As Cameron Crowe tells it, it was his idea to simply go to the local surfers and ask one of them to appear in the film, saying:
“We knew we needed someone to play this surfer-stoner character, but I always thought, ‘Let’s just get somebody off the beach,’ y’know? Like somebody that would never get the joke, y’know, and just be that guy. But sure enough, we were casting the movie, and Amy was on her way up to the office where we were casting, and I was walking down the street here and this guy screams by in a Trans-Am. A blonde guy. Doesn’t stop. I barely see the side of his face. He turns the corner and I’m like, ‘Jesus! What a day, y’know?'”
As a savvy reader might guess, Amy Heckerling and Crowe were about to see that blonde guy again. Of course, that blonde guy was Sean Penn. At the time, Penn had only appeared on a few episodes of television, and in two films: “Taps,” and the documentary anthology “The Beaver Kid 2.” Despite a short filmography, Penn was stridently confident. Crowe said that shortly after convening at the office after the Trans-Am incident, Penn came in with less of an audition as an ultimatum.
“10 minutes later I’m sitting in the office, the guy walks in. Same blonde guy. [He] comes in, sits down, and says, ‘I grew up with characters like this. I know how to play this guy.’ We’re like, ‘Great, great. Show us.’ [He said] ‘No, you hire me and I’ll show you what it’s like but I’m not going to audition.'”
Penn did not grow up in the Valley, but he was born in Santa Monica, which is right by the beach.