Legends of Laguna
With the sad passing of Mark Chamberlain, we have lost another indelible link to Laguna’s cultural legacy in the 1960’s as a place of expanded consciousness. Mark arrived at the tail end of the decade – 1970 and straight from Vietnam – and he literally landed at the cosmic Christmas Happening in the Canyon (where LSD was dropped from a plane), and chronicled it with his trusty camera. He and his photography never left, and Mark was a fierce advocate for activist art for nearly 50 years. His BC Space is the last of a subversive, edgy gallery you always felt was more East Village than Forest Avenue. We will miss Mark, but I’m pleased to learn the gallery will live on as Mark has left it in capable hands.
The list of people who can remember and tell us about Laguna’s past is dwindling. Luckily, I have a radio show, and every now and again I score a profound guest whose tales are so colorful it reminds me of how lucky I am to live here. Such was the case this past week when I interviewed 88 year-old Bud Hedrick. Bud was a commercial abalone diver in the ‘50s, who also worked in Spain as an American matador known as El Californiano.
Bud was born in Chicago, but moved to Los Angeles in 1940 when he was 10 – by himself. His single mom had gone out first to take a job as a keypunch operator for Lockheed. She left Bud with her parents while she got settled in. Three months later she sent for Bud, who was packed onto a train by his grandmother for the three-day journey (they didn’t have “helicopter parents” back then). He was riveted by the Western scenery he’d seen in cowboy films, and his sense of adventure was ignited, never to be extinguished.
The 1940s Hollywood that Bud came of age in was an idyllic town with lots of open space, easy parking, and a comprehensive streetcar system. As a kid he could ride the trolley all the way to the ocean. And the first time this Midwesterner saw the gleaming Pacific and rode the waves with his friends on a rented blowup mat called a surf rider, he was hooked.
At Hollywood High he met Phillip “Flippy” Hoffman, and his fate was sealed. Flippy’s father Rube bought a beach home at Crescent Bay and welcomed all kids. The boys spent many a summer riding the waves in and around Laguna, and Flippy went on to become one of the legendary early big wave surfers in Hawaii.
When Bud finally graduated from Hollywood High, he had no thoughts of going to college. The sea was his calling, so he enrolled in the merchant marines and traveled the world for a year. When the Korean War intervened, Bud enlisted in the Marines. Following the war he returned to sea, first as a commercial abalone diver, plying his trade in the Channel Islands, and then as a sea captain for 20 years on rock star David Crosby’s schooner, roughing it in places like Hawaii and Tahiti.
But about that bullfighting. Turns out abalone fishing had an off-season every year (a failed attempt at conservation), so Bud and his crew would frequently head to Mexico for warmer waters to fish, spear and surf. He got his first taste of bullfighting there, and became fascinated. So one year he took his abalone savings and set sail for the mothership of bullfighting – Spain. Wanting to learn but not necessarily fight, he enrolled in torero school and realized the adrenaline rush from fooling a charging, 2,000-pound animal with homicidal horns was akin to the death-defying drop down the face of a 30’ wave. So he went back every year for five years trying to ascend the ranks of pro mattadore. Only 10% do. Once he realized how hard it would be to make a living, he succumbed to the lore of the sea and supplemented his income shaping surfboards for Laguna’s Hobie Alter.
He had some crazy aquatic adventures with Flippy. They once piloted a tiny, self-made catamaran with a small outboard engine from San Felipe, Mexico, (at the Northern tip of Baja) to Acapulco, some 1,500 miles away. They spearfished the whole way and lived off what they caught. Bud wrote a book about it, “Cruise of the Gringo Vagabundos.” It’s available on Amazon, along with his bullfighting tome, “Spain and the Bulls.”
Bud’s retired now from bullfighting and abalone diving, and living contentedly in Napa. Besides hand crafting fine stringed instruments, he continues to sculpt waves out of different mediums, something he started in Spain with bronze casting as a way to cope with the stress of bullfighting. His friend suggested he sculpt something he missed, and for 60 years it’s been his fascination with the poetic, kinetic force of waves. He visits friends in Laguna annually. Because without our little town, where Bud Hedrick came of age in our waves, he may have never lived the life he did.
Billy Fried hosts “Laguna Talks” Thursday at 8 p.m. on radio station KX 93.5, and can be reached at [email protected]