Vintage Review: Surfboard Summer by Jane Sears (1965)

“Will things ever be right again?” Cindy Allison asked herself the question hundred times in the months that followed her brother’s death. And the answer was always the same, reflected in the remote stillness of mother’s face, the empty chair at every meal. A house of shadows it was, and it seemed to Cindy that the good days were gone forever.

Then, one morning, she wandered down to the beach, and there in a bright and salty world she found the friends, the fun, the thrills she longed for.

There was lovely Heather, whose life was shrouded in mystery and whose determination in the face of great handicap was almost beyond belief. There was Bix, handsome, skilled, arrogant, sought-after, and all the others who belong to the surfing crowd. In just one day Cindy knew she wanted more than anything else. To be a wahine, to ride the waves with the daring that would make required by all – this was the answer.

It was the beginning of the summer Cindy would never forget. By the end of it, she had discovered solutions to some painful problems. New values waiting for her, and for her family, beyond the most dangerous wave of all.

SPOILER WARNING! It’s unlikely that most people will ever come across this book, so there will be spoilers.

I love old books like this, although I usually read series books rather than standalones. I love their shape and size. I love the smell of the mustiness of their pages. I love the yellowing and the fragility of the pages.

I also love books and movies about surfing, which is probably why I bought this one at a book fair. The red pencil mark inside tells me it cost me $1.00. It was well worth the money.

Cindy’s entire life changes the day her brother dies in a car accident. Not only is Hoot gone — Yes, Hoot. Boys in these ’60s books always seem to have nicknames like Hoot. — but her mother is depressed, the boy she likes doesn’t come around anymore, and her parents even cancel their annual summer trip to visit her grandmother. And now her best friend is going to Mexico for the summer, leaving Cindy bored and friendless for three long months, trying to interest her mother in something, anything, and failing. Cindy is a great character and it’s not hard to feel for her with so much happening in her life in a matter of months.

Over the course of several trips to the beach, Cindy watches the surfers, befriends a lonely girl with a limp named Heather, and meets Bix (What did I say about these nicknames?) and the rest of the Seaview Surf Club. It’s not long before Heather and Cindy are taking surf lessons from a real Hawaiian surfer. Privately, Cindy doesn’t think Heather will ever be a good surfer because of her limp, a result of polio.

I loved the surf lingo used in this book. I wasn’t sure if it was all real, but I found all the terms (and a lot more) listed on this page.

Hoot’s friend Jeff visits the Allisons. He takes Cindy out to dinner, where they run into the Seaview Surf Club. The members of the SSC show off on the dance floor, earning Jeff’s disapproval. His continued comments and digs about the SSC and Bix in particular upset Cindy, who asks to be taken home early. I kind of thought Jeff was being obnoxious, myself, especially since he noticed it was bothering Cindy and kept it up. Though not a fan of Bix, I was glad to see Jeff leave town.

Cindy enters a picture of Bix in the newspaper’s photography contest — and wins. Bix is thrilled about the publicity and starts to take notice of her. I wish the book had done more with Cindy’s photography. It’s something that was mentioned before she met Bix and the surf club, so it was a real interest of hers. It’s also something I’m interested in — but very inexperienced with — so it would have been nice to hear more about that. That storyline is dropped pretty much as soon as it served its purpose to get Bix to notice Cindy. Cindy’s friendship with Heather seems to be dropped as well, as soon as Cindy starts hanging out with the SSC, although she pops up again in an unexpected place.

Bix enters the whole club, including the newly initiated Cindy, in different events in a surf competition. Bix is attentive as they prepare for competition, but only when it comes to surfing. He’s proud of her when she does well, but not as nice when she has trouble in the water or her mother threatens not to let her travel to the surf competition. Finally gaining permission, Cindy surfs girls’ heavies (big waves) and keeps qualifying until she’s one of the final two surfers left in the event. Bix wins the boys’ heavies and surprises the club when he enters — and wins — the boys’ hot-dogging event too.

That’s great for Bix and the club — but bad for Cindy. She’s just won the girls’ heavies event when it’s announced that she has to compete against the winner of the girls’ hot-dogging event. Rather than sending four surfers on to competition in Hawaii, they’re only sending two. It’s a direct consequence of Bix’s double win in the boys’ events. I don’t know that a real competition could change the rules like that, but okay. Cindy’s competition in this final surf is not Pilar, a SSC member, but Heather!

I’ve only been surfing once, so I’m not expert, but it seemed a little unbelievable that both Cindy and Heather would start learning to surf at the beginning of the summer and be good enough not just to enter a surfing contest that was big enough to span multiple weeks, but also to win their categories. These newbies win it all!

Predictably, when Cindy gets distracted and loses to Heather, Bix forgets all about her. Jerk. Fortunately for Cindy, Jeff is waiting in the wings. He’s returned to Seaview and they dance in the living room until Heather calls and invites them to her house. There, she tells them her news: she’s moving to the mountains and taking up skiing.

That night, as Jeff and Cindy walk along the beach, he reveals that he’s a surfer, too. He helps her realize that she didn’t win because she didn’t want to win. I’m not sure about that message, but this book was written in a different time. As summer comes to an end, Cindy is looking forward to her senior year with her best friend by her side and a new college boyfriend. Things are looking up; her mother is even coming out of her depression. It will never be the way it was before Hoot’s death, but the Allisons will be okay.

Photo credits: Kent Murray and Dan Miles