By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
It was during one of Hynson’s numerous jail stints, at some point in the 1980s—he’s not sure what year or why he was in jail—that somebody suggested he use his free time to write, a suggestion that, two decades later, led to Transcendental Memories of a Surf Rebel, an autobiography Hynson co-wrote with Donna Klaasen that was released this month by the Dana Point-based Endless Dreams Publishing. Among other things, the book divulges that Hynson, who has never spoken publicly about the Brotherhood, wasn’t just pals with them, but actually instructed them in the art of using surfboards to smuggle drugs.
“The last time I’d been in jail, I’d started reading for the first time in my life,” Hynson recalls of his autobiographical efforts. “And on this stretch, I just got obsessed with writing.” By the mid-1990s, Hynson had cranked out hundreds of pages of handwritten memoirs, all of it scrawled in pencil on jailhouse paper, which he eventually shared with a few friends at the surf shop down the street from where he now lives, a half-mile from the beach in Encinitas. “A couple of people looked at it and said, ‘Michael, I know you can understand this, but I look at it and I can’t understand a word,’” he says.
Hynson remembers glancing down at the first draft of his autobiography. For the first time, he realized that, after the first few pages, his magnum opus consisted of nothing but incomprehensible chicken-scratch scrawl, less a series of words and punctuation marks than a never-ending pattern of zigzag lines, like heart-monitor readings. “It was just so dysfunctional,” he says, chuckling.
* * *
Unlike the blurry events of the past few decades, the highlights of Hynson’s early life are still very vivid in his mind. Michael Lear Hynson was born in the Northern California coastal town of Crescent City in 1942, a Navy brat whose father survived kamikaze attacks as a radioman in World War II. Mike grew up in San Diego and Hawaii, never staying in one place long enough to make friends. His thrill-seeking lifestyle began while living with his mother at a trailer park when he was just 2 years old.
One morning, he crawled out the door while his mother wasn’t looking and discovered that the trailer next door had moved. He grabbed a 250-volt electrical plug that was lying on the ground and stuck it in his mouth. According to Hynson, the shock split his tongue and made it hard for him to learn how to speak. “I developed my own unique way of talking, and sometimes, I mumble and stumble,” he says. “Then, when I was 5, I was climbing these stairs at Imperial Beach, and this friend of mine had a hammer in his hand. My mother said something behind us, and he turned, and the claw of the hammer went right into the temple of my head.”
The next thing Hynson knew, he was being flown by helicopter to San Diego’s nearby naval base. He remembers floating above himself, looking down at his body surrounded by doctors, all of whom left the room. “I remember being really comfortable and just tripping, you know,” he says, “and then my mother turned around to leave the room, and I screamed into my body, ‘Where are you going?’ And my mother goes, ‘He’s alive!’ and the doctors came back in, and they got me back.” Hynson says he likes to joke that the hammer incident explains why he often seems to lose his train of thought nowadays. “Everybody who knows me knows that I go off on tangents,” he says. “But I’m just making an excuse for myself.”
Hynson spent most of his elementary-school years in Honolulu, where, he says, he never picked up a surfboard. It wasn’t until he was in junior-high school in San Diego that he took up surfing with some older kids who surfed at Pacific Beach, called themselves the Sultans and wore matching purple-nylon jackets. After watching the older kids a few times, he borrowed a board. Hynson recalls standing up on his first wave, not realizing how fast he was moving until he looked at the nearby pier and saw wooden posts rushing by in a blur. “I’ll never forget it,” he says. “It was so far out. I couldn’t sleep, and I just got into it, borrowing boards and stealing them and everything.”
Stealing surfboards is how Hynson met the man who would give him his first big break in the world of surfboard shaping, Hobie Alter, an early surf pioneer and inventor of the Hobie Cat, which is now the world’s top-selling small catamaran. “I first met Mike when he stole some of my boards,” Alter says. “The cops wanted to press charges, but Linda Benson, one of the finest surfer gals, called me and said Mike wasn’t that bad.” Alter agreed to drop the charges if Hynson would return the boards and later gave him a job as a shaper.
Hynson’s first board was an 11-foot plank of balsa wood that he spotted while collecting weeds in the front yard of a house in Mission Beach. The board’s owner told him he could have the board if he wanted it, so Hynson and a friend lugged it to the friend’s garage, where Hynson began whittling away. “I had no idea what I was doing, and his parents were getting angry because of all this dust and resin and mess, but it turned out to be a 7-foot-11-inch board. It was a hot little board, and everyone loved it who rode it.”