July 31, 2020

The ‘Surf-Hippy’ Trail

Peter "abuelito" Lewis

One of the greatest pleasures of having the good fortune to work in my various capacities as “El Abuelito” (Grandfather/Tribal Elder) at Safari Surf School and Olas Verdes, is the opportunity to “Talk Story” with the many guests and travelers passing through. People see this wrinkly sun-drenched old guy in the mix and conversation easily flows from there.

“So, how’d you get here?” I’m often asked. My stock answer is generally “well I started surfing in Longport New Jersey in 1959, and have been on the Surf-Hippy Trail ever since”.


What is the Surf-Hippy Trail? There is no designated established “route” (such as the Pacific Coast Highway)! It is more of a personal map of one’s life choices and directions that define who you have become and are.

My entire family tree is made up of beach lovers. Many resided in Atlantic City, NJ, and the three summer months of June, July, and August is beach season. The weather and ocean temps are warm and inviting, and hordes of vacationing families invade the beaches and boardwalks on holiday.


My dad always used to say “I was born with sand in my shoes, and lived for those months where we spent our summers on the silvery sands”. So, I guess there is some heredity involved!

My surfing addiction took hold instantly and profoundly. I surfed through freezing New Jersey winters in inferior wetsuits where we used masking tape to seal holes and attached our gloves and booties to try and keep the icy water from seeping in.


We longed for those summer months where we could surf without wetsuits and the beaches came alive with social activity. Travelling surf teams from California and Florida would tour the East Coast, often showing surf films and ready to party.

As surfing’s early popularity grew in the 60’s, it identified with the ‘counterculture’ as opposed to the social strata of high school activities: pep rallies, football games, cheerleaders, and keg parties. In high school I got good grades, was a member of the National Honor Society, and the president of my Junior class.

But in 1967, when the ‘Summer of Love’ rolled through Ocean City, New Jersey, a major paradigm shift occurred! As Bob Dylan sang: “the times, they are a changin”.

I surfed on a local surf shop team, and that summer a travelling surf gypsy from a surf team in Florida brought a huge suitcase into the back of the shop, opened it, and revealed a giant bale of bulk marijuana.


None of us had ever seen anything like this! And the whole town got ‘turned on and tuned in’ to the changing tides of youth culture, with new music, art, clothing, head shops, and attitude!

I returned for my senior year of high school with a sun-bleached peach fuzz mustache and sideburns, and had lost interest in running for Senior Class President.


My surf-hippy trail was not defined by dropping out and wandering the world’s Bohemian surf zones, hopping tramp freighters, or hitchhiking with a backpack and surfboard under my arm (no board bags back then!). Rather, I followed the ocean’s compass on my life’s path, with surfing being a major “requirement” of where I went to college, lived, worked, married, etc.

After graduating from Cal Western University in San Diego, and found a management career with the upscale, surfy steakhouse/seafood restaurant company called ‘The Chart House’, founded by famous Hawaiian surfer Joey Cabell.


Joey’s vision was to only open the restaurants for dinner so we the had our days free to surf and ski to our hearts content before work. I guess at the time we thought of it as a “lifestyle job”.


Chart House was King in the 80’s, with over 95 waterfront locations in California, Hawaii, the East Coast, and Virgin Islands; as well as many prominent ski locations. Of course, they eventually opened for lunch and brunch as well! I worked with The Chart House in many California locations, Maui, and eventually Miami, Florida.

Ultimately, I burned out on the restaurant biz, and found work in substitute teaching and parks and recreation; English major jobs! My luck changed when I met Carol Holland, who owned a small surf travel agency called Surf Express.


Her son Todd had a successful run on surfing “World Tour’ in the eighties. Organized surf travel was in its infancy back then, and I arrived at the right time. I worked for Surf Express from 1994-2005 booking surf trips.


Costa Rica was our number one destination, and I had the good fortune to be able to extensively explore the country on reconnaissance missions looking for new ‘end of the road’ surf locales that offered a cabina to stay in and somewhere to eat.

When I first saw Nosara in 1994 I knew I had found my happy place. Of course, this is the uber-condensed version of my journey; nearly six decades of continuous surfing! By all means please come in to ‘Talk Story’ with me; and keep surfing!

El abuelito in Costa Rica
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