Hey All,

Longtime EOS connoisseur Thomas Altee, just after last week's Joint went out, sent me some amazing 1930s footage of Corona Del Mar, which I have downloaded and remixed into this two-minute swing-beat gasser designed to razz your berries and pop your peepers, and yes the drummer on that track is none other than the Big Sid Catlett himself, the heppest skin-tickler of the age.

I did not fully appreciate until seeing this footage just how strange and gnarly Corona Del Mar was. Safe as houses over there in the deeper water a few yards off the jetty, but an absolute meat grinder for those thrill-seeking surfers and bodysurfers riding the explosion off the rocks, and also for the spectators navigating the flat-topped cement crown that poked into the lineup like a runway and was slicker than grease on linoleum. The poor kid, below, kneepaddling just ahead of a six-board log-jam—you can almost hear the siren as the stretcher-fetcher races down for pick-up. If I was a Depression Age kid and Corona Del Mar was my local break, I would probably turn around and ass-kiss my way into the Balboa Yacht Club and let these lunatics get on with it. Plank-era surfing was its own kind of madness.

corona del mar, newport beach

Joey Buran, on the other hand, would have been out there banging rails with Tarzan Smith and the rest of the he-man CDM locals. Banging rails, surfing circles around them—then making friends with everybody on the beach after. Joey was (and probably still is) as likeable as he was fearless and ambitious. I met Buran in 1975, when we both qualified as Boys Division entrants for the United States Surfing Championships, in South Padre Island, Texas. Joey was 14, and had been surfing just two years. We called him Sand Crab for his extra-generous stance and the way he kind of scuttled around, quickly, almost randomly, from turn to turn. A hyper little guy with a big barking voice. Not a pretty surfer. A massive storm front moved ashore one afternoon, kicked up some windswell, and kept blowing stronger as the day progressed; right before dark, as Joey walked back to the hotel after surfing, his board was torn from his arms, flew upwards like a spinning drill, then went nose-first into the sand and broke in two—at which point he became Boardless Joe. We all laughed about it at dinner, Joey included. Friendly guy, like I said. Not much of a surfer but we all liked him. 

joey buran
joey buran, oceanside, warren bolster

Two years later, Joey won the first big contest of the '78 amateur season, won the next one, and just kept winning, event after event, all that energy now channeled into a blurry fandango of turns and cutbacks, noserides and headips. Still not pretty, but very much unbeatable. Joey won so easily and so often that he got bored, didn't even bother with the upcoming US Championships that he'd qualified for with a couple thousand points to spare, turned pro instead—and beat Larry Bertlemann right out of the age to win the California Pro. His $3,000 prize money check bounced and the event promotor went to jail, but that had nothing to do with the fact that Buran, at 17, had just bunny-hopped straight from hot amateur to world-class pro, and anybody calling fluke was shut down hard a few weeks later when Joey made the Pipe Masters final and took 5th, one spot behind Gerry Lopez and one ahead of Dane Kealoha.

Boardless Joe then became the California Kid—and we were in awe of him.

joey buran, oceanside,

Buran would later blame weed for the middling WCT career that followed (there was solace in the fact that "even when I'd finish 13th or 14th in the world, I could still jump on Interstate 5 and go from San Diego to Eureka and never pass anyone rated higher than me"), but for now let's skip to the end of his WCT run because to my mind Joey made either the best or second-best exit from pro surfing, ever (Mark Richards being the other contender), when he hit #7 in the 1983 year-end rankings, his best-ever finish, but saw newcomer Tom Curren finish #8, and rather than play second fiddle to the new kid, simply and graciously took his leave.


Buran famously entered one last WCT event—the 1984 Pipeline Masters. The surf was huge and pumping, the final was stacked (Tom Carroll, Mark Occhilupo, Derek Ho, Wayne Bartholomew, Max Medeiros), and Joey absolutely cakewalked it. Didn't put a foot wrong, won every heat he surfed, ran the field the way he used to at age 16 against us junior division amateurs in crumbly two-footers at Oceanside or Hermosa.

That was Joey's pro tour closer. A mic drop for the ages, with a gracious exit interview on the way out:

When I was young, I wanted to be King of the Pipe. I really believed then that there was such a thing. Then as I grew up, I realized there isn't a King of Pipe. I sort of outgrew that. Yet on one day, on my day, I actually was the best surfer at the world's most dangerous spot.

joey buran, pipeline masters, 1984
joey buran, pipeline masters

Of course, there was the PSAA coda, and I have shortchanged Jesus' role in Buran's life (he has been a pastor at various San Diego area churches for decades), but let's save that for another time. I'm happy to leave Joey there on the Masters podium, arms raised and shouting in joy, Occy on one side looking glum (he was runner-up), but look at Tom Carroll on the other side, beaming, a one-man fount of respect and affection aimed at the California Kid, and didn't Joey just deserve every bit of it.

Thanks for reading, and see you next week!


PS: Joey and Tom, below, in Tokyo, 1979, some kind of pre-event ceremony for I think the NPSA Japan Cup. This would be Tom's rookie year, and Joey's first full year (he did the last few WCT events in 1978). Both surfers are 18 in this photo, both got dead last in the Japan Cup, and time was on their side and every stop on tour was a new adventure.

joey buran, tom carroll, japan

[Grid images, clockwise from top left: Big Sid Catlett; Joey Buran, 1978; Tarzan Smith, photo by Phillis Foster; sailboats on Balboa Bay; South Padre Island sticker; Mark Occhilupo, 1984 Pipeline Masters, photo by Warren Bolster. Log jam at Corona Del Mar, early 1930s. Buran winning the 1978 California Pro, at Oceanside, photo by K. Martin. Joey surfing Del Mar Jetties, Oceanside, 1979, photo by Bolster. Buran surfing at the California Pro. Occilupo, Buran, Carroll, on the podium at the 1984 Pipe Masters. Buran winning the Masters, photo by Don King.]