Photo courtesy of LeRoy Grannis.
Aloha and welcome to this chapter in the LEGENDARY SURFERS series on one of the greatest surfers of all time: Buzzy Trent.
If I was limited to only interviewing one legendary
surfer at the exclusion of all others, my choice would be Buzzy Trent.
But, he's a hard guy to pin down for an interview. Someday, I hope
it will happen.
"You don't go hunting elephant with a BB gun. If you're going
to hunt big waves, take a big gun."
"Life's a supermarket, Kurnz. Put anything you want in the
shopping cart, but you have to deal with the checker on the way out the
WW II Malibu & Post Era Surfing with Simmons
To & Fro the Beach
Tijuana Sloughs, Christmas Time, December 1949
Sunset Cliffs, January 1951
Before The Call of The Islands
Bob Simmons on The North Shore
The Photo Seen 'Round The World
Makaha & The North Shore, 1954
Quonset Hut Life
Greg Noll & The Hermosa Guys, 1954
Phil Edwards on The North Shore, 1955
All Out Attack on The North Shore, 1955
Laniakea, November 1955
Coast Haoles Takeover The North Shore
Waimea Broke Open, November 1957
In high school, Buzzy Trent was "a top
sprinter and an all-state football player," noted Peter Cole, an early
fan of one of surfing's most legendary of legendary surfers.
But, everyone has to start somewhere and even Buzzy Trent was a gremmie
Malibu & Post Era Surfing with Simmons
During World War II, Buzzy was just a gremmie under the tutelege
of the "Father of the Modern Surfboard," Bob Simmons.
While fighting raged overseas, Trent often surfaried with Simmons through
the Southern California coastal zone. These surfaris would go on
even after the war was over and those who had served in the armed forces
When noted surfboard shaper Joe
Quigg returned on leave in the summer of 1944, he made note of the
few surfers he saw. "I was in the Navy during the war," retold Quigg,
"and I came home to Santa Monica on leave that year. Right after
I got home, I drove up to Malibu to surf, and though the waves were good
that day, there were only three guys out. One was a guy with a withered
arm named Bob Simmons, and the other two were kids named Buzzy Trent and
Kit Horn was another youngster at Malibu during the early days of
World War II. He and Buzzy turned Peter and Corny Cole onto surfing
that same year. Both Cole's would arrive on the North Shore in the
later '50s, following in Buzzy's wake, and go on to become big wave riders
in their own right.
Kit Horn remembered the first time Simmons showed up at the "Bu."
Simmons swam a huge board out, with his left arm on the board. Simmons
was 8-to-10 years older than the kids at Malibu. Most everyone his
own age was either in the military or in production during the daytime.
Simmons was obviously deferred due to his deformed arm. Some
of the kids hanging around Malibu would later became his friends -- Peter
and Corny Cole, Matt Kivlin, and,
of course, Buzzy Trent. Toward the end of decade, Quigg would even
be in business with Kivlin and Simmons.
Simmons had a stripped down '31 Ford, with flat bed and racks, which
became the surf vehicle for he and his younger friends. "He modified
fuel mixtures with kerosene to extend his mileage," noted his friend and
biographer John Elwell. On surfari with the 1931 Ford, Simmons racked
up repeated tickets for speeding and vehicle violations.
The most animated of this younger bunch was Buzzy Trent. "Together,
they were a real pair --" recalls Joe Quigg's good friend Dave
Rochlen, "like the mad scientist and his big, burly side-kick Igor."
& Fro the Beach
After the war, Buzzy Trent and Matt Kivlin were still hitch-hiking
to and from the beach. On a day writer C.R. Stecyk identifies as October
12, 1946, they were doing their usual hitch-hike to the beach. "The
presence of their ungainly boards is enough to prevent most from offering
them a ride," wrote Stecyk. "Fortunately, today Joe Schecter is driving
back to his [Malibu] colony house. Among local kids, Joe is considered
the ultimate ride, because not only will he haul your timber, he'll drive
you right into the beach at Old Joes [private entrance with locked gate].
Today the gods have favored our boys and they will catch it on the perfect
A year later, on surfari with Simmons, a classic Buzzy story is told
of September 19, 1947. Simmons and Buzzy rode "up the coast in [Simmons']
old Model A flatbed," wrote Craig Stecyk. "Trent needs to relieve
himself in a major way, but Simmons as usual is in a hurry. The ever-innovative
Buzzy climbs out on the wooden flatbed, squats over a convenient hole in
the platform and begins to answer nature's call. Other motorists
are taken aback at this graphic spectacle. Bob is outraged... 'Trent,
you stupid bastard, quit shitting through that hole.' Trent's well-measured
reply was one that could only come from a person in that state of satisfied
quietude and relief, 'OK Simmons, what do you want me to do, shit in your
front seat?' End of discussion."
Sloughs, Christmas Time, December 1949
Dempsey Holder remembered
a time when Simmons and Buzzy Trent surfed the Tijuana Sloughs and some
killer whales cruised by. "Bob Simmons drove all the way down and
he brought Buzzy Trent. So I went out. We got on the outside,
sat out there a little bit, and a wave came along. Trent caught it
and rode through the backoff area and then got his lunch somewhere in the
shorebreak. His board ended up on the beach and he ended up swimming
"Simmons and I sat there talking, not really expecting anything.
Well, we're sitting there, I'm looking south, and two big fins come up
-- one big one and one not so big. They were killer whales and were
about fifty yards from me. Scared me so bad I didn't say anything
to Simmons; he hadn't seen them. I didn't want to make any noise
"I'm sitting there on my board. I'm not sure if Simmons saw
anything until they went underneath us. Before I could do anything,
the little boils come up around us. I remember my board rocking just
a little bit. I looked straight down at the bottom -- one of them
passed directly beneath my board. We were only in 15 feet of water.
I just saw parts of it. The white spots appeared, moving pretty slowly.
Boils come up around. Simmons looked around and saw something.
I remember him being profane -- he was really excited about the size of
these things. I wanted him to shut up. I hadn't said anything.
I'm still alive. I could see that big dorsal fin. Then the
"I was still alive and I began to swivel my head around. I
could see them fifty yards away or so, going straight out to sea.
We relaxed a little bit. A little later Trent came back out and we
told him what had come by there. He turned right around and went
back in. Then Simmons and I looked at each other and went in."
Cliffs, January 1951
Leslie Williams, who was one
of the very first Malibu Board standouts, vividly recalled Simmons at what
now amounted to be his surfing backyard -- Sunset Cliffs, January 1951:
"As stated earlier, Bob was gutsy and demonstrated that to Buzzy and I
the morning after the 'North Bird' incident. We had stayed
the night at Dempsey Holder's Imperial Beach Lifeguard facility and the
next morning went to the Tijuana Sloughs, which was still 12'+ but with
a seven foot high tide so the outside breaks were not doing it. Buzzy
and I piled into Bob's '39 coupe and we went to Sunset Cliffs. Garbage
was 10-12' or so but the only trail down to the water was in constant surge
to a depth of 2-3' over the tiny cove beach.
"Bob told Buzzy and I to go down the trail as far as we could and
he would drop the boards to us. Buzzy and I swam out and Bob pitched
our boards to us over the 8' cliff at the bottom of the trail. We
retrieved our boards and Bob dropped his off, which we recovered, before
he jumped off the cliff, which he did in a modified cannonball with legs
out-stretched. He thought he was jumping into 6' of water (he normally
would have been), but he landed on a solitary rock about 4' under the water.
He suffered a sore okole and was a little chagrined.
"Remember we went out there at Bob's insistence at a super high tide
and without wool suits (the wetsuits of that period). We surfed for
2 1/2 hours until the tide went down enough for us to scale the slippery
"As usual, Bob was the gutsy one in respect to his inability to swim
strongly with his bad arm. In truth, the rights that day were slow
even though they did occasionally close to 'Subs.' None of us had
much experience with Sunset Cliffs at that size but we followed Simmons'
lead. In contrast to what happened in later years in the Islands,
Bob's board worked well in the thicker waves that day. This was in
the pre-slot board days but he had a thin twin-fin concave, which was to
be one of his favorites."
The Call of The Islands
Another surfer who looked up to Buzzy was Ricky Grigg, who recalled
that he, "got into surfing," at the beginning of the 1950s, "because I
was there and it was happening around me. My sister liked Tommy
Zahn. He lifeguarded at Malibu and got her interested in surfing.
She became the hottest gal on the whole coast.
"Buzzy Trent was my hero. I used to sit at his lifeguard station
and listen to him tell stories. He took me surfing when I was nine
years old. My sister was out there with us. It was like the
beginning of a whole subculture. Hearing about the other surfers
in these little pockets up and down the coast, we almost became mythological
to each other. Then we started traveling and meeting at different
spots and it was great. We built on each other's experience.
"When I was eleven I got hurt pretty badly while surfing at State
Beach. On a wipeout, my board whipped up under my ribs real hard
and busted my spleen in half. Buzzy Trent was ten or fifteen yards
ahead of me in a sand-buster and he got me to the beach. For three
or four minutes, I couldn't get any air. Buzzy was doing what he
could and, finally, I started breathing again. Then Buzzy took me
to the hospital in his '39 Packard."
When Buzzy was in the possession of an old Chevy business coupe with
a handmade wooden surfboard rack screwed into its dented and rusting roof,
Peter Dixon observed him one summer's Malibu day in 1952:
"It's crowded. Seven guys out at first point. The surf
is five to six and peeling to the pier." In the lineup were, "Dave
Rochlen, Matt Kivlin, Buzzy Trent, Peter Cole, and Chuck King. They're
all in the lineup and waiting their turn. Back then no one took off
in front of someone else.
"Trent, Cole, and Rochlen were my heroes. Buzzy because he
was a great football player/surfer who overcame" a football leg injury
while on scholarship at USC. "Cole, one of the fastest swimmers on
the West Coast, was a fellow beach lifeguard. Rochlen's mystique
was hard to fathom. He had that gleam in his eye that wouldn't tolerate
bullshit.... Chuck King, another beachguard, was a bit older than the others.
That summer Chuck introduced me to my future wife...
"The surf was 'bitchin' and I watched Buzzy ride a fast Malibu wave
right into the rusted wire fence that separated the Adamson Estate from
the public beach. Buzzy walked up the dirt path... He spotted my
new board, showed interest. I asked Buzzy if he'd like to surf the
balsa. He nodded in the affirmative, yanked the balsa from the back
of the Zephyr and ran for the water. Buzzy didn't waste words.
"Buzzy was fantastic. The board that I had lovingly shaped
seemed to come alive under his agile maneuvering. After a twenty
minute display of his muscular, wave riding talent, Buzzy paddled in and
returned the board. This time he spoke. 'Worst board I ever
surfed. Thanks, kid.'"
There had been several waves of coast haoles that preceded the wave
Buzzy rode in on. These waves went something like this:
• 1920s -- Tom Blake, Sam Reid
• 1930s -- Whitey Harrison, Pete
Peterson, Gene "Tarzan" Smith
>• 1947 -- Joe Quigg,
Zahn, Matt Kivlin, Melonhead,
• 1948 -- Walter Hoffman,
Ted Crane, Dave Mojas
"Our living quarters, Summer 1950," recalled Walter Hoffman, amounted
to "a $25 a month basement and backyard garden area where we kept our boards."
Summer 1950, the Malibu chips, "were just beginning to arrive in the islands
in the hands of guys like Zahn, Quigg, Kivlin and Rochlen who would bring
them over and sell them when they left."
In notations Walter Hoffman made for a reprint of some of the photographs
he took of the big surf summers of the late 1940s and early 1950s, he recalled,
"When I first got to the islands  I heard about Makaha. So
I started going out there in the winter [1949-50] and found out that, shit
man, the place got really big. Dave Mojas and myself were the first
two California guys really actively surfing it three to four times a week
for the entire winter. That was the year I took movies (which I still
have). I also sent still pictures to Flippy (brother Phillip) and
Buzzy [Trent] telling them to get over here -- it's bitchin, and Burrhead
saw those and all those guys came the next year for the winter, and we
camped on the beach at Makaha. From then on for the next few years
we would rent houses near Makaha for the winter and in Waikiki during the
"After spending a couple of summers in Waikiki," reiterated Hoffman,
"I went out to Makaha one early winter day, it was four foot and a lot
of fun, so I kept coming back. I talked my friends from town into
joining me and we'd go out there and camp on the beach. I talked
a lot of guys into going out there and surfing with me. We could
leave our boards and stuff right there on the beach for days and no one
would mess with it or take anything. Buffalo, Henry Preece and Homer
would come out from Waianae and surf with us and drink beer in the afternoons
The core surfing scene quickly developed into a bi-polar "town and
country" surf culture, based at the Waikiki Surf Club and Tavern in the
summertime and switching to the country out at Makaha in the winter.
"The period is primal to the contemporary roots of our lifestyle and sport,"
wrote publisher Steve Pezman in his Surfer's Journal, "both on land
and in the water. From the cool surf trunks they had custom made
at small shops like Lynn's in Waikiki and M. Nii Taylors in Waianae, to
the first Makaha guns that evolved from the Kivlin and Quigg balsa chip
boards that they brought with them from Malibu and cross pollinated with
the hot-curls of island watermen/craftsmen George
Downing, Wally Froiseth and Woody
O`ahu's first big wave surfers -- the Hot Curl guys like Wally
Froiseth, John Kelly, Fran Heath, Russ Takaki,
Woody Brown, Henry Lum and George Downing -- were first joined by mainland
haoles like Joe Quigg, Tommy Zahn, Matt Kivlin, Melonhead, and Dave Rochlen.
Soon afterwards, Water Hoffman, Dave Mojas and Ted Crane were added to
the list. After them and because of Hoffman's ravings by post, Buzzy
"He went out Makaha with me," Woody told me of his first time out
with Buzzy in tow. "You know, with Wally and I the first time.
He'd never been out at Makaha before. 'Wow!' he said and his eyes
were big. He asked, 'We're going out there?'
"'Sure, sure!' So, he was game. We paddled out and, boy,
we're sitting there waiting for the wave and these monstrous swells just
go by. But, they weren't big enough to catch, you know. And
Buzzy's eyes bulged. 'You mean, we're gonna catch these?' I'll
never forget that! 'You mean, we're gonna catch these?' But,
he did. He got into it."
"Buzzy came over from the Mainland and he talked about big waves,"
Woody retold the story to Ben Marcus, "and we said, 'Come with us.'
We went to Makaha and it was a pretty good day, maybe 20 feet. I'll
never forget his expression. Buzzy saw these waves, and all you could
see were two big eyes, and he said, 'You mean we're going to catch these?'
And we said, 'Sure, Buzzy. Let's go!' But he got into it.
He got into the swing."
The winter surfing season of 1952-53 was "A great winter for surfing,"
testified John Severson of, particularly January 10, 1953. Severson
would, years later, become one of the first surf film makers and, more
significantly, the founder of Surfer magazine, surfing's first magazine.
"That Saturday was the capper -- twenty feet at Rincon."
Back at Makaha, it was Walter Hoffman's 3rd winter there. Chuck
McCullen, George Elkins, Charlie Reimers, Chuck Parker, Flippy Hoffman,
Junior Knox, Ted Crane, and Buzzy Trent now made up the core crew.
A notable event that year was when Tommy Zahn paddled the O`ahu to Molokai
route -- a 36 mile paddle -- in October 1953, in 9 hours and 20 minutes.
He then returned to Southern California to win the 32 mile Catalina paddleboard
Simmons on The North Shore
Makaha was the main place where big waves were ridden, up to this
point. Of course, the North Shore had been broken open as early as
the late 1930s by Whitey Harrison and Tarzan Smith. And, afterwards,
it was regular fare for the Hot Curlers. After Dickie Cross
lost his life at Waimea, the winter of 1943, that put the damper on enthusiasm
for the North Shore. Although it continued to be ridden, it was done
so rarely in favor of the point surf of the Makaha bowl.
One of the first to reverse this trend and tap into the North Shore
was Bob Simmons. Like Burrhead, Flippy Hoffman, Buzzy Trent and a
bunch of others, Simmons was drawn to O`ahu because of the glowing reports
sent back to the Mainland from Walter Hoffman.
Hoffman and company, "a group of Simmons' friends," wrote John Elwell,
"surfed big Makaha. Walt Hoffman sent a message for Simmons" to "'Get
over here right away.' Simmons packed up, with his bicycle and board
and headed for the North Shore. He wintered there, surfing alone
and with Flippy Hoffman. He came back with a wider view of the problems
of big waves. He remarked that he surfed Banzai Beach [Pipeline].
'That place has real possibilities!' He had also called a bunch of
surfers at Makaha, 'shoulder hugging chickens!'" To add insult to
injury, in true Simmons style, he also disgustedly complained, "'They're
surfing paddleboards over there!' Such was Simmons, concluded Elwell."
Leslie Williams, who came over with Simmons, listed the major aspects
of the trip. "We got off a cargo boat with boards and single speed
bike, middle of October, '53. Bob started circumnavigation of Oahu
by bike the next day.
"We stayed at Buzzy Trent's hut at Makaha, south of Dok's, early
"After Buzzy and I returned from town early November '53 (and left
Simmons at Makaha for six hours), Bob literally railed at us about the
fact that Makaha had been 20' while we were gone (when we got back it was
still 8-12' as it had been in the morning when we left for town).
He said check with Dok's wife about what she saw -- she always was the
recipient of many calls from town regarding Makaha surf status. Bob
was really upset that we didn't believe him -- maybe an unintentional turnabout
was fair play? He used to confront us with this 'Simmons constant,'
which was, 'Surf size (to him) = reported size ÷ 2 + 2.' His
infamous divide by two and add two.'
"In mid-November on a Sunday, George Downing suggested we haoles
join him and go to the North Shore for bigger surf (at this time Makaha
was 6-8'). In that era the only two people riding the North Shore
was George and Henry Preece. We put our boards in George's wagon.
He took Buzzy, and Bob and I joined Woody Brown in his Henry J. Because
George and Woody had military passes we were able to take the Kolekole
Pass to Schofield Barracks and the road to the North Shore. As we
dropped down towards the North Shore (fringed with white water!), Woody
started his story about his 'experience' in 1943. Woody continued
his story until the cars arrived at Sunset Beach. Of course, at the
time there was no one out and no cars parked there when we arrived."
"To us, Sunset looked like a perfect Ventura Overhead at 12' with
medium offshores. Since Bob, Buzzy and I were experienced with 'Big
Overhead' we paddled out to join George. Woody stayed on the beach
consistent with the results of his 1943 'experience' story. Direction
of the swell was perfect and the peak did not shift sidewise as it came
in. Simmons was using his big 'slot board' with rope deck handles.
Early in the go-out Bob and I took off on a challenging peak with Bob on
my inside. For only the second time in my life I saw Bob pull back
on a wave! Could this have been a reaction to Woody's earlier story
to us?" Williams asked. "The only previous time I had seen Bob pull
back on a wave without taking the drop was at 12-15' North Bird Rock in
January '51 (with Buzzy and I).
Photo Seen 'Round The World
On November 27, 1953, a Honolulu photographer named Skip Tsuzuki
took the famous Associated Press photo of Buzzy Trent, Woody Brown and
George Downing riding a 15-foot wave at Makaha that went world wide.
"That's the first big wave that was ever photographed that had world
wide distribution," noted Woody. "After that, of course, people started
getting gung ho over big waves. That's probably when they started
going the North Shore. That stirred everybody up. They started
going everywhere there was big waves." Woody clarified that, "When
we were riding Makaha, other surfers were starting to go there; about the
time Buzzy Trent came over to Makaha. After that, he started going
over to the North Shore with those guys, too."
About the famous AP photo of Trent, Brown and Downing, Woody told
Ben Marcus, "That was the first big-wave photograph ever made and it stirred
up a furor on the Mainland. All those guys came over and there were
the movies, and then they rode Waimea Bay and the magazines started up.
But that [the movies and magazines] was after my time."
"That shot blew everyone away, all up and down the coast," wrote
Nat Young. "Keen surfers had already seen Bud Browne's early surfing
movies of big-wave riding in Hawaii, but seeing that shot in a mass-circulation
paper made everyone realise what Hawaii could hold in store for them.
After that every winter, about November, a crew of Californian surfers
made the pilgrimage to Hawaii with the intention of riding waves at Sunset
Beach and Makaha."
"The Associated Press sent a picture that most major newspapers ran
as front page news," testified Fred Van Dyke, who was surfing Santa Cruz
in those days, "-- of a mountainous wave at Makaha Beach. Buzzy Trent,
George Downing and Wally Froiseth were the riders.
"The school Superintendent handed me the newspaper, and when I saw
the picture, that was it. I quit my job and headed for Hawaii."
Van Dyke was not alone. Others to head for the islands after viewing
this photo included Greg Noll and Pat Curren.
The AP photograph grabbed Mike Doyle's attention, too. Doyle
admitted, "that whetted my appetite even more for going to Hawaii.
It was of three surfers -- George Downing, Buzzy Trent, and Woody Brown
-- riding very straight, old-fashioned redwood boards at Makaha, on the
west side of Oahu. The wave looked massive to me -- at least twenty-five
feet -- a thick, boiling mountain of water. I'd heard about waves
like that, but I'd never imagined they could look so beautiful and terrifying
at the same time. And as far as I was concerned, the guys riding
them were the most courageous men on earth.
"Years later, after I got to know George Downing, I told him how
much that photo had impressed me as a kid. George laughed and said,
'That was really only about a twelve-foot wave. The photo was tilted
to make it look twice as big as it really was.'"
"The year after this," documented Walter Hoffman, "Greg Noll and
the Hermosa guys came over."
"Buzzy [Trent] loved to tell stories to his friends," recalled Peter
Cole, who heard many. "Buzzy enjoyed being at the edge of life, whether
being on scafolding 14 stories up, hang gliding off the Wainae Mountains,
or riding giant surf." One story Buzzy told took place during the
transition from Makaha to the North Shore:
"1953 probably was a turning point in my life as far as hairy experiences
is concerned," Buzzy began. "I was surfing at the big Avalanche.
On that day, I estimated [the waves to be] at least 30 [feet] or over and
we were out a mile and a tenth. This one position I got myself in,
I'll never forget. I lost my board on a big wave. I came to
the surface and I looked outside and I saw this huge, huge set and so the
first thing I thought was, 'I got to get through this big, big wave.'
"I started swimming as fast as I could. I swam like a maniac
and went up the face of this wave, swimming and swimming and swimming.
I could feel the thing pulling and pulling as I swam through it.
It had a hold of me like an old maid has hold of a sock. It was pulling
on me and I swam through this thing and I broke the surface and felt the
thing. As my eyes cleared, I felt the thing rumble as it broke inside
of me about 100 yards and, low and behold, as my eyes cleared -- this is
the most terrifying experience I ever had [up to that point], cuz at the
time, I thought I had everything made. I looked as my vision cleared,
and here was Jim Fisher, paddling like a jack ass up the face of another
wave which I estimated looked twice the size of the wave that I swam through.
He gets up half way on the face of this wave, stands up on the board like
this and backs off. And I'm sitting in the water like this, watching
the board coast up the face of the wave. And I can see Fisher swimming
through this gigantic wall and the board hovers at the very top of this
wave and I'm watching this board and looking over to my right, where five
other guys are hanging on to the outside buoy, which is nine-tenths of
a mile. Then I look back over at Jim Fisher's board and back at the
riders, then I look at that board, again, and the wave breaks about 160
yards in front of me and smashed that board right in two. It was
a solid redwood/balsa. The pieces just flew up into the air and I'm
hyperventilating and I'm looking at 25 foot of soup and I'm looking over
at these guys by the buoy and I'm saying, 'If I was only over by you.'
They're laughing at me and I'm looking at the buoy. I thought I had
"I levelled off at 15 feet [underwater, after diving under the oncoming
wave] and opened my eyes and saw this gigantic grey cloud rumbling towards
me. I leaned forward so I wouldn't tumble under water and lose my
sense of direction, because it was 70 feet [to the bottom] where I was.
[I] Held on for a tremendous long period of time and I finally made the
surface and there was 3 1/2 feet of foam on the surface. After a
long struggle, I reached the beach with half that board I saw broken in
two and, boy, was I glad to get into my panel truck!"
& The North Shore, 1954
Woody told me: "California surfers started coming over after"
the AP photo "went to the mainland and, boy, that drove everybody crazy.
They couldn't believe that. So, they all wanted to come out here
and see for themselves. But, I didn't know any of those guys.
I didn't go with 'em then. I just went with Wally and them.
I just never got to know 'em. For instance, Joe Quigg -- nice guy,
gentle, quiet guy."
"We were kind of separated into two bunches, then. Wally, [John]
Kelly and me and those guys -- we would go to Makaha. California
guys went more for the North Shore. I don't know why; probably because
the waves were more peaks and you could play around on the peak, where
Makaha had this wall and, man, you had to have a good, fast board and had
to really trim it to get going; to get across. That, maybe, didn't
appeal to them."
Woody, George and the other Hot Curl surfers who were the veterans
at Makaha lived in town. The haoles coming over from California roughed
it in the country by renting World War II quonset huts.
These small groups of mainland surfers coming over to Makaha and the
North Shore of O`ahu started getting some attention from the Hawaiian media.
At the beginning of 1954, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin described the surfer
lifestyle in these locations:
"If you asked the average Islander to point out Makaha to you, you'd
probably run into a lot of inaccurate pointing... But a small band of Californians
have found Makaha without any trouble. They are content to go without
the usual luxuries of modern day living, just so they can surf there.
Three Californians arrived about 10 days ago to join a hardy band of some
15 ascetics living in a shack about two blocks from the surf. The
new arrivals have taken a cottage across the street -- for $10 a month
each -- and have scattered swim fins, spears, and surfboards around their
new house-with-kitchen -- the kitchen being a Coleman stove."
The Honolulu Star-Bulletin reporter went on to write:
"Overhead, surfboards hang by rope so they can be let down with ease, while
swim fins hang on chairs scattered in between seven beds, bunks and cots."
The article was accompanied by a photograph with the caption: "From California
to Makaha." It showed the current crop of mainland haoles including
Buzzy Trent, Flippy Hoffman, Chuck McClelland, Junior Knox, Jim Fisher
and Ted Crane. Buzzy was quoted by the reporter as saying, "We have
a garden, we spear our fish -- yesterday Junior Knox got us a 65-pound
turtle -- and we have salads, stews and things. It's a community
thing. We are over here strictly to surf, and corny as it may sound,
the surf over here is terrific. It's the best."
There's this mid-February 1954 photo of "Walt, Mojas and Hap
Jacobs patching boards in front of the Tavern. In those days, even
more important than the availability of cocktails at surfs edge, was a
belly full of food for a hungry surfer. Recalls Walter, 'The Tavern
had a great $1 salad bar where we trained for M's Ranch House, the infamous
South Shore restaurant that offered the truly daunting challenge of eating
a 4 1/2 lb. steak and all the trimmings in one hour for free, otherwise
it was 9.95'" This was accomplished by Walt, Tommy Zahn, Tom Moore,
Carter Pyle and Buzzy Trent (who broke the record by eating everything
in 20 minutes "to the horror of the proprietor"). Bud Brown's got
part of it on film.
Months later, Walter Hoffman recalled, "Buzzy and I stayed in this
little house on Kaiulani Avenue in Waikiki during the Summer of '54.
It didn't have a kitchen, just a place to wash and sleep for $35 a month
-- which we split."
Noll & The Hermosa Guys, 1954
At the end of summer, Greg Noll made it over and so did a number
of his friends like Sonny Vardeman.
Sonny Vardeman, in talking about Buzzy Trent and how he influenced
others, said that, "Greg [Noll] and I have been friends since grade school.
While he belonged to the Manhattan Beach Surf Club, I was a member of a
surf club called the Hermosa Beach Seals, along with our friends Mike Bright
and Steve Voorhees. We'd see each other at the beach all the time.
During the early fifties, there were very few surfers. You'd see
the same guys at the different spots up and down the coast. That's
how we all got to know each other.
"In high school, we all hung out on the beach together. Mike
Bright and a few of us played on the football and basketball teams, then
surfed during the summer. Greg wasn't much into high school athletics.
He hung out at the Manhattan Beach Surf Club, spent most of his time on
the beach. Greg is a very proud man. He doesn't like to be
a loser. I think that's what made him good in paddleboard racing.
I also think that was one of the reasons he didn't go out for high school
athletics. If Greg can't do something well, he won't participate
"Greg devoted most of his energy to surfing. Buzzy Trent, Joe
Quigg, Dale Velzy, Bob Simmons and George Downing were all six or seven
years older than we were. They're the guys we watched. George
lived in Hawaii, but came to the Mainland for paddleboard races.
Buzzy was a lifeguard around Santa Monica and Malibu. He went over
to the Islands in the early fifties and became one of the pioneers of modern
surfing at Makaha and of big-wave surfing. Greg really learned about
big-wave riding from Buzzy. If you compare films of Buzzy and Greg,
you can see that Greg emulated Buzzy's style. Greg admired George
Downing, but he emulated Buzzy's style."
Edwards on The North Shore, 1955
The following year, when Phil Edwards made his first trip to O'ahu
in 1955, he surfed Sunset the second day he was on the island and he rode
in good company. Chris Aherns told the story, beginning with the
ride to Sunset:
"The men in the car discussed their equipment, and found general
agreement that Curren made some of the best big-wave guns in the islands.
'Yeah, I love his boards,' said Trent, 'but he's so damned quiet that I
never know what he's thinking. You know how he is, sitting outside
at Sunset without saying a word and then, when you think he's nearly asleep,
he'll catch the biggest wave of the day.' There was admiration in
Trent's voice as he spoke of Curren.
"Coming out of miles of pineapple fields, Phil saw the North Shore
for the first time -- a powder-blue sky dotted by white clouds, and surf
breaking for as far as he could see. It looked small to him, and
he was surprised by the reaction of the other surfers. 'Floor it,'
said Walter before Phil hit the gas.
"'Let's go, let's go,' said Buzzy nearly frantically. The kid
drove down the thin highway, past small tin-roofed homes and well-kept
fields, some of which were being cultivated by men using nothing but a
plow pulled by an ox. They drove past miles of empty surf, perfect
waves fanned by offshore winds formed symmetrical, blue triangles... They
continued to drive without seeing another surfer anywhere until Phil was
told to pull over onto the shoulder. Here they faced a long, wide
"The kid looked out and watched a clean wave of about four foot break
fairly close to shore. He thought, 'This looks like home; I like
this.' Walter [Hoffman] and Leslie [Williams] got out of the car
and grabbed their boards. Buzzy gave a loud hoot, and stood next
to the kid, and said with serious joy, 'Look at that, man, look at it!'
Phil followed Buzzy's eyes far away past the medium-sized surf of the shorebreak
he was watching, to a place on the edge of a massive rip, where a huge
peak toppled in slow motion.
"Seeing that Walter and Leslie were already on their way out, Buzzy
grabbed his board and ran to catch them, outdistancing them as he committed
himself to the river of a rip, and then paddling over to the big peak....
Phil grabbed his board, and fearing to look toward the sea, he paddled
out with his head down... The kid paddled hard for the outside where the
others were sitting, looking like dots...
"Phil sat in the pack with the others and looked around for the mushy
peak he had seen from shore. A wave approached quickly and Phil spun
around and knee-paddled for it, just as he had always done in California.
The strong offshore wind blew him back over the top and out of the wave
as drops of warm water pelted his skin. Walter looked with concern
at Phil and told him not to knee-paddle into the waves saying that if he
did, he would never make the drop. Phil dropped from his knees and
laid flat onto his board and scanned the horizon for sets.
"Not even Buzzy seemed calm now. They all huddled, waiting
quietly for a long time until the next wave approached, a beautiful peak,
a gift to the kid who began to stroke in early from a prone position...
Eventually they all made shore and sat together on the sand for a while,
verbally replaying their rides.
"Buzzy spoke for them all saying, 'Hey, did you see Phil out there
today?' Hoffman smiled proudly. Buzzy gave the kid a warm slap
on the shoulder."
Out Attack on The North Shore, 1955
"Buzzy Trent, who often surfed alone at Sunset, organized an all-out
attack on the North Shore in 1955, wrote Fred Van Dyke who had come over
from Santa Cruz, California, the year before. Van Dyke was a school
teacher and not part of the quonset hut bohemians, but he nevertheless
went on to become one of the big wave surfers who helped open up the North
Shore. A notable time in his recollections was November 1955:
"Pat Curren, Buzzy, my brother Peter, George Downing, Wally Froiseth
and I drove up to an untouched surf spot in November of '55. The
day was glassy, and no one was out. Cylinders tubing at 20-foot plus
for 200 yards lined the point. We didn't know if we could get out.
"Buzzy said he had dived in the area the previous summer... finally
everyone waxed his board.
"Bud Browne... climbed to the top of a water tower... and set up
his camera... no waves under 15 feet all day." It was this
first known surf session at this spot that resulted in Laniakea getting
its name as a surf locale. Bud Browne had seen the name "Laniakea"
on a sign on a house close by.
"We were exhausted when we drove back to Honolulu," continued Van
Dyke. "Two days later Bud Browne got his films back and we screamed
and yelled at wave after wave, 15-20 foot walls 200 yards long rolled by
on film. In those days we could measure pretty accurately the size
of waves by looking through a view finder, and using pieces of paper to
measure our stance. Then you multiplied the stance by the number
of times you could put it against the wave."
"We were pioneering a new area," explained Van Dyke. "Aside
from making pacts to retrieve one another's board, we never knew whether
we would get back to shore. After a wipeout we did not know which
action would get us to the beach fastest. Most often we chose the
comfort of the rip and waited until someone paddled a board out."
"Alonzo Wiemers and Buzzy Trent took me to the North Shore on a day
in 1955," continued Van Dyke, "when all of the outside reefs were breaking
-- exploding. Thousands of tons of white water crashed and blew up
with the force of the bottom reefs, and tradewinds scanned the broken wave
"We drove to Sunset to find it completely closed out. No decision
needed there except to turn around and drive to Makaha.
"Laniakea was breaking a mile out in the ocean, so we passed on to
Haleiwa. Stopping there, we went into a little coffee shop -- Jerry's
-- fronting the sea. From the window we saw the outside break at
Haleiwa. It was a snowy mountain avalanching, cascading forward;
tons of soup filling the horizon. If it looked huge from three quarters
of a mile away, what would it be like up close?
"We finished our coffee and headed back to the car. Buzzy took
one more look and said, 'Let's just paddle out and look at it, before we
go to Makaha.'
"I looked at Alonzo. He had a pained look on his face.
"Buzzy asked again. Alonzo looked at the avalanching break.
The view on his neck reddened. 'Yeah, sure. We'll just go out
and give it a little check. What do you think, Fred?'
"'Uh, sure, sounds good to me.' It looked big, but from shore,
just like any other break -- except for its huge size.
"We drove to the Alii Beach, where we could wax up and paddle out
through a small channel on the edge of the boat harbor. Pat Curren
was sitting on the beach, his board tucked under his arm.
"'How does it look?' Buzzy asked.
"'Good to me,' answered Pat. Buzzy and Pat picked up their
boards and headed to the shorebreak.
Alonzo looked at me and said, 'Well, you wanted to ride big waves.'
"'Yes,' I answered, feeling my throat and tongue dry, my heart racing.
"'Yes, let's hit it.'
"We paddled and paddled. I changed from knee paddling five
times before I could really see the size of the outside reef break.
It was an entirely different dimension.
"Lining up, I backed off on the first wave. Buzzy and Pat caught
it and disappeared. The set ended, a lull filling in the silence.
I looked over at Alonzo drifting toward Kaena Point.
"Relaxing for a moment out there was my first mistake. Number
two, not turning around fast enough. I looked seaward and saw, like
a heard of galloping horses, a set of waves racing across the horizon,
their manes waving wildly in the wind.
"They crossed the outside harbor channel and climbed skyward.
They were moving mountains, and I was sitting directly in front of their
forward momentum. I paddled frantically outside, barely making it
over the first one, only to be confronted by a second even larger wave.
It sucked out, vacuuming ever higher. I paddled, and as I slid backward
down the face, I hit the bottom of that force, peal tailblock first, and
slid off, all thirty feet plus cascading down upon me, and my board placed
less than a foot away from my head.
"The initial impact drove me deeply into darkness. I told myself
to relax, but whitewater wrenched at my arms and legs. I waited for
the wave to abate -- let me go as other waves did, but not this one.
"When I had waited long past the time to fight for the surface and
air, the soup dispersed into churning blackness. There even was a
moment of seemingly suspended time.
"I felt as if this might be it. What a fool to lose life this
way! In the utter darkness I stroked my last struggle for the surface,
and bumped my head full force into lava. The soup had driven me into
a cave. I was trapped.
"I threw up water and surrendered. It wasn't so bad after all.
I had chosen to go out; it was my fault.
"That was all! And then, just before dizziness prevailed completely,
I saw sunlight down by my feet. I was upside down, had lost all equilibrium,
and had swum down instead of up, bumping into the bottom.
"Surfacing, I got a breath before the next wave broke upon me and
repeated the same driving spin cycle. This time I was pushed in toward
shore and surfaced to face a near-mile swim through breaking waves, rips,
cross currents and shallow reefs. Twenty-feet high soup carried me
over an exposed reef still half a mile out in the ocean, but I made it
to the beach. Dragging myself out of the water, I felt much the same
sickness as that day when I nearly drowned in the surf off San Francisco.
"Flippy still tries to get me to go outside Haleiwa, to 'Avalanche'
on big days, when the North Shore regular spots are all closed out.
I always say 'No, no way!'
"His usual reply, 'God, Van Dyke, Avalanche is an old man's dream
for riding a truly big wave. It's a cinch. It's got the drop
and it was made for guys like you and me.'
"I think to myself, 'Not this old man, Flippy.'"
Haoles Takeover The North Shore
The following year (1956), with the Laniakea footage and other stuff,
"Bud Browne went back to California with his new film [probably The Big
Surf]," wrote Van Dyke, "and it was an instant success -- with one drawback.
Crowds came to the North Shore -- or what we considered crowds -- about
20 new guys in all..."
Bud's surfing years spanned the period 1938-57, "around that time"
-- that's the way he put it to me. Surfing's first commercial filmmaker's
surf films stretched from 1953 to 1977. Surfers that Bud caught on
film reads like a who's who of legendary big wave riders of the 1950s and
'60s. Bud organized the recollections by surf spots. "There
was Waimea with Peter Cole, Fred Van Dyke, Ricky Grigg, Kimo Hollinger...
Pipeline: there was Gerry Lopez, Rory Russell, a whole bunch of others...
Makaha: there was Buzzy Trent, George Downing, Greg Noll, and lots of others."
By 1957, surfers riding the North Shore were predominantly visiting
Californians and California transplants. "In the winter of 1957,"
wrote Nat Young, "the Californian surfers in Hawaii included Greg Noll,
Mike Stange, Mickey Muñoz and Del Cannon. Some Californians
already made the move permanently: Ray Beatty, Bob Sheppard, Jose
Angel, Fred Van Dyke, Pat Curren, Peter Cole, John Severson, Bruce Brown,
Jim Fisher, Buzzy Trent and a few others..." Yet more waves of "Coast
Haoles" followed as "Still more Californian surfers began leaving the mainland,
with a dream of riding giant island waves: Kemp Aaberg, Mike Diffenderfer,
Al Nelson, Little John Richards..."
"There was fierce competition," wrote Greg Noll of the surf scene
-- "on a friendly basis, of course, among the big-wave riders: Peter Cole,
Pat Curren, Mike Stange, Jose Angel, Ricky Grigg, Buzzy Trent, George Downing
and myself. This was the nucleus of guys during my time who really
enjoyed riding big waves. Each guy had his own personality and his
Broke Open, November 1957
"Downing and Trent had helped establish Makaha as the No. 1 big-wave
or any-size-wave spot in the Islands," Greg Noll noted in his autobiography.
"Up to this time, the winter of 1957, no one had ever ridden Waimea."
"For three years I had driven by the place," continued Noll, talking
about Waimea, "on my way to surf Sunset Beach. I would stop the car
to look at Waimea Bay. If there were waves, I'd hop up and down,
trying to convince the other guys, and myself, that Waimea was the thing
to do. All the time, I was trying to build up my own confidence.
"At that time the North Shore was largely unexplored territory.
We were kids who had heard nothing but taboo-related stories about Waimea.
There was a house that all the locals believed was haunted. There
were sacred Hawaiian ruins up in Waimea Canyon. And of course, the
mystique of Dickie Cross dying there. We'd drive by and see these
big, beautiful grinders... but the taboos were still too strong."
"The forbiddenness of the place is what made Waimea Bay so compelling.
I wanted to try it but didn't have the balls to go out by myself.
So I kept promoting the idea of breaking the Bay. Buzzy Trent, my
main opponent, started calling me the Pied Piper of Waimea. He said,
'Follow Greg Noll and he'll lead you off the edge of the world. You'll
all drown like rats if you listen to the Pied Piper of Waimea Bay.'
"One day in November, we stopped at Waimea just to take a look.
I finally jerked my board off the top of the car and did it."
Between 1957 and 1959, Buzzy got together with his wife-to-be Violet.
And then, through the 1960s, Buzzy gradually disengaged from surfing.
I once asked Bud Browne about Buzzy Trent. "I lived with
him for six winters in Hawai`i at Makaha and the North Shore," Bud replied.
I asked him why Buzzy had gotten out of surfing. "Well, I guess age
has something to do with it and he got other interests like hang gliding,
diving for fish, does bicycle riding, now. I think when you get in
your 40s and 50s you just don't tackle big surf like you used to... It's
a young man's sport, big waves."
Sources Used In This Chapter:
Fred Van Dyke
The Surfer's Journal
TOM BLAKE: The Journey of A Pioneer Waterman
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