A Definitive History of Surfing's Culture and Heroes
By Malcolm Gault-Williams
This Chapter Updated: 27 March 2008
(Image courtesy of Ken Auster)
Of the many talented and dedicated Californians to come to Hawai`i and claim the North Shore as theirs during the 1950s and '60s, Greg Noll stands out almost in a class by himself. An individual in a lineup of iconoclasts, "Da Bull" was and continues to be a unique contributor to the world of surfing. His story begins at the tail end of the 1940s, at Southern California's Manhattan Beach...
"I was kind of like a mosquito always
buzzing around Velzy. I had to get in there and see what was
going on, boy, whenever he would put down a tool, I'd be right there to
grab it. God I just drove him nuts, every time I'd pick up his drawknife,
the Hawk would scream, 'Hey, put that down son, you'll cut yourself.'
Somehow I had this hunch that he would eventually teach me. After
months of dogging his every step and being his shadow, I was allowed to
do some small task. I think it was sweeping up the balsa shavings.
I was so pumped, it was like I'd arrived. It was totally bitchin'."
"We grew up quickly, surrounded by guys
eighteen and older, in their prime. They lived to surf, drink, raise
hell and score heavily with women. I saw these guys going up and
down the coast on surf trips, drinking and bagging girls, and all I could
think of was 'What a neat life!'"
"During that first trip to the ", the
same thing nearly happened to us that happened to ", "... The surf came
"People turned around and came back
to watch. An enormous crowd formed. Ampol Oil took films.
When we left Australia, we also left our boards for the Aussies.
Those films were shown all over the country to different clubs. The
films and our boards became the basis for the modern surfboard movement
"After becoming established as a surfboard
manufacturer and surf film producer whose films were shown on TV, all of
a sudden all the teachers and counselors who wanted nothing to do with
my ass during school were wanting to kiss it. They'd be interviewed
by a newspaper of magazine and their tone would change. 'Oh yes,
I knew Greg Noll. He was in my class. Fine, upstanding young
man.' What bullshit."
"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."
"Within minutes, 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.
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.'"
"Phil Edwards is the guy who tagged
me with the nickname Da Bull. One time, when we were at Pipeline,
he accused me of being bullheaded because I knew I was going to get wiped
out on this one wave, and instead of ejecting like I should have, I just
squatted down and got eaten alive. Afterwards, Phil said, "You bullheaded
sonofabitch, I think I'll just call you Da Bull from now on." The
"I hated seeing the drug scene shift into high gear like it did. I feel a little self-righteous standing on my soapbox with a bottle of beer in my hand, and I can't claim to have been a total virgin when it came to experimenting with drugs. But I can look back over the years and say that I saw a lot of neat, healthy young kids who I know would have become great athletes if they hadn't gotten overly involved in drugs and gone straight down the shit chute.
"With some guys, drugs became
a way of life. They went through tremendous personality changes,
or they died. Drugs didn't do them any good. In the same way,
at certain times in my life, alcohol didn't do me any good. A lot
of kids today seem to be taking themselves, their health and their education
more seriously, and that's good."
"... They all were well-known big-wave riders, including Fred Hemmings, Bobby Cloutier, Wally Froiseth, Jimmy Blears. I had surfed different places with these guys for years. You could tell that this was no normal day. Usually, we're out there laughing, joking, giving each other a hard time. When the surf gets really big, all that bullshit goes out the window. At Waimea, for instance, when the surf starts coming up, guys' attitudes would change. Peter Cole would get a little more hyper, Buzzy Trent would start talking faster, Pat Curren would get quieter. Peter likes to joke about how I'd start hyperventilating extra loud to try to psych guys out.
"Today it was serious business.
No laughing, no joking. Some of the guys were glassy-eyed and there
was talk of calling in the helicopters. Since that morning, when
many of the guys had first paddled out, the surf had been steadily building.
Now, it was at a size where all but the most experienced big-wave riders
call it quits."
"After I had analyzed what I'd done, I asked myself, 'You're not going to top that, so where do you go from here? What so you do now?'
"I didn't want to be like a punch-drunk
fighter, going around and reliving the big moment..."
"To me the Islands are like an eternally
beautiful woman. I'm growing older but she's still this neat little
gal I can remember making love to when I was young. She never changes,
but I do."
Greg Noll's Beginnings
In his autobiography, Greg Noll wrote, "If I've learned anything in the past decade or two, it's that you never have friends like the ones you make when you're young..." He proceeded to tell the story of his beginnings at Manhattan Beach and the Manhattan Beach Surf Club. "I've been stoked on the ocean since I was a kid. I got hooked on fishing when I was six, and learned to surf a few years after that at Manhattan Beach Pier.
"My mother and I had moved from San Diego to Manhattan Beach in 1943. We'd lived in San Diego since I'd been born, in 1937... In Manhattan Beach we lived about seven houses north of the Manhattan Beach Pier. Whenever I could I'd stay out on the pier all day and into the evening, learning about the fish, the ocean and the tides from the older fishermen. By the time I was eight , I'd got myself a job dishing bait on the pier..."
Below the pier, the Manhattan Beach Surf Club was in full swing, with Dale "The Hawk" Velzy presiding. The surfboard shaping going on underneath the pier fascinated the kid and he spent hours just standing around and watching.
"I was kind of like a mosquito always buzzing around Velzy," Noll recalled. "I had to get in there and see what was going on, boy, whenever he would put down a tool, I'd be right there to grab it. God I just drove him nuts, every time I'd pick up his drawknife, the Hawk would scream, 'Hey, put that down son, you'll cut yourself.' Somehow I had this hunch that he would eventually teach me. After months of dogging his every step and being his shadow, I was allowed to do some small task. I think it was sweeping up the balsa shavings. I was so pumped, it was like I'd arrived. It was totally bitchin'."
"I started surfing in 1948," Noll wrote, "when I was eleven, during the summer before seventh grade. Every day, as I was walking to and from the bait house, I'd see Jack Wise, Barney Briggs, Larry Felker, Dale Velzy and all the other guys who made up the Manhattan Beach Surf Club, surfing the waves beside the pier. It looked like so much fun, I thought, 'I've just gotta do that.' So I cornered some guy with an old redwood surfboard and got him to sell it to me. He took my money for some old hunk of junk that he was probably going to push off some cliff for a surf sacrifice. Instead he sacrificed it to me for fifteen dollars.
"It was a lot of money and a lot of board to be pushing down the street. It would take me forty-five minutes just to get the board in the water. It was made of solid redwood and weighed about a hundred and ten pounds - twenty pounds more than I weighed! I nailed some rollerskate wheels onto a wood plank and used that to push the board down to the beach. My mom would help me push it to the steps at the pier. Then I'd five the board a shove and watch it bounce down the steps. The fin would come off every time, so I left a couple of sixpenny nails at the base of the stairs near a rock that I'd use to pound the fin back on. Then I'd drag the board to the water and try to surf it.
"When I was done for the day I'd leave the board under the pier, sometimes for two or three days at a time, as long as the surf looked good. If it looked like it was going bad for a while, or if I had to be someplace else for a few days, I'd get someone to help me carry the board back up the stairs and put it back on my skate plank. Then I'd push it home, seven houses the other side of the pier..."
Mike Stange, a friend of Noll's, recalled his start, at about the same time. "In 1947 my older brother, Pete, became one of the very first county beach lifeguards, so I grew up around the water and around some real characters. Fred Beckner, a city lifeguard, used to take me and my neighbor Don out into the old channel at Playa del Rey in the middle of winter on rubber surf mats when the surf was huge. We'd go out beyond the jaws of the two jetties and pick up waves that must have been twelve feet high. I remember I could see the beaches on both sides of the jetties, Venice and Del Rey, when I was on top of the wave, ready to speed down its face. I could hear Beckner, laughing and shouting at us, 'O.K., O.K., ha ha, paddle, paddle, take off!' Don and I were about ten. The old-timers didn't have much pity.
"In those days the lifeguards used hollow boards made by an early redwood-board surfer, Pete Peterson. We called them kook boxes because you felt like a kook on them. I remember riding one of them at Playa del Rey. You'd stand up way on the back to turn the thing. There was no way you could really maneuver it like a surfboard.
"I started surfing at El Porto , about a year after Greg started at Manhattan Beach. I was going to El Segundo High and very few people surfed El Porto. Of course, I knew of Greg, because the surfers at the Manhattan Beach Pier were the main group, the innovators of everything."
"It's amazing how long it took to get to the point where you could stand up on those redwood boards and just ride a little soup," continued Noll. "A few summers ago, I built a surfboard for my two youngest kids... Within a half-dozen waves they were standing up. I spent my entire first summer trying to catch a wave. I'd take that board out and just stuff it into the sand and scare the sand crabs, time after time. When I finally did catch and ride a wave, I felt like I had conquered the world."
"You've got to watch out for these bony-kneed kids," cautioned Bev Morgan to Dewey Schurman. "Greg Noll was the skinniest, boniest-kneed kid. For sport we used to pick him up from behind, hold him around the chest and squeeze him until he would pass out. We were all just dumb kids then, and lucky we didn't blow his heart up. Pretty soon he'd pass out, and then we'd let him go. Usually he'd pass out for five minutes or so. One time he stayed passed out all night and I really got nervous and quit doing it."
Years later, continued Morgan,
Noll "turned into a 280-pound giant. He didn't have a neck.
His head just went down into his shoulders. He walked up to me one
day and said, 'Do you remember the times you used to squeeze my chest and
make me pass out?' And he grabbed me by the head and started squeezing
my skull. Everything went black. My brain was going black.
He was so strong I couldn't believe it. And from then on, I always
took good care of bony-kneed kids."
The Manhattan Beach Surf Club
Before Greg Noll was even a gremmie, "The Manhattan Beach Surf Club began as just a bunch of loose guys," Noll wrote. "When I started hanging around them, my parents thought it was a healthy thing. They had nothing else to compare it to. The only thing they would get concerned about was the outward appearance of some of these guys. They looked really scroungey.
"Surfing in those days was different from what you see today. Surfers were grubby guys who spent most of their time in the water. Some worked as lifeguards. Some didn't work at all. They spoke a funny language and nobody understood them. The city fathers had given the Manhattan Beach Surf Club a little spot under the pier, hoping that they'd clean up their act and not spread themselves all over the beach. The city also gave them a bunch of rules that nobody bothered to obey.
"One of these rules was that there could be no members in the club under eighteen. I guess the city figured that these guys would be a bad influence on minors. It's true, they were an influence on this minor and on my friend and surfing accomplice Bing Copeland, but I doubt that either of us would have called their influence 'bad.'
"Bing Copeland started surfing that same summer that I did. There was another kid, Buzzy Bent, who surfed at his home turf of Windansea... in 1948, the three of us were the only young kids surfing in Southern California."
According to Jerry Cunningham, retired Chief of the L.A. County Lifeguards and himself one of the original members, "Members included Dale Velzy, Bill and Bob Meistrell (who later became owners of Body Glove), myself and about 15 other guys, mostly lifeguards, plus two junior Club members -- Bing Copeland and Greg Noll."
"Since Bing and I hung around the club so much of the time," recalled Noll, "and eventually learned to surf pretty well, the guys in the club made us honorary members... We went to all the meetings and hung out with these guys for several years. We grew up quickly, surrounded by guys eighteen and older, in their prime. They lived to surf, drink, raise hell and score heavily with women. I saw these guys going up and down the coast on surf trips, drinking and bagging girls, and all I could think of was 'What a neat life!'
"... After a summer of being hauled up and down the coast from Malibu to Windansea by assorted characters from the Manhattan Beach Surf Club," continued Noll, "starting seventh grade was quite an adjustment. I no longer had much in common with other kids my age. They were playing silly games, pulling girls' pigtails. All the while I'm wondering, 'Where are the wine and women?'"
"Mike Stange and I got into surfing at the absolute perfect time, during the last glimmer of the redwood/balsa days," continued Noll. "In many of the photographs from that era, you see redwood and balsa boards side-by-side. When I first started surfing, Bob Simmons was just beginning to experiment with other materials. You'd hear a few stories about new, revolutionary Simmons boards, but up to that time there was Matt Kivlin and Joe Quigg riding redwoods at Malibu. Doc Ball and the guys at the Palos Verdes Surfboard Club. Velzy, Leroy Grannis, Ted Kerwin, the Edgar Brothers at Hermosa and Manhattan. Lorrin Harrison, Burrhead and the guys at San Onofre. A few guys down in La Jolla. The entire surfing population consisted of maybe a couple hundred guys, most of them riding redwood boards, paddleboards and balsa/redwoods.
"Then along came the gremmies -- me, Bing Copeland and Buzzy Bent -- watching these guys stick those long redwood boards in the shorebreak and pearl on them. There was no scoop on the nose of those boards, and they were so heavy that one arm became longer than the other when you carried them down to the water. Still, surfing looked like a neat thing to do, once you mastered it.
"You hear about those of us who began surfing during that era as the 'pioneers of modern surfing,' but I don't think any of us had any sense of history about what we were doing. We were having fun. It does intrigue me that our era produced so many distinct individuals. I don't see that happening as much today..."
"During eigth grade I used to go down to the pier in the mornings to surf before school," said Noll. "I'd wake up Bev Morgan at the Manhattan Beach Surf Club, and he'd go with me. Morgan was already out of high school and drove this cut, chopped and lowered Chevy with chrome pipes and a hole in the back window where the surfboards could stick out. That Chevy was quite a showpiece and any kid's dream car.
"Morgan and I had a deal.
In exchange for a big, hot breakfast at my house after surfing, he'd drive
me to school. We timed it to perfection. When all the kids
were lined up, waiting to go into class, we'd roll up in the Chevy, revving
the motor -- rummmm, rummmm, rummmm. Morgan would get out, open my
door and dust me off with a whisk broom, as though he were my personal
chauffeur. All my buddies and teachers were there, watching our routine.
I loved seeing their reactions..."
The Bait Boy's 1st Shape
"Everything went really well between Velzy and me for about three years," Greg Noll recalled, after he and friends pulled the dead skunk prank on Velzy. "He built boards at the Manhattan Pier and I hung around all the time, soaking up all I could about shaping balsa-wood boards."
"For three years, we got along pretty good," Noll reiterated. Velzy moved out from under the pier to a shop location not far away. "One day Dale and Bill Barr were walking out the door of his new Center Street shop which was just up the alley from the pier. They were going out to have lunch and do some drinking. A 12'6" Pacific Systems board was there that he was reshaping for a customer, so I asked him, 'Hey, Hawk, mind if I scrub on this a little.'
"This same interaction had occurred hundreds of times in the past always with the identical negative conclusion. No one knows why, but this time it was different, for without seeming to pay any attention, Velzy replied, 'Sure grem, take a couple od swipes, but stop cutting before you fuck it up.'"
"I jumped on it," continued Noll, "and balsa was flying all over the place. I was going nuts like an elf locked in Santa's workshop. In a few minutes it was obvious that I'd already gone too far and there was no hope of turning back now. My only chance was to finish this bugger off before they got back. I was really afraid of blowing it and buckets of sweat were streaming off of me and going all over the board. When they got back they were really shit-faced, and I was shaking like a leaf because the judgement day was at hand. There was no doubt that the Hawk was going to kill me. Why oh why hadn't I stopped? I knew I'd screwed up bad. My asshole was puckering up because I was so nervous."
"One day," in 1950, Noll wrote in his autobiography about the day he reshaped his first board, "Velzy and Billy Barr decided to go to lunch together. He'd been working on a board and I asked him if I could just take off the rough wood with a drawknife while he was gone. Velzy said, 'Yeah, but don't do any more than that or you'll screw up the board.'
"Velzy and Barr ended up in some saloon until late afternoon. Rolled in shit-faced about four o'clock. By that time, I had finished shaping the whole board. Velzy walked in, picked up the board, looked down the deck. Looked over at me. Looked down one rail, looked over at me. Looked down the other rail, looked over at me. Looked at the bottom..." The board was now 9'3" and Velzy thoroughly inspected it while the 13-year-old Noll held his breath. Velzy finally said, "Not bad, now get out of here you little shit, you're on your own now," which amounted to graduation from the School of Velzy.
The Pacific Systems board was Jerry Cunningham's, a lifeguard at Manhattan Beach and a member of the club. "I shortened my board," Cunningham wrote, "and tried to improve its shape, but wasn't too successful. Simmons boards were becoming the rage around 1951 and all balsa boards started to appear. Dale Velzy opened his first surfboard shop, as I remember, in a small building on the north side of Center Street (the pier street) at the alley, just up the hill from the pier. Greg Noll, who was probably just starting high school at the time, worked for Velzy in his shop.
"So -- I took my board, which had redwood rails, balsa center with a 3/4" redwood stringer down the center, to Velzy, and asked him to saw off the rails, laminate on balsa, reshape it into a 'new' board and glass it. When I got it back, it was 9'3" long (it was 12'6" when I bought it!) and had a great (for the time) shape.
"Dale told me that he let Greg Noll shape my board (under his watchful eye), and I remember that this was the first board that Greg had completely shaped.
"I surfed the board until November 1952 when I went into Navy Flight Training. I got my wings in April 1954, and was assigned to a squadron based at Barber's Point, Oahu. It couldn't have been better. The Navy shipped my board over as 'household effects' and I surfed with it at Waikiki (where the gals were), Makaha and Sunset Beach!"
"The board came home with me (and my new wife)," Jerry Cunningham added, "in November 1956. I went back to work on the beach, back to college and I surfed it occasionally for the next few years. Finally, the board went up in my garage for retirement." It was there that sufboard collector Griff Snyder found it in 1991 and later reunited it with Greg Noll in the mid-1990s.
"That was the last board I ever shaped for Velzy," Noll recalled in his autobiography. "Time to wean the gremmie.
"Two months later, I was doing reshapes, and not long after that, I was shaping new boards under my own name. Velzy and I remained good friends all through the years, but I wasn't his little gremmie any more. I was the competition."
Velzy, wrote Nat Young, had been "forced to move his shaping trestles," from the Manhattan Beach Surf Club, "to under the pier when the other members complained about the amount of balsa shavings strewn all over the club room!" He moved to a commercial structure close to the pier and it was here that Greg Noll did his first reshape. According to Young, Velzy then "moved to Malibu" where "he wanted to ride better quality waves than his native South Bay could offer, and he wanted to refine his surfboard designs. However, Malibu was still quite isolated and he found there was only a limited market for his labours of love. So Velzy moved back to South Bay, opening a shop in Venice."
"There weren't that many people on the coast then who could shape balsa wood," exlained Noll. "Besides Velzy, there were Bob Simmons, Joe Quigg, Matt Kivlin, Dave Rochlen and Hobie Alter. Hobie was just getting under way at that time. Rochlen, Kivlin and Quigg were the Malibu gang. Their 'Malibu boards' were more maneuverable than anything around and revolutionized board design during that time.
"Most of the boards came out of garage operations... Velzy was really the first that I know of to have a full-on, full-time surf shop.
"Velzy has been from the outhouse
to the penthouse," summed-up Greg Noll. "He's a living museum piece.
He's still shaping boards on special order and he's enjoying himself.
He's got his niche in life and he seems satisfied with what he's doing.
Some guys get to a certain point, a certain age and reach a peaceful thing.
I think Velzy is there. The guy is still my hero."
Greg Noll Hits the North Shore, 1954
Unlike many of the California Coast haoles to make a name for themselves in the big waves of O`ahu's North Shore, Greg Noll did not end up going completely Hawaiian. Except for his first year, 1954-55, when he finished high school at Waipahu, Noll would only stay on the North Shore seasonally. Even so, when he was there, he cut a wake and his style mixed easily with the local vibe.
"Greg was always pretty much a daredevilish guy," recalled Sonny Vardeman. "During our senior year , Greg, Steve Voorhees and a couple of other guys took part of the year off and went to Hawaii to high school. This was a big move in those days for a seventeen-year-old guy... From that point on, Greg was stuck on surfing and on Hawaii."
"I was a goody two-shoes in high school," Beverly Noll recalled of her early years as Greg Noll's sidekick, beginning on the Mainland. "I didn't stay out after ten. I was a good little girl. A cheerleader involved in all sorts of school activities. Greg was involved in absolutely nothing but surfing.
"Greg was pretty much a man of the world at age fifteen. He and Bing Copeland used to come to football games. Here I am, cheering for the home team, and I'd see Greg and Bing, arriving late in the game. They'd situp in the bleachers. Greg always wore this awful Salvation Army trenchcoat. He liked it because he could stow a gallon of wine under it. Here he is to take me home and I am mortified, but I would go....
"Greg always has done just as he pleases. I don't think it was a matter of his parents giving up on him... As a young man, Greg lived and breathed surfing. There was nothing else as important to him. He made it very clear to me that if I could fit into that scheme and go along with him, that was fine. If not, I would be history. I never even considered not doing what Greg wanted to do. I was in awe of him and would have followed him off the edge of the world.
"We went together through high school. When Greg went away to school in the Islands, I'd date a little, but it was more like pals dating pals. All of my friends and Greg's friends grew up together. We were together on the beach all the time. I always hung out around the guys -- Sonny, Bones, Steve Voorhees. We were the 17th Street Group, and Greg was from the Manhattan Beach Pier Group. The guys stole each other's waves, we had water-balloon and rotten-egg fights, all the things kids do. When Greg and I got together, it was a natural thing for us to still do everything with all these guys. I was often the only woman along."
Greg Noll, Steve Voorhees, Mike Stange, Billy Meng and "the Hermosa guys" went to the North Shore "in the fall of '54," Noll recalled. "We'd all heard about older guys like Buzzy Trent, Flippy and Walter Hoffman living in quonset huts at Makaha. I couldn't wait to go. I was seventeen, six or seven years younger than these guys and still in high school. To live and go to school in Hawaii, I'd need a guardian. I found one in Billy Meng, a surfer about seven years older. Somehow I bullshitted my folks into believing that Billy Meng was a fine, upstanding individual and that he was going to be my guardian while I finished high school in the Islands...
"Steve Voorhees, Mike Stange,
Billy Meng and a couple of other guys we knew also went with me that winter.
We found a big quonset hut to live in at Makaha.
I had bought an old truck to drive back and forth between Makaha
and school. Whenever the surf was up, Meng wrote me any kind of excuse
I needed to stay home and surf."
George Downing & Billy Meng Influences
"Those early years at Makaha are among the highlights of my life," wrote Greg Noll. "Our quonset hut looked right out at the point. Our daily routine revolved around surfing, diving and fishing. If the surf was flat, we'd fish or dive. If there were waves, we'd surf. School came second... or third. I probably averaged a few days a week, just enough to get by.
"During the week, there were only a handful of guys who surfed Makaha, mostly those of us who lived there in quonset huts. George Downing would come out on weekends... To me, George Downing is an incredible individual who has made an enormous contribution to the sport. He's still out there. His kids are out there... He promotes surfing as a way of life. When I was growing up, George Downing was my idol.
"Georgie was known as the Teacher. He loved seeing others get involved in surfing and was always willing to help you out., give you tips to improve your performance...
"Wally Froiseth was another great old surfer who started back in the redwood-balsa era. George learned a lot from him. Wally was sort of Georgie's mentor when Georgie became among the first of the new breed of surfers to use lightweight boards. Georgie took advantage of the balsawood board and was the first to really conquer Makaha. In my opinion, George Downing was the first of the modern big-wave riders."
"Greg and I really got to know each other in the fall of '54," recalled Mike Stange, "when we were in the Islands for the first time. Billy Meng and I and a few other guys had spent the summer there. Greg came over around the end of August. About six of us went in together and rented an old army quonset hut out near the point at Makaha.
"1954 was the beginning of a lifetime of experience for me. I'd spent my last couple years in high school dreaming about Makaha and its big waves. The North Shore was like the back side of the moon in those days. Full of mysterious and frightening tales. Makaha was the place of rideable big waves. Bobby Grubb, another of my high school buddies who was a Manhattan Beach Pier surfer, and I had stoked ourselves to a high pitch that last year of high school. Too high for me, to the detriment of schoolwork and all else. I went down the tubes in more ways than on waves, with dropped classes, failing grades and finally, expulsion from school several months before graduation.
"My poor parents didn't understand what was happening to me. My older brother, who had gone through El Segundo High before me, was a great athlete and student who went on to U.C.L.A., played on several championship water polo teams and competed in the 1954 Olympics at Helsinki. And here I was, a dropout.
"But Makaha did come up to twenty feet that year, so I finally got my wish. In fact, in '56, Makaha again broke at twenty feet and again I got my wish. Greg was in Australia with the lifeguard paddling team when it happened.
"I met Billy Meng through Bobby Grubb while we were in high school. Bill would show up in his canary-yellow Model T pickup outside school on Thursday and we'd all head to Rincon for four or five days. These trips to Rincon developed in us a love for the place that would bring me, Meng and Greg all together again in 1955 to live near there for a time.
"Billy Meng was from San Pedro. He was like a character right out of a John Steinbeck novel, real slow and easygoing, talked like a down-home boy. Bill was a good influence on us younger guys. He loved people and people loved him. He was a basic, honest guy who loved to have a good time. In the fifties, surfing was a far-out, good-time-on-the-fringes sport. People who lived ten miles inland didn't know what a surfboard was. I don't think most people today realize how fast surfing developed between 1950 and 1960.
"Every summer, we'd all work as
lifeguards on the Mainland to earn money to go back to Hawaii for the winter
surf. In '54, I lived in the Islands for six months on six hundred
dollars I had saved during the summer. We ate a lot of oatmeal.
Greg and I were actually a lot better off than a lot of the guys who went
over there. Some of them didn't have any money."
A Haole at Waipahu High
"The nearest high school was Waipahu High," Greg Noll reminisced. "There were two haoles in the whole school, myself and a girl. The rest were Hawaiians. Lots of bad-ass characters from Nanakuli, a real tough neighborhood... I finally made friends with Bongo Alapai, a giant, three-hundred-pound Hawaiian. We had wood shop together. That was one class I excelled in, but Bongo wasn't worth shit at wood. He couldn't make a thing. So I built him a doorstop to turn in for his project. He got an A, and from that time on I was his haole boy. Nobody could mess with me after that.
"Little by little, I made friends with other Hawaiians and got along really well. Since then my heart has always belonged with the Hawaiians. To this day, when I go to the Islands, to the home of my good friend Henry Preece or Buffalo Keaulana, they introduce me to their friends as 'Dis my good friend Greg Noll. He went Waipahu High.' It gives me instant local credibility.
"I had real bad sores, or kakios, on my feet from stepping on coral. The coral sand gets in your sores and gets infected. I still have the scars. At school, you had to have a permit from the nurse to wear go-aheads, or thongs, or else you had to wear shoes. Well, the nurse was an old haole gal and she liked me. I told her I just couldn't wear shoes. I've got these awful sores... She gave me a permanent pass to wear thongs.
"In every class the teacher would ask me for a pass. If I didn't have it on me I'd go to the nurse and get another one. Pretty soon the teachers stopped asking me. As it turned out, I was the only guy who never wore shoes to school. That was my claim to fame at Waipahu High.
"No Hawaiian I know likes to wear
shoes, so this really pissed them off. Guys from Waipahu High still
remember. Years later, whenever they see me they say, 'You fockin'
haole, how come I hadda wear shoes an' I never see you wear 'em even one
Pau Malu = Sunset Beach
The North Shore of O‘ahu had been considered off-limits since 1943, when Woody Brown and Dickie Cross got caught outside at Sunset and tried swimming in at Waimea. Dickie Cross died in an effort described by Woody as an effort to bodysurf in during 30 foot wave conditions. Woody, himself, barely made it in by diving under the sets of waves and letting them push him into shore.
In the early 1950s, the North Shore was only just beginning to again be tapped. Mike Stange told of one of the early sessions their crew made on the North Shore, that reminded him a lot of the stories he had heard about Woody's and Dickie's fatal surf:
"During that first trip to the North Shore, the same thing nearly happened to us that happened to Woody Brown, Dickie Cross... The surf came up. From nice six-to-eight-foot waves, it just got bigger and bigger and bigger. We were out at the place near Sutherland's house that we called Noll's Reef and Greg saw this mountain moving across the point and said, 'We gotta get back to Sunset.'
"Greg and Fisher and I actually went back to Sunset Beach. Here we were, just kids, and we paddled out at Sunset as it was coming up. Fisher was ahead of us and caught a wave first. Greg and I were together. We pulled off the rip and a wave came up that was the biggest thing I had ever seen. I saw Greg rise to the top of the wave -- he looked like a tiny doll -- just before it broke on us. I pushed my board toward the rip and dove under.
"We finally struggled in to shore. The waves were still coming up and my board was still caught in the rip. Greg talked me into borrowing Fisher's board and paddling out in the rip. We started feeling scared, remembering the story about Dickie Cross. George Downing and some of the other guys had warned us to be careful on the North Shore. Now, here we were, in the thick of it.
"Even the channel looked like it was going to break on us. The waves seemed to be leaping up in size. Greg suddenly says, 'Let's catch some of these bigger sets that are breaking straight across! Go!'
"So he catches one of those waves and I'm suddenly left out there alone. I was scared to death. I finally caught some inside shorebreaker -- even it was about ten feet high -- just to get in.
"Afterwards, we stood on top of the truck, watching the waves break on the horizon. When we had left Makaha that morning, the waves were just lapping on shore. Now, that afternoon, we were getting our first look at close-out sets on the North Shore. The sun was going down, the spray from the waves hung like clouds on the horizon. The next morning, the entire North Shore was closed out. We went back to Makaha and it was big there, too.
"My first exposure to big waves left an everlasting impression. As the waves grew in size and started breaking farther out, the ocean looked like it was tipping up on the horizon. I'll never forget it. I probably wouldn't have gone out if it hadn't been for Greg. He always encouraged me to go beyond what I thought were my capabilities."
"At the time," admitted Greg Noll, "I never thought about the consequences of what we were doing. My deal was 'If it feels good, do it.'
"In life, you only get one shot at a friend like Mike Stange... During the years that Mike was surfing with me, he was a tremendous companion. When you're headed out to an unknown place, it's a lot more fun to have someone you trust and care for beside you. During the days we surfed together, Mike often was viewed by others as my sidekick, and he likes to tell how he let me figure the lineups. Well, this may be so, but Mike was my reassurance. I benefited equally from the friendship. We became a team during those early days. There wasn't much we didn't do together...
"One day, Mike and I just jumped in the truck and headed to the North Shore. That day is still as clear in my mind as it was then. Steve Voorhees and Jim Fisher were with us. We drove through the pineapple fields to the big taboo land. It was a beautiful day. We drove across the Haleiwa Bridge, looking for Sunset Beach. We didn't know exactly where it was; we just hoped to run into it. The surf looked good, about six or eight feet. A very small day for the North Shore, as we now realize.
"We drove by all the big places that were not yet named or even known. That seven-mile stretch along the North Shore has become God's gift to surfers. I remember driving past so many beautiful breaks. Every so often, one of us would yell, "Look at that!" We had our pick of wherever we wanted to go out.
"There was one place I wanted to stop and try out. It was in front of Jock Sutherland's mom's house, just the other side of Laniakea. Jock was just a toddler then... That day, everybody got pissed off because they wanted to find Sunset and I wanted to try this spot. It was my truck we were driving, but I grudgingly went on.
"We finally agreed to stop at one place where the surf looked good. A really pretty spot. Nobody told us it was Sunset Beach. A sign nearby said PAU MALU. The name Sunset Beach came later, from a little market down the street called Sunset Market.
"We went out and had a good time, got stomped on a bit. We were not at all experienced in big waves. Even six- and eight-footers were a challenge. We finally got back in the truck and headed to that spot I had originally wanted to try... The other guys thought it looked shitty. They wanted to head back to Makaha. I went out anyway and caught three or four waves before the other guys finally came out. It was a lot better once you got out there and started surfing. In fact, that day, the waves were better than the ones we had ridden at Sunset. For about five years after that, the guys called this place Noll's Reef.
"We became good friends with Mrs. Sutherland. She would invite us in for lunch now and then. This was more than a bunch of teenagers on their own from the Mainland could ask for."
"My first season in the Islands was a real learning experience," confirmed Noll. "I still had a lot of surfing to do to get to the point where I felt comfortable in big waves. I think any Mainland surfer's first exposure to the North Shore produces some ominous feelings. Surfing big waves is not something you tackle easily.
"After that first time, we made four or five trips over to the North Shore that year. Hardly anyone lived there -- for sure, no one we knew. In those days, when surfers went to the Islands, they stayed at Makaha. The North Shore was a remote outpost.
"It's hard for surfers today to imagine what it was like, back in the fifties. When we drove to the North Shore, usually the only other surfers we'd see were the ones we took with us in the truck... Today, you drive down that seven-mile stretch and see cars bumper-to-bumper at every one of those surf spots -- Haleiwa, Waimea, Pupukea, Pipeline, Sunset."
"I've never forgotten the day
we drove from Makaha over to ride the North Shore for the first time,"
recalled Mike Stange of when the Hermosa guys first came over to Makaha
and the North Shore. "As we came up out of Wahiawa, we could see
nothing but pineapple fields all the way to Wailua and Haleiwa. The
surf was rolling in from way out on the horizon. I can still remember
the kind of strange and lonely feeling that came over me, knowing that
something awesome was happening out there and that I was going to be a
part of it, if my courage held up. If I hadn't been with Greg, I
would never have gone out at Sunset or at Waimea. It was just too
Rincon, Winter 1955-56
After his first winter and school year on the North Shore, Greg Noll returned to the Mainland, as did a number of the California guys. Summer jobs as lifeguards awaited many of them and income from lifeguarding was key to making it back to Hawai`i for the next winter season. This was already a pattern for some notable surfers. But, what would have been Greg Noll's consecutive winter on O`ahu turned out to be a winter season at Rincon, one of California's best point breaks.
"In 1955," recalled Mike Stange, "after working another season on the beach but being laid off around October, Greg, Billy Meng, Jim Fisher and I decided to spend a winter in the Santa Barbara area, near Rincon. We rented a house in Carpinteria and had a great winter of surfing. Bobby Patterson and Mickey Munoz visited frequently, and during the week, the six of us shared day after day of perfectly shaped six-to-eight-foot waves.
"Those were carefree, happy times. It was like living a whole era to ourselves. Sea, air and landscape in a dreamy passing of days spent riding waves and reflecting upon the goodness of life at this stage, living with just the basics. For me the poetry of days has never equaled that time. The early years in the Islands had drama and dimension and certainly were adventurous. But 1955 was sheer poetry -- halcyon days, looking at them now from a tranquil distance."
"Rincon, 1955," recalled Greg Noll. "Midnight raids on the squash fields. The house so full of produce you couldn't walk through it. Glassing a board on the antique table of an old English guy named Floyd -- somebody got shit-faced and shot up the house. Fisher and his hearse with the chicken on the roof. All these images come back to me in a blur when I think about our winter in Rincon."
Da Bull told a classic story of Billy Meng and a local Carpinteria policeman:
"... Billy Meng... really had the gift of gab, came across like a real hayseed. He called everything 'she' or 'her.' Everybody who ever knew him loved him. Especially the ladies. He was a real hit with the ladies.
"While we were in Rincon, we'd drive around in Billy's beat-up rusted-out old car. He'd never make a full stop at a stop sign. He didn't want to wear out the brakes, so he'd shift down to second gear, coast up to the stop sign and roll on through. And he never drove the damn thing over twenty-five.
"Except for one time, and we got pulled over by a cop. The cop comes up to the window and asks for Meng's license and registration. Of course, all Meng had on him was a pair of shorts and sandals. He never carried anything else on him, not even identification.
"Even though we'd rented a house together, Meng practically lived out of his car. It was full of junk, under the seat, on the floor, in the glove box. He told the cop in his country-boy accent, "I know she's in here someplace," and started rummaging around. Meng pulls a pair of pants out from under the seat and hands them to Mike. He reaches back into the back seat and comes up with a snorkel and mask and hands those to me. By this time he's edged his way out of the car so he can grub around in the junk on the floor.
"Meanwhile, Mike and I could see that the cop was getting a little amused. He's standing there, patiently, while Meng keeps pulling all this crap out of the car and piling it on top of me and Mike. 'I know she's here somewheres,' he'd say, and rummage around some more.
"He finds his army discharge papers and reads those to the cop. No go. So Meng crawls back into the car again, pulling out more piles of junk. 'Gosh, she's got to be here.' After several minutes of this routine, even the cop is holding a pile of Meng's stuff. The cop finally calls a halt.
"'I tell you what you'd better do,' he says. 'You'd better get back in HER and start HER up and you'd better get HER the hell out of here before I start writing HER up. Because I won't stop writing for a week!'
"He didn't have to tell us twice.
We were out of there in a flash. We looked back at the cop.
He had pushed his hat back on his head and was laughing as he watched us
Malibu Boards in Oz, 1956
From the time Duke Kahanamoku introduced Australians to riding waves on a surfboard, surfing Down Under had been mostly separate from the surf scenes and technological/design advances being made in Hawai`i and Mainland U.S.A. An indication that that would began to change in the mid-1950s was when Hollywood film star Peter Lawford brought a fiberglassed balsa board with him on a film shoot in Sydney. Lawford came to Australia to star in the film Kangaroo. Although he brought his board along, no one in Australia remembers Lawford riding it. The real change point came in 1956 when a group of American lifeguards -- including Greg Noll -- came to Melbourne for the Olympic Games.
Greg Noll, in his autobiography, recalled 1956 as the year that Australian surfing was really opened-up. A large part of bringing Australia into the worldwide surf scene at that time was due to the visit to that country by Noll, Tommy Zahn, Mike Bright, Bobby Moore and Bob Burnside.
"In 1956," Noll wrote, "I was one of the lifeguards on the American paddling team that was invited to participate in the surf paddling contests being held during the Olympics in Melbourne, Australia. For me, at age nineteen, the trip became one in a series of firsts.
"After having revived the sport in Hawaii, Duke Kahanamoku had introduced surfing to Australia at Manly Beach, Sydney, in 1915, and introduced it to both coasts in the United States. Australian lifeguards picked up the sport and used the long planks for rescue craft. By 1956 they had graduated to hollow surf skis that were all but impossible to stand on.
"Tommy Zahn, Mike Bright, Bobby Moore and I paid the extra freight to take our surfboards with us to Australia. By that time we had graduated from redwoods to the shorter, lighter balsa-wood boards. We had come to race paddleboards. As it turned out, our surfboards became the real attraction. When the boards were first taken off the airplane and put on a flatbed truck, a head honcho from one of the surf clubs in Australia came over to look at them.
"'What are these for, mate?' he asked us. I told him that we surfed on them. He couldn't figure it out. To him, the boards were flat and funny-looking. Up to that time, the Aussies had used a surf ski type of board, and the idea was to go out and take off on some whitewater and come straight in in the soup, while all the girls on the beach squealed. That was their idea of surfing.
"The guy kept looking at the boards, touching them, turning them over. He finally said, 'Give ya two bob for the works, mate.' His way of saying they were worthless.
"We intended to take the boards with us to the paddle meets and, during our time off, try out the Australian surf. I had bought a Bell and Howell movie camera from Warren Miller. He was just getting into making ski movies then... I thought it would be fun to show everybody back home what Australian surf looked like.
"During one event, we had noticed a little point break off to the side, off a rocky point... After the paddling events were over, we grabbed our boards and paddled out to the break. There had been thousands of people watching the paddling events from shore, and they had started leaving. Ampol Oil was covering all the paddling events, and decided to stay and take films of us surfing. Word got around in the parking lot as people were leaving, 'The Yanks are surfing, you ought to see the Yanks.'"
"Ampol Oil, the sponsors of the paddleboard race, have on film a free surfing session the Americans had after a race," wrote C.R. Stecyk, dating the event as September 3, 1956. "The Malibu boards' maneuverability and speed made immediate converts."
"People turned around and came back to watch. An enormous crowd formed. Ampol Oil took films. When we left Australia, we also left our boards for the Aussies. Those films were shown all over the country to different clubs. The films and our boards became the basis for the modern surfboard movement in Australia."
While in the Land from Down Under, the Americans also surfed new spots never before surfed in Australia.
"The idea of finding a surf spot in a remote area was not what it was all about in Australia in those days," wrote Noll. "As we traveled from one [paddleboard] meet to another, we saw several great-looking places along the way. I remember one spot we passed. You looked down off a cliff and about a mile away there were these beautiful lines stacked up, wave after wave. We were riding in the back of a truck with our boards and I started pounding on the cab with my fist. The driver, an Aussie, stopped and asked me, 'What's the matter, mate?'
I said, 'Jesus Christ, look at the surf down there! Has anyone ever surfed it?' The guy thought I was crazy. He said, 'Why would anyone want to go down there?' Like, there wasn't a surf club down there, so what's the point? He refused to drive us there. Today that spot is a well-known surf spot -- Long's Reef, I think they call it.
"For about two years after that trip, I got letters every week from guys in Australia, pleading for pictures, templates, design information. It was a new frontier for them... It didn't take the Australians long to get on with the thing. The end result is that they have since produced some of the best surfers in the world."
Noll's fledgeling camera work set the stage for him getting into making surf films on a regular basis:
"From the movies I took, I made my own surf film. That helped get surfers up here interested in surfing down there. Before that there wasn't any traffic back and forth between Australian and American surfers.
"I often wondered, as time went by, whether the Aussies would rewrite history to suit themselves or give credit to the Californians who introduced them to the modern surfboard. A couple years ago I happened to be standing behind a guy in the airport who was struggling with a bunch of bags, so I gave him a hand. He said, in a recognizable Aussie accent, 'Thanks, mate.'
"We got to talking and, as it turns out, this guy remembers the trip the Yanks made down there in '56. He tells me that one of the original boards is still hanging in his club. We end up having a couple of beers in the bar and talking stories..."
"The Californians," wrote Nat Young in his History of Surfing, "... surfed their new boards all up and down the east coast from Avalon to Torquay and in doing so utterly changed the nature of surfing in Australia." Young, in his typical style, was quick to point out that, "Officially the local surfboard team thrashed them in the paddle races, but," credited Young, "what startled the local surfers was the way Americans could maneuver, stall, cut back and trim across the face of the eaves on their boards. A younger generation of Australian surfers watched them with as much interest as their forefathers had watched the Duke."
"The Surf Life Saving Association
didn't take to the new boards," Nat Young noted; "they didn't improve the
techniques of surf rescue, and they certainly weren't faster to paddle.
But no sooner had the American surf team departed than hundreds of younger
surfboard riders were trying to buy fibreglass Malibu boards. It
was almost as though, overnight, nobody wanted the old hollow paddle boards
any longer. Some quick-thinking Sydney board men had been able to
buy some of the visiting team's 'hot dog' boards; Bob
Evans bought a narrow-tail 10-foot gun-style board from Greg Noll,
Peter Clare one of the Quigg boards, and Gordon Woods a 10-foot wide-nose
wide-tail Velzy/Jacobs board and Bob Pike purchased Tom Zahn's 9'6" Malibu.
The established board builders at the time were Bill
Wallace, Gordon Woods, Barry Bennett, Norm
Casey and Bill Clymer, a boat builder from Victoria who had moved to Sydney,
where all the surfboard manufacturing was taking place. By the summer
of 1956 these manufacturers were inundated with orders for Malibus -- a
somewhat frustrating situation, because the balsa needed for the new boards
was virtually unavailable."
Surfing on Television, Later '50s
"In 1956," recalled Greg Noll, "following my trip to Australia and the release of my surf movie, I was invited to appear on Bill Burrud's 'Assignment America' TV show to show part of the movie. Tom Malone, who also had a TV show, caught Burrud's show and invited me to appear on his program. Malone used my surfing footage pretty regularly for a few years, and he and I eventually became buddies. But at first the guy nearly drove me nuts.
"Burrud's show had been very professionally done. Malone's show, which covered a lot of different sports, seemed to always be thrown together at the last minute. Malone was a little scattered. He always was getting himself in a jam with his programming. He'd call me at the last minute and ask, 'Could you bring me fifteen minutes of surf film?'
"I didn't know anything about television. I just followed directions. On the first show I did for Malone, just as they began rolling my film and I started my narration, Malone signals to me that he's got to go fetch some papers. I continue my narration. The film ends. They run a commercial and Malone is still gone. This is live TV, so the crew starts motioning for me to begin talking. For a very long minute or two, I'm going on about surfing and what we're going to show in the next segment, blah, blah, blah -- I have no idea what I said -- and Malone comes rushing in to bail me out...
"As surfing became more popular, Malone's ratings went up. He started bringing in live audiences of twenty to thirty kids for the surf shows. I'd show a film, then Malone would open it up for people watching at home to call in with a surf question for Greg Noll. Malone would first take the call, in case he had to censor anything, then he'd pass along the question to me. Kids would ask questions like 'Would you ask Greg Noll to explain the expression "hang ten"?' Or 'What does "cowabunga" mean?'
"On one particular show, we'd gone through several questions before Malone announced that he'd take one last call. Malone was in one of his distracted moods, so the question goes right by him. He turns to me and says, 'We have a caller who wants to know what the surfing term "beat off" means.
"Right there on the air. The kids in the audience rolled in the aisles, hooting and laughing, and Malone gets red in the face. As soon as the words had left his mouth, he tried to stuff them back in. I say, as calmly as possible, 'Gee, Tom, that's a new one on me.'
"For the next month, everywhere I went, I got razed about the new surfing term, 'beat off.'
"After becoming established as
a surfboard manufacturer and surf film producer whose films were shown
on TV, all of a sudden all the teachers and counselors who wanted nothing
to do with my ass during school were wanting to kiss it. They'd be
interviewed by a newspaper of magazine and their tone would change.
'Oh yes, I knew Greg Noll. He was in my class. Fine, upstanding
young man.' What bullshit."
North Shore, 2nd Time, 1956
"The second winter we were in the Islands," Greg Noll recalled, "we went to Sunset more often. That was also the year we discovered Haleiwa, and I met Hanalei -- Henry Preece -- who was to become my lifelong friend.
"We had no idea during those first few winters that the North Shore would become the surf center of the planet Earth. We were just kids, blundering along. I was learning about surfing big waves and getting hooked on them. All this time, Waimea was waiting for me..."
"Bud Browne went back to California with his new film," recalled Fred Van Dyke of this time, "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..."
Van Dyke continued: "Jim Fisher and Mike Stange were returning. The boards were from 10'6" to Buzzy's 12'6" -- which he soon cut down to about 11 feet. Joe Quigg was the master of shaping and Tom Zahn the paddling star, in top physical condition. (We all learned our basics in nutrition from him.) Pat Curren, a new shaper, was learning all he could under the tutelage of Quigg and Downing.
"Greg Noll came over with a 9'4" square tail, and many theories why it would work better than a longer board.
and Froiseth created a new scoop which eliminated pearling and chop problems."
Bud Browne, surfing's first commercial film maker, was into his fourth full year shooting the surf scenes mostly on O`ahu. Hawaiian Surfing Movies (1953), Hawaiian Holiday (1954) and Hawaiian Surfing Movies (1955) now lead up to 1956's offering, Trek to Makaha.
Surfing's second commercial film maker was Greg Noll, who was just starting to get into it. Fred Van Dyke revealed the inside photographic duel that now took place between Noll and Browne -- surfing's original wave spies:
"Greg Noll was going to make a
surf film, and Bud Browne was bitching about that. They, the only
two photographers on the North Shore, would sneak around like spies, trying
to out-angle each other, until one day they emerged from the same clump
of bushes, speechless and looking more than embarrassed."
Huge Sunset, November 1956
"November came," recalled Fred Van Dyke, "and with it a huge Sunset surf. Fifteen guys were out. I was disgusted with the crowd and paddling in when I ran into [Jim] Fisher paddling out. 'Come on, Fred, just one more.' I couldn't resist surfing with my friend and paddled back out; I was glad that I did, for we made a major breakthrough that day. On previous days, if you lost your board you'd swim for the channel and try to make it through the rip. If you did not, someone would paddle fins or a board out to you, but this day there were so many people wiping out and excited that suddenly Buzzy made an observation.
"Everyone was making it into the beach, immediately, by staying in the soup.
"It sounds simple. But until
1956, the fear element was overwhelming, and most stayed away from the
soup, if possible. Now we could forget about the rip taking us seaward
on big days."
"Although Mike Stange and I spent a lot of time together in the Islands, living with different guys who had also come over from the Mainland to surf," recalled Greg Noll, "a lot of my spare time was spent with the local Hawaiians. As a result of my friendship with Henry and Buff, several other local Hawaiians became interested in surfing and asking me to make boards for them.
"All the guys chipped in for materials. I bought enough balsa wood from McGwain's Marine Store in Waikiki to make about ten boards. We set up the wood on sawhorses outside of Henry's shack at Haleiwa. I used a hand planer and a drawknife. Balsa shavings were blowing in the wind all the way down to thrive around time, there must have been about thirty Hawaiians there, watching and helping. We even glassed the boards inside the shack. It turned into sort of a community project.
"I had no idea what the far-reaching
results of this goodwill gesture would be. The Hawaiians were, and
are, very appreciative of things like this. A few of the guys still
have their boards and never miss a chance to let people know, 'I have one
of the original Greg Noll boards that were shaped at Haleiwa.' It
was a big deal and it gave the Hawaiians a few surfboards that they could
really surf on, rather than using some of those old junk redwoods they
had been riding..."
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 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,
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 Bermell."
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 on November 5, 1957 was certainly Noll. The "rest of the guys" are 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. 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.'"
Greg Noll Surfboards
"One of my proudest accomplishments in making surfboards was making signature boards for Duke Kahanamoku," Greg Noll wrote about his surfboard making in the 1960s. "The board was called the Duke Kahanamoku Nollrider and commemorated the Duke Kahanamoku Invitational Surfing Championships, which started in 1965. The Duke was an Olympic swimming champion, an all-around great waterman and the absolute embodiment of Hawaiian charm and spirit. In 1967, after I had finished an order of these boards, one of his friends asked me if there was anything I wanted from the Duke. I told him that I'd love to have something I could keep, something inscribed. A couple of months later, I made a trip to the Islands and was given a wristwatch inscribed 'TO GREG, FROM DUKE, 1967.' This was just before the Duke died."
Writing further about his surfboard-making, Noll went on to tell the abbreviated story of Greg Noll Surfboards and his personal life:
"During high school, I met my wife, Beverly. We both were sophomores. I was the high school letch and she was a beach gal, a very good-looking gal, and I was really attracted to her. She had, and still has, a really strong personality. Beverly and I went through all the stages of the surf thing together. She became the motivational force behind the whole surfboard operation, kept all the pieces in place as the business grew and expanded.
"We got married almost a year after high school, a few months after I got back from competing in the paddling championships in Australia. We lived in a little house... in Manhattan Beach. During the summer, I worked as a lifeguard at the Manhattan Beach Pier, for about a dollar forty-four an hour. At the time, those were good part-time wages.
"As soon as I got home from working as a lifeguard, I'd go back to work in my garage, shaping new boards. I was grinding out about ten boards a week from this little two-car garage. I had an automatic router machine, the whole deal. This was the late fifties, and surfing was starting to get very popular. I outgrew the garage operation within a year or so.
"We rented a small shop on the highway in Manhattan Beach and moved the business there until we outgrew that space. Found another place in Hermosa Beach across from a school and stayed there for about five years. We were so busy that we'd be making surfboards out in front of the shop, almost overflowing into the street. Surfers would hang out, watching us work. One day, the building inspector came by while we were outside, gluing up boards on sawhorses. He just shook his head. We were causing too much of a commotion, he told us, and causing traffic snarls.
"That and the fact that surfing
had caught fire on the East Coast prompted us to build out twenty-thousand-square-foot
surfboard factory and shop... in Hermosa. It opened in October of
'65 and became the permanent home for Greg Noll Surfboards until we closed
up shop in '71."
Hollywood in 1964
"Surfing's popularity," wrote Greg Noll, "... spawned a series of Hollywood surf movies in the late fifties and early sixties. Movies such as Beach Blanket Bingo, Gidgetand Ride the Wild Surf gave teenagers everywhere a glimpse of Hollywood's version of the surf culture."
"Movie companies," continued Noll, "hired real surfers such as Mickey Dora, Phil Edwards, Mike Doyle, Mickey Munoz and me to do the stunt work... For the authentic wave-riding scenes in Ride the Wild Surf, the film company came to the North Shore. It happened to be one of Waimea's bigger weeks. I hadn't been hired to stunt for this movie, but I was out there surfing and ended up getting in the way in so much of the footage that the producers decided to change the movie to conform to the actual surfing. They hired another actor, Jim Mitchum, and wrote him into the script. They made him some black-and-white striped trunks like mine, and I earned stunt pay."
"When John Milius released Big
Wednesday in 1978," Noll wrote, "his company found a picture that had
been taken of me in 1964, standing on the beach at Pipeline, holding my
board and wearing the striped trunks. For the movie's promotional
poster, they superimposed two guys sitting on the sand next to me.
In reality, that picture was taken the day Mike Stange and I surfed Outside
Pipeline. I was watching the shorebreak, which is the wave you see
in the picture, and trying to decide on the best way to get to the outside
Outside Pipeline, 1964
Greg Noll credits Phil Edwards as the first surfer to surf Pipeline, in December 1961, but Mike Doyle did it in 1959 and Bob Simmons had ridden it back in 1953 and Fran Heath had ridden it sometime before then. And that's just guys from the modern era, the Twentieth Century. Be that as it may, Noll recalled when Bruce Brown was there to film Edwards at the Pipe -- the first time as far as anyone around knew. "Because Pipeline is such a dangerous, treacherous break," wrote Noll, "it was one of the last big spots on the North Shore to be broken. Pipeline breaks close in on an inside reef, which makes it nice for spectators and photographers on shore. The wave is fast and wild -- it often leaps up in size while you're riding it -- with a tubular break that sometimes covers you then spits you out in a spray of water. The worst part is the wave's chasmlike drop into shallow water, where you can get smashed and ripped up on coral heads and lava rocks when you wipe out. Since that day in '61, Pipeline has been ridden and conquered many times, but it's still a spot reserved for more experienced surfers. A contest called the Pipeline Masters is held there every year. Only the best surfers are invited to participate."
"Phil Edwards is the guy who tagged me with the nickname Da Bull. One time, when we were at Pipeline, he accused me of being bullheaded because I knew I was going to get wiped out on this one wave, and instead of ejecting like I should have, I just squatted down and got eaten alive. Afterwards, Phil said, "You bullheaded sonofabitch, I think I'll just call you Da Bull from now on." The name stuck."
"In all the years I've been going to Hawaii, I've only seen the far Outside Pipeline reef break a few times. It's a rare, white-elephant break. Everything has got to be just right for it to work. The swell has to be really clean and the direction absolutely precise to hit those outside reefs."
"I'm talking way outside," Noll explained. "First, there's Inside Pipeline, where Phil Edwards was the first to ride and where everyone surfs today. The contests are also held there. Several hundred yards beyond that is a place called Outside Pipeline, which sometimes breaks when Inside Pipeline gets big and nasty. But this isn't the outside reef I'm talking about. Hell, the thing I rode broke on a reef almost a mile out, on the edge of the blue water..."
"It happened on a day in November 1964," Noll began the details of that historic surf session. "Waimea was breaking straight across, Sunset was unsurfable and Inside Pipeline was a mess. There's a picture from that day that shows me standing on shore, with my arm around my board, watching Pipeline break. It was used as a poster for the movie Big Wednesday. What many people don't realize is that the wave in the picture is just shorebreak."
"It took Mike and me over an hour just to get out. When we were down near the water, we couldn't see what was going on outside because the shorebreak was so big. So Ricky Grigg spotted for us, up on the beach. I knew I could trust Ricky's judgement. He stayed up high and gave us a sign whenever he thought we should go for it.
"To get out, we had to get past this bitch of a shorebreak and through a strong lateral current. After watching it for a while, we noticed that there was one spot where an incoming current hit the lateral current and formed a saddle, a slot where we might be able to take advantage of the current and shoot through the shorebreak. Trouble was, we had to start about three hundred yards up from this spot and drift along with the current, timing it just right so that we'd be sucked out through the slot rather than dumped back on the sand."
"We got dumped at least four times before we made it out," continued Noll. "We had started fairly early in the morning and ended up spending over eight hours in the water.
"When we got outside to that far reef, there were no lineups, nothing to indicate what our position should be. Only four sets broke out there all day. We'd watch a wave break, then paddle like hell to get as close to the whitewater as possible, to determine our lineups. The next wave would break maybe a quarter of a mile away, so we'd paddle hard to get there before the whitewater subsided and establish another point of reference. Then we'd sit there for a couple of hours until another set came along and we'd go through the same routine until we felt we'd tightened up on the lineups.
"There were six to eight waves in each set. The sun hit the face of these long walls that faded out towards Waimea Bay and made them breathtakingly beautiful. It was a surreal day. I was so mesmerized I'd stop paddling just to watch one of those beautiful waves move through. They were like pure, liquid energy. Then I'd jerk myself back to reality and say, "You'd better wake up, Pal. If this thing breaks on you, you might end up sucking suds."
"The outside wave was still one hell of a tube," Noll went on, "like Inside Pipeline. But unlike Inside Pipeline, it also was a long, long wall. Mike and I chugged up and over these waves on our boards, feeling like tiny freighters, dwarfed by the huge seas. Now and then we'd paddle for one. They were almost impossible to get into. They were so big and moving with such speed that we couldn't paddle fast enough to get down the face of the wave. You really had to windmill to have even a prayer of catching one."
"To establish our lineups," Greg Noll wrote, "we worked off Kaena Point and back up on the hill behind Pupukea, taking three or four azimuths, until we finally got our lineups in late afternoon, just as this one particular wave came through. It was the only wave I caught that whole day, and it's permanently etched in my memory.
"In a twenty-five-foot wave at Waimea, the shoulder drops off. The wave I caught at Outside Pipeline that day walled up twenty-five-feet high about half a mile in front of me. It broke to the left, so I was riding with my back to the wave, goofyfoot, and it was a god-awful uneasy feeling. Instead of getting smaller as I rode it, the sonofabitch grew on me. It got bigger and bigger, and I started going faster and faster, until I was absolutely locked into it. I felt like I was on a spaceship racing into a void. At first, I could hear my board chattering across the face of the wave in a constant rhythm. As my speed increased, the chattering noise became less frequent. Suddenly there was no noise. For about fifteen or twenty feet, I was airborne. Then I literally was blown off my board."
"When I hit and went underwater," Noll continued, "I thought I was going to drown. I got pounded good before I popped up and started sweating the next wave. It was a big one, too. I saw Mike paddling for it, but he had a shorter board than mine and couldn't get into it...
"A guy has to get over some real fears to get to the point where the decision to either go or not go becomes automatic. You have to decide how much you're willing to risk, how much you're willing to give up. Your life, maybe? It depends on how badly you want that wave."
"The day that Mike and I planned to ride Outside Pipeline," Greg Noll continued, "there was a guy running around on the beach like a puppy dog while we were checking out the surf. He had been in the Islands for a month or so, and by God, he was determined to ride some big waves.
"He followed us out through the slot, talking himself into it all the way. We heard him saying, 'O.K., I'm O.K. I gotta ride one of these things, I'm right behind you guys.' Somehow, he got outside and then those sets started to pump up. It's an awesome sight. Until you've become conditioned to it, it can mess up your mind. They come from about a mile away. You can see the crest of the wave begin to feather in the wind and hear the thunder as they roll nearer. Well, this guy sees these big buggers coming at us and he says, 'Holy shit, you guys are crazy! I'm gettin' outta here!'
"The difference between that type of guy and an experienced big-wave rider is that the experienced rider has made all the right decisions before going out. This other guy is going to grab his board and jump into the water without much thought. That day at Outside Pipeline, Mike and I sat there and looked at the thing for a couple of hours before we went into the water. We took soupline marks, checked the direction of the current, put all these things together and went out with a plan. A set breaks, you paddle like hell towards the whitewater, then hit your lineups. The next set breaks out a little farther. You keep working and finally you get those lineups tightened up to where you think that thing is going to be, based on previous sets that have broken or boils that appear over shallow spots. This is what you do on uncovered ground."
"Since no one had surfed that far offshore from Pipeline before," Noll pointed out, "we didn't know where the reefs were located. Mike and I sat for several hours in perfectly blue water on the lineups we had figured before a set finally came and broke there. You have to be able to do that, to stick by your decision and sit there for three hours or as long as it takes, knowing, 'By God, one broke here. I paddled in on the soupline and one broke and the surf's still big. Another one's got to break here.'"
Fortunately for Noll, a portion
of his ride at Outside Pipeline was filmed by Bruce Brown.
Even today, the preserved portion is exciting to look at.
Waimea, December 1964
"I have a photo of Greg at Waimea,"
Mike Stange offered, "taken several years after we were the first to surf
there. In the photo, he's riding the biggest wave I've ever seen
anyone ride. I didn't see him ride Makaha in '69, and I'm glad I
wasn't there -- he probably would have talked me into going out there with
him, like he did at so many other places. But I remember that set
at Waimea. It was December of '64. I had lost my board in the
previous set and had to swim in, climb over the rocks to get my board.
I stood up just in time to see another set come through. I couldn't
believe it. It was monstrous, preternatural. And there was
Greg, taking off on the biggest wave of the set and streaking across with
the channel starting to break in big and Greg looked so unbelievably small."
"In the mid-sixties," recalled Eddie Talbot who would later go on to found E.T. Surfboards, "when I was seventeen, I was surfing and living out of my car, hustling boards in the water. I had a deal with Bing Copeland. For every guy I'd send in to his shop to buy a board, he'd pay me five bucks.
"Eventually, I started sending guys to Greg's shop too. I sent so many customers his way that Greg asked to meet me. I was all fired up, full of ideas. I told Greg he should start a surf team. He said, 'Do it.' So I did."
"I ended up working in the retail store and had a falling out with one of Greg's salesmen," continued Talbot. "So I moved to the factory and sold boards and materials from there. I ended up selling more there than I did in retail."
"The first and last time I went to Hawaii to ride the North Shore was with Greg in '69," Eddie Talbot remebered. "We went to Sunset Beach and Greg asked me how big I thought the waves were. I said, 'Aw, about six feet.' Greg said, with a sly look, 'I'll meet you out there.'
"You don't know until you get out there how bad it can be. The waves were over ten feet but seemed much bigger, and I got pounded."
"I didn't work for Greg during the shop's heyday," explained Talbot. "I was there as he was winding down his business. Toward the end, Laura and I practically ran the shop. I learned a lot and was able to open my own shop after Greg's closed down. I started E.T. Surfboards in '72, with two thousand dollars.
"Greg was the closest thing to
a father I've ever had. I was never real close to my real father,
and when you're seventeen or so, you need a role model. Greg was
a model to me, both of what to do and what not to do. Now, I've had
a chance to repay him by bringing his son, Rhyn, into my shop and having
Gumby help teach him to shape boards. Rhyn is carrying on the tradition
by opening up his own surf shop in Crescent City."
"There is an old Greg Noll Surfboards ad," recalled Ricky Grigg, "that shows me, Fred Hemmings, Felipe Pomar and Greg with our Greg Noll surfboards out in front of my house on the North Shore. I rode mine when I won the 1967 Duke Kahanamoku. I never let Greg forget that I rode one of his boards to beat him in a contest."
"The interesting part of the friendly competition between Greg and me," Grigg continued, "is that people always used to say to me, 'You know, Ricky, it's those [black and white striped] trunks you wear that make you so well known. Not only did you do all this surfing, you also built boards and you were part of the history of surfing.' I think I have been confused with Greg Noll more times than I have been recognized for myself. I would just shrug my shoulders and chuckle inside, because they thought I was Greg Noll. The reason for the confusion is that 'Greg' is the name that seems to have stuck with most people, and that's how my last name is pronounced."
"The atmosphere among all of us was highly competitive," Grigg went on, "and yet there was a difference between and among us that you don't find today. That is, I can never remember once being angry or mad at Greg, Peter, Buzzy, Georgie, Jose or any of our contemporaries. We were happy to see the other guy win, to see him catch the wave of the day. We wanted to be better, or at least as good as the next guy, and this competitive spirit helped us be as good as we were.
"Today, the competition is a lot
more ruthless, more cutthroat. Guys fight and there is a lot of hostility
out on the water. We didn't feel that way about one another.
There were, of course, confrontations. It would have been hard to
surf with someone for twenty years and not run over them or have them run
over you in the water, at least once or twice."
Drugs & Surfer Image
"I hated seeing the drug scene shift into high gear like it did," wrote Greg Noll in his autobiography. "I feel a little self-righteous standing on my soapbox with a bottle of beer in my hand, and I can't claim to have been a total virgin when it came to experimenting with drugs. But I can look back over the years and say that I saw a lot of neat, healthy young kids who I know would have become great athletes if they hadn't gotten overly involved in drugs and gone straight down the shit chute.
"With some guys, drugs became a way of life. They went through tremendous personality changes, or they died. Drugs didn't do them any good. In the same way, at certain times in my life, alcohol didn't do me any good. A lot of kids today seem to be taking themselves, their health and their education more seriously, and that's good."
"In the sixites," continued Noll, "the image of surfing started getting a little strange... The bad press really contributed to the wild, lifestyle image that surfing had picked up. Surfers would read all this stuff and say, 'That sounds really neat. I'm going to get me a hearse and go do that. Get me some beer and thirteen-year-old girls and jam them in the back seat.'"
"The swastika became a symbol
of some surfers just because it pissed off people. It was a rebellious
act. That's why Mickey Dora painted swastikas all over his boards.
Most surfers didn't even know what it meant. It was just another
way of shaking the pillars of society, something we excelled in doing..."
The Bronze Bull
Beverly Noll tells a story of around this time, when Greg was visiting the Islands sometime between 1965 and '69, and surfing Makaha:
"There was one rescue that only a few people know about. Greg was out at Makaha and noticed that a young boy, about ten, was in trouble. Greg quickly paddled over to the boy and took him to shore on his board. A few months later, a woman and her son arrived at the factory in Hermosa Beach with a package for Greg. They went into his office. The boy handed Greg the package and said, 'Thanks for saving me that day. I would have drowned if you hadn't helped me.'
"Inside the box was a small bronze
"Over the years," Greg Noll points out humorously, "I heard a lot of guys say, 'I'm going to get in shape for the Islands.' They'd start running on the beach, swimming, working out. Eddie Talbot, one of my younger salesmen, was so stoked on the idea of riding big waves that I finally invited him to go to the Islands in '69. He had himself so psyched up that I wasn't sure what was going to happen.
"We hit Sunset Beach on an average day of crisp, twelve-to-fourteen-foot waves. When you first paddle out through the rip at Sunset Beach, you can't see the outside break for several minutes. You hear the waves popping and growling before you get a good look at them. Eddie's eyes got bigger and bigger as we got closer and closer to the break. Once we got out there, he finally picked a wave and took off. The wave snapped and he went flying on his backside halfway down the front of the wave just as the lip came over and drove him underwater. Eddie finally surfaced and said, 'Christ Almighty, this isn't at all what I thought it was going to be.'
"It was really my fault.
I should have broken him in a little slower. But maybe it was just
as well. Once Eddie got stoked on something, there was no stopping
him. Instead of devoting himself to surfing in the Islands, he went
back to the Mainland and opened one of the most successful surf shops in
Makaha, November 1969
"In many ways the winter of '69 was the peak of my life," Greg Noll declared. "I was thirty-two. I had built a successful career of surfing and making surfboards... As usual, we stayed with Henry Preece in Haleiwa. I had stayed at Henry's house nearly every year, since I first met him and Buffalo Keaulana in the fifties, when I had first started coming to the islands. Here I was, fifteen years later, still coming to the Islands each season for the big winter swell.
"Henry's little wood-frame house is about four blocks from the water, where you can hear the surf and feel it when it gets big. About two o'clock one morning, I woke up to the sound of a far-off rumble, rumble, rumble and the rattle of dishes in the kitchen. Half asleep, I thought, 'Hell of a time to run the tanks though.' Every once in a while, the Army would drive its tanks down from Wahiawa, through Haleiwa and out to Kaena Point. I got up to take a whiz, and suddenly realized there were no tanks. It was the rumble of huge surf, breaking from the horizon.
"I started pacing, tried to sleep, paced again. By sunrise my stomach was full of butterflies. My adrenalin was pumping. I was ready to go take a look at Waimea Bay. As soon as Laura and I got there, I could see that the whole North Shore was closed out. Solid whitewater as far as you could see. You can't go out when it gets that big. For the most part, on the very rare occasion when it gets that big, it's done all over the island."
"Laura and I decided to go take a look at Makaha [on the west side] just for the hell of it," continued Noll. "Every once in a while, when the North Shore closes out, Makaha Point still has rideable surf. Less often, when the North Shore closes out, Makaha does this wonderful, magical thing that I had heard about over the years from older surfers like George Downing and Buzzy Trent. If God sees fit to have that north swell come in at an absolute, perfect direction, Makaha gets unbelievably monstrous swells, as big or bigger than the ones that attack the North Shore, except they're not peak breaks. These Makaha giants peel off from the Point in precise, seemingly endless walls."
"In the fifteen years that I had been coming to the Islands to surf," Noll went on, "I had never seen Makaha do its magic. Sure, I had ridden a number of big Makaha Point days when the waves were breaking twenty feet, but compared to Waimea's hang-on-to-your-balls super-drop, Makaha Point surf just didn't have it for me. I had heard the stories. Supposedly the really huge surf at Makaha only happens about once every eleven or twelve years. I had missed the day in '58 when Buzzy Trent and George Downing rode some monster surf at Makaha. I was convinced that Waimea is where it's at. The ultimate go-for-broke spot. There's not a bigger place on the face of God's earth to ride than Waimea. That's the way it is and always will be, world without end.
"Was I wrong!
"Still, there was nothing to do on the North Shore, so we headed to Makaha, taking the road that led around Kaena Point. We figured the worst thing that could happen is that it would become a good excuse to see my old pal Buffalo, do a little beer drinking and talk stories Hawaiian style..."
"I felt the intensity of twenty years of surfing bigger and bigger waves pent up inside me that day," Noll said of December 4, 1969. "As we approached Kaena Point we noticed several places where gigantic storm surf had already washed across the road. I told Laura to walk across the bad spots while I drove the car across. I held my door open, ready to bail out if a wave hit the car.
"As soon as we reached Kaena Point, I knew this day was going to be different. Terrifying waves of fifty feet or bigger were pounding the end of the island [Oahu]. We stopped at a couple of places to take pictures. One memorable photo from that day shows a giant wave dwarfing a couple of beach shacks in the foreground. SURFER magazine printed it in its March 1970 issue with the description, 'Kaena Point at forty, fifty, sixty or seventy feet.' That day, the waves demolished several shacks on Kaena Point and nearby areas as well as a great portion of the road.
"As we got nearer to Makaha Point, I said, 'Holy shit. It's happening.' Makaha was doing its magic."
"Usually," Greg Noll continued, "no matter how big the north swell is, by the time it gets around to the Makaha side of the island [west], it dissipates or you're looking at full-on stormy, windy, nasty weather. The horizon off Maili Beach, south of Makaha, becomes what the old-timers call Maili cloudbreak. The rate of speed of big swells creates wind and spray that rains down on the ocean. On this day, the water was nearly as smooth as glass, beautiful, and the waves were so big that they literally put the fear of God in me.
"The radio began to broadcast evacuation orders for people in homes on Makaha Point. The police had just started to put up barricades on the road, but we made it through and out to the Point. And there it was, not just rideable Makaha -- great, big, horrifying Makaha."
"You couldn't even see the break from the normal place on the beach," Noll described. "You had to get back up on the hill above the beach. On a normal, smaller day, the break comes off an inside reef. On a big, twenty-foot Point day, the break comes around the Point in a long wall and forms into a huge section referred to as the Bowl. The unique thing about Makaha is that under perfect conditions, waves will hold their shape at twenty-five feet or -- so the stories go -- bigger. Today, that's what it looked like, bigger.
"The waves were breaking on a set of reefs I didn't even know existed, just inside where the blue water began. They looked like they were breaking out twice as far as usual. I started going into a mental freeze-up at this point. A haze settled over my brain like I was in a dream."
"There was just a handful of guys out in the water," continued Noll, talking about that big day at Makaha, December 1969. "Along the shore and on the hill above the beach, people were already lining up to watch. With the break so far out, it was almost impossible to see the surfers in any detail, let alone take clear pictures.
"I got my board waxed up, started looking things over, setting up a plan. I saw that the cross-current was raging, so I knew that, to survive, I would have to swim like a sonofabitch for the Point or I would end up way down the beach, past Clausmyer's house. This house marks the place that is your last hope of getting in in one piece before the shore turns to solid rock. On a big day like this, if you don't eat it in the surf, the rocks can easily get you.
"I got waxed up and headed into the water. It was surprisingly easy to get out. People have asked me, 'How in the hell did you even get out?' Most of the breaks that would have been normal Makaha waves were just backed-off soupy slop and not that difficult to paddle through. It was like that almost out to the Point. Beyond the Point is where the waves were actually breaking..."
"I paddled way over to the left of the bowl," continued Noll, "then headed straight out for a long ways past the break before I could paddle over to where a group of guys were sitting. They all were well-known big-wave riders, including Fred Hemmings, Bobby Cloutier, Wally Froiseth, Jimmy Blears. I had surfed different places with these guys for years. You could tell that this was no normal day. Usually, we're out there laughing, joking, giving each other a hard time. When the surf gets really big, all that bullshit goes out the window. At Waimea, for instance, when the surf starts coming up, guys' attitudes would change. Peter Cole would get a little more hyper, Buzzy Trent would start talking faster, Pat Curren would get quieter. Peter likes to joke about how I'd start hyperventilating extra loud to try to psych guys out.
"Today it was serious business. No laughing, no joking. Some of the guys were glassy-eyed and there was talk of calling in the helicopters. Since that morning, when many of the guys had first paddled out, the surf had been steadily building. Now, it was at a size where all but the most experienced big-wave riders call it quits."
"I sat there with the guys for at least forty-five minutes," recalled Noll, "watching these big, thunderous giants coming down out of the north, from Yokohama Bay, towards us. At times they looked so perfect you'd swear you were looking at waves at Rincon or Malibu, only these waves were thirty feet high with a lip that threw out thirty yards or more. At other times the waves broke in sections of two or three hundred yards across. They were horrible, absolutely horrible. As they peeled off towards us, a giant section would dump, and we'd count, 'One thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three...' then, BOOM! The wave would bottom out and, even though they were a quarter to a half-mile away, the impact of the breaking waves was so tremendous that it made beads of water dance on the deck of our boards. I'd never seen that happen before. The whole situation gave me a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.
"And the surf was still coming up! A few guys caught waves off the backside of smaller sets, hit the channel and paddled in. Nobody was going for the big ones..."
"The bottom line," underscored Noll, "was obvious to every one of us out there: if you took off on one of the big waves and missed it, and there was a bigger wave behind it, you'd get caught in the impact zone where your chances of drowning were probably about eighty percent or better. If you paddled for one of these monstrous bastards and you didn't get to the bottom, but instead got caught high by catching an edge or hesitating for even a second, you'd tumble down the face of the wave and the whitewater would just eat you alive. It would be like going off Niagra Falls without the barrel. It looked to me like my only chance was to paddle as though the devil himself was on my ass, then get to my feet and drive as hard as possible straight down the face of the wave. If I could at least get to the bottom before the lip folded over, then maybe I'd have a chance of drilling myself a hole at the bottom of the wave, and the mass of the wave would pass over me instead of pummeling me along until I just ran out of air.
"I analyzed the situation a little longer and gave myself better than a fifty-percent chance of surviving one of these monsters. I just figured I had an edge, since all my surfing had been devoted to big waves. My motivation was also competitive. Deep down inside I had always wanted to catch a bigger wave than anyone else had ever ridden. Now, here was my chance. After a lifetime of working up to it, the time had finally come to either shit or get off the pot. The chances of this type of surf occurring again might be another eleven or twelve years away, and out of my grasp.
"Even though I had put a lot of time into riding big waves, I knew there was no chance of actually riding one of those waves all the way through. Not the way they were folding over in such huge sections. The best I could expect would be to get down the face to the bottom of the wave, make my turn, then put it in high gear and get as far as I could before the whole thing folded over on me. Then I'd have to take my chances on the swim in. Getting in would be half the danger -- if I survived the impact zone, I'd have to fight my way through that strong side current and into the beach before I reached the rocky shoreline."
"By this time," Greg Noll went on, "the crowd in the water had thinned way down. I paddled about fifty yards away from the other guys to sit and do some more thinking. That's my whole deal. I can wait. Like Peter Cole and Pat Curren, I've always been willing to wait for the bigger sets. I always preferred to wait it out, catch fewer waves but, I hoped, bigger ones..."
Noll got down to the essence of what it all meant to him: "What it came down to was that I realized that I'd come all this way all these years, for this moment. This 'Makaha magic' was only going to happen once in my lifetime and that time was NOW. The next time it happened I'd either be hobbling around on a cane or dead of old age. In either case, I'd forever miss my one chance to catch a wave this large.
"I've always had one kind of approach to surfing big waves. That is 'Don't hesitate. Once you decide to go, GO. Don't screw around.' You get into more trouble trying to change your mind midstream -- or midwave -- than you do if you just make a committment and go for it."
"I spent about half an hour going through this mental battle," Noll admitted, "before I came to my decision: 'I want to do this. It's worth it to me.' Above all, if I let this moment slip by, I knew I would never forgive myself. As cornball as it sounds, this probably was as close to the moment of truth that I would ever get.
"I paddled back to my lineup. I was oblivious to the fact that I was now the only guy left out there. All my thoughts were focused on catching THE WAVE. The wave that might be my biggest and my last. Finally, a set came thundering down that I thought looked pretty goddamn good. 'O.K.,' I said to myself, 'let's give this thing a shot.'"
"Every board I built for big waves was designed to catch waves," Noll explained. "That meant that each board had to include three main things: length, flotation and ample scoop in the nose. The scoop enabled me to point the nose down the face of a wave and paddle hard without worrying about the nose catching a little water and causing me to hesitate. You can lose a good wave by having to pull back at the instant of takeoff, just to prevent the nose from going underwater. I wanted enough scoop in front so that when I laid that sonofabitch down and started grinding, I'd never have to hesitate.
"Boards can do funny things at high speeds. If the board isn't shaped right, or the fin is set even slightly wrong, the board can track or catch an edge, sending you ass over teakettle. I was very familiar with my board. I had made it for big waves and used it for three seasons. For me it was the perfect big-wave board. At eleven feet, four inches long with a one-and-a-half-inch scoop in the nose, it was a big gun for big waves..."
"The first wave in the set looked huge," Greg Noll retold in his autobiography. "Something inside me said, 'Let it go.' As I paddled over the top of it, I caught a glimpse of my wave. It was even bigger. I turned and began paddling, hard. I felt a rush of adrenalin as the wave approached, lifted me and my board began to accelerate. Then I was on my feet, committed.
"You could have stacked two eighteen-wheel semis on top of each other against the face of that wave and still have had room left over to ride it. I started down the front of the wave and my board began to howl like a goddamn jet. I had never heard it make that noise. I was going down the face of the wave so fast that air was getting trapped somewhere and the vibration was causing an ear-shattering WHOOOOOOOOOOOO!"
"I flew down the face," continued Noll, "past the lip of the wave, and when I got to the bottom, which is where I wanted to be, I looked ahead and saw the sonofabitch starting to break in a section that stretched a block and a half in front of me. I started to lay back, thinking I could dig a hole and escape through the backside of the wave. The wave threw out a sheet of water over my head and engulfed me. Then for a split second the whole scene froze forever in my mind. There I was, in that liquid green room that [Bob] Simmons [pioneering modern surfboard shaper from 1940s and early 50s] had talked about so long ago. I had been in and out of this room many times. Only this time the room was bigger, more frightening, with the thunderous roar of the ocean bouncing off its walls. I realized I wasn't going to go flying out the other end into daylight. This time I was afraid there might be no way out."
"My board flew out from under me," Noll went on. "I hit the water going so fast that it felt like hitting concrete. I skidded on my back and looked up just as tons of whitewater exploded over me. It pounded me under. It thrashed and rolled me beneath the surface until my lungs burned and there was so much pressure that I felt my eardrums were going to burst. Just as I thought I would pass out, the whitewater finally began to dissipate and the turbulence released me. I made it to the surface, gulped for air and quickly looked outside. There was another monster, heading my way..."
"There have been many times at Waimea," remembered Da Bull, "when I've lost my board while trying to catch a wave and had to dive deep to avoid getting caught by the whitewater, or soup, of the next wave. As a big wave passes overhead, it causes tremendous pressure to build in your ears and you have to pop them to clear it.
"Here at Makaha I waited for each wave to get within fifty to seventy-five yards outside me, then I dove down about twenty feet and waited for it to pass. When the first wave broke overhead, I popped my ears and waited a couple of seconds before I heard the muffled sound of rumbling whitewater. The underwater turbulence of the giant wall of whitewater overhead caught me and thrashed me around. These waves were so big and there was so much soup in them that, each time I went under, the pain from the pressure in my ears was almost unbearable. In waves like these, if you can't equalize the pressure by popping your ears, you can lose an eardrum."
"I figured the best I could do," continued Noll, "was to try to remain oriented towards the surface and let the turbulence carry me away from the main break. By the time I cleared the impact zone, the waves had carried me inward about three hundred yards. I started swimming hard for the Point.
"I knew the current was bad and that my survival now depended on reaching the shore quickly. I reached for every ounce of strength I had left. I was still a hundred yards or so off the beach. I could see Clausmyer's. I could see the rocky beach coming up. I was never a great swimmer, but on that day I had a real incentive to make it. I swam my ass off."
"Even the shorebreak was breaking big," Noll said. "I kept thinking, 'If I don't make it to the beach before the rocks, I'll have no place to come in. Did I go through all this hell just to lose it in the rocks?'
"By now I was swimming almost parallel to the beach. I could see my good friend Buffalo in his lifeguard jeep, following me on shore. The current was so strong that the beach looked like it was smoking by me. I finally hit shore about fifty feet before the rocks began. I crawled up on the sand and flopped there on my stomach, just glad to be alive. Buff was there with the jeep and a cold beer. He got out, stood over me and shoved the beer in my face.
"'Good ting you wen make'em, Brudda,"
he said. 'Cause no way I was comin' in afta you. I was jus
goin' wave goodbye and say "Alooo-ha."'"
"My board survived that day," Greg Noll said, recalling the day he rode his biggest surf at Makaha, December 4, 1969. "I still have it hanging in my garage [Brock Little rode it 23 years later, Winter 1992/93]. The image of getting buried in Simmons' green room remains very clear in my mind. I know that any surfer who has been in that green room never forgets it. I also know that if you screw around with it long enough, you'll get to know it intimately. It might be the last room you're ever in.
"I don't know how big the wave was. I will say that it was at least ten feet bigger than anything I had surfed at Waimea Bay and far more dangerous. There were people who saw it. Everyone has an opinion of how big it was. I'd like to leave it at that."
"After I had analyzed what I'd done," Noll explained, "I asked myself, 'You're not going to top that, so where do you go from here? What so you do now?'
"I didn't want to be like a punch-drunk fighter, going around and reliving the big moment. At first I felt a letdown. I thought everything would be downhill from there. In time I felt sort of relieved. That feeling gradually turned into a great sense of satisfaction. Now, I could go enjoy myself, my family. For a period of two or three years I just let off. No competition, no pressure. I just enjoyed the ocean. Eventually I stopped going to the Islands. It was years before I returned..."
Then, one day, "I had just come back to the shop after having lunch with a friend when Beverly came running out and said, 'You'd better get over to your mom's house.'
"I went there right away. My father was lying on the floor. An ambulance had just arrived. He'd had a heart attack. They took him to the hospital and that was it.
"He was only fifty-five and had never been seriously ill. I was thirty-four. He had been a big force in my life. He was always calm, pleasant. All the good things you could ever think to say about someone, you could say about my dad... My father's death was the beginning of some real problems for me, for about three years afterwards. That was when I started taking a different look at my life..."
"For months after my father's death, I couldn't function around people. I didn't want to be around anyone...
"After that day at Big Makaha in '69, I made a few more trips to the Islands. I'd surf, but not with the same drive or intensity..."
"Some of the most memorable times of my life have occurred while surfing with a half-dozen other guys at Waimea Bay or Sunset Beach," Greg Noll said. "All of us sharing and enjoying the energy. At Sunset Beach in the afternoon, the wind blows out of the valley and holds up the waves. You'd paddle out and hear one of the guys shout, 'Yeeeooow!' as he took off on a nice, crisp wave. It's hard to explain how fun and holy these times were. Put a couple of goddamn cameras on the beach, turn it into a contest, set up bleachers and the whole thing goes to shit."
"We'd all gather at the Seaview Inn in Haleiwa after a day of surfing Waimea," remembered Noll. "Maybe Buzzy [Trent], Peter [Cole], Ricky [Grigg] and I, rehashing our rides, relaxing. Suddenly, in comes a couple of magazine writers, a couple of photographers. Then the bullshit begins, the whole scene gets tense and goes to shit again.
"I try to figure out why I react to certain things in certain ways, but I never figured out why I reacted the way I did to my father's death..."
"During the same time," Noll said of the beginning '70s, "I also had become fed up with the whole Southern California scene. It was 1971 and the surf scene was turning, getting crowded. Everything I had known as a young man was turning to shit. So when my father died, I started doing some serious thinking, like 'What's the big deal about blindly working your ass off, trying to make a lot of money and screwing the next guy before he screws you?'"
"... After my father's death," Noll told, "I went back to the beach and worked as a lifeguard for the summer. Sat in the tower on my section of the beach. Most of the time it was quiet. Nobody bothered me. Laura would come out every afternoon and go over business. She took care of the shop while I sat out there.
"I felt like a kid, going off
into a corner to suck on my thumb. Lifeguarding is a far cry from
running a surf shop with sixty-five employees... I was surfed-and storied-out.
We decided to liquidate the shop..."
"If people really want to know what riding big waves is all about," declared Da Bull, "they should get a board and go out there. Or sit on the beach and watch it, get the smell and feel of it while it's happening... The bullshit comes when you start the endorsements, selling... Da Bull's striped trunks. That's all bullshit, and I've been a part of it just like everyone else.
"I don't deny that making money is part of life. There's just less bullshit involved when you're free to make a commitment to something pure, like riding a big wave. Drop the nose of your board down that face, take a few strokes and you're 'coming down,' as George Downing would say when he took off on a grinder at Makaha or Waimea. And if you hesitate or you find you don't have the balls to battle with the thing, well, that's part of coming to grips with the nittty-gritty side of life."
"To me," Noll said, "what I did at Waimea and at Makaha is not spectacular. I devoted myself to surfing big waves. I worked up to it and ended up being comfortable with something that a lot of guys tried to achieve and didn't... You don't win the big race or reach the summit the first time out.
"I've screwed up a lot in my life. But there are certain things I am proud of. I'm proud to have pioneered Waimea Bay and to have introduced the modern-day surfboard to Australia. I'm proud to have a watch inscribed to me from Duke Kahanamoku. I'm proud of the fact that I took a young Buffalo Keaulana to town one day and helped contribute to his development as an informal statesman for Hawaii. I'm proud to have Buff, Henry and Mike Stange as brothers. I'm proud to have served as a lifeguard with my lifelong friends from the South Bay. And I'm proud to have such a loving family..."
"When I was three years old," retold Greg Noll, "I almost drowned. My mom had taken me over to a friend's house. They went inside to talk while I stayed outside to play around a big, deep fish pond in the backyard. As Mom tells it, she looked out the window to check on me and all she saw was a blond tuft of hair, floating on the surface of the fish pond.
"I wasn't breathing when my mom and her friend hauled me out of the pond, but they managed to bring me around. Mom says that, as soon as I recovered, I was ready to go back in again. That was my first experience over the edge. And my first reprieve..."
"That day at Big Makaha was like looking goddamn flat over the edge at the big, black pit," Greg Noll recalled of his most famous ride. "Some of my best friends have said that it was a death-wish wave. I didn't feel that way at the time, but in retrospect I realize that it probably was bordering on the edge. To have pushed beyond that would have been a death wish."
"I love the Islands and I love the Hawaiian people. I envy Ricky [Grigg] and Peter [Cole], still surfing the North Shore and Makaha. For me this option doesn't exist. For me it has to be all or nothing.
"In my mind, I never quit surfing. Surfing is a feeling that never leaves you...
"In many ways, I'm still that twelve-year-old boy surfing at Manhattan Beach Pier... If I could find a little secluded beach, a pretty little reef to dive and enough waves to go Poipu-boarding with the kids, that would be fine.
"But I could never live in the Islands. It tortures me today to turn on the TV and see Big Waimea and not be a part of it. I turn it off. Or if Laura and the kids are watching, I'll pace outside. I'll sneak in for a peek now and then, bitch about the way they're doing something with the boards these days, then go outside and pace some more. I can't sit there and watch it, knowing that I'm no longer a part of it. It drives me nuts and it would drive me nuts to live in the Islands."
"To me the Islands are like an
eternally beautiful woman," declared Noll. "I'm growing older but
she's still this neat little gal I can remember making love to when I was
young. She never changes, but I do."
Sources Used In This Chapter:
Bev Morgan ~ Beverly Noll ~ Bing Copeland
~ Bruce Brown ~ Buffalo Keaulana ~ DA BULL, Life Over the Edge ~ Dale
Velzy ~ Dewey Schurman ~ Eddie Talbot ~ Fred Hemmings ~ Fred Van Dyke
~ Greg Noll ~ Henry Preece ~ Jerry Cunningham ~ Ken Bradshaw ~ Mike Diffenderfer ~ Mike Stange ~ Nat Young
~ Pat Curren ~ Peter Cole ~ Ricky Grigg ~ Sonny
~ Surfers, The Movie
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