Vail Daily column: Reliving the freedom of a life on the beach

We were on board a Boeing 737 on a Friday night flight bound for Los Angeles on the start of spring break. The plane was full of half–legally-stoned-in-Colorado college students headed for the beaches of Southern California.

Many of them had chosen alcohol as the drug of choice to make the trip a lot mellower. I think I was the only senior citizen on board except for the gray haired stewardesses who were having a really lousy ride.

I was sitting by the window next to a giggling young lady who was on her first-ever away-from-home-for-a-week trip with someone of the opposite sex. He fortunately looked not too much older than she was.

I was going to Hermosa Beach to watch a surfing movie that my daughter had put together for a Saturday night show along with the opening of some new exhibits in the surfing museum.

It was very enjoyable to wander through the museum and see a lot of different sized, shaped and colored surfboards that most people considered antiques according to the date on them when they had last ridden Hermosa Beach waves 20 years after I had moved to Colorado.

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Hermosa is by no means a poor town. Oceanfront lots on the sand that are only 25 feet wide with a 3-foot setback start in the $2 million price range.

However, it was a heyday for surfing in the 1960s and ’70s when Greg Knoll, Hap Jacobs, Bing Copeland, Dewey Weber and Dale Velzy all had retail surfboard shops in a short half mile on Pacific Coast Highway in Hermosa Beach.

Hall of Fame

Hermosa has always wanted to build and own a surfing hall of fame, but anyone who should be in it spent their youth riding a surfboard instead of earning the money to build the hall of fame, so instead many years ago they built a statue in honor of a real hot surfer named Tim Kelly, who tragically died in a car accident on a surf trip with friends.

Next, someone thought it might be a good idea to honor hot surfers by putting their name on a brass plaque and burying it in the concrete on the Hermosa Pier, not unlike the stars on the sidewalk on Hollywood Boulevard, except on Hollywood Boulevard the city charges you what used to be an $8,000 labor fee to install your star, so I turned down the opportunity after producing 49 feature length ski films. It’s probably much higher by now.

I had a great life living on the beachfront in Hermosa Beach and watching my three kids grow up while we would surf together every chance we got. The beach cities were really good places to live back then.

Back at the event on Sunday morning there were white chairs and shade set up for everyone to listen to the speeches. I listened to five people introduce this year’s Surfers Walk of Fame recipients. Then my daughter Chris stood up and started talking about the first time I took her out tandem surfing and how excited she was to be only 11 years old and riding toward shore way up in the air on her father’s shoulders.

Then she presented me with a replica of the brass plaque with this years’ six inductees. I was very pleased to receive the plaque when she said, “You’re probably the only guy in the Surfers Walk of Fame and also in the National Ski Hall of Fame.”

With both of those trophies I still had to stand in line to check my baggage on the flight home.

It was really enjoyable to spend that much time in my old hometown with old friends. After things quieted down, everyone went to lunch at the latest place to eat and drink on Pier Avenue. The last time I was in the building it was a grocery store. Today, it is a Mexican restaurant and stand-up drinking bar which is limited to only 180 drinkers at a time with 150 people waiting in line to stand up and eat a paper plate half full of not-very-warm Mexican food.

Southern California is not only a unique-to-California environment but almost a unique planet unto itself. I was born and grew up in Hollywood when the big red streetcars rattled down Hollywood Boulevard and you could ride the 22 miles to the beach for 25 cents.

I only rode that big red car once and it took two weeks of selling Saturday Evening Post to pay for the one-way ride. Hitchhiking was the answer for me, my bathing suit, my towel, my swim fins and me.

I was really lucky to have lived in Topanga Canyon in 1928 when I was taught how to body surf and found my freedom on the face of a breaking wave. I was mentally enjoying that same freedom while I was sitting on the pier during the award ceremony. In my mind, I was riding each wave as it rolled toward the beach. I have been known to do the same thing on a bumpy airplane flight, which I managed to do on my way back to Bozeman, Montana.

To get there with all of my luggage and stuff I had to first stop in Denver where the airport is so busy that they have seven moving sidewalks running along the very long terminal, side by side. It was really nice to get back to our winter home in Montana. It is wonderfully much smaller than Southern California with barely a million people. Regrettably, however, there is no surf to be found!

Filmmaker Warren Miller lived in Vail for 12 years, and his column began in the Vail Daily before being syndicated to over 50 publications. For more of Miller’s stories and stuff, log onto For information about his foundation, The Warren Miller Freedom Foundation, go to

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