11. Surfing with James Arness & A Scavenger Hunt at Malibu

Besides growing up next to Hollywood, the entertainment capitol of the world, I also lived about an hour-and-a-half from Malibu Beach and the Pacific Ocean. After seeing the movie “Gidget” when I was 12 years old, I really wanted to learn how to surf and become a beach bum – but it was hard because the ocean was too far to walk or ride my bike and I was too young to drive. My older brother Johnny, however, also saw Gidget and was bitten by the same surf bug. He had a drivers license, a convertible car, and other friends who wanted to learn how to surf, too. So I became the kid brother who sat in the back of the car, or, the pick-up truck of my sixteen year-old brother and his crazy friends. I usually sat on top of the boards in the back of a truck driven by a guy named Jimmy, who thought he was a race car driver. When I think about it, I’m lucky to be here now writing this story because Jimmy was a crazy driver. Driving to the beach was a lot more dangerous then learning how to surf in the ocean with the sharks and other creatures. By the way, Stephen Spielberg had not yet come out with “Jaws” and succeeded in scaring the world about swimming in the ocean. Thanks for that, Stephen.

On the weekends we would either go to Malibu (which was “up north)” or Laguna, San Onofre, or, San Diego (which was “down south”). Occasionally, we would go a little past San Diego to Tijuana in Mexico. My father told us not to go to Mexico. He was afraid we wouldn’t come back alive because, even in my youth, Mexico was a pretty lawless place. As they used to say, “In Tijuana, anything goes.” I could tell you some stories about Mexico that would curl your hair and definately make me blush. But, that’s for another day. Let’s go back to surfing.

I think that next to candy, surfing was the most addictive thing in my life. It was certainly the most healthy addiction I ever had. When we went down south there was a private beach called San Onofre Beach that we loved because the waves were very good for learning how to surf. There was only one problem…it was a private beach because it was part of the Camp Pendleton Marine Base and you couldn’t drive in without being a Marine, or, having the right sticker (which none of us had). Ironically, many of my surfer friends got one of those stickers a few years down the road when the draft board and the Viet Nam War took most of the youth, and, a lot of my friends when they turned eighteen and ninteen years old. A lot of them never returned home.

Well, without that sticker we had to park our car out on the Coast Highway and climb over a barbed wire fence with our towels and our surfboards. Then, we’d walk about a mile over dirt marine land to a huge cliff that overlooked the Pacific Ocean. The cliff was maybe thirty to forty feet high. We had to climb down it to the sand then to the ocean. Once we reached the beach we were safe from the soldiers who were training there. It was kind of a game between the surfers and the army guys – but, not a real fun game. I had friends who said they were shot at by the Marines who liked to kill surfboards and scare the surfers. They hated guys with long hair. I think that surfers were really the first hippies, with their long blond hair.

Once we hit the beach it was like D-Day in reverse. We would run down the beach a half a mile or so and then charge into the water where we joined scores of other surfers. Most were members of the club, but, no one knew who was or wasn’t a member and they weren’t looking for ID’s with everybody wearing bathing suits.

One day I was sitting out in the ocean waiting for a wave to come and give me a ride and there was a older guy sitting on a board near me and I thought, man I hope that I am still surfing when I am an older guy like this guy. He looked to be in his forties or more. He was very friendly and told me he’d been surfing for most of his adult life. I told him that I hoped that I would be surfing for many years to come and way into my old age.

I asked him what he did for a living. He was pretty big and looked like he could be a construction worker. He said he was an actor. “In movies,” I asked. “No,” he said he was on T.V. I wasn’t placing who he was without his clothes or his costumes. This was during the sixties and it seemed like about seventy-percent of TV series were westerns. I asked ,”What show are you on?” “Gunsmoke,” he said, and, it hit me. I was talking to Marshal Matt Dillon…the star of “Gunsmoke”. It was James Arness. I said “Well, of course. I didn’t recognize you without your gun.” And we both laughed.

I recently read that surfing was one of James Arness’ favorite hobbies. His son apparently inherited the bug and was a competetive surfer who represented the United States in competitions around the world. Rolf, his son, actually won the 1970 World Surfing Championships held at Johanna in Victoria, Australia.
James Arness and his son, Rolf

Many years later, I moved to the snow fields in Mammoth Mountain up in Northern California with my good friend Dennis. We were both amateur skiiers and we wanted to get better. But it was too far away to go skiing more than a few times a year. So, we both quit college for a semester and went to Mammoth and were busboys and washed dishes at night, just so we could ski all day.

One day I got off a high chair lift and almost skied right into a big guy, who was also on skis. I said, “Sorry” and looked up and it was James Arness…again. But this time he was standing on his skis and looking big….looking like himself. I apologized for knocking into him and he said, “You look familiar.”

“Well, I’m not in the movies but you and I met many years ago.”
“Where was that,” he asked?
“San Onofre…in the water.”
“Oh yeah, you’re the little guy who wanted to still be surfing when he got older. Well, are you still surfing?”
“Yeah, as soon as ski season is over.”

When I had met James Arness while surfing he didn’t seem that tall because, of course, he was sitting on his board out in the water. However, when I saw him snow skiing, he looked like a giant…He was 6-foot, 8-inches tall. We skied for a while together that afternoon and he was the nicest man – just a regular guy. He wasn’t conceited and had a fantastic sense of humor. He wished me luck in surfing when I was an old man. I never saw him again after that trip.

You never knew who you might meet at that ski resort. One day I met actress Sally Field and we spent the day skiing together!

Dave and Sally Field

Let me tell you about a wild game of “Scavenger’s Hunt.

During our high school surfing days we would go surfing every week-end and different friends would drive or I would drive. I had a little red Ford Falcon Woody. Gas was about thirty cents a gallon. Our driving rules were that if you were driving you didn’t have to pay for any gas. Everybody else in the car had to pay one dollar. So my car sat three people in the front, four boards in the back, and sticking out the back window was one person sitting on top of the boards. A lot of time we wouldn’t have any money for food after a big date the night before. I remember eating food from cans we’d bring from home like spaghetti and Campbells soup…I liked chicken noodle. I didn’t exactly like it undiluted but it was food, and, it was free.

My father was a lawyer in LA and a very good one. He spent a certain percentage of his time getting many of my friends out of trouble. We lived in a nice house in our home town of Montrose in the Foothills of L.A.

My mother was a member of the Motion Picture Council and had a lot of very wealthy friends who lived in unbelievably beautiful houses in Beverly Hills. One night she asked me if I wanted to go to a party at one of her Motion Picture Council friends Homes. It was one of those huge Beverly Hills homes that had a driveway that took ten minutes just to drive to the house. I said, “No, I didn’t know anybody there.”

Well, she talked me into it. Maybe there’d be some rich, pretty girls there. Well, everybody got paired up. I was with the hostess’s daughter. We both wanted to be somewhere else. We actually became slightly a couple for a while several month’s after this party but, for this party we simply tolerated each other

It was time to play an old game people had been playing for many years in these neighborhoods. It’s called “The Scavenger Hunt”. Here’s how it worked. Every couple got a scavenger list of various items. Here is an example of the Beverly Hills list.

  1. A peacock feather
  2. A ping pong paddle
  3. A tennis ball
  4. A brass doorknob
  5. A piece of balsa wood
  6. A black sock
  7. A rose
  8. A dust pan
  9. A piece of red paper
  10. A fountain pen
  11. A Hershey bar
  12. A new comb
  13. BONUS…A coin with date of your birthdate on the coin it.

Each couple had to collect as many of the items from the list as they could by going around the neighborhoods and knocking on doors. The couple with the most items was the winner and they got a prize. I don’t remember the prize but probably each person got a new Jaguar. It wasn’t that but something out of the ordinary and expensive. The neighbors were fantastic when we knocked on their doors and told them what we were doing. It went something like this, “Hi, my name is Dave Kimber and this is Ginger and we’re at a party down the street at the Greenbaums, etc.,etc. We’d show them the list which was printed and written with real gold ink, I think. Scavenger Hunt List

It took them back in time to when they played the same game and they searched their houses for something that would fulfill one of the things on our list. One person actually gave us a brass door knob. We didn’t win, I didn’t hook up and the next morning we were on our way to Malibu for a day of surfing.

We took my car and left before the sun came up. We surfed all morning and into the early afternoon. When we surfed together it wasn’t just the surfing that we loved . It was also the camaraderie and the constant laughter. My best friends have always had wonderful sense of humors. For example: We were all standing on a little ten foot cliff above the sandy beach and we had forgotten to bring our towels from the car which was a ways away. George said to Gary, “I’ll flip you to see who goes back and gets the towels.” Gary says,”OK”…and does a back flip from the cliff and lands in the sand, perfectly on his two legs. I laughed about that all day.

We all finally came in and we were starving. We had no money and I had an idea. I told my friends about the night before and the scavenger hunt around some Beverly Hills Neighborhoods. We all kind of had the same idea at the same time. After all, we were at Malibu which is like Beverly Hills on the beach. All the houses are worth Millions of dollars each and a lot of the inhabitants are stars in the entertainment world.

Well, we found some paper and a pen and wrote our own scavenger lists. Ours was a little different than the Beverly Hills list. Ours wasn’t so esoteric and ours had simpler easier things to find. We also included food. Here is a sample of our list.
Surfer Scavenger Hunt List

  1. A feather
  2. A tennis ball
  3. A jar of peanut butter
  4. A clam shell
  5. A white sock
  6. A can of fruit cocktail
  7. A Frisbee
  8. A can of soup
  9. A piece of red paper
  10. A quarter
  11. A ping pong ball
  12. A loaf of bread
  13. A smooth rock
  14. A colored pencil
  15. A candy bar
  16. A dime
  17. A pen
  18. A rubber band
  19. A piece of string
  20. An apple

As you can see, we had more food items on our list and having “a quarter” as one pick on the list was a stroke of genius. Everybody had a quarter and it was an easy way for people to get rid of us. I think it was Gary who thought of that.

Gary and I started walking north on the beach and Bill and Mike headed south. This was the week-end so most of the people were home. A lot of these multi-million dollar homes were just week-end get-a-ways. Most of the people were either involved in their own parties, or, just not very friendly when you knocked on their doors. Other folks were happy and very generous and figured out pretty fast what we were doing. In no time at all we had two bags of food!

A large number of the people would grudgingly put something in our bag after quickly looking at our list. Here is a typical reply. Me:”Hi, we’re at a party down the beach and we are having a scavenger hunt. Can you please help us with anything on our list?” Most people would find the most convenient thing like peanut butter, a candy bar or quarters. Some people were generous but rude – like, “Here’s some peanut butter, now get lost.” We didn’t care about the feather or the ping pong ball.

The only movie or TV star we saw was very nice and helpful. It was Larry Hagman of “I Dream of Jeanie” and “Dallas” fame. He was JR Ewing in Dallas, but, that show hadn’t happened yet.

Larry Hagman looked at our list and said, “What are you boys up to?” He was very suspicious and caught on right away. He said,”Boys, please excuse me for just a minute.” He closed his front door and went back into his house. He returned in an instant and said, “Do, you have peanut butter?
“Yes,” we said.
“How about bread?” He asked
“Yes”, we said.
“Well, then you’ll need this…I didn’t see it on your list” and he held up a new jar of strawberry jam. What a great guy. I was thinking that no else did anything like that all day. Leave it to an entertainer to do something clever like that. Larry had a big heart.

When we all met up two hours later we had a feast with plenty left over for our surfing buddies who smelled the food. Oh, and about that “quarter.” we collected $16.75 between us. We didn’t observe the “wait 45 minutes rule” before going back in the water after you eat. We were all raring to go and the surf was up…that means it was big. The word got around about our scavenger hunt ploy and we weren’t able to do it again, but, that was many years ago. I’ll bet there’s new people in those houses who never heard of our scavenger hunt scheme. Happy Eating.

9 thoughts on “11. Surfing with James Arness & A Scavenger Hunt at Malibu

  1. Great Stories Dave.. You Dad helped mine in a probate problem for our business.
    Drove your drums around a few times .. good times.. never surfed with ya but did go to Huntington and Newport a lot.. moved there in 66 and never left !

    John

  2. Enjoyed reading about surfing with James Arness. My family would pop popcorn and watch Gun Smoke together when I was growing up. I was infatuated with Sheriff Matt Dillon. We also did scavenger hunts but they were in our middle class neighborhood.

  3. Hi Dave, fun reading and reminiscing the good ole days! It really is a wonder we all made it riding in the back of pick ups?!
    That was nice to hear how nice James Arness was, I remember watching Gunsmoke as a kid but more recently watching it with my husband most days when I would visit him in a rehab home, several episodes at a time!! It seemed to make him happy, he passed in January. I will be checking into your blog for more stories, thanks ?

  4. David.. All I can say is you are the BEST! Your kids are so fortunate to have a Dad with such a full life with stories to tell and much wisdom to pass on. Thank You for sharing your life with us! ❤

  5. I’ve always loved your stories Dave! I have a few of my own from riding to gigs together ? Keep me coming! Love you!
    Angi

  6. It’s priceless moments like that the stories you all haved shared together friends will always be friends weather you all are near or far near far its a priceless story that you
    can’t take back and Uncle Dave thanks for the share of the story it shows you really care about those moments that you hold dear.

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