Meet the surf/skate culture preservationists who helped rock, heal the Pleasure Point neighborhood

Neil Pearlberg and 'TC' atop The Boardroom, where three live shows helped enliven the neighborhood last summer.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)

As hosts of the popular podcast ‘Off the Lip’ podcast, Neil Pearlberg and Terry Campion are both chronicling and creating surf/skate culture in Pleasure Point. During COVID they’ve provided a much-needed outlet for musicians and those us needing music in our lives.

It’s a sun-drenched afternoon in Pleasure Point, mid May 2020, and Neil Pearlberg and Terry “TC” Campion are up to something.

It’s two months into the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic. That’s enough time for most people to move well past the shock and denial stages and move deeply into frustration, even despair.

It is a moment for a bold gesture, to do something to shake off the gloom and the tedium. But the two men are telling nobody of their plan.

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Suddenly, along the storefronts of the closed and traumatized businesses of lower 41st Avenue, a blast of rock music — is that Jethro Tull? — comes from ... where exactly?

Wait, is that coming from ... up there?

Pearlberg and Campion are the Regis & Kathy Lee of Pleasure Point, co-hosts of a radio show/podcast called “Off the Lip” and they’ve been bulldozing through their funny, chatty, often revelatory interview/live music shows in the teeth of the pandemic, streamed and recorded on video from inside The Boardroom, the legendary 41st Avenue skateshop.

Campion’s the owner of the place, a familiar figure around town. Running The Boardroom puts him at the white-hot center of Santa Cruz’s surf/skate culture. His shop is the ideal place to hold court with the various surfers, skaters, public servants, musicians, and local celebs who return again and again to “Off the Lip.”

Terry Campion and Neil Pearlberg.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)

Campion feels the tension in the neighborhood. “People were about ready to kill themselves,” he said of that time, with his trademark TC hyperbole. “It was the first time anyone had ever been through a pandemic. People were broke. They were out of work. They were bored. And they were depressed.”

It was Pearlberg who had the idea. He told his pal and partner, “TC, this community is dead. We have to do something to give something back, even if it’s just a little joy.”

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A former Sentinel surf columnist, Pearlberg has been part of the furniture around the Santa Cruz surf scene for close to 40 years. As a native Brit and bona fide baby boomer, he also knows all too well about the Beatles’ final appearance as a band.

It was in 1969, in the middle of London. It was unannounced.

And it was on the roof.

The ‘little ants’ were dancing

Years from now, when the pandemic is a memory, Pearlberg believes that the people of Pleasure Point are going to remember the rooftop concerts at The Boardroom. The first band to play the ambush rooftop show was Locomotive Breath, the Santa Cruz band known for its Tull (and Zeppelin and Floyd and Who) covers. The experience was electrifying.

“All of a sudden, you can see people come out of their houses,” said Pearlberg. “You can see a lot from up there and everywhere, and you can see the little ants, but you could tell they were dancing.”

“In my opinion,” said Campion, “just from the standpoint of community mental health, (the music shows) probably saved some people.”

The rooftop shows did not become a regular thing. In fact, they only happened twice more after that first time (including a benefit show for local surfer Ben Kelly who was killed by a shark attack last summer). Liability issues soon began to make the risk greater than the reward.

Shows later began to happen below the rooftop at the corner of 41st and Portola.

But the impromptu jams from the roof have already begun to ripen into local legend. They were only the most attention-getting example of what Campion and Pearlberg have been doing for years with “Off the Lip”: allowing the Pleasure Point community to tell its story .

‘60 Minutes’ it aint

The idea is simple. Get two chill dudes — old enough to have collected some wild stories, but young enough to be excited about what tomorrow might bring — and have them interact with a pro skateboarder, or a long-distance swimmer, or a big-wave surfer, or a graybeard shaper, or even a sitting U.S. Congressman. Mix in a glass of wine or two, and see what happens.

It’s been a formula that’s worked remarkably well. Yes, “Off the Lip” has indeed featured Rep. Jimmy Panetta, as well as police chiefs, firefighters, county supervisors and CHP officers. But “60 Minutes” it ain’t.

“I couldn’t even count how many times we’ve died laughing on that show,” said Campion. “It’s insane. I mean, stomachache laughter.”

And when they’re not gabbing, they’re jamming. Especially since the onset of the pandemic, “Off the Lip” — which streams live on Tuesdays and is then posted on the show’s Facebook page — has become a hugely in-demand gig for local bands.

Rep. Jim Panetta is known to stop by.

After the first rooftop show, Pearlberg was inundated by bands from up and down the West Coast — Portland to Orange County — all wanting a shot to play on the show. “I’d get e-mails,” said Pearlberg, “from Orange County. And I said, ‘Dude, we’re in Santa Cruz, seven hours away,’ and they say, ‘Cool. Road trip. We’re coming.’”

After three rooftop shows, Pearlberg booked bands to play live at the corner of 41st and Portola at what was once an old-school gas station. Bands played regularly there for months, until mid-February when, according to Pearlberg, the county halted the shows.

Still, bands play inside The Boardroom for the show’s Tuesday night stream-cast, and Pearlberg is already busy finding other venues, including the outside deck of his own Seacliff home, to host local musical acts. Locals, posting on social media, have offered the use of their homes. The show just announced an upcoming live-music stream from The Palms in Los Gatos.

“Off the Lip” is off the hook.

New beginnings, now seven years in

The show began more than seven years ago, shortly after Pearlberg had lost his gig writing about surfing due to budget cuts at the Santa Cruz Sentinel. The day he was told he was being let go, he was driving past the Live Oak headquarters of AM radio station KSCO. In a burst of inspiration, he strolled in and tried to sell the station on a local radio show about surfing.

Neil
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)

It took a while, but eventually KSCO bit. Pearlberg said that one of the conditions that station imposed was that he have several co-hosts, operating on the assumption that surfer dudes couldn’t be depended on to show up for their gig every week. In an irony Pearlberg savors, he said he has not missed a Tuesday night show in the entire seven-year run of the show.

After about five years at KSCO, Pearlberg and Campion made the leap to podcasting. Campion said part of the reason was a clash between KSCO’s conservative culture and his and Pearlberg’s more liberal leanings. “I was a Chevy guy working in a Ford dealership,” he said.

With the move to podcasting came a freedom to really let the show unfurl. They kept to the regular Tuesday night gig, but moving from the sterile environment of KSCO to the eye-candy atmosphere of the skateboard shrine that is The Boardroom gave the show a jolt on social media.

Also gone were the time strictures, the prohibitions against salty language and on-air drinking, and any need to please a third party. Their audience soon doubled, then tripled with new platforms on YouTube, Facebook and the Santa Cruz Waves website and social platforms.

All the while, the show as amassing what amounts to an oral history of the surf/skate community with interviews with such prominent figures as Frosty Hesson, legendary figures who have since passed such as Vince “The Godfather” Collier and Shawn “Barney” Barron, artist Jim Phillips, shaper Doug Haut and many more.

It’s like a family reunion every time

“I’ve been in the surf and skateboard industry for almost 40 years now,” said Campion who also runs a store in the Capitola Mall and is set to expand later this year into Capitola Village. “And every week for me, this show is like a homecoming. Ninety percent of our guests are someone I have crossed paths with somewhere along the road. It’s like a family reunion, every time the show is on. That’s what I love about it.”

For Campion, “Off the Lip” constitutes a kind of déjà vu. In the 1980s, as a young surfer, he started a “Wayne’s World”-style cable-access show with surfing videos he called “Surf TV.”

Terry Campion
TC
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)

“I went around and interviewed everybody,” he said. “I have interviews of people when they were kids who now have gray hair and grandkids.”

Pearlberg looks at his involvement in “Off the Lip” as a part of the package of destiny that began for him when he first visited Santa Cruz as a teenager from Brighton, England. His Santa Cruz origin story involves stealing his mother’s car, mailing her back her keys from the airport where he paid $150 for a flight from London to Los Angeles from a legendary only-in-the-’70s low-budget airline called Freddie Laker Airways.

“Something up above,” he said, pointing to the ceiling in The Boardroom, sitting in orange chairs that were originally from Candlestick Park, “something up there moves us all about like chess pieces. Look around. Very few (in Santa Cruz) are actually from here. Everyone got chess-pieced to Santa Cruz.”

“What Neil and I really wanted to do from the beginning,” said Campion, “was to record the history of this place. Multiple generations of people have now been rolling on the streets and gliding across water. We’ve had generations on our show. It’s the culture we all live in, and it’s what we’re trying to preserve.”

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