Matt Warshaw is a former professional surfer, former writer and editor at Surfer Magazine and the author of dozens of feature articles and books on surfing culture and history. He is currently the curator of the online Encyclopedia of Surfing and History of Surfing.
The recently released chapter on the clown of Malibu, Tubesteak, is worth a read.
This week, Matt Warshaw dropped a gem from a chapter of his newly digitized History of Surfing, dedicated to one Tracy “Tubesteak” Tracy, the legendary Malibu local (You can read the full chapter here). We got a hold of Warshaw at his home in Seattle, to get his take on what made Tubesteak a true original.
What was it about Tubesteak’s antics, amidst 1950s suburbia, that made him so memorable?
I’ve realized, these last few days, how hard it is to get across just what made Tube so special. Those who knew him way back when, even by reputation, get it. But all you youngsters — like, under 50 — how do I do justice to this man? But let’s try. First of all, like you say, it’s postwar suburbia, clean-cut, mom’s in the kitchen, Father Knows Best. Elvis has barely arrived. “Rock and roll” is mostly still a black thing. You obey your parents, go to school, go to college or get a job, get married, have kids. You follow the script. And here’s this guy living in a shack, drinking beer in the afternoon, living fat and sleek on handouts from friends, visitors, day-trippers. And his name is “Tubesteak!” Those two things right there, the living situations and the nickname, in terms of having one foot outside of the societal norm, are pretty amazing. I mean, he’s more or less homeless, but he’s surfing Malibu by himself every morning, holding court on the beach in the afternoon, and if he puts his hand out somebody fills his palm with a cold beer—that’s amazing, that’s transgressive. And then, of course, Tube was just really funny, very sly, very deadpan. Like, John Belushi funny. Everything was a put-on with Tube, except he wasn’t mean-spirited. Unlike Miki Dora, Tube liked people. He’d mess with you, but not in a humbling or bullying way. You just wanted to be around him, to watch and listen and maybe, hopefully, chime in now and then.
What was it about Malibu—the parking lot scene, the wave, the crowds on the beach—that made its little amphitheater so ripe for characters like Tubesteak?
It’s warm, the coast right there bends in a way that not only makes the waves great, but keeps it from blowing out in the afternoon. You’re off Coast Highway, but not too far off. You’re outside of LA, but not too far outside.
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