Olfactory Memory Triggers

If I could get my hands on some Vintage lemon scented Zogs Sex Wax, I would be 10 years old again, learning to ‘roller coaster’ on a twin fin Hobie feeling that first incredible burst of speed on clean greenish open face which altered the course of my life…  My knees shoulders and neck  elbows and wrists would mend back into that indestructible state, and I might not despise humanity anymore,  Maybee.


What were those other vintage Zog’s scents? There was one berry scented wax, it went on kind of purple.  One of my buddies back  then got a new board during a flat spell and put on 2 whole bars of that wax whilst chanting and dancing and acting like a fool.

There were waves the next day.  His garage probably smelled like it until Sandy tore it away.

Wonder if it is possible to get a bar of these vintage Surf Waxes.


What smells would trigger your earliest surf memories?




Hawaiian Tropic tanning oil, man that smells good and reminds me of the 70’s. And vanilla surf wax…wow what a trip the instant I smell it.

 And sometimes if there’s a combo of a whiff of spliff, a hint of wax and setting poly wafting thru… That’s the time to take a seat and let the memories wash over me for half an hour.

When I was a kid, I remember the beach (north county l.a.) having a distinctive smell, kind of a fishy / seaweed smell, that you noticed once you got close, before you could even see the water.  It added another dimension to the mystique the ocean had for me as a kid.

I don’t notice that anymore, has something changed, or are my senses just fading with age?

Oh yeah, and coconut wax, new neoprene, and poly resin - all trigger memories for me.


The smell of fresh cut Balsa, and Reichold glossing resin.      The dominant smells of the first time I entered the inner sanctum of a surfboard shop/factory.


EDIT:    Not to be overlooked, that first smell when arriving in Hawaii, for the first time …the smell of Plumeria blossoms waifting on the moist breeze.      Transports me right back there!

The break at the end of my street is directly in front of a boardwalk carmel popcorn shop and an amusement pier.  This is the spot where I learned to surf and it was the best spot in town up until the early 90s.  I still paddle out there a few times a year to escape the crowds at the better breaks and the smell of that carmel popcorn, funnel cake and cotton candy and the sound of the rides always takes me back.

Not surfing related, but…     one of my first times with a girl was in shack next to our swimming pool that had the pump/fiter, chemicals, etc. Good times!

A number of years later I was walking through Home Depot and cut through the aisle with pool supplies and CHLORINE. Bam!

Holy moly the whole experience hit me like a ton of bricks. I remembered every stubble of hair she had. Been chasing that for almost 30 years now.

Bacon!  We would get up early (around dawn) and be in the water about an hour when the smell of bacon would start to waif in the slight off shore wind.  Just imagine being 15 or 16 years old, surfing your brains out and topping it off with the secent of a good morning’s breakfast.  To this day, some 48 years later the smell of bacon brings me back to those days.  We would get kicked out of the water by 9:00 and then back home to Rice Krispies.

Woodsmoke wafting offshore, across the post-sunset lineup.

of a planer going down a stinger.

Back many, many moon, to after school watching Felker mow serious foam with his Rockwell and no mask!

When I was a younger man, my buddy and I were riding our skateboards around an industrial area in our town.

Think Z-boys.

Long hair and Led Zepplin T-shirts.

Anyway, we caught a wiff of some resin.

Looked around and found an open door in a alley.

Peeked inside, and saw dozens of Lightning Bolt boards being built.

The fumes, dust and a couple tan surfer types slinging resin.

Man, that was cool.

Turned out to be Tom Eberly’s place.

Went home and proceeded to turn my Russel single fin into a blue bottom and rail, white deck board with a blue Lightning Bolt logo.

My first surfboard airbrush.

Fast forward 3 years, I got my first surfboard gig working for Gary Linden at  Brewer in Oceanside pushing a broom.

All my buddies were jealous I got payed to build surfboards and got to hang around so many world famous surfers.

The killer boards, hanging with many pro’s, funny cigarettes, and surfing.

Watching Brewer smoke a huge joint and the walk into the shaping room, fire up his Skil, and shape some unbelieveable gun.

The following year was my first Hawaiian trip.

Surfing huge Sunset with Owl Chapman.


Mine’s an odd one, but the smell of gear oil always reminds me of the beach.  I was a kid in the North Bay on brackish water so even though there is much closer ocean Santa Cruz was our beach spot as a family.  Of course, in Santa Cruz is the Giant Dipper and the whole thing reeks of gear oil even above the smells of the Boardwalk’s concessions.

So even though the real combo is probably junk food, rollercoaster, fire-ring smoke, San Lorenzo River algae, and the ocean itself that gear oil always makes me think of the beach

The sense of smell is the one that’s mostly directly hard wired to your brain. Evolution has let us retain that high level of sense memory when it comes to smells. It was key to survival when we were still making tools from rocks and has carried over into the current version of homo sapiens.

Coconut wax always does it for me.

Sammy is dead right on that one. I dated a girl who was a doctor and she explained this to me when I freaked out when we pulled up to a surfboard factory parking lot. I hadn’t built a board in 15 years and almost cried.

   I have a couple of purple waxmate bars I whiff while listening to old Byrd songs or the theme song from Endless Summer.

I was a baby purist snob at age 13 in 1975. Waxmate coconut (my choice) was heady yet tasteful, and smelled like the hope of good waves the next morning.

The blue Sex Wax my surf buddy used- a thick, gloppy, reeking mess- was cloying and nauseating. Berry? Smelled like chewing gum to me, smelled for days.

Strong associations both.

I loved the smell of new wetsuits that hit you when you walked into E.T. Surfboards in Hermosa Beach. They hung them from the ceilings, a canopy of dangling legs. Loved the smell of resin coming from the back of that dark, cavelike shop.

The smell of freshly cut skateboard grip tape- the gritty stuff, not the rubbery stuff- was intoxicating too. A good combination with the rank algae bilge smell of an abandoned pool.

I remember that Malibu smell too, Huck. I got a strong memory jolt of it when I went to Kaikoura in New Zealand. There was the same kelp on the beach, the same smell as it dried. I made the same “witch fingernails” I used to as a kid by breaking off and popping the bulbous tips of the leaves, and putting them my fingertips.

The girls I knew used Ban de Soliel, and that stuff brings back rich memories of that whole teenage thing… summer love, infatuation… and summers went so slowly then.

I still remember the smell, on a hot summer day, surfed out and starving, of the burger stand at the beginning of Vista Del Mar in Playa Del Ray.

Etc etc etc.


Good post warthawg! Remember the burger stand at county line? Or how about loops restaurant at c street? Kodani’s restaurant ventura? All places we would go to chow down after surf, good memories there.

Ah, the burger stand at County classic! I can remember camping out there and you never ran thru the sand, lots of broken beer bottles.

Talkin’ with a few old timers at the SurfRodeo and it came up time and again “you would be put in jail today for the shit us kids did back then”!

White Bibb?

True about triggers, even for a haole, bacon = Queen Surf dawn patrol. Cigarette smoke = the paddle in at sun down. LMAO!

The obvious one for me is the smell of the ocean and rotting sea weed bringing images of surfing.  But, I still get an adrenaline dump from the smell of torn grass and mud from my football playing days. Mike

The smell of pig shit… In Japan, everyday for a week, we surfed a beach where when the wind swung offshore the unmistakeable odor overrode the other senses… Now, my next door neighbor has a pig in his yard and thankfully, I rarely get a whiff, but when I do, my mind goes back first to Japan, then my thoughts go to legally get that thing out of there…

I still remember the smell of the Wise shop from the '70’s… Surfer House wetsuits, polyester resin curing somewhere, purple wax mate and some other sandalwood scented wax… When you opened the door and walked in you knew you were in a real surf shop…


Not many of those left. They’re all clothing stores that sell some surfboards in the back corner (maybe)