The name Mike Smith means different things to different people in Ventura. Mayor of C. Street, surf legend, good friend — regardless of affiliation, Mike “Mikey” Smith has been making waves since the sixties.
Last Saturday, more than 50 of Smith’s longtime friends, acquaintances and fans gathered at the beach at the end of California Street to honor Smith, with several friends giving speeches and reminiscing about time spent on the waves alongside the surf legend. A longboard, signed by all in attendance, will be on display at Ventura Surf Shop, while a poster board featuring Smith riding the waves with his equally legendary dog will hang at Ventura’s Foster’s Freeze on Telegraph Road in the coming weeks.
The only one not in attendance was Smith himself. For several years, Smith has battled dementia — a condition that has his friends and family doing the best they can to remember what he can’t by sharing stories and details of their relations with Smith.
“Mike’s an institution of Ventura,” said Bill “Blinky” Hubina, owner of Ventura Surf Shop. Hubina first met Smith when Smith was 13, surfing the waters off Solimar Beach as a boy. “He’s just one of those kids you hear stories about that during the war he went surfing.”
Smith served in Vietnam before returning to California and attending Cal Poly to major in business marketing. Later, he would take over for his father at Bob Smith Oil, but his many sporty passions, including duck hunting, kept him outdoors.
In 1985, Smith, his friend Tom McCauley, photographer Phil Ranger, childhood friend Betty Elder and Smith’s then wife Nancy decided to hold a reunion as a throwback to the sixties when Smith and friends learned to ride the waves.
The Longboard Reunion was a chance for the group to invite their peers and fellow surfers to California Street for a friendly competition. The friendly competition, as it turned out, would grow into something much bigger.
Patterned after the original Tom Morey surf competitions of the time, the reunion drew surfers from across California. After several years, and in collaboration with the Ventura County Fairgrounds, the Longboard Reunion became the C Street Championships, until eventually the original founding members stepped aside after 18 years. Sine 2004, the Ventura Surf Club has hosted the competition as the C Street Surf Classic.
“I had a good recall of all the people from those days,” said McCauley, who helped put together the Longboard Reunion’s first roster of participants. “Mike Smith was the up and coming legend of the day. He had quite a following of his own.”
What made Smith memorable on the board was his uncanny ability to ride the nose. Most surfers will balance on the back or middle of the board, but Smith could edge out to the front and “hang ten,” (the act of hanging every toe over the edge while riding a wave) and would sometimes surf with his beloved dog, long before surfing dogs became a thing.
Smith’s style became known well enough that a board was crafted for surfers looking to emulate him. Mike Smith’s Nose Rider, crafted in conjunction with Hubina at the Ventura Surf Shop, is still on sale and is asked for by name by customers looking to hang ten like Smith.
“He was always good to people,” said Hubina. “Befriending them, letting them borrow a surfboard. He just loved to talk. That’s why they called him the Mayor of C Street.”
Betty Elder watched Smith grow up in Solimar Beach with her own children. Ever since, Elder has been a close friend to him and Smith’s circle of friends, including McCauley and fellow surfers Frank Sentes, Rusty Smith and Mike Arrambide.
Elder put out the call for friends and family to gather in front of Smith’s apartment at the beach in Smith’s honor and arranged for the longboard, donated by Gary Pearson and Kip Sullivan, and the poster signing.
“We call him the Mayor — he is the best,” said Elder. “He’s just been the glue to keep us all together.”
McCauley recalled his most memorable moment surfing alongside Smith as he drove into Los Angeles.
“We had a reputation for taking off on the biggest waves together and doing go-behinds,” said McCauley. “One day we were enjoying the waves together. He turned in front of me and I turned in front of him and the next thing we knew we were staring at a dozen dolphins, jumping in and out of the waves, charging ahead like greyhound horses. It was a lifetime achievement.”
The longboard is available for anyone to sign at Ventura Surf Shop.