The 1950s were a strange time. Doctors smoked cigarettes in their offices, people surfed Trestles alone (save for the MPs trying to arrest their asses) and the American military dropped nuclear bombs in the Pacific just to see what would happen. Some of these nuclear weapon tests, which occurred just off the coast of the Enewetak Atoll in the Marshall Islands, yielded some unexpected results.
In the above video we see the underwater detonation of a nuclear warhead as part of the Wahoo and Umbrella tests of 1958. And yes, it has all the macabre beauty you’d expect from a nuclear test, but also something else. According to Pat Bradley, a cameraman tasked with documenting nuclear tests, a gigantic wave overtook a military vessel in the immediate aftermath of the blast, and then a series of smaller waves broke on the island he was filming from, with one wave engulfing the island completely.
“After the shot, it seemed to be a couple of minutes or so before the first wave came in, not very high, and up to that time the water had been quite calm at the beach,” says Bradley. “The first wave came in, then receded. The second wave came in, and a little higher, and also retreated. And the third wave came in, was the highest, and completely covered the island in about 4- to 6-feet high. And after about 10 minutes the water subsided, we could get down out of the tree.”
But let’s get down to brass tacks here: was this radioactive swell surfable? If the sweet little peeler at the 1:10 mark is in fact from that same test, then definitely. Worth paddling out? Well, that depends on how desperate you are. My guess is that if Bradley was a Southern California surfer coming off a season as lackluster as the one we’ve had this year, he’d have dropped the camera and paddled out in a second.