The two men named to the Hermosa Beach Surfer’s Walk of Fame this year never boasted larger-than-life competition paychecks or multimillion-dollar sponsorship deals for riding the waves. Surfing was neither a financial game-changer nor a full-time profession for either. But, for both, it was a way of life.
Surfing, for this year’s inductees, meant freedom. It meant friendship and brotherhood, adventure, excitement and travel. The beach life was the epitome of their identity, and surfing was their passion.
Sparky Hudson and John McFarlane began their surfing days nearly two decades apart – Hudson as a youth in the mid-1960s, and McFarlane as an adult in 1950. But their drive to paddle out and catch a wave and their love for the sea was timeless. They’ll both be honored at the Hermosa Beach Surfer’s Walk of Fame induction ceremony at 11 a.m. on April 5 by the pier, where their bronze stars will be memorialized.
Born in Santa Monica, Hudson, whose given name is Edwin Sparky – no nickname needed to match his firecracker personality – moved to Hermosa Beach with his family as a young boy and grew up around 17th Street. He attended Mira Costa and graduated in 1965, at the height of California surf culture and The Beach Boys. It was almost inescapable, as Hermosans rode waves, sang about beach bodies, carved boards and invented surf gear and accessories.
“Surfing went from like a sport to like a cult – everybody wanted to be a surfer,” Hudson said. “Back then you didn’t have the leashes (and) wet suits were an old diving suit. It was some of the best times of my life growing up there in Hermosa surfing with all of our friends.”
Hudson’s first time on a board was not an idyllic moment. As a 12-year-old boy surfing off the coast of El Porto, now a part of Manhattan Beach, his board curled and nearly hit him in the stomach, and he decided it wasn’t for him. However, he picked it up again at 14, and that time it stuck.
Hudson surfed all through high school, spending evenings and weekends on the waves with friends. He dug Hermosa. However, when he was 19, Hudson was on his way to Australia via Hawaii, where he stopped to shoot a commercial, and he never returned to life on the mainland.
“When I arrived on Maui in 1967, (my friend) showed me all the surf spots – and I fell in love,” Hudson said. “I came back to Hermosa and got all my stuff.”
He has a handful of Bay City Surf Club buddies who live in Hawaii, and talks to other friends from back home over the phone. He also tries to make it back to the mainland to visit his sister, who still lives on 17th Street.
Hudson was a professional surfer from about 1964-68. But then he got tired of contests and decided he really just wanted to surf recreationally. Hudson said his professional surfing days were more about the passion than the cash anyhow.
“Back then, we weren’t making money – they didn’t have money in contests,” Hudson said. “A lot of us were doing advertisements and things. I was fortunate because I did three Chevrolet commercials and a Coca-Cola commercial and certain things in print, but we all got free surfboards and we entered all the contests.”
Though Hudson left the professional circuit decades ago, he still gets in some surf time as often as possible. These days, his favorite surfing buddies are his 20-year-old daughter, Lana, and his German shepherd, Akira.
He was very happy to be named to the Walk of Fame.
“It’s a great honor,” Hudson said. “Hermosa’s my place and it’s nice to be remembered with all of my old friends on there. Long after I’m gone, there’ll be a memory for something like surfing, which was my life for so many years. I’m very grateful.”
McFarlane was born and raised in Redondo Beach and lived there until he was 10 years old, at which time his family moved to the Persian Gulf for three years while his father took a supervisor position with Standard Oil California. Traveling across the ocean in a ship, McFarlane fell in love with the water, and when he returned to the South Bay and enrolled at Redondo Union High School, he joined the varsity swim team.
After graduating in 1946, McFarlane enlisted in the U.S. Army for two years, followed by a degree at USC. There, he decided to marry his love of the ocean with his love of helping others and become a lifeguard, a career he cherished until retiring in 1983 as chief.
He loved everything about life by the water, and found happiness with waves and his wife, Susan.
McFarlane took surfing up relatively late in life. As a young kid, surfboards were made out of redwood strips, and weighed upwards of 90 pounds. He had no interest in carrying that much weight out into the ocean. However, in about 1950, fiberglass came out, allowing the board to be more lightweight. He said boards were then wrapped with balsa wood and weighed about 40 pounds, enticing him try it.
“Within a year, the only thing I wanted to do was go surfing,” McFarlane said.
He would work holidays and save up to take four and five-week long vacations in the off-season, traveling to the hottest surf spots in the world. When he turned 35, the “senior” surf division was invented, and McFarlane started to enter a few competitions with friends, but he never went truly pro.
“We weren’t as serious as the young guys, who were doing the really radical stuff,” McFarlane said. “But it was fun. It was almost like a fraternity.”
The lifeguard surfed into his early 70’s, more than a decade beyond retirement, and he recalls his last ride with a slight twinge of melancholy. McFarlane had traveled to Costa Rica with a good surfing buddy and both of their wives, and they’d made their way down the coast, taking in hidden spots and basking in pristine waters and relatively uncharted territory. At their last surf spot, McFarlane got on his board and paddled out.
He could see a set of waves approaching, nobody but him and his buddy on the water - a surfer’s dream. His friend got up and rode a “perfect wave” in to shore, then paddled back out to join McFarlane, asking why he hadn’t stood up.
In that moment, McFarlane said he knew he’d never surf another wave. Sore shoulders kept him down, but a lifetime of satisfaction in the ocean told him that it was alright. He’d done what he could, surfed some of the best beaches in the world, and it was time to rest.
“I just said, it’s over – the pain was too great,” McFarlane said.
McFarlane said he initially felt a little guilty about being named to the Walk of Fame. He didn’t feel worthy of the star.
“Everybody involved in the Walk of Fame are friends,” McFarlane said. “A couple of guys told me – John, we’re putting you on the list, and I said no. I was associating it with skill.”
However, the “pioneer” title pulled him in and he came to terms with the idea.
“I don’t think there’s anybody that surfed that loved it more than myself,” said McFarlane. “It dictated my life, and I’m not ashamed of it. I don’t regret one hour of it.”