“At Home in The Shadow of The Giants”
Joe Curren Profile, Surfer Magazine, May 2007
By Andrew Kidman
In the photographic archives of the curren family is a black and white print of Joe’s father Pat standing on a boat in the sea off Catalina Island. Relaxing in Pat’s arms is a small black seal pup. It’s an enchanting image from a bygone era, an image of wonder, an image that yearns for what was but no longer is.
After living in Newport Beach for a few years my dad decided it was getting too crowded.” Says Joe. My parents moved from Newport to Santa Barbara in 1964. He was interested in working as a commercial diver at the Channel Islands. Tom was six months old at the time, they moved into a tiny house on La Mesa.”
Joe Curren was born in Santa Barbara on Christmas Day, 1973. At the time of his birth the Curren family owned a five-bedroom home in Montecito. “Back then you could be a commercial diver or a house painter and afford to own a home in Santa Barbara.” By the time Joe was three the family had sold the house and moved into a Mercedes cargo van.
“Though I don’t remember a lot about it, some of my earliest memories are from living in that van. The whole family lived in Santa Barbara like that for a year or so. It wasn’t like we were homeless people, it was just a transitional period. We made trips up the coast to British Columbia and down to Northern Baja. My Dad had ideas about moving us to Oregon and being a salmon fisherman up there but it didn’t work out. I look back on that now as it being a fun thing for a family to do. Also it was more of an accepted thing at the time, I can’t imagine anyone doing something like that now”.
Spending time with Joe in Santa Barbara isn’t necessarily about the surfing. My last visit with him we spent the morning walking to the beach via the back overgrown alleys down to a Chumash Indian burial ground at Hammonds Meadow. The ocean was blue and glassy – seals frolicked beyond the small swells. To the left of the burial ground developers had recently built a number of ‘marginally tasteful’ upscale homes.
Joe looked over at the houses. “There used to be a beach shack over there. ” Joe said. “A guy named Billy Meng lived in it and payed 40 bucks a month rent for 25 years, he was the caretaker for the old Hammonds Estate. He was one of the first surfers in Santa Barbara, he moved up from Manhattan Beach in the 50’s to be a lobster fisherman. He used to live under the pier in Manhattan, and was Greg Noll’s guardian when Greg first went to Hawaii. Classic guy”. Joe ran his eyes over the new tightly quartered dwellings, “They could have done a worse job, they could have built them here.” he smirked, as he looked down at the sacred Chumash ground.
It’s a dilemma that every born and bred local deals with; the love and memories of a place and the often impending reality that one can’t afford to keep living where one grew up. This is especially true of surfers’ as they’ll generally blow off any financial opportunities to ride a new swell or experience the beauty nature has to offer in their area. This core experience of the land and sea makes them aboriginals to their place. Joe Curren is one of these.