The Tale of Bunker Spreckels

Vintage Surf

Bunker Spreckels: Surfing’s Divine Prince of Decadence

The tale of Bunker Spreckels (1949–1977) reads like a pitch for a movie to rival Boogie Nights: the stepson of Clark Gable is a privileged Los Angeles party boy who is heir to a multimillion–dollar fortune; passionate about surfing, martial arts, guns, and women, he lives the life of a debauched international jet-setter before succumbing to his excesses at the tender age of 27.


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Born Adolph B. Spreckels III, heir to the Spreckels Sugar fortune, Bunker became a famous surfer as a teenager, but after his inheritance came along, he began to slip into a life of pomp and excess where surfing took a back–seat to drugs, sex, and wild road trips. So remarkable was his lifestyle that he created an alter ego who invited photographers and documentarists to trail him, piecing together a tell-all epic of his own rise to fame and fortune. Before the project, known as “The Player,” could be completed, Spreckels suddenly died of “natural causes.”
Vintage Surf Culture

Thirty years later, photographer Art Brewer and writer/photojournalist C. R. Stecyk III have come together to make this book, which traces the meteoric rise and dramatic fall of Bunker Spreckels. Widely considered one of the world’s most gifted surfing photographers, Brewer was a close friend of Spreckels’s and his personal photographer throughout the last decade of his life, traveling with him from Hawaii to Los Angeles to South Africa. His images of Spreckels both on the waves and on land chronicle Spreckels’s metamorphosis from hippie surfer to international playboy, while Stecyk’s extensive taped interview with Spreckels, completed just three months before his death, provides a rare first-person perspective on all of the decadent craziness that was his life.

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Jeff Divine Photography

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About Jeff Divine:

As a teenager taking pictures of fellow surfers in 1960s La Jolla, Jeff Divine got to know the original alternative sport before the X-Games were even a gleam in a producer’s eye. Through this rare collection of photographs from the momentous decade that followed, he conveys the feeling of being on the beach in its most creative era, being present at the inception of a subculture too large and photogenic to stay down long. The style, the athleticism and the escapism in these images will be familiar to those with even a lazy eye on pop culture: surfing is on the rise again. Of its first time around, Divine says, “Yes, I had long hair. And Pendletons, Mexican wedding shirts, bell bottoms, Wallabies, Zig Zags and tuna, wheat bread, and sprouts in the fridge. Santana, The Dead, Jesse Colin Young, Steppenwolf, Moby Grape, The Stones, Beatles and Clifton Chenier on the stereo. Hippie seamstresses made us custom shirts with embroidered necks and coconut buttons. I had a beaded curtain through which you entered my den. No, I didn’t have any black light posters, but I did have the Juan O. Gorman poster “Flores Imaginarias” and Ortner at 3M’s on the wall. Reading material? The Life Photography Series, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, M.C. Escher art books, Zap comics, or the Carlos Castaneda series. But our prize possessions were our garage-made surfboards all lined up in the side yard. They mattered the most.”

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