A Definitive History of Surfing's Culture and Heroes
By Malcolm Gault-Williams
This Chapter Updated: 21 July 2008
Butch Van Artsdalen
(Image Courtesy of LeRoy Grannis)
Aloha! And welcome to this chapter of LEGENDARY SURFERS.
In this segment, we pass on some of the "Legend and Lore" of Butch Van Artsdalen -- "Black Butch." We rely heavily on a 1996 Surfer's Journal article entitled "Recollections of Butch," which featured various of his friends retelling some of their favorite Butch stories. Over time, this chapter will include other Butch stories -- there are many and all are classic.
A special thanks to Butch's sister Annette who furnished some corrections and her own recollections of Butch's funeral.
Enjoy reading about Butch and pass the lessons and stoke on...
did three things equally well: surf, drink and brawl."
"A gem of a surfer
and a man who breathed life into many a person."
"[Butch went on
to] single-handedly rescue more guys in trouble on the North Shore than
probably anyone else ever will. He was one of the last of a breed
that started when surfboards were made of solid wood and faded out when
they became light little slivers of foam and fiberglass."
"I learned too
late that ‘enabling’ a friend with a terrible chemical dependency like
alcoholism is not what true friendship should really be. In Butch’s
case, we should have tried to help him stop drinking. God rest his
"Butch Van Artsdalen," wrote Steve Pezman when he was editor at Surfer magazine in the 1980s, "was from Windansea, which in itself said almost everything. Along with Hynson and Frye, Butch was a gremmie in the heaviest beach crew ever, the one that went on to become 'The Mead Hall Gang', the first ever to do the North Shore and ride the heavies, back when they were known to be impossible."
Butch had earlier been a three-sport letterman and a football and baseball star at La Jolla High. "It was said he was a shoo-in as a major league catcher," continued Pezman. "He was a tremendously strong and instinctive natural athlete, but his heart was more in WindanSea, the Shores, Maynard's all-you-can-eat spaghetti and beer nights, and cruzin' up to Swami's and down to Baja with the crew.
"Butch was a radical drinker (honorary mayor of the Long Bar in T.J.), fighter, surfer and very well known for his pranks up and down the coast. As Butch grew older, tales of his antics spread..."
"He was invincible. At one party in La Jolla," Steve wrote, "he squirted shaving cream all over some guy's date who thought she was hot stuff. Desperate to maintain his honor, the girl's date picked up an iron skillet off the stove, and with Butch's back turned, full force cold-cocked him over the head with it. Butch, who was chugging a cold one at the time, was seen to wince, buckle his knees slightly, but amazingly didn't go down, and then slowly turned around to face the guy, who by then had shrunk into a whimpering fool down on the floor pleading for forgiveness."
and lore surrounding Butch is deep and rich," Steve continued in an introduction
to a collection of Butch stories he ran as editor of The Surfer's Journal
in 1996, "from his WindanSea roots, to his early period on the North Shore
as the first King of Pipe, to his self-destructive final years. The
rare haole completely accepted by the Hawaiians as one of their own, Butch
could drink, fight, laugh and love with the best of them. He could
be gruff and frightening, yet tender and kind. He was a versatile
surfer, adept in both delicate smaller waves and the heaviest of the huge."
"Butch Blocks Home Plate"
"Butch and I played baseball together for La Jolla High School," Jim Helming told Hoyt Smith. "I was a pitcher and he was a catcher. Butch used to guard home plate like a bull. He would attack the base runners if they tried to come in to score. It didn't even matter if he had the ball. He would completely block the whole plate anyway, set in that same crouch that must have got him through those tubes at the Pipeline. Players would have to go directly through him. He got knocked on his duff quite frequently and I think he actually enjoyed it. He'd get up covered with dirt, his elbows might be scraped and bleeding and he'd have this huge grin on his face. That was the way Butch was."
continued Helming, "playing San Diego High School, which had a real good
team. We ended up beating them on this one play. The batter
hit a ground ball and this 200-pound guy tried to come in from third base
to score. The shortstop fielded the ball and threw it to Butch.
The ball bounced before it got there, but Butch blocked the plate so well
that he kept the player from reaching home. He was way up the baseline.
It was a heck of a collision, knocking Butch back three or four feet.
They both went down. Then Butch reached over, grabbed the ball and
tagged the runner out. It made the other team so mad there was almost
a brawl, whcih was never unusual with Butch around."
A later tale was told by Steve Pezman, who knew Butch before he moved to the Islands:
"Bob Beadle and I had loaded my '50 Ford woodie with watermelons from the field on Coast Hwy.," began Steve, "just north of Dana Point above Silver Strand, and motored south into Baja. We surfed that afternoon, trading melons for tacos and tequila. The next morning being Sunday, we headed north to Plaza Monumental, the bullring by the sea, outside of Tijuana, where el numero uno matador de México, Luis Procuna, was fighting that afternoon. Beadle and I bought tickets in the sun, then slipped down into the shade next to a crew of surfers that included Butch Van Artsdalen from La Jolla and some acquaintances from Seal Beach. Our downfall was the two watermelons we brought in with us soaked in tequila. As the day progressed, we ate from the melons and got smashed. The fight wound on. Procuna did poorly and the Mexicans around us began bombing the ring with fruit, bottles and cushions. Adding our watermelons to the barrage seemed like a good idea. It wasn't. They smashed poor Luis on the feet and covered him with melon bits, seeds and booze. The crowd's mirth turned to rage and we were arrested and led from the ring and handcuffed to a chain link fence surrounding the Plaza. After being subjected to untold humilities by a group of rowdy drunks full of beer who had suddenly become avid devotees of the matador (you can only guess what they did), we were taken to the infamous Tijuana jail. While spending the evening in an anteroom below the main cell blocks prior to being booked, we were told we had visitors. There was Butch with a lady friend -- a savior had arrived."
"'Hey man, what's your bail?' he asked. We didn't know. 'How much money do you have?' he asked. We had about eight bucks between us. 'Give me your money and I'll go back to WindanSea and raise a bunch more off the beach and come back and bail you out.' We were so stoked. We kept a dollar for emergency funds, (we ended up using it to buy drinking water so we didn't have to drink from the bucket they gave us to sluice the crapper) and gave Butch the rest of our cash and he left.
"Our dads mercifully arrived to bail us out two days later; we never did hear from Butch again. About a month after that I received a note from his lady friend. It seems that Butch had the best of intentions but stopped at the Long Bar for just one beer. After that his good intentions were history. Try as she might, she couldn't get him to leave until the money had all been drunk up and his memory of the earlier events of the day were erased. She sweetly had enclosed seven dollar bills along with her abject apology."
home," Steve concluded, "Beadle and I were heroes around our local beach
for a while. It turns out the La Jolla Breeze had run an article
with the headline, 'Hoodlum Surfers Throw Watermelon at Procuna.'
And while we were still kinda pissed, we eventually came to accept how
and why Butch had RF'd us."
Paddling for WindanSea
"It was the Winter of '62-'63," wrote Steve Pezman, beginning to tell of a tale Phil Edwards had told he and some friends, "and Phil Edwards was sitting at a table full of notable surfers of the period telling tales fo the Seaview Inn in Haleiwa. Phil was describing the fierce, almost maniacal force that he had once witnessed in Butch Van Artsdalen during a paddle relay race in which Butch was competing for his beloved WindanSea against teams from other beaches..."
"I was in shape at the time and feeling pretty strong," Steve recalled Phil Edwards saying. "Each leg was about a mile and his teammates had roused Butch out of a semi-comatose state to paddle the anchor lap. Butch had started his leg well behind me and I was comfortably in the lead rounding the last mark. Gradually, as I dug towards the finish, I could sense someone closing behind me, muttering something as they paddled. I looked and there was Butch, digging deep and... slowly... but... surely... paddling... right... by me chanting, 'Come on WindanSea!' with each stroke, over and over, like he was in a hypnotic trance. It was as if he willed himself by me, and at that moment, anyway, I was powerless to stop it."
a great and fiercely competitive racing paddler," Steve Pezman noted, "...
But his will to win could quickly be distracted to other games. At
a WindanSea two-mile paddle race, he was first around the buoy boat by
almost 200 yards, when when the race 'official' in the boat offered him
a pull from a jug of Red Mountain, Butch climbed in for 'a couple'.
One by one, the paddlers finally caught up to him, rounded the boat and
headed in toward the beach. Butch figured he'd wait for the last
straggler to go by then pass them all again easily, but by then he had
lost interest in the race completely and was more into laying back on the
boat. He finally came in around 5 in the afternoon. At one
of the early California surf contests, Butch's comment on the judging consisted
of throwing a stinking dead fish up into the judge's stand."
"The Day Butch Became King"
"When Butch went to the Islands," continued Steve Pezman, "he ws immediately accepted by the locals as one of their own, for while most haoles were too afraid to go drinking with da boys, Butch would match them 2 for 1, and was known never to back off from a friendly little head-cracking fight."
Steve told another story about Butch Van Artsdalen -- the day Butch became the first "King of the Pipeline," a.k.a. "Mr. Pipeline."
"It was the morning of a late November day during the Winter of '62-'63 on the North Shore," Steve recalled, "that Roy Crump and I were drawn to the beach at Pipeline on a really perfect ten-foot day. We had checked Sunset and it was going to be fine that afternoon, but we had time to go see the show.
"The brightest stars of the surfing world were gathered on the beach at Pipeline, and each was taking their turn out in the lineup -- each feeling required to establish their credentials in the newly crowned 'ultimate challenge' that was Pipe. You must remember, at that time, the place had only just been [regularly] surfed since the prior winter by a mere handful of the stoutest wave-men (well, a wave-woman had done it too. Candy Calhoun had bodysurfed it at six to eight feet, nicely blowing our minds a bit in the process. In fact, Butch was rumored to have dated Candy when she lived in Laguna -- that mythical coupling being a waterperson's version of Zeus and Aphrodite having a brief but cataclysmic fling)."
"Back to the story," Pezman redirected, "Ricky Grigg was just coming in from performing quite decently on a six -- or eight -- footer as Crump and I positioned ourselves off to the side of the rooting gallery down on the sand. Next up, Phil [Edwards] had to paddle out (the pressure was on each guy and it wasn't that enjoyable for them -- this was defense of reputation rather than a fun thing going on here). Edwards chose an inside four-footer, took off deep, managed a dangerously high, right-go-left top turn, dropped in a foot or so more, totally upright and relaxed, cross-stepped into forward trim and flew outta there (making a stylishly clean solution out of the ticklish problem) then straightened out and came right in, reputation gracefully intact, thank you. Crump and I nodded sagely -- Phil was cool. He hadn't gotten sucked into a high-risk wave by the crowd pressure. He had done it on his terms and then called it off."
"By then," Steve continued, "the beach was packed with the kings of surf. John Peck, Diffenderfer, Dick Brewer, to name just a few, and Butch, who had been studying the waves, decided to paddle out. Mike Doyle, who had paddled out earlier, caught a macker, ten plus, and it just collapsed on him and blew him to smithereens. His board was swept up hard on the granular sand and he washed in after it about ten minutes later. Crump and I were taking in the entire spectacle with rapt attention. Doyle came out of the water, droplets glistening on his deeply tanned, staturesque frame. As he walked up the beach toward his board, he held his hands away from his body and shook the moisture and sand particles from his finger tips, preening and pumped a bit from the considerable exertion of the swim."
"Suddenly," continued Steve Pezman, "Diffenderfer shouted, 'Check out Van Artsdalen,' and pointed out to sea. Butch was dropping in on a huge one. He was way too late and way too deep to make it. But with his animal instincts somehow matching up with the crusher wave, Butch held it in as he careened sideways down the face. Doyle, having twisted his upper torso so he could view what all the commotion was about, was sudden;y fast frozen in amazement at what he was watching. The curtain threw out and over Butch, then it erupted into a thundering explosion all around him, but we could still see the flash of his red trunks streaking through the falls. It was totally impossible that he could pull it off. Then Diff stood up and screamed, 'Come out of it, Butch! Come out of it!' That show of emotion absolutely stunned us. Then Butch did come flying out. We gasped in disbelief. Doyle fell to the sand face down, rolling over and over while muttering, 'Nobody does that! Nobody does that!'"
"In that instant," declared Pez, "Butch Van Artsdalen had become the first 'King of the Pipeline.' Crump and I looked at Doyle rolling in the sand, then out at the waves, then at the crowd on the beach screaming their guts out, then at each other and we just shook our heads.
winter, from Max Lim's cottages off to the right of the point, Bob Beadle
and I personally witnessed Tommy Lee at Waimea Bay paddle out alone with
no one that he knew of on the beach, ride five twenty-five foot waves from
behind the boil, then come in, slide his gun into the back of his '57 Ford
wagon and drive off without saying a word to anyone about it. And
I rode fair-sized Waimea and some big days at Sunset myself, but that day
at Pipe, when Butch came out, was my personal most memorable moment in
"Butch's Wild Rickshaw Ride"
George Lanning told this Butch story to Hoyt Smith:
"One night Butch said to me, 'Let's go to Waikiki and have some fun.' So his girl friend and I drove in from the North Shore. Butch was a member of the Duke Kahanamoku Surf Team at the time, so we went to Duke's nightclub and there was a big line of people waiting to get in. Right in front of the club was a rickshaw, which was chained to the post. They didn't give rickshaw rides in those days. We'd been drinking and were feeling pretty loose, so Butch grabbed the rickshaw, pulled the tow bar away from the side handle and slipped the chain off.
"The girl and I jumped in the rickshaw and Butch ran us through the International Marketplace, jumping up and down, getting real high off the ground, hollering 'Ching how, Ching how!' When we returned, this tourist couple, newlyweds, came up to us and the man asked if they could have a ride. He thought we were legitimate businessmen. I said, 'Oh, of course.' Butch didn't talk. He just kept going 'Ching how, Ching how!' We'd been drinking excessively. So Butch took them for a ride around the Marketplace. When they got back, they were very excited. The husband said it was the most fun he'd had on the entire honeymoon and slipped Butch a $20 bill."
the newlyweds left," continued George Lanning, "two big Hawaiian policemen
grabbed each of us by the neck and marched us up past this incredibly long
line to the front door. It was about 9 p.m. and everyone was waiting
to see the Don Ho show. The policemen knew who Butch was. They
told us how bad we were and how we shouldn't have been doing that.
Then they told the people at the door to seat us immediately, before we
got into any more trouble. The door people took us up to a front
row table. We had the best seats in the house. We ordered a
round of mai-tais and Butch disappeared. His girl friend and I were
sitting next to each other, wondering where he was. We couldn't find
him anywhere. Suddenly the show started. We looked up and there's
Butch on stage, wearing these giant sunglasses, dancing the hula and singing
with Don Ho."
"I met Butch for the first time as he screamed out from behind Peter [Cole] and me at Sunset," recalled big wave surfer Fred Van Dyke, "he yelled, 'Move, shoulder holsters, move,' did a switch stance as he climbed up the face and shot behind both of us. Paddling back out to the lineup he jibed us about being 'Chicken $@#!,' we should take off where the waves were a challenge. He did the same thing at Pipeline, always farthest back and the hairiest takeoff."
"However, the part of Butch's life that got less recognition," Van Dyke continued, "was his job as lifeguard at the Pipeline. He was one of the first guards on the North Shore along with Eddie Aikau. Butch loved his job and put in time beyond his daily schedule.
"While surfing Pipeline on late evenings after work, he continued to make incredible rescues. His concern was such that he would attempt to prevent a disaster before it occurred. With a patience that belied his sometimes rough demeanor, he would dispense friendly advice, handed out to both surfer and tourist alike that was almost always received with gratitude. He never made anyone feel insecure or in the wrong for getting into a tight spot in the surf, aside from his friendly jibes at his friends who all rode the shoulder in his opinion. After all, who would argue with Mr. Pipeline?"
"One day I was sitting on my surf check near Butch's tower. I had just taken a break from cutting my lawn which ran right down to the white sandy beach.
"Looking toward Pipeline, I saw Butch jump from his tower, run with his lifeguard board underarm, launch into the shore break, and sprint into the middle of the rip. I put the binoculars to my eyes and saw a small group of surfers supporting a motionless person.
"Butch arrived, deftly pulled the body up on his board and tandemed to the beach, spending only a few seconds to accomplish that much. Jeff Johnson and I ran down the beach and helped Butch carry the limp form up the sand. No life appeared. No pulse, no breathing. He was a black kid from Schofield Barracks, about 18, and for all practical purposes dead. A surfer had seen him face down on the bottom; how long he'd been down there no one knew.
"I felt sick looking down upon this young man, but Butch took command, ordering us to massage his arms and legs. The kid's face was blue, his eyes rolled up into his head. Butch, focused on resuscitation, leaned forward, checked for foreign objects in the throat, bent and breathed into the kid's mouth. His motion became a rhythm, push breath into the kid, lean backward and apply heart massage.
Minutes passed, Butch yelling, 'Damn it come back, come back.' in between breaths. Butch's face flushed. He appeared that at any time a blood vessel would burst, but he didn't let up. Ten, fifteen minutes passed. He screamed at us to massage harder, help him with the heart massage. Butch appeared to be the master surgeon, the man so involved that when, suddenly, the kid threw up into Butch's mouth, he only turned sideways for a moment, spit and went back to mouth-to-mouth.
"The ambulance arrived with the resuscitator and oxygen. Butch hooked the kid to the machine and sat back. Unbelievable, but suddenly I watched the young lad take a breath, his stomach convulse, and then he sat up. Butch supported him with all his strength and held him in a sitting position. Color returned to his face, and the kid stood, walked with the assistance of Butch to the ambulance. He would be all right.
"Things quieted down, returning to the tourist's 'oohs' and 'ahhs' while surfers took gas at the Banzai Pipeline. Butch asked me to watch his guard stand while he took a short break, walked back into the shade, opened a cooler, cracked a Primo and lit a cigarette.
that day of lifeguarding the same as all of the rest," Fred Van Dyke ended.
"He worked until he passed away... A gem of a surfer and a man who
breathed life into many a person."
"Riding a surfboard that weighed 40-50 pounds with a shape more like a rounded-off door in comparison to the sleek designs of today took an altogether different cut of surfer," Pipeline legend Gerry Lopez began his recollection of Butch. "The designs, or lack of, being what they were meant wipeouts were not infrequent and being a surfer required a certain amount of swimming skills as well. The image of the modern, light-weight, serious-minded, specialized surfer in the mold of Derek Ho or Tom Carroll is the exact opposite of the big, strong, carefree waterman of the '50s and '60s."
"In that time," continued Gerry Lopez, who, after Butch, was the second person to hold the "Mr. Pipeline" moniker, "'when men were men,' Butch Van Artsdalen was one of the best. A top surfer through the '60s, one of the North Shore pioneers, the original 'Mr. Pipeline,' an innovative switch footer, and an unrepentant partier. When the '70s and the shortboard came along, he moved easily into position as one of the early lifeguards on the North Shore.
"Anyone who has surfed at Sunset Beach knows there is no such thing as a simple or easy wipeout. And in those days, before the use of surfboard leashes, it didn't take long to find out there was nothing simple about the swim in either. I remember one afternoon session back in the early '70s, the swell running about 10-12' from the northwest and the peaks shifty and windy like usual. Suddenly, a huge set loomed on the horizon and everybody scrambled to get out of the way. I knew I was too deep and too far inside, but kept paddling anyway, up the face of the first wave with just enough momentum to break through the pitching lip. In that weightless airborne moment in the blinding spray, one glimpse was all I needed to see that the next wave was much bigger and was already breaking. Landing on the backslope, I took a couple of half-hearted paddles, hyperventilating like crazy, silently cursing my inattention in the lineup and rolled off the side as the thundering mountain of white water bore down on me. One of the good things about not wearing a cord is being able to dive deep and get under a breaking wave with little danger of being sucked up into the boiling cauldron. There are, of course, those occasional waves at Sunset that will just pluck you off the bottom and rag doll you so bad you don't know which way is up, but I was lucky on this set. The next step, having escaped the ravages of the first set, was to get out of the impact zone before the next set came in. The thought of a serious pounding is a powerful enough incentive to turn a weak swimmer into a Mark Spitz."
"In those days," continued Lopez, "as soon as you cleared the detonation area, you had to immediately start looking for your board. There was always a chance it would drift out into the channel and start going back out to sea in the rip. This was good if you spotted it because it would shorten the swim, but if you missed it, it wasn't like it is now where there's a lot of people watching on the beach or paddling out who could tell you where your board was -- back then it was sayonara surfboard. There were lots of guys who would paddle out on a brand new board, get caught inside, lose their board and never see it again without catching a single wave and ever knowing how it worked."
"Anyway," Lopez regrouped, "getting back to our story, I looked in, saw a red board on the beach and bodysurfed, swam and clawed my way in through the little channel between Val's and the Point, saving myself from that skin-removing scuttle over the reef in front of Val Valentine's old house. Running up the beach, I got that sudden sinking feeling as I could see the red board was not my red board. Not recognizing whose board it was, nobody had decals on their surfboards back then anyway, I stuck it upright in the sand so its owner could spot it from the water and dashed off down the beach towards the main channel in a mild panic. My board was nowhere on the beach, and this was the first time I had ever missed seeing it in the channel on the swim in. I was determined to never, ever, lose a surfboard in the rip at Sunset Beach, especially not my favorite red gun as I ran towards a couple of guys further down the beach. One of them was Butch and I asked if either had seen a red board in the rip. The other guy pointed out towards Kammieland and Butch and I both spotted it at the same time, about halfway out the channel.
"Butch just said, 'I'll go get it,' and jumped into the water. I yelled after him, 'Hey, what color is your board.' Remembering that big, heavy, old red board up the beach, I knew what he was going to say before he shouted back, 'RED,' and was gone, plunging out to sea in that mile-eating lifeguard stroke. 'Wait a minute,' I said, then somewhat feebly, 'Your board's on the beach, that's mine out there...' Not knowing what else to do, I sat down and watched him swim after my board which was really moving out with the current now, getting smaller by the moment. It was starting to get late, when the glare goes away and the light gets soft before the sun starts to set. I could see that he was making good time, only about a hundred yards or so from the board but way out there, almost even with the outside lineup when a big set comes rolling in at Kammie's, with the board right in its path. It drifts up the face of the first one, hangs in the lip for a moment then pops over the back. Butch is swimming like mad now, angling in from the channel as the board does a repeat on the second wave, doing a couple of barrel rolls as it flies over the back and lands in the trough. Butch manages to swim up and get a hand on it as the third wave breaks and whisks it away from him. I watch as the board tumbles all the way in on the last wave. As I walk down the beach to retrieve my board, I'm trying to think up what I'll tell Butch, knowing he's going to be really pissed. Finally he comes ashore down near the bridge and I run over as he comes up the beach.
"'Hey Butch, jeez. I'm sorry, that wasn't even your board and you really had a long swim.' I can remember him in that golden moment as the sun was setting, shaking the water out of his short-cut black hair (when everyone else had their's long), big and broad shouldered, striding through the sand in a pair of faded plaid Bermuda shorts with the pockets turned out.
"'No sweat kid, that's all I go out there for anyway. You guys can have the surfing. I just do rescue work and your board looked like it needed some help.' I looked at him sideways and he started laughing. 'Yeah, I saw you stick my board in the sand up there but I wanted to swim some more, so what the hell... anyway, if you don't want your board going out the rip, just bodysurf the biggest wave right in, it's more fun.'
"'Sure Butch, yeah that sounds, uh, good,' I answered kind of dubiously, 'and thanks again anyway.'
"'See ya, kid,' and he was gone.
know if he rescued any more boards, but he did go on to single-handedly
rescue more guys in trouble on the North Shore than probably anyone else
ever will. He was one of the last of a breed that started when surfboards
were made of solid wood and faded out when they became light little slivers
of foam and fiberglass. You won't find many like him anymore, but
there's a lot of guys like me who still remember the tales, but that's
"I was born and grew up sufing in the San Diego area in the early 1960s," began Kip A. Kennedy in a memorial story he told for The Surfer's Journal. The top surfers in the San Diego area at that time were Skip Frye, Mike Hynson and Butch Van Artsdalen.
"As young surf nazis, we heard a lot of the 'Butch stories.' Basically, Butch did three things equally well: surf, drink and brawl. Butch was quite the brawler. We had all heard the stories of Butch at parties and bars, such as Butch drinking and partying with some of the San Diego Chargers in the early history of that franchise. Allegedly Butch punched out a couple of their biggest linemen. Butch was notorious for drinking and carousing at popular Mexican bars south of the border, such as the Black Cat, the Blue Fox, the Chi Chi Club, the Long Bar and Hussongs. There were stories of Butch passed out in the back of his car at the old 'Maynards,' a famous surfer eatery by Crystal Pier, popular for its 25 cent spaghetti night. Then later on, the drinking and brawling stories over in the islands at such landmark spots as the Haleiwa Sands, the Outrigger Canoe Club, Duke's and other famous bars in Waikiki and Hotel Street, with such famous legends as the quarterback of the Washington Redskins, Sonny Jergenson, who was a good friend and drinking buddy of Butch's."
"Butch was also a very gifted athlete," continued Kip Kennedy. "We all know he became Mr. Pipeline, but before that, Butch was the King of 'Big Rock', La Jolla's answer to the Pipeline, where he ripped. Butch was an all-star baseball player at La Jolla High School, and was so good, the San Diego Padres signed him to a major league contract. But the call of the Islands was too strong -- Butch took his baseball signing bonus money and left San Diego and baseball to fulfill destiny and become Mr. Pipeline."
"In 1970," Kennedy retold, "I moved to Hawaii to work at Joey Cabell's Chart House in Honolulu and to surf the big waves of the North Shore. In 1973, I became a Honolulu City and County Lifeguard, and guarded at Sandy Beach for many years. In the lifeguard service at that time were many of the top watermen, including Eddie Aikau, Buffalo Keaulana, Jimmy Blears, Mark Sedlak, Mark Cunningham, Daryl Picadura, Bruce Lee, Teneé Froiseth, and, of course, Butch Van Artsdalen, who lifeguarded on the North Shore at Pipeline.
"On my days off from guarding at Sandy Beach in the wintertime, I would go up and surf the North Shore. I really loved bodysurfing at Pipeline where I would visit with Butch. We would sit on the bench under the plumeria trees next to his lifeguard stand and visit and talk story, usually about San Diego, surfing, sports, etc. These two stories that Butch told me have always stood out in my mind:"
"In the old days," Kip Kennedy retold a story Butch Van Artsdalen told him, "there used to be a plate lunch restaurant just before the Haleiwa Bridge called the Fly Trap. One day, Butch and his friends stopped there on their way to go surfing. After they had eaten and were leaving the restaurant, they noticed a big army troop carrier truck from Schofield Barracks pull up and the driver enter the restaurant. Butch passed by the truck and happened to look inside and noticed that the keys were in it. He then winked at his friends, grabbed his surfboard, thew it in the back of the army truck, jumped in, started it up, and roared down the Kam Highway with his friends in hot pursuit. After a couple of miles down the road, he made an immediate turn off the highway and crashed the truck through the jungle and kiawa bushes, all the way to the beach where he jumped out, grabbed his board and paddled out leaving the Army guys to figure out where their truck was and how to get it out of there."
"One day," Kip A. Kennedy told another story of Butch, "Butch and I were surfing at Ehukai Beach in front of his lifeguard tower and Butch was riding an old Hobie longboard. I commented to him afterwards what great rides he had gotten since he hardly surfed anymore. When we got out of the water, he showed me on his board where all the shapers, glassers, sanders, etc., had signed his blank with some pretty rude and funny stuff, such as 'Butch is a fag and can't surf,' etc., etc., and then he told me the rest of the story.
"The board was shaped and glassed at the Hobie factory in Dana Point. At that time there was vacant land next to the original Hobie shop which was full of king snakes and garter snakes. The guys who packed Butch's Hobie to send to Hawaii also threw in a couple of king and garter snakes to accompany Butch's board to the Islands. When Butch's rudely inscribed board arrived, Butch gleefully ripped open the end of this board box, stuck his hand in to pull his board out, and was immediately struck by a half-starved king snake who bit the shit out of him and coiled himself around his hand, while Butch did the dance of the serpent. Boy, I wish I had that board today."
Toward the end of his life,” Kip Kennedy explained, “Butch lived with a good friend of mine, Milton Beamer III, the manager of the old Surf Line Surf Shop in Honolulu. I still remember the three of us sitting on Beamer’s front porch on the North Shore, drinking and talking story.”
Butch died on the morning of July 18, 1979, his life cut short by alcoholism.
His sister Annette wrote me about Butch’s passing twenty-three years later:
“As I write this e mail there is still much pain and emptiness in my heart for my brother, Butch.
“My mother, sister and I flew to Hawaii as soon as the doctors at Wahiawa General Hospital called us and told us Butch was in grave condition and would need a caregiver that could stay with him 24/7. Butch had his own apartment at the time of his death… My Mom and I stayed in it part of the time during the month we were in Hawaii to settle Butch’s affairs.
“Fred Hemmings and Michael Tongg were lifesavers for my Mom and I… many people… were there, too... Fred was very much a part of making the funeral arrangements and giving a eulogy for Butch. However, Rev. Harvey Angel, of Haleiwa Baptist Church, was also present and led the service. There was also a couple that sang and played a guitar.
“As for the paddle out, I was blessed with the privilege of scattering my brothers ashes. He had been my BIG BROTHER and protector and taken such great care of me. The least I could do was muster up enough strength to scatter his ashes into the place his heart and soul loved, the ocean! As I scattered my brother’s ashes Fred was right there beside my sister and I. My Mom stayed on the shore with Rev. Angel.”
“When Butch passed away,” Kip Kennedy remembers, “Beamer called me and told me Butch was gone. He and I attended Butch’s funeral together at Pipeline. It was probably the biggest funeral ever seen on the North Shore at that time. I still remember that Fred Hemmings gave a beautiful eulogy for Butch, and then we all paddled out to the peak at Pipeline where Butch’s ashes were scattered. At the same exact time, there was a corresponding service at WindanSea... on the mainland. After the service at Pipeline, everybody went up to the park at Ehukai to drink and tell Butch stories.”
day," Kip Kennedy wrote, "I have a beautiful picture of Butch surfing at
the Pipeline that Dr. Don James shot hanging in my study. If there
is one thing I would like to see as a lasting tribute to Butch, it is someone
like Skip Frye, Donald Takayama, Mike Eaton, Mike Diffenderfer, Phil Edwards
or another reputable longboard shaper, design and shape a classic three-stringer
Butch Van Artsdalen Big Rock/Pipeline model in his memory. I would
certainly buy the first one."
“Most of the people who knew him,” wrote Fred Hemmings in his book The Soul of Surfing is Hawaiian, “would agree that Butch was one of the most handsome and athletically gifted surfers in the sport. He looked like a dark-haired Robert Redford. Butch was drafted by a pro baseball farm team after high school. He could consistently punt a football 60 yards. He played basketball like a pro. This guy had it all. He also had a fatal flaw.”
“Butch stories abound,” continued Fred. “He was the first Mr. Pipeline. A goofy foot, Butch perfected the art of pulling up tight into a Pipeline barrel. He was fearless. He rode big Waimea. Butch could switch stances naturally. He did it all. He also drank… too much.”
“Butch and I traveled with the Duke Team,” Fred went on, “and ended up partying and being wild men together. I was a weekend warrior drinker, too. After bouts with drinking, Butch had one of the strangest habits ever. He would sleep in precarious places. We once dropped a young lady off after a date. I was driving my mother’s old ’56 Chevy wagon. We started to drive back home, and I decided it would be better to pull over and sleep it off. I awoke later to find Butch sleeping under the car. Once, in San Francisco, we rose in the morning after being out on the town to find Butch sleeping in a planter box one story up, outside a bay window. Everyone who surfed in the sixties has a Butch story.”
“This is sad,” Fred wrote. “Butch was a terminal alcoholic. In the early seventies, when I focused my energies on the business of pro surfing, I dropped out of being a North Shore regular. Though great friends during our Duke Team days, Butch and I drifted apart. How tragic it was to periodically run into Butch and see that the ravages of alcoholism were slowly draining away his life. Butch drank himself to death at 38 years old [July 18, 1979]. Alcoholism, like drug addiction, ultimately destroys lives. We gathered on the beach at Ehukai for his funeral. After eulogies by friends, we took his ashes out to the Pipeline lineup.
“I learned too late that ‘enabling’ a friend with a terrible chemical dependency like alcoholism is not what true friendship should really be. In Butch’s case, we should have tried to help him stop drinking. God rest his soul.”
Sources Used In This Chapter:
Surf Shop, Online Store and/or Donations
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Copyright © 1992-2008 by Malcolm Gault-Williams... Aloha Nui Loa!