Point Surf '58

Makaha, 1953. Photo: Scoop Tsuzuki
Makaha contest director Fred Van Dyke (left). Photo: Church
Makaha International, late '50s. Photo: Clarence Maki
Makaha International, 1959. Photo: Bob Pasqua
George Downing, Makaha, 1958. Photo: Walter Hoffman

Every 1950s surf movie ended with a punishing big-wave finale. There were other compulsory features: beachbreak whipturns and cutbacks, hokey comedy bits, travel sequences to Mexico with tequila-pickled tourista surfers in sombreros, beater cars with boards stacked on the roof bumping along a dirt track toward the ocean. But in the end, the point was to send everyone home thrilled and maybe a little scared, and the foolproof way to do that was to wrap things up with a few minutes of the heavy...

Downing paddled at speed over four progressively bigger waves then got caught out by the fifth. He pushed his board away and swam for the bottom, felt his sinuses rupture from the pressure change as the wave moved overhead, and broke the surface a few moments later with blood pooling in the back of his throat.