Goleta Surfing: Mike Furner

Mike Furner (courtesy)

By Tom Modugno of Goleta Surfing

Mike Furner has been a fixture in the Goleta and Santa Barbara surf scene for a while. We thought it would be interesting to learn more about the man they call “Furn dog”.

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Mike Furner is a true local, born at Cottage Hospital in 1946.  He saw his first surfboard when he went clamming at Rincon with his mom and her friends in the 1950s.
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Before surfing, he was busy with the usual kid stuff, and growing up on Center Avenue in the early 1960s was pretty rural. Mike and his friends enjoyed driving go carts, having lemon fights, flying kites with fishing poles, building forts, shooting BB guns, camping overnight in the fields and being Boy Scouts.

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Like a lot of boys in those days, Mike played with guns. He was given a bolt action .22 when he was 10yrs old and even after he attended gun safety training class, he made a big mistake. A bullet was stuck in the chamber so he banged the gun on the floor to dislodge it, then looked down the barrel and then pulled the trigger. Bang! The bullet went through the roof! Luckily no one was hurt.
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When Mike was at La Colina Junior High, a friend was shaping a board in shop class and he knew then he wanted a surfboard of his own.

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Christmas of 1960, Mike woke up to find a surfboard under the tree. He finally had a board of his own. You can see the stoke in his eyes for a new passion that would literally last him a lifetime.
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At 14 years old, he was the proud new owner of a used 8’8″ Yater surfboard. It was the best his hardworking mom could afford, and while it may not have been a dream board to most, to Mike it was a door to a whole new world.
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He was so proud that he took it out front for a photo shoot. Check the stringer on that board! He later asked Renny Yater about it and he said he only did a few of those stringers because they were a lot of extra work. That board would be quite a collectable today.
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That healthy ding on the tail is from his board sliding out of the trunk of his mom’s Buick. He says it wasn’t as bad as it looks since they glassed boards real heavy back then. And the flood pants were a result of a serious growth spurt!

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Mike was the only child of a single parent, so he and his mom were very close. She worked as a seamstress in Montecito, so in the summertime she would drop him off at “College Beach” in the morning and then drive all the way back to work in Montecito.
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Before long he made a major upgrade to a custom 9’6″ Yater. Furner went to Yater’s shop in Summerland, where Sally Yater measured and weighed him for his custom board. He wanted the white panels, so Renny said “let’s put a black pin line on the side of the panel to set them off “. Mike is standing at the drop off spot at UCSB for Mike’s mom. See how small those palm trees behind him are? Check them out the next time you drive out to Campus….
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That drop off spot was easy as Mike and his buddies mainly surfed the cove and Poles and they had a trail down the cliff that looked like this back then. They would slide their boards down the cliff and then walk through the brush full of goats heads to get to the water.
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When Furner couldn’t get a ride to College Point he would ride his bike with a gremmie cart to tow his heavy longboard. Ward Memorial Drive was still under construction and he would ride the long, straight graded dirt road to the beach. And with the swells spinning off that point like this, is was worth it.
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Mike says surfing and hanging out at the beach was like an adventure camp. They would catch and cook crabs, lay in the sand with cute girls, jump in the water hole at the point, knee paddle to Goleta pier to get something to eat and surf the pier. Mike always surfed the east side because there was a good left and the slough mouth, which could get fun. This was pre-wetsuit days, so they all learned to knee paddle to stay as dry as possible. When they got too cold they would make warming fires on the beach. Sometimes there wasn’t a lot of wood on the beach, so they would  find an old tire and burn it. More than once, the UCSB fire department came out on the cliff above and put their fire out. Some of the people that were surfing there were Peter and Joe Moreno, Glen Merrifield, Glen Vance, Ray Mata, Spud Miller, Mark Livingston, Marc Woerful, Tom Mills, Keith Zandona, Rocky Hilton, Jim Winter, and more.
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Furner met Joey Moreno while surfing College Beach and they became good friends. The Moreno family had rented a shed behind their house to a local shaper named Doug Roth and that became a social hub for local surfers. Mike’s new friend lived at the coolest place for a young surfer to hang out!

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Mike doesn’t remember all the guys names at Roth’s shop, but he knows Roth was partners with Dewey Schurman, who later started Islands Magazine. Lots of the hottest local surfers were in and out of the Doug Roth shop. If you know where to look, you can still see one of those surfer’s names carved into the concrete in front of the old surf shop in Old Town Goleta.

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Furner picked a good time to start surfing. Dewey Schurman mentions the early 1960s as being some of the most consistent winters ever. Dewey remembers Furner being one of the young, new crew of the early 60s. Dewey also has a memory of  being way outside at “College Point” on one of the best days he ever surfed there, and watching Furner catch what was easily the biggest wave of the day. “His board was some old tanker, but he still pulled it off.” (Mike insists that couldn’t have been him because he’s always been a “small wave specialist”.)
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This great photo is from the 1964 San Marcos yearbook. Taken at Hendry’s beach by the yearbook committee, it was meant to show some Royals in their leisure time. They needed a surfer with a board in the photo, so they called Furner out of the water. The girl with the pig tails is Mike Haskell’s sister Patty and next to her is Karen Young, not sure of the others.
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Mike joined the United States Surfing Association, sort of an early version of Surfrider. The USSA tried to promote a good image of surfing and provided general information about what’s going on in the surfing world. Surfers in the 60s and 70s had a reputation as good for nothing bums that just wanted to hang out at the beach all day everyday. ( Like there’s something wrong with that?). This 1963 issue mentions how UCSB wanted to make surfing illegal at Campus Point! Evidently there was a lot of vandalism, and punks burning tires on the beach…..

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Mike Furner in 11th grade. At 16 yrs old he got his first car, a 1954 Plymouth hydro drive wagon with the back seat taken out and a mattress installed, blacked out back windows and every surfboard sticker he could fit on the windows. Finally he had freedom from having to ride a bike or ask for a ride. Mike would pile some of the neighborhood kids in, like Rick Bennett and Kathy Riggs, and take them surfing at College Beach. Sometimes they would spend the night on the offramp at El Capitan to get an early jump on the surf.
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In the early 1960s, surf clubs were forming all along the California coast. Santa Barbara County Surf Club was already formed and they had a long waiting list to get in, so other clubs were formed. Soon there was a Hope Ranch Surf Club, the Montecito Surfing Association, the Sandbar Surf Club, and the El Capitan Surf Club. The El Capitan Surf Club was formed by a bunch of guys that surfed mainly in the Goleta area and north, and they had a pretty good membership with some great surfers. Their first president was David Dennis and Furner was elected treasurer, which he admits was a mistake because he borrowed the club money to order a new surfboard! (His mom bailed him out.)
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They would mostly surf the beach break at El Cap and it was good back then. It had to be just the right day to surf the point because it was pre leash, and it could be hard on the surfboards. You had to learn how to really hang onto your board or your day might be ruined.  One of the member’s dads, Gary Flohr, was the ranger that lived in the house on the point. Gary gave the nickname S-Tubes to the point, which became a popular nickname for years. Mike working on the drop knee turn.
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The club would surf in contests with other clubs from up and down the coast, have car washes and surf movie showings to raise money for a variety of things including our blue nylon jackets with white competition stripes, patches and visors.  They even had cards that said “you have just been helped by a member of the El Capitan Surf Club” that would be given to someone that was in need to help improve surfing’s image. Some of the members he can remember; David Kuzen, David Dennis, Spud Miller, Marc Woerful, Paul Morales, Lloyd Hembre, the Glenn Brothers, Tim Marquez, Sherry Stump, Alice Burtless and others.

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Mike moved out of his mother’s home when he was 18 yrs old. His first job was in the summer of 1963, washing dishes at Moby Dick’s restaurant on Stearns wharf. There was a window facing the Sandbar and the manager told him he was going to cover it  if he didn’t quit looking out it all the time! Like so many young stoked surfers, he had a one track mind.
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While the early and mid 1960s were the Golden Years of Goleta Surfing, there was a big elephant in the room that everyone was worried about. The Vietnam War and the mandatory draft were breathing down every young man’s neck, all the time.

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Furner had to endure the miserable bus ride down to L.A. for a military physical with a bunch of other petrified young men, many of them sobbing and vomiting on the ride. Luckily, Mike ‘s family situation exempted him from being drafted. He dodged another bullet!

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Mike didn’t surf from about 1965 to 1985. He got married young, had a baby and was pre-occupied with other things in life. But really, he wasn’t a fan of the shortboard revolution. He is a self proclaimed long boarder for life.

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For a while, Mike worked at Wilcox Nursery, which is now the Douglas Family Preserve. He lived in an old ranch house on the property for $25 a month.

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In the late 1970s, Furner got hired by Madame Ganna Walska herself to work at her Lotusland. He has been working there ever since. After 45 years, Mike’s hard work has become an integral part of the popular botanic garden.

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In 1985, Furner bought a 9′ 6″ Yater at a yard sale and it renewed his stoke. He picked it up again pretty quickly, just like riding a bike.
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After surfing C street one day, he went to Waveline surf shop and saw a fun shape with a Hap Jacob’s logo called a Cabo Model and it was so clean, he had to get one. He asked Paul the owner who the shaper was and he told him Wayne Rich down in Oxnard. Mike contacted him and they met up at Rudy’s restaurant in SB to talk about his order, and they’ve been friends ever since.

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Mike’s two favorite shapers, Wayne Rich and Reynolds Yater. Ever since his first surfboard, Furner has always had a Yater in his quiver. He’s gotten to know Renny well over the years, and he sums up the legendary shaper simply – ” He’s the man”.
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Furner was never really into competition. But when he became a member of the Santa Barbara Surf Club, he started doing a few contests. He eventually got into some Malibu contests and got to surf with some of his idols when he was growing up, like LJ Richards, John Peck and Henry Ford. Plus, he made a lot of new friends….

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Mike had seen this young kid, Joel Tudor in magazines and he loved his style. The longboard resurgence was bringing old school style to a new generation. The first time Furner saw him surfing in person was at a contest at C street. Mike told Joel’s mom that he was his hero and she said, “Mine too!” Later Mike talked to Tudor on the beach and they became friends. Mike continued to see him at different contests and he would visit and wish him luck.
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Being a goofy foot in a land of rights has never slowed Mike down. He has developed a smooth style of his own.
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five

After years of experience, walking to the nose and hanging five seems to be routine for Mike.

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drop knee

But the drop knee turn is his favorite move that he never stops working on.

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Mike enjoying a solitary wave at the Ranch.

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Mike got the name Furndog from another local charger, Char Harris. They shared this board for a while and surfed together a lot. Like all good nicknames, Furndog stuck.

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Furner is still a regular at all the spots he surfed as a young kid growing up in the Golden Years of surfing on the coast of Goleta. That’s him going left.

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We all know where this is.

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Here he watches a surfer enjoying a set wave at S-Tubes.

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Old habits are hard to break. Like knee paddling….

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And the stoke still burns inside of him. Thanks for sharing your stories Mike. Aloha.

Goleta Surfing Holiday Calendar

We’ve been making Goleta calendars for 17 years. First they were Goleta Surfing Calendars, but they have morphed into Viva Goleta Tide Calendars, just so we could expand our subject matter. (Since there is more to life than surfing, right?) Christmas is here and they make great stocking stuffers. Check them out here: https://www.haskellsdesigns.com/product/2024-goleta-calendar/

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Written by tMo

Tom Modugno is a local business owner, writer, and community activist. He also runs GoletaHistory.com and GoletaSurfing.com

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