Mike Hynson is a surfer who has experienced some major highs and lows in his 50-year surfing career — literally. In the mid-1960s, Hynson seemed to have everything. He was a handsome, blond-haired athlete with worldwide status gained as one of the co-stars of the iconic 1966 surfing-travel film “The Endless Summer.” He had notoriety as a fine surfboard craftsman with several notable innovations in surfboard design. He was married to Melinda Merryweather, a former Ford Agency model, and was hobnobbing with notable figures in and out of the surfing world. Hynson traveled the world and partied with famed figures like Jimi Hendrix, Timothy Leary and Andy Warhol.
However, like many others growing up in that period of social upheaval and change, Hynson got heavily involved with recreational drug use and eventually crashed hard, landing in jail on numerous occasions.
Now, his wild ride through life is chronicled in a new book, “Mike Hynson — Transcendental Memories of a Surf Rebel,” which gives a vivid, personal account of those equally innocent and wild and crazy days.
The book is a heartfelt, insightful and emotionally honest recollection of a period of great cultural change in our country. In regard to surfing, it covers a major transitional period with many of the colorful characters who are now considered iconic and legendary figures in the sport’s history.
Surfing is only part of the book, however, as Hynson bares his soul when discussing his upbringing, love life, business ventures (both legal and illegal) and his involvement with far-Eastern spirituality. Chapters devoted to his involvement with drugs are candid and revealing while being a fascinating account of those heady times.
Portions of the book take place in San Diego beach communities like Encinitas, La Jolla and Pacific Beach, where Hynson initially learned to surf as a young Navy brat.
“I rode my first wave at Crystal Pier and got hooked on the thrill,” Hynson said. “Prior to that I had played a lot of golf and caddied at the Mission Valley Country Club for years and might have turned pro if I had continued with it. I would go out on the driving range after it closed and hit all the balls back to the clubhouse.”
In 1959, a 17-year-old Hynson acquired an old, discarded balsa wood longboard from a Mission Beach backyard. He cut it down and shaped his first surfboard to favorable comments from his peers.
“My cred came from making my first board,” he explained. “The garage was a total mess afterwards, with resin on everything, but the board was unique for the time — light and small.”
Amazingly, Paul Schaffer, an old local friend of Hynson, recently contacted him to inform him that Schaffer actually had that original board in a Pacific Beach garage, where it had been for decades. Hynson, who has crafted well over 30,000 surfboards over the decades while working for top manufacturers such as Gordon & Smith, Hobie, Yater, Bing and Dewey Weber, visited and confirmed it was indeed his first board he shaped 50 years ago.
One book chapter chronicles Hynson’s meteoric rise to fame as one of the two surfers featured in filmmaker Bruce Brown’s groundbreaking surf odyssey, “The Endless Summer,” along with 18-year-old Robert August. The three traveled the world in 1963 in pursuit of the perfect wave, and the actual journey was not always the happy, fun-filled quest as portrayed in the movie. Hynson did stumble upon the wave site, Cape St. Francis in South Africa, which turned out to be the defining sequence in the film, after getting into an argument with Brown and August and storming off down the beach to a small point he noticed breaking. After sampling its absolute perfection, he hurriedly gathered the others to film its fleeting glory.
The rides by Hynson and August at this finely tubing, right-hand point break became the key ingredient Brown needed to transform his film into what became the first wide-release surf film to play in Middle America before daily sold-out shows.
“The Endless Summer” eventually made $30 million — an astounding sum for the time — but left Hynson feeling angry, bitter and exploited without more equal revenue sharing from it. Hynson had a falling-out with Brown and August for years but is cordial at reunion engagements these days.
“I have issues, but we’re cool with it now,” he said. “I’m social with them.”
Hynson recounts tales of early days of living and surfing Hawaii’s famed North Shore of Oahu back when it was barely ridden, including the first time the infamous Banzai Pipeline break was surfed in 1961. Pipeline, with its shallow, coral cave-ridden bottom, was considered too dangerous prior to surf legend Phil Edwards initially tackling it.
“I spotted for Phil Edwards, who was scared to death, but he rode the first waves out there and I ran out with my board when I saw other people starting to show up,” Hynson recalled.
One chapter describes his first encounter with the mind-expanding drug LSD while at Blacks Beach with a fledgling psychedelic spiritual group called the Brotherhood of Eternal Love. It started as a seemingly positive, life-changing experience that led to an eventual path of self-destruction. Dr. Timothy Leary and the biggest cocaine dealer in California were a couple of the people Hynson spent considerable high times with.
As his involvement with drugs expanded, he vividly recounts a stressful trip to Nepal when he and two friends smuggled hashish inside three hollowed-out surfboards. Considering the times and how hazy some of these memories could be, Hynson brings a real feel for the mood, atmosphere and emotions while visiting Nepal and experiencing an opium den, risking extended jail time to bring large quantities of hash back to the states.
It was in jail, during a later drug bust, that Hynson first started penning his memoirs.
“I was reading so much, I got so into it,” he said. “Then I started writing about people and things that inspired me and it just flowed – a stream of consciousness. It was like a 12-step process and I wrote hundreds of pages.”
Behind-the-scenes tales of incidents are detailed in an informative and almost amusing manner, considering how outrageous some events were. In 1970, the psychedelic concert flick “Rainbow Bridge” was filmed on Maui, featuring visiting Stratocaster guitar maestro Jimi Hendrix, who played a concert in an open cow pasture below Haleakala Crater. The film also featured Hynson, David Nuuhiwa and others surfing on the island. Hynson had co-started a company called Rainbow Surfboards, which featured colorfully designed artwork, one of which is shown in the movie being cut open to reveal bricks of smuggled hash. The film debuted in 1972 in Laguna Beach and the turnout had a large number of narcotics officers on hand to witness much of the audience lighting joints.
“It was so smoky you couldn’t see the stage, and we had these Rainbow boards lined up around the screen,” Hynson recalled. “After the narcs saw the movie, they were pulling over everyone with a Rainbow surfboard on top of their car and harassing them. It was really ridiculous.”
Nowadays, Hynson, 67, is clean and fit and works doing research and design on surfboards in Encinitas. He also shapes custom board orders for a large Japanese clientele. His high-performance quad-fin boards are in strong demand. Golf is still a big passion in his life, and he plays “every chance I get,” he said.
Asked recently if he might have changed anything if he could have known where his life’s path would lead him, he responded emphatically, “Absolutely not!
“I’m having a rebirth now,” he added. “I’m starting my own surfboard business with my son, and it’s so much fun. Life keeps getting better.”
The book project, six years in the making, has been enjoyable for him.
“These are good, real stories with lots of photos and it’s been a whole learning process in the publishing world,” he said. “I’ve had all kinds of good responses from it.”
Michael Hynson has caught a new kind of perfect wave and is clearly enjoying the ride.
“Mike Hynson – Transcendental Memories of a Surf Rebel” by Michael Lear Hynson and Donna Klaasen Jost is published by Endless Dreams Publishing. The first, limited-edition book signing is scheduled for Aug. 20, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the California Surf Museum, 312 Pier Way in Oceanside. Visit www.endlessdreamspublishing.com for book purchases and more information.