The Magic Wave

Malibu, 1954. Photo: Dick Metz
Bev Morgan, Malibu, 1951. Photo: Joe Quigg
Malibu. Photo: Bill Parr
Malibu pioneer Sam Reid, Santa Monica, 1925
Malibu surf check, 1950

Why did Southern California give birth to a national surfing craze? One simple, attractive, ahistorical, quasi-magical explanation is that modern surfing conjured itself into existence from the perfect air that hung over the perfect beach next to the perfect waves at Malibu. Surfing actually made Malibu, but never mind. From the late 1940s to the early 1960s, it often seemed to be the other way around.

Malibu wasn’t so much a surfing location as it was a small, intimate, well-designed surfing...