A Definitive History of Surfing's Culture and Heroes
By Malcolm Gault-Williams
This Chapter Updated: 6 March 2006
North Shore of O`ahu Opens Up
Fred Van Dyke surfing Waimea, image courtesy of John Severson.
Aloha! And welcome to this chapter of LEGENDARY SURFERS. In surfing, the year 1957 is notable for the continued opening of the North Shore of O`ahu by mostly Coast Haoles. It's also the year when major experimentations in polyurethane foam surfboard manufacture took place on the Mainland. To read more about the development of polyurethane foam, please read "Wood To Foam". Meanwhile, journey with me back to 1957...
"I talked my mom into buying my first board... a nine-foot, six-inch
Velzy and Jacobs balsa board with thirty-two ants in the glass job. Velzy
told me the ants wouldn't hurt anything and I believed him. I remember
my mom's words: 'This board is probably just like everything else you want.
You'll use it for a week and throw it away.' "I showed her! We still laugh
about it. Mom painted a totem pole on that first board and later I sold
it to the real Gidget for fifteen bucks..."
"Nobody taught me. Does anybody teach anybody? It's kind of like
learning how to ride a bike. Somebody gives you a push, then watches you
crash into a pole."
"There's no way to express the look on the owner's face when he came
the next month to collect the rent. Needless to say, Meade Hall was short
"I named Velzyland when I first began making movies in '58... I also
named Pipeline, and Severson came along and renamed it Banzai Beach. As
a compromise, it became Banzai Pipeline. Now it's Pipeline again."
"In the fifties, the North Shore was a dream. It was all so new.
And so cheap to live there. You'd find every way you could to stretch a
hundred bucks. The deal was, who could get the cheapest house and get the
most people in it? You could rent a house then for sixty to seventy dollars
a month. With twelve guys sharing the rent, that hundred bucks went a long
"It used to be that all the guys who rode big waves were good watermen
-- good swimmers, sailors or paddlers who knew the ocean, the currents
tides. You could get into a lot of trouble, get sucked to the wrong side
of Waimea Bay, if you didn't know what you were doing..."
"There was fierce competition -- 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 own deal."
"'Yeah. Got any wax?'"
"I'd love to say something heroic. I'd love to say we made history.
But basically it was a bunch of guys parked around the Bay there, and somebody
grabbed a board and went surfing, and it looked so good the rest of us
guys said, 'Hey, we got to get in on this.'"
The years 1956-58 were pivotal in the further development of the modern surfboard - the board that Bob Simmons had primarily ushered in, along with the help of Joe Quigg, Matt Kivlin and Tommy Zahn. These were the years of experimentation with polyurethane foam as the primary floatation factor. The use of "foam" and fiberglass would replace balsa and fiberglass; just like balsa had replaced redwood/balsa planks; just like redwood and balsa strip combination boards had replaced redwood which had replaced koa.
The year 1957 was the last official year of the balsa era. Even so, it is good to keep in mind that much of the technological advance with foam and fiberglass occurred somewhat clandestinely while balsa still reigned. Sure, we can say that 1956-58 was the development of the polyurethane foam board. At the same time, we know that the rest of the tribe didn't catch up to these changes until a year or two after it was a fait accompli - a done deal. That puts it more at the beginning of the 1960s than the end of the 1950s.
Although foam did not immediately replace balsa, by late 1958 and 1959, it became evident to most of those on the inside that this was the way surfboard manufacturing was to go. Leaders in this new technology included Doug and Dave Sweet, Hobie Alter and Grubby Clark.
No one knew, during 1957, that the year would mark the end of an era and that surfing would change radically because of foam. The primary technology on most minds that year might have been rocket and satellite science, as it was then that what was the U.S.S.R. -- the Soviet Union -- successfully launched Sputniks I and II, the first artificial earth satellites. The fact that the Communist Russians had done it first was threatening to the western democracies.
By the time the year was over for surfers, the big news was Waimea. Since Dickie Cross's death there in 1943, there had been a voodoo associated with the place. Not to say that people no longer surfed the spot; just that those who did were few and far between. It took transplanted Californians like Greg Noll and Buzzy Trent to add Waimea to the list of big wave surf spots. It was in November of that year that the old spell was broken and a new one begun.
Meanwhile, in the Land Down Under...
A year after Tommy Zahn, Bob Moore, Mike Bright and Greg Noll left their "Malibus" behind in Australia, Ampol Oil films of the Americans' surfing demonstrations were still being shown throughout the urban areas of Australia. The viewings at surf lifesaving clubs Down Under caused a revolution in Australian surfboard design and marked the beginning of contemporary Australian surfing. In addition, Greg Noll's movies of the trip helped spark interest in Oz. As testimony of the impact that the Americans made in Australia, in 1956, and the ensuing change in Aussie board design, even today, longboards in Australia are still often referred to as "Malibus."
Several of the Australian surfboard manufacturers wrote to companies in Equador in attempts to import the necessary balsa wood. "They were instructed to contact Arthur Milner," wrote Nat Young, "who came to Sydney to discuss exactly what size timber was required for the expected boom. Business arrangements took a long time in those days and it wasn't until the summer of '58 that their first shipment arrived." The local shapers then began to learn the unique properties of balsa wood. "The lightest planks were the whitest," continued Young, "with flecks of dark gray grain running through them; the hardest, but heaviest, were the greener, darker ones. Selection of the planks was an intricate part of the process; you used the lighter ones down the center, the heavier, more durable ones towards the rails. A scarf joint to give lift was the same as Simmons had devised 10 years earlier. As most of South America's good quality balsa was going to the USA, Australia was sent some pretty scratchy shipments. By 1958 the established manufacturers had moved out of Sydney's densely-populated eastern suburbs to the northside and the recently opened industrial suburb of Brookvale. At one end of Brookvale was Barry Bennett; at the other end, Gordon Woods; and in the middle, Bill Wallace. Bill Clymer was in a garage in Manly where he and Joe Larkin did some beautiful work, using stringers, nose blocks and tail blocks made from cedar and redwood to set off the blond balsa.
"Gordon Woods remembers the days of the bad balsa shipments only
too well; he made it a rule to always inspect the load on the truck. On
one occasion he found it all to be greenish, heavier style. He turned the
shipment straight around, realising that one heavy board could ruin his
What would become a surf music standard in the beginning of the 1960's, 1957 produced a song by the Champs called "Tequila." It is still often heard, today, on "the Oldies" radio stations.
Dale Velzy introduced the "7-11" series. Named for their length, these boards caused a minor sensation for a couple of years and then disappeared.
Wetsuits were still under development, although dry suits had been available in kit form since after World War II. Bev Morgan is generally credited with first introducing surfing wetsuits via Buzzy Trent in 1953.
To deal with the cold factor involved in surfing California waters, fires were generally made on the beach to warm bodies between go-outs. "Typical burnables at Malibu," wrote C.R. Stecyk, "included boards from the big fence; flotsam and jetsam like boxes, automobile tires and tree branches."
On a foggy March 8, 1957, a burning "mistake" was made when "Dale Velzy is horrified to find Mickey Dora burning his new wooden camera tripod, carrying case and several reels of just-shot movie films. Dora ran from Velzy, claiming innocence. 'Jesus, Hawk, I thought the stuff was just driftwood.'"
Another Malibu incident occurred several months later, on September
Velzy - Jacobs
"Ever since the days of Simmons and his aggro bicycle race challenges," wrote C.R. Stecyk, "the sporting life has flourished at Malibu. Today's combatants are the ever humble Miki Chapin Dora, driving his clean Iron Mountain-bodied wood 1949 Ford station wagon, and Hap Jacobs, who will pilot his brand new premiere issue 1957 Ford Ranchero. The course will be the Malibu drag strip (which to outsiders might be better known as Highway 101). Side by side, the drivers sit waiting for the start signal. Many observers wonder if Miki has any chance against Hap's newer, sleeker car. Local lore relates that the stakes are two cases of Dundee Scotch against a new Velzy-Jacobs surfboard. As they come off the line Hap lunges ahead, but as he slams into second, the old woodie screeches into the lead leaving Jacobs in the dust. No contest. Later, Dora's car provides a couple of clues as to just how this upset victory was accomplished. Velzy notices that as Miki revs up the engine, there is such immense power transfer and torque that the entire car twists and flexes. This bending of the old woodie is so severe that the half inch bolts which hold down the specially treated phenolic resined wood panels are actually coming loose during acceleration. A pop of the hood confirms all suspicions, for grafted into the engine compartment is a new Briggs Cunningham prepped V8 392 Chrysler Hemihead, featuring over 400 horses of brutal acceleration."
On December 11, 1957, "A television mogul wearing a stiff, pin-striped suit barges into the shaping emporium of Velzy and Jacobs," wrote C.R. Stecyk of another incident that year. "The stranger's aggressive behavior and peculiar speech mannerisms instantly launches Hap into hysterical laughter. Dale, always ready for a good joke, pumps the interloper for info. An executive from a popular TV show says, 'Babe, the man Steve-O Reeno needs a hep cat surfboard custom built immediately, it will make you both famous. The guys and dolls will break down your door begging for boards just like it.'
Jacobs is now incredulous. 'You mean Steve Allen surfs?' he asks. Velzy is no longer amused. (Being more famous than he cared for already, and being 80 board orders behind... well.) The TV man realizing that he's being shut out, quickly changes tactics. He begins sobbing, 'Come on guys it's my job, you've got to help me, I'll pay anything.'
Hearing these words, Dale, ever the humanitarian, especially if you've
got the cash, says, 'OK, maybe we can work this out.' Hap and Velzy now
spend days trying to figure out how to construct a surfboard that can be
ridden in a TV studio by a kook that cannot even stand up. Their ingenious
answer -- a full sized balsa, South Bay shape, complete with hidden roller
skate wheels allows Steve Allen to 'surf' across a sound stage pulled by
a rope. The bit will be exhibitioned 35 years later by the Museum of Broadcasting
as art. Velzy and Jacobs don't recall ever being paid for this job. Later,
some wag was heard to ponder whether this was truly the first televised
occurrence of skateboarding?"
Mike Doyle's first board was bought around a href="ls24.shtml">1956.
"I talked my mom into buying my first board then," recalled Doyle, "a nine-foot, six-inch Velzy and Jacobs balsa board with thirty-two ants in the glass job. Velzy told me the ants wouldn't hurt anything and I believed him. I remember my mom's words: 'This board is probably just like everything else you want. You'll use it for a week and throw it away.'
"I showed her! We still laugh about it. Mom painted a totem pole
on that first board and later I sold it to the real Gidget for fifteen
bucks. At the time, my father was in the Navy at Point Mugu. He drove past
Malibu every day -- a great deal for me! I became 'Malibu Mike' and was
at Malibu during the sixties, during the renaissance era of surfing, when
Mickey Dora, Gidget, the Beach Boys and all the excitement of surfing was
coming on strong. In those days, when the Big South started pumping, every
hot surfer on the coast would come to Malibu, the true proving grounds."
Coast Haoles Takeover the North Shore
By 1957, surfers surfing 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 had already
made the move permanently: Ray Beatty, Bob Sheppard, Jose Angel, Fred Van
Dyke, Pat Curren, Peter Cole, John Severson, Bruce Brown, Jim Fisher,
Trent and a few others..." Yet more waves 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..."
John Severson's Patriotic Waves
"Both John Severson and Fred Van Dyke had come to the Islands through their enlistment in national service," wrote Young. "'Silvertongue' Severson had been clever enough to persuade the army to let him start a surf team of which he and Van Dyke were the first enlistments. On strict orders to go out and surf for their country, they proceeded to ride waves all over Oahu."
"An unknown but aggressive surfer, John Severson, appeared in 1957," wrote Fred Van Dyke. "I think he was one of the first to hot-dog big waves...
"He was in the army, an artist, and salivating profusely at the thought of riding Hawaii. As a hobby, he took 16mm surf films and painted watercolors of island seas, especially abstract surf impressions. John used to sit at Waikiki on weekends, and sell a watercolor of a surf scene for two dollars. It paid for film to shoot surf and for gasoline from Waianae to the North Shore."
"Severson remembers his first brush with big waves only too well,"
Nat Young continued. "He paddled out at Makaha
on perhaps the first big swell of the year. Perfect ten to twelve feet,
glassy bowl surf with no-one out. After pushing back all the adrenaline
induced by steady doses of Fred Van Dyke's scrapbook and Fred's stories
of Waimea Bay closing out, being sucked into a lava tube, and being dragged
out to sea by rip tides, John finally found the line-up. A big blue glassy
peak showed about half a mile out and he paddled around to a take-off position,
trying to keep his appointment with his first big-wave experience. Without
knowing about the infamous Makaha bowl, John stood up just as the wave
was leaping up to form the bowl. The board and John parted company, John
falling through space until he hit the wave again and was pitched over
the falls. Eventually he came up very alone and a long way from shore."
Pat Curren's Meade Hall
"Pat Curren was a classic character as well as an amazing surfer," credited Young. "He camped on a vacant lot near Pipeline so he could go surfing whenever he wanted to." But Curren was a surfer long before the North Shore. He had begun in Mission Beach and later La Jolla:
"I grew up bodysurfing and belly boarding in Mission Beach," Pat Curren told Steve Yarbrough in 1993. "In World War II guys started with balsa-redwood boards. In the early '50s I moved to La Jolla and got really serious about it. At Wind 'n Sea Buzzy Bent, Towny Cromwell, Buddy Hall and the Eckstrom brothers were riding 10-11 foot planks. Buzzy was one of the first to ride the Quigg chip, a fiberglass and balsa surfboard nine feet long, 22 to 23 inches wide, turned-down rails, trying to get rocker with a pretty flat bottom."
"To be a La Jolla surfer in the '50s," wrote Bruce Jenkins, "meant you never held back: in your drinking, your partying or especially your surfing, where the test of skill was a double-overhead day at Windansea. Nobody savored that life, or typified it more, than Patrick King Curren.
"Everyone... in California knew there was something different about the La Jolla guys: Curren, Mike Diffenderfer, Wayne Land, Al Nelson, the Eckstrom brothers, Ricky Naish, Buzzy Bent, Tiny Brain Thomas, Billy Graham, Butch Van Artsdalen."
"The most rebellious group of people I ever met," said Fred Van Dyke. "I'm sure some of them came from rich families, but they rejected that kind of life, ridiculed it. If a guy made some money, he'd go out and buy everybody food and drink, and the next day he'd be scrounging for a cup of coffee. They were like wild animals."
"With the Mexican border beckoning," continued Jenkins, "groups of them would go on blind-drunk Tijuana rages for days, waking up on some roadside without a clue where they were. Pranks and daredevil stunts were the very essence of their lives.
"They all surfed big Windansea -- out of sheer determination, if not raw talent -- and when the first films and still photos arrived with big wave images of Hawaii, nearly all of them made the pilgrimage. Curren didn't even start surfing until 1950, the year he turned 18, but by 1955 he was among the first serious wave of California surfers to take on Makaha and Sunset."
"Nobody taught me," Curren said. "Does anybody teach anybody? It's kind of like learning how to ride a bike. Somebody gives you a push, then watches you crash into a pole."
"Curren was a little older than the rest," wrote Jenkins, "and with his lifestyle honed by the La Jolla days, he set the tone for North Shore living."
"He molded it into a state-of-the-art lifestyle," recalled Greg Noll. "He had this terrible old '36 Plymouth, probably the shittiest car of all time, and the cops gave him a bunch of crap about having the front windshield knocked out. Pat always had this way about him, getting from Point A to B in the shortest distance, without getting real complicated. So he just jerked out one of the side windows and wedged it onto the driver's side, and he got away with that for a couple months. That was his idea of a windshield."
The North Shore was mostly just farmland back in those days, "and you basically had a bunch of local people growing food, raising pigs and chickens," recalled Noll. "When Pat and I went on patrol, there wasn't a chicken or a duck that was safe. I can still see us running down the beach at Pupukea with a big fat chicken in each hand, calves burning in the soft sand with a couple of pit bulls on our ass. We'd barbeque 'em up later and have a hell of a dinner. Pat was also a pretty decent fisherman and a great diver. So between the ocean, the chickens and the ducks, he got along pretty good."
"I started shaping boards in 1956-57," Curren said. "I was walking down the beach at Waikiki and a guy at a rental board place asked me who had made the board I was carrying. I said I did. He asked me to make 20 rental boards. So I rented a shop in Haleiwa and got into it."
"They lived out of cars and panel trucks," surf writer Bruce Jenkins continued his description of North Shore surfer life in the mid-1950s, "slept on the beach when all else failed, and occasionally got to rent an actual building. In a truly inspired moment, Curren created a surfer's palace that came to be known as Meade Hall."
"It was mostly Pat and the La Jolla guys -- maybe 10 guys altogether," said Fred Van Dyke. "It was a three-bedroom, fully furnished place for $65 a month across from Ke Iki Road. Pat went in there like always, checked it out, didn't say anything. Then he lined up everybody for a meeting and the plan unfolded. Two days later, they had completely gutted the place. Just tore the insides out of it. With the leftover lumber they built surfboard racks along the side and a giant eating table down the middle. Pat got the Meade Hall idea from the old King Arthur books. That was the meeting place for all valiant gladiators."
"Ala King Arthur," Van Dyke wrote, "the Knights of the Round Table and the meeting place known as 'Meade Hall,' Curren proceeded to convert [the] place in like fashion. He took on a number of roommates, mostly surfers from La Jolla, California, like Mike Diffenderfer, Al Nelson, Wayne Land and others. They razed all the inside separating walls, except the bathroom. With the lumber, they constructed surfboard racks from ceiling to floor, and built a huge rabble with connected benches on both sides. It stretched the length of the one big room.
"When it was finished, Pat stood back. 'I think this will do; I'm going surfing.' With that, he strolled into the backyard, picked up a machete, and hacked a couple of branches from a Hale Koa tree. He tied these to the top of his battered car and secured his board to the new rack. Pat disappeared in a cloud of fumes, headed toward Sunset."
Ricky Grigg said Curren would sit at the head of the table, often wearing a mock Viking helmet, "and he'd pound on the table, going, 'Ahh! Eat! We hungry! Gotta surf big waves tomorrow! Take wife and pull her by hair into room!' Just totally joking around. I mean, the most Pat would ever say in a day was about eight words, and I just said all eight of 'em."
"There's no way to express the look on the owner's face when he came
the next month to collect the rent," wrote Van Dyke. "Needless to say,
Meade Hall was short lived."
The Challenge of Waimea
"I named Velzyland when I first began making movies in '58," Bruce Brown -- surfer and surf photographer -- said. "Velzy sponsored me and made my boards, so I named this spot on the North Shore after him. John Severson, who founded SURFER magazine, was also making movies at the time and named the same place, only used a different name. But Velzyland is the name that stuck. I also named Pipeline, and Severson came along and renamed it Banzai Beach. As a compromise, it became Banzai Pipeline. Now it's Pipeline again.
"In the fifties, the North Shore was a dream. It was all so new. And so cheap to live there. You'd find every way you could to stretch a hundred bucks. The deal was, who could get the cheapest house and get the most people in it? You could rent a house then for sixty to seventy dollars a month. With twelve guys sharing the rent, that hundred bucks went a long way.
"As Greg developed as a big-wave surfer, he'd work on all these schemes that were supposed to help a guy survive a wipeout in big surf -- miniature aqualungs, tiny breathing devices. No one ever tried them out, but we all talked about it a lot. You weren't sure what would happen in an extreme situation, other than that you would most likely drown. Getting out into the lineup during big surf was a big part of the battle. No one would have thought of using a boat to get out, or a helicopter to get in."
"It used to be," Bruce Brown continued, "that all the guys who rode big waves were good watermen -- good swimmers, sailors or paddlers who knew the ocean, the currents tides. You could get into a lot of trouble, get sucked to the wrong side of Waimea Bay, if you didn't know what you were doing. If you get caught in a rip at Sunset Beach you can almost do laps trying to get in. The rip runs along the beach, sucking you with it. If you know what you're doing, you can aim your board out to the break and the rip will propel you out there towards it.
"At Waimea, the surf would come up fast and make real serious sounds. I remember one night when it made the windows in our house rattle. That same night, the surf covered up the telephone poles with thirty feet of sand. This tells you Waimea is closing out.
"A lot of people have surfed big waves once or twice, then ended up preferring smaller waves. Greg became such a dominant big-wave rider that I can't even remember how he surfed little waves... even if no one had been buying boards or shooting pictures, Greg still would have been out there. The same holds true today among big-wave riders. Their enthusiasm never dies. They're eternally stoked.
"Surfing won't ever die, because people get too stoked on it. I worry about the guy today who starts surfing later in life. Like a kid, this older guy wants to surf every single day. Pretty soon, he's got no wife, no kids, no job. He's living out of his car. Every surfer seems to go through those first couple of crazy, devoted years, like we did as kids, surfing every day because you never get enough of it...
"I don't think Greg Noll is aware of the legend he created. A few years ago he called me after he had taken a trip back to the North Shore. He said, "Guess what? People remember me!" I said, "Noooo shit!"
"There was fierce competition," wrote Noll, "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 own deal."
Waimea Bay, November 5, 1957
In Greg Noll's DA BULL, Life Over the Edge, Noll recalled the first time Waimea Bay was "successfully" ridden by surfers following the Hot Curlers. It was November 5, 1957. Not overly concerned with history, the predominantly-Californian group of "Coast haoles" riding the North Shore at that time largely dismissed or forgot about Dickie Cross, Woody Brown, Wally Froiseth, Fran Heath and the rest of the Hot Curl surfers riding the spot since the late 1930s. To the Californians, they considered themselves the first to ride Waimea and the North Shore.
"Downing and Trent had helped establish Makaha as the No. 1 big-wave or any-size-wave spot in the Islands," Greg Noll concedes in his autobiography. "Up to this time, the winter of 1957, no one had ever ridden Waimea."
"We used to check Sunset when it was huge," agreed Fred Van Dyke, "watch the closeout sets, and then head to Makaha. The surf was always smaller there, but it was fun."
"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."
"I was following Noll, Stange, Curren, Al Nelson, Mike Diffenderfer -- a still famous classic shaper -- and Mickey Muñoz -- another great and current shaper," wrote Fred Van Dyke. "We always checked it because it looked so glassy and clean, but then [usually] drove on to Makaha. That day we stopped and got out of our cars. 'Neat break, but a board racker,' said Nelson.
"Muñoz mumbled, 'It didn't look too big anyway.'
"'Too peaky, no wall,' said Curren. Noll was jumping up and down. His wife, Bev, was trying to calm him.
"'I'm going to paddle out and just look at it," said Greg. Noll was always the stoker, the initiator, and Stange usually followed suit.
"'Yeah,' said Stange. 'Got any wax?'"
"Mike went with me," continued Noll. "We were the first in the water. I was the first to catch a wave. I had paddled for one outside and missed it, so I took off on a small inside wave. By then the other guys had come in too. Pat Curren and I rode the next big wave together. And that was it. It was simple. The ocean didn't swallow us up, and the world didn't stop turning. That was how Waimea got busted. By me, Mike Stange, Mickey Munoz, Pat Curren, Bing Copeland, Del Cannon and Bob Bermel."
According to Van Dyke, "They all hit the water and Munoz was first to paddle by the deep spot where the point swings in on top of you and it looks like a mountain ready to break, and then it heads back to the point because of the deep spot. Munoz practically fainted when he saw the size of that first wave up close. What had appeared as a small peak from half a mile away now loomed as a gigantic 20 plus wall. Munoz went off first on a 20 footer and dug a rail half way down.
"Greg screamed. 'Jeez, it looks like a mountain.' Curren ended upside down on a late takeoff. Stange and Noll got the wave of the day, Stange taking a cannonball spin out from inside of Greg, coming up 100 yards inside of where he wiped out."
"Within minutes," wrote Greg Noll, "word spread into Haleiwa that Waimea Bay was being ridden. We looked across the point and saw cars and people lining up along the road watching the crazy haoles riding Waimea Bay. There must have been a hundred people -- a big crowd for that time."
"I'd love to say something heroic," Noll admitted in Surfers, The Movie, "I'd love to say we made history. But basically it was a bunch of guys parked around the Bay there, and somebody grabbed a board and went surfing, and it looked so good the rest of us guys said, 'Hey, we got to get in on this.'"
The guy who first grabbed his board this November 5, 1957 was Noll. The "rest of the guys" were Mike Stange, Harry Church, Bing Copeland, Pat Curren, and Mickey Muñoz, according to Surfers, The Movie.
According to Stange, Noll and Curren teamed up to ride the first Waimea wave they'd ever seen ridden. Others say it was Church.
"To this day," continued Noll, "when I go into Haleiwa, I stop at a little gas station that sits just before the bridge. There's an old man there who sold us gas when we were kids. He laughs whenever he sees me because we used to buy his drain oil to put in the old junk cars that we drove. The engines were gone, anyway. All we wanted was to get three or four months' use out of them. Now when he sees me coming he says, 'Greg Noll, I remember the first time when you ride Waimea, you crazy damn haole you.'
"The irony of it all was, it wasn't a very big day by Waimea standards. Just nice-shaped waves. I spun out on one wave and wrenched my shoulder. It's still screwed up from that first day at Waimea. We were using ridiculous equipment, boards that we had brought over from the Mainland. Definitely not made for big waves. We had a long ways to go in big-wave riding and big-wave-board design.
"When we first surfed Waimea, we weren't conscious of making history, other than on the level of that particular time. For me the excitement came from competing with the other guys and from riding as big a wave as I was capable of riding.
"Buzzy was right. I was the Pied Piper. I spent three years trying to drum up courage among all of us to surf Waimea Bay. The irony was, at the end of the first day, when we were all sitting together rehashing our rides, everybody wondered, 'Why the hell have we been sitting on the beach for the past three years?' It wasn't a huge break that day. Waimea was just trying to be itself. Later we were introduced to the real Waimea.
"To be Waimea, the waves have to break fifteen to eighteen feet before they start triggering on the reefs. To be good, solid Waimea, it has to be the type of break that rolls around the point, with a good, strong, twenty-foot-or-bigger swell. A lot of big-wave riders disagree on a lot of things, but I don't think any of them would disagree about this: to be good Waimea, it has to have more than size. It has to have a certain look and feel. A little bit of wind coming out of the valley, pushing the waves back, holding them up a bit."
Fred Van Dyke remembers the waves that day being much bigger and went on to write about surfing Waimea Bay back in the late 1950s:
"Even though I love 'The Bay,' I admit, deep down, the best part of surfing Waimea on a huge day -- one over twenty feet, which is not very often -- is when you are walking up the beach, thinking back over the waves, the wipeouts, the rip that takes you toward the huge boulders and threatens to smash you upon those boulders if you don't make shore before the other side of the rock the kids dive from in summer. Yes, for me, walking up that beach, safe for another day -- alive -- is the payoff.
"Many years ago, when Sunset Beach closed out, we packed up our boards and headed for Makaha. I remember that we would drive by Waimea Bay, stop, and look at the wave breaking off the point. The consensus, since nobody had surfed 'The Bay,' was that it wasn't big enough, and who would want to surf such a narrow peak? Besides, it looked as though it broke exactly on the rocks, a definite board racker.
"Greg Noll was the first to paddle out. Whenever a place was tried for the first time, Greg usually stoked us to go out. On this particular October day in 1957, 'The Bay' was challenged for the first time by a group of Californians. Al Nelson, Pat Curren, Mike Diffenderfer, Mike Stange, Mickey Munoz and later, after school, by me.
"'The Bay' won, but a new surf spot was opened for exploration. The takeoff was nearly impossible, jacking up ten feet after you dropped in, and the wipeout in deep water so thick that you were held down long periods and pushed along for a hundred yards in thick soup.
"One thing we found out on that first day -- it being over twenty feet -- was that when you lost your board most of the time it popped out in the rip and drifted right back to you. We also found that our boards were totally inadequate. A new design had to be created to handle 'The Bay.'"
"After that first day in '57," Greg Noll concluded, "Waimea Bay joined Sunset Beach, Noll's Reef and Laniakea as accepted North Shore surf spots. Pipeline, at that time, was still a ways down the road. All the great spots that are still the great spots today were established within our first four years in the Islands. After that, surfers surfed and named every ripple along the North Shore."
And that was how the thirteen year old tabu associated with surfing at Waimea was broken in mild (by Waimea standards) 12-to-15 foot surf. But, as Noll declared many years later, "There were some hairy days to come."
"For many years Waimea was surfed only on those few days of the year when everywhere else on the North Shore was closed out," Fred Van Dyke wrote, bringing the story of The Bay up to present day. "Now, the cord [leash] makes it possible to surf it from hot dog size all the way up the scale. This creates a false impression, by some, that they have ridden 'The Bay.'
"... [big wave rider] Ken Bradshaw put it succinctly in 1988. A young
kid came into Karen Gallagher's surf shop across from Kammie's market and
bragged to Bradshaw and others that he'd just ridden Waimea. "Bradshaw
looked at him and said, 'Waimea hasn't broken in four years.'"
Some Sources Used In This Chapter:
Surf Shop, Online Store and/or Donations
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Copyright © 1992-2006 by Malcolm Gault-Williams... Aloha Nui Loa!