The Early Years of the sport


I know if I post the link to the article, 90% of you won’t click on it so instead I copied and pasted this article from High Hill Striper Club website…there are more wonderful articles by Fred and you can read about the club rich history …there was a time when High Hill WAS Montauk surf. The club has a insanely rich heritage and tradition.



Wetsuits in Montauk Surf “The Early years “   By Fred Schwab

      One cannot explore the history of High Hill Striper Club and not speak of Montauk at great lenght,the two go together. High Hill, thru the 1970’s had always had at least a few Montauk “regulars”. In terms of surf clubs High Hill was the most dominant from Shagwong to the Fort during much of the 60’s and into the 70’s. A small club with a large presence.       I don’t know who was the first to apply a wetsuit to fishing in the surf , but I’m certain that the birth of it’s use was at Montauk, and that it’s use was finally honed there.  From a club standpoint High Hill did the honing.      When I obtained my first suit in 1965, I knew of only 4 guys that already had them.  Jack Frech, George Jones, “Tin Cans” Beckmann and Whitey Pawelski and it’s been said that Joe “The Pro” Rohan also had one. The first guy that I ever saw using one was George Jones, fishing from a small table Bar at Overlook, probably in 1961, you could only get to that Bar by swimming.  That was also the year that Frech “The Professor” began wearing the suit.  I “think” at first Jones and Pawelski used the suits at Montauk principally to dive for lobsters and some daytime plugging from offshore rocks.  While Frech and his partner in the early 60’s, George Pavis (62-63), swam to rocks along the north shore and Montauk mostly to plug bluefish during the day. With respect to “Tin Cans”, he “may” have been the first.  He is one of those individuals whose nickname came from the use of out of the ordinary gear.  Instead of a plug bag his lures were carried in a sizable number of metal tubes affixed to his waist belt and I never saw him with the standard brass or stainless steel fish chain, he seemed to prefer a stout piece of rope with a small block of wood at the end.  In addition, he wore a rain top and slicker pants over his wetsuit. While I fished along side of him on several occasions, particularly on the Reef at night, I never really got to know him.  He was a loner but a hell of a good fisherman.  When Frech and I fished together we were secretive as hell and we took great pains to conceal our movements, but “Tin Cans” seemed, at least to me, to have the ability to become invisible. The first time I actually met “Tin Cans” was on a pitch black night while fishing under rather nasty conditions on the Reef.  Frech and I were alone and had missed one or two hits.  Out wades “Tin Cans” who immediately begins taking bass in the 20’s.  We eventually took one or two fish each, but “Tin Cans” really did a number.  At that point in time, about 1967 he was mostly fishing the Block Island surf,…he said Montauk had become too crowded!        But regardless of who was the first, it was Frech who on an individual basis was the first to fully exploit the use of the wetsuit in the surf.  Without question he was a hard fisherman and deserving of being called a Montauk sharpshooter.  During the 2 or 3 years that we partnered together, mostly at Montauk in the fall I, 20 years younger, found Jack’s stamina and determination equal and on some nights, superior to mine. In the early 60’s most guys could not afford, or were hesitant to lay out the bucks required to purchase a four-wheel drive vehicle.  By “about” 1963 the first Volkswagon Bus appeared on the beach.  With deflated oversized tires, the weight of the engine in the rear and it’s driver making sure to stay in the track as much as possible the VW could grind along on most beaches.  But you held your breath when negotiating the slightest grade or jumping the track where the sand was soft.  In terms of soft sand the stretch from Oyster Pond to Shagwong Point usually had a few tricky spots and the beach from Gilgo coast Guard Station to Cedar was often very difficult to travel on (in those days there were no restrictions on the use of two-wheel drives on the beaches).        In 1964 fellow club members Artie Glass, Adam Miechowski and I negotiated a reasonable price with a dealer for 3 brand new VW’s, paying about  $2,100 dollars apiece complete with oversized tires. We insulated them, built slide-out bunks, cabinets, hinged tables on the side doors, incorporated a large combination food and fish ice box and added a large removable box on the rear bumper for storage of waders, other fishing gear and miscellaneous stuff.  Rod racks were mounted on the roof and rod holders on the front bumper. I believe that Artie, as was the case with most who had a family in excess of four, added a clamshell bed to the roof.  The floor, which was corrugated, was leveled out with a flexible rubberized cement and covered with linoleum.  When finished, there was a space for everything, it was not cluttered.  (In 1972 I purchase a 4/wheel drive Chevy pickup and 10’ slide on camper, we’d outgrown the VW.  That camper had all the conveniences, but we had a lot more fun roughing it in our little VW).       Within a year or two at least 10 members of High Hill were running the sand in VW’s.Those VW’s became not just beach transportation but, with a few scattered exceptions, Long Island’s first family beach camper vehicles. Not only did they increase the comradery among a segment of the club membership but they brought their families closer together.  From 1965 into the early 70’s during summer months, from Friday evening through much of Sunday one could find anywhere from 4 to as many as 10 High Hill families on the beach from North Bar through Shagwong.Regular High Hill weekenders were the Glass, Hausler, Ottesen, Schwab, Pawelski, Murray (64-70), Hasenzahl and Knowles families and always there, but in jeeps, were the SanFratello’s and the Gerbe’s (62-67).  Some 4 or 5 other High Hill families showed up on a less frequent basis .
Adopted  from a book  “The Complete History of the High Hill Striper Club ” by Fred Schwab



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16 comments on “The Early Years of the sport

  1. Zeno Post author was made in limited quantities for memebers of the club
    you will have to wait for the movie….

  2. Silver fox

    Thanks Zeno….That was a good read. From what I remember from my father, nicknames and hats were pretty common to those growing up in the 20’s and 30’s. Kinda cool ya know.

  3. bob jones

    Jack’s hat is what they call; ‘style’.
    It’s something that you wouldn’t understand.
    Best to Nuala. BJ

  4. chris hasenzahl

    I was lucky enough to be a kid growing up at Demo and Montauk always hanging with Mr. Frech !! My dad was great friends with him and he always took us to Nantucket amongst my mom hosting him for dinner . To this day I still have all of his plugs , lead molds for his homemade tins . I also have a load if unpainted plugs . He was an awesome man and I feel blessed to have grown up knowing him !! Chris Hasenzahl


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