were limited to Women’s Clubs, VFW halls and other small auditoriums.
After surfers paid their admission and saw the 8mm projector, many would head to the door and demand their money back. Budge would give them a convincing sales pitch about his “all hot dog” movie, featuring every hot surfer in California doing surfing maneuvers they could only dream about. After reluctantly returning to their seats and watching “The Living Curl”, they would (after the showing, with bleary eyes) compliment Budge on his masterpiece of California surfing.
When most surfing movies of the day were either travelogues or studies in big wave riding in Hawaii, “The Living Curl” was a welcome respite for California surfers who wanted to see their own surfers “hot dogging” the California waves of the day.
This was Jamie Budge’s motivation for filming “The Living Curl”: to capture the top surfers of the day in California; in their prime, performing the cutting edge maneuvers of modern surfing as they were being developed. When the word got out, Jamie Budge’s “The Living Curl” became something of an insider classic. As the poster said, “a movie for the audience he’s part of, the California Surfer”.
One place where the California surfer was held in the highest esteem was in the budding surf culture of the East Coast of the United States. So Budge headed east.
But at first, showings of “The Living Curl” were modest. And at one point, low on funds, Budge was considering abandoning this “tour”. He arrived for a showing at the Cocoa Beach Playhouse with not a soul in sight. Budge set up for the show, expecting the worst.
With everything set to go (except the audience), Jamie went into the rest room to put on his traditional sport coat and tie for the presentation. After he had gotten in “costume”, he ventured a glance out the window. And to his amazement, there were surfers lined up around the auditorium waiting to get in.
The Playhouse was packed for two showings, ensuring the prosperity of the “tour” for the rest of the summer.
It was the turning point for Jamie and “The Living Curl”. Budge proceeded to take the surf towns of the east coast by storm with his new found celebrity status as a contest winning surfer from California with a California surf film.
Not only could he beat most of the local surfers in their own contests, but all surf movies were shown in fire halls and other small auditoriums that were prevalent in the beach towns. The East Coast surfers couldn’t relate to the “monster” waves of Hawaii. But they all wanted to be like the surfers of California. They didn’t notice and didn’t care that “The Living Curl” was 8mm.
JB Surf Bio & The Living Curl – 3 –
The high point of the summer was in Seaside Heights, New Jersey where Budge showed “The Living Curl” and won the Atlantic States Surfing Championships.
Because he had a showing planned that night in Virginia Beach, Budge grabbed the silver Governor’s Cup of New Jersey (without a kiss from Miss New Jersey) and drove desperately towards Virginia. He didn’t make it; leaving lines of disappointed surfers in front of the Virginia Beach Civic Auditorium. He showed the next night to an irritated crowd.
But Budge was too elated from the success of the whole “tour” to notice. Virginia Beach was the last stop of the summer. He almost didn’t care when his van broke down during the long drive home in Tucumcari, New Mexico. Jamie spent his 21st birthday waiting for a brake line to arrive from a nearby city.
Back in California, Budge was anxious to take “The Living Curl” to the next level. He set up a showing sponsored by wetsuit mogul Jack O’Neill at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium. Arriving in Santa Cruz, Jack O’Neill put an arm around Jamie and asked, “Is it true . . . these rumors I’ve heard that “The Living Curl” is only 8 mm?” Budge countered, “But surfers love it. All top surfers. All hot dogging . . . And . . .. “ But O’Neill interrupted, “Well, Dave Sweet says you’re a good guy. So we’ll give it a try. But if anything goes wrong . . . !”
Budge was excited to show “The Living Curl” in such well respected surfing company. However, during the showing, right in the middle of a sequence of Jamie (bragging about his) surfing in Ventura, the projector stopped and burned the image of Budge off the screen.
The audience loved it. Smoke was rising from the projector, and they thought it was part of the show. In the back of the Civic Auditorium, Jack O’Neill was rolling his eyes.
Jamie told the laughing audience that is it was time for intermission and went to work on the projector. Disassembling it in the middle on the audience, he found a small rubber drive belt had broken. Not knowing the projector even had a drive belt, Budge was stuck. Searching the auditorium for some solution, he found 4 rubber bands wrapped around a pencil sharpener in the back of the room. Wrapping them around the drive pulleys and re-assembling the projector, Budge re-started the show. With Jack O’Neill shaking his head.
The showing finished with Jamie crossing his fingers every time the projector sped up or slowed down with the stretching of the rubber bands. But they never broke. And Jack O’Neill was finally OK with the presentation.
Jamie’s rise in surfing circles soon caught the attention of surfing legend Dewey Weber. Dewey was planning a surfing tour of the East Coast to promote his new surfboard, The Performer. Jamie joined the team of 8 California surfers for the “Weber and Budge Surfing Tour” in the summer of 1966.
JB Surf Bio & The Living Curl – 4 –
Starting out in Corpus Christi, Texas, the tour hit all the top surf cities of the Gulf Coast. That was Corpus, Galveston/Houston and Mobile where there was one surf shop.
But the tour started in earnest in Miami, Florida. The team would start each day at daybreak at the beach holding a surfing contest for the local surfers. And various members of the team would announce the contest and describe the entrants’ rides. After the contest, members of the Dewey Weber Surf Team would demonstrate their advanced California surfing abilities for the local surfers. And then allow locals to demo ride Weber Performer surfboards.
If the surf was good, Jamie would film members of the team and top east coast surfers for his new 16mm surf film, “The Californians”. After the award ceremonies there was usually a stop at a local radio station for live on-air interviews and maybe later a bar-b-q with local surfers.
Then Jamie would show “The Living Curl” at a local Fire Hall or other auditorium. Sometimes showing and narrating it twice for a total of over 3 hours of talking before a live audience. The shows would end about midnight, and by 1 am the tour would be on the road again; headed for the next stop on the surf map the next day.
Every day for over two months.
It was the only time Budge ever fell asleep behind the wheel of a car: waking up driving with one wheel in a ditch. And then turning the driving over to Jojo Perrin so he could get some sleep.
Arriving in Virginia Beach, Budge was promptly arrested for sleeping in a car on a public street. Had he been in the adjacent parking lot, he wouldn’t have been arrested, debated Budge in his mind, while sitting in the Norfolk jail waiting indignantly to “tell it to the judge”. But Dewey arrived and paid the $50 fine telling Jamie, “Come on, we’ve got a surf tour to finish.”
The tour finished weeks later in York Beach, Maine in late August of 1966: the end of the “Weber and Budge Surf Tour” and the final live showing of “The Living Curl”.
Until 42 years later. . . when it was re-premiered at Duke’s Malibu in the fall of 2008.
After sitting in a closet for decades, “The Living Curl” was digitally re-mastered under the prompting of Scott Starr of starrfilms.com. No longer merely a cult film from the sixties, “The Living Curl” has met unanimous acceptance among surfing historians and contemporary surfing enthusiasts as well.
No longer the 8mm underdog, “The Living Curl” has suddenly been elevated to digital equality with any surf film ever made. It looks great on the live screen as well as the TV screen. And finally all the attributes of “The Living Curl” are available to surfing audiences everywhere.