Like Wow Wipeout: The wild, brief ride of surfing’s ultimate playboy

Bunker Spreckels sounds like the kind of name you’d find on a Wall Street lobby listing.

But the great grandson of sugar baron Claus Spreckels and stepson of Hollywood icon Clark Gable had altogether different ideas, spurning Hollywood for an ascetic life in Hawaii building surfboards and eating the fruit that grew freely off the shores of Oahu.

Clark Gable, Wife No 5, Kay and the Spreckel kids.

Clark Gable, Wife No 5, Kay and the Spreckel kids.

His ancestral connections gave Spreckels privileged access to Hawaiian royalty along with rare insight into the deep cultural and spiritual secrets of its people’s surfing history.   He became a fearless rider of great skill as well as a lover of martial arts and hunting. He was also a nationally ranked archer.

Bunker credited Gable with piquing his interest in his non-surfing pursuits. ‘Clark was from that ‘no crap’ school of acting and that’s the way he lived too.  I learned from him what a fuck-tit the acting business is.  He also taught me how to shoot, use knives and bullwhips … and how to use a dictionary’.

After Gable’s death Bunker used his Oscar as a doorstop, which one can only assume Gable would have thoroughly endorsed.

In his late teens Bunker’s simple, almost monastic existence in Hawaii saw him evolve into an early pioneer of revolutionary short, hard-edged surfboard design, which many consider the forerunner of today’s ubiquitous fish surfboard. bunker_spreckels (1) But then suddenly in 1970, everything changed.

At the age of 21 Bunker unexpectedly inherited $50 million due to a sequence of family deaths.  Bunker turned up to the bank in an armoured car and picked up the entire amount in cash, which he secreted in a coastal hideaway he likened to the Batcave.  Bunker’s bunker, if you like.

And then the Party On switch was flicked and overnight Bunker’s life read like a scene out of Boogie Nights. Bunker set up ‘branch offices’ around the world; The Hotel George V in Paris, Hotel Edward in South Africa and Sunset Tower in Hollywood and proceeded to launch himself into a feverish rampage of psychedelics and sex. bunker-spreckels At his most debauched he was taking LSD daily and claimed to bed sixty four women in a week. preview_bunker_spreckels_480x368_1012281502_id_403701 Inevitably surfing started to take a backseat to drugs, sex and wild road trips.  Becoming increasingly delusional about his rock star-like persona, Bunker recruited photographer Art Brewer to document his days. No salary, but all expenses paid.  Brewer described the experience as ‘pure 24/7 crazy shit. Anything could happen and it did.’

Legendary skateboarder Tony Alva added ‘I don’t think anyone was too stoked about the way Bunker lived his life, because he basically carried himself like a fucking rock star. He was like a big party coming through town.  He’d wear the most bizarre shit; really tight capris with crazy Chelsea boots and huge ass ‘70s shades.  When he stepped out of the car, people would freak out because he looked like a cross between Bruce Lee and Elvis’. Bunker_Spreckels_interv_Oahu_Nov_1976 In just six years of inheriting the family fortune, he was dead, aged 27 as a consequence of his excesses. _bunker_spreckels_07_0706081429_id_7891 That Spreckels had become a pompous B-grade caricature more fitting for a Hollywood condo or Palm Springs timeshare is not only ironic, but also a tragic tale, given that he was clearly capable of much greater things.

A man of substance indeed … sadly, in both senses of the word too.

Bunker77 trailer: