Corky on Changes in Surfing over the decades
by Corky Carroll
I can’t believe another whole decade has gone by. What I really can’t believe is that it’s gonna be 2020 and I am gonna be alive to see it, unless something unfortunately unexpected comes up between now and the first of the month. You never know. I always said the only thing golden about the so called “golden years” is our teeth.
But there actually is something else golden. It’s our memories. Well, if they are still there, anyway. I have a ton of them and they have become much better over the years as they have had time to mature and grow colors and lots of leaves and flowers on them.
With this thought in mind I figured it would be a good time to reflect back on the past 65 years that I have been surfing. I rode my first wave on a surfboard in 1955 in front of our house at Surfside, at the far north end of Orange County. I got my first board for Christmas in 1957 and grew up surfing the local beaches from Seal Beach to San Onofre.
When I started, all the boards were made of wood. It was mostly balsa wood at that time, although there were some with redwood still lurking around, especially at San Onofre. My neighbor, the infamous Tim Dorsey, started on a hollow paddleboard with square rails and no fin. That was also 1955.
Two things happened at the end of the 1950s that changed surfing radically. The first was the invention of polyurethane foam boards by Hobie Alter and Grubby Clark. This made the boards light enough that just about anybody could carry them and surf on them. My first board was wood and weighed three pounds more than I did. Foam boards opened the doors to just about everyone.
Then the movie “Gidget” came out in 1959 and surfing just exploded. All of a sudden surfing went from this thing a few lunatics along the California coast and in Hawaii did to a full blown “fad.”
The period starting with foam boards, say 1957 and on, is generally considered the “modern era” of surfing. The first big surfing event in California during this period was the West Coast Surfing Championship held at the Huntington Beach Pier in 1959. This grew into the United States Championship and then, eventually, into the U.S. Open of Surfing. The Makaha International in Hawaii already was going before that.
These were the beginnings of what has grown into a huge International sport that will be in the Olympics for the first time in 2020. I didn’t think that was ever going to happen.
The next huge transformation in surfing came in the years between 1966 and 1972, when boards went from long to short. This period is commonly referred to as the “shortboard revolution.” This equipment refinement totally changed the way we surfed and pretty much the way we even thought about approaching waves.
I am not sure how to explain this so most people can understand it, but before the boards got small it seemed like we were riding the board, which was riding the wave — it involved more thinking about what we were doing with the board. When they got small, it was all about riding the wave and being one with the board — like the board was part of our body and not something separate.
Some of us were making a living as pro surfers back then, although the income was nowhere near what they are pulling down today. Things started to change in that regard when they started the worldwide pro tour in 1976. People who came along during that era claim this was the start of “pro” surfing. I beg to differ on that one — we were getting paid and there was prize money well before that. But, that said, this was the forerunner of where professional surfing competition is today.
A lot of great surfers have come and gone over these 65 years. Just to name a few of the great ones that I have respected: Phil Edwards, George Downing, Paul Strauch, Mike Doyle, Mickey Munoz, David Nuuhiwa, Mike Purpus, Jock Sutherland, Gerry Lopez, Nat Young, Shaun Tomson, Peter Townend, Mark Richards, Tom Carroll, Tom Curran, Laird Hamilton, Kelly Slater and Kai Lenny. Among the women, Joyce Hoffman, Linda Benson, Margo Oberg and Lisa Anderson would qualify. There are so many more and not enough space, but these are just a few that stick out as being elite surfers.
I haven’t really had the chance to see many of the top ones lately. But suffice to say a lot of great surfers have come and gone.
Surfing also has changed a lot through this years — from charging along in a good “hood ornament” stance to getting huge airs and riding close to 100-foot waves. The equipment and surfing are just amazing these days too.
So, here we are at the end of another decade and heading into the 2020s. Normally my resolution at this time of year is to lose weight and keep surfing. This year I am gonna forget about the losing weight thing, who cares. My new goal is to be still surfing every day and writing these columns when it’s time to start the 2030s.
Corky Recommends a Good Action Sports film
by Corky Carroll
I get tons of email every single day of the year that is promoting one thing or another. I look at all of it just in case there might actually be something worth checking out. Most of the time it’s stuff like somebody wanting me to interview some chick who has a new cooking show online or some hype for the “most wonderful new product to hit the world ever and ever, and you get a free Ginsu knife as a bonus parting gift.” Usually none of this stuff has to do with surfing, beach culture, or anything else that I might want to write about. But, that said, every now and then I get something that actually turns out to be very cool. Something that I would definitely want to share with all of you out there in “readers of Corky’s columnland.” This week I have one of those.
There are three things that I personally love, have done most of my life, and have written about the relationship between all of them many times. Surfing, skiing and music. Snowboarding would fall into this same grouping because of its relation to both skiing and surfing, although I have to admit that I have been a lifelong avid skier and never really took to snowboards. Nonetheless, it’s part of the deal. I know that there are many of you out there who share the stoke for this grouping of activities.
So, there I am going through my emails the other day and I get a promo for a new “action sports short like no other.” It’s called “Fire on the Mountain.” Reading on I see that this is a movie that combines surfing, skiing, snowboarding and music. In fact the music is completely done by the Grateful Dead and the surfing by one of my all-time favorite surfers, Rob Machado. O.K. ya got me, I am thinking. So I hit the link to the movie and watch it.
Best wishes for Happy Holidays and a Healthy 2020 to all!
Man, this is a REALLY good little movie. The narration is done by Basketball great and notorious fan of the natural arts Bill Walton himself. For those of you under the age of consent, Bill is the father of Luke Walton who is the former coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. Bill is in the Hall of Fame, one of the greatest centers to ever play the game and UCLA alumni. The footage is fantastic on all levels. The snowboarding is done by Jeremy Jones, Danny Davis and Kimmy Fanasi. Skiing by Michelle Parker and Chris Benchetler. And, as previous mentioned, the surfing by Rob Machado. All of these riders are top dogs and the performances are outstanding. Rob getting deep barrels in Indo and the rest of them just shredding huge steep faces at Mammoth Mountain. State of the art stuff. Mix in outstanding photography, some interesting psychedelic effects, music that only the Dead can deliver and a lively and stoked Bill Walton on the microphone and ya got a real great little movie.
O.K. yeah, I might be a tad biased on this. I love everything that this movie is. Free flowing improvising blending surf, snow and music into a moving canvas of pure and natural art. Those of you who always claim that surfing is more of an art form than a sport can point to this film and go, “seeeeee, there it is.” It is a sport, but is also an art form and so is skiing, snowboarding and obviously music. Yeah, this is not an original concept and it has been done before in one form or another. But, once again that said, this one is REALLY good. Totally worth checking out.
The link they game me to watch the film is www.dead.net.FireOnTheMountain. You should check it out. Also the link to the soundtrack is https://Rhino.lnk.to/FOTMOST. Good to see my old pals at Rhino Records involved in this. Years ago they released a 4-cd box collection of surf music that I was part of. Great company, they actually paid the residuals on time.
On a different note, I would like to wrap up this column with a very sincere MERRY CHRISTMAS, Happy Holidays and Have a totally cool Yule to all of you. Wishing you all love, health and happiness.
Corky on Surf Machines
by Corky Carroll
It looks like the age of technology is catching up with the surfing world, or maybe it’s the other way around. I’m not really sure about that. Surfing, and surfboards, have always been based on equipment that was handmade and personally designed by a shaper / designer. Then, not all that long ago really, came molded boards and the “shaping machine.” The shaping machine pretty much does all the work and the shaper just has to finish the board off a little bit. They have board designs that are on computer chips these days. Who would have every thought this would happen back when Hobie and Grubby Clark were mixing up the first batches of polyurethane foam? The molded boards speak for themselves; they are made in a mold. We used to call these “pop outs” back in the dinosaur days. That’s back when we had to fight off T-Rexes and Raptors to get to the surf. Most of you weren’t born yet. The modern molded boards are generally lighter and more ding resistant than normal boards, but they do break in half easier for the most part. There are those who love them and those who hate them. My opinion is that, like most things, it all depends on the particular board you are talking about. My surfboards are all handmade but my stand-up paddleboards (SUPs) are molded.
Recently there have been more changes. Right off the top one of the most controversial and talked about changes are man made waves. Wave machines and wave pools. The most notable is Kelly Slaters “Wave Ranch” up in Central California. When I first saw video of this I was amazed. My first thought, and I am sure many others had the same one, was, “wow, I wanna ride that.” I can remember doing a surfing exhibition at the first wave pool back in Tempe, Arizona in 1969. It was called “Big Surf.” I can testify that Kelly Slaters wave is far far beyond the mush-burgers at Big Surf. It is so good, in fact, that they are now holding world rated surfing events there. You have stands, concessions, parking and the whole 9 yards. Just like going to most any other sporting event. To actually ride a wave there costs both arms, both legs and those of all your pals too.
Taking this even further we have all kinds of powered boards coming out right and left. A few years ago a company put out a powered surfboard that moved about three times the speed that a person could paddle. Made it easier to get into the lineup and to catch waves. The thing was really heavy though and that was a drawback. And the fact that the battery life was pretty short. There have been others that have almost made the market but for one reason or another, probably funding, haven’t. I was all into designing a board that would surf good and had a motor that actually had some speed to it a few years back. But the company didn’t have the resources and it never happened.
Recently a powered “foil” hit the market. Thing looks pretty cool but costs a lot. And I am not sure I wanna be around in the lineup when some beginner comes screaming along on a powered foil. Just normal ones are pretty dangerous, can you imagine getting hit by a foil going really fast? Ouch. But the concept is really interesting. Then recently I got a press release for a new powered “fin.” It’s a surfboard fin with a propeller on the back of it. Like the powered board this fin only adds a slight increase in speed. Catch waves easier for sure, I would have to try one to say how it effects the riding of the board. So far I have not had the chance to try one.
So here we have it. We show up at Kelly's Wave Ranch with a powered foil and one of those new watches that can tell you how far you ride, how fast you go and if you are cool or a kuk. Put on a battery heated wetsuit, waterproof iPod, set your watch and jump in. About as “mod” as you can get I guess. I have no idea how much this is all gonna cost, but it’s probably more than most of us can muster up for a few rides in fresh water.
Or, we show up at our local beach with a decent board and a normal watch that tells the time and maybe the tide but has no idea if you are cool or a kuk. Slip on your mildew smelling old wetsuit and paddle out. Total cost very low and it’s mostly all natural. You do have a bar of that new “glutton free” surf wax I assume.
What an age we live in.
Corky on Bob "Ole" Olsen
by Corky Carroll
Hardly anybody is still surfing when they hit their 90th birthday, a few but not many. Even less are still hand shaping quality and highly sought-after surfboards. Bob “Ole” Olsen is doing both. And the dude is not missing a beat either. He is in great shape, healthy and moves like he is a young buck in his 40’s or 50’s. As an example let me tell you about the last time I was with him. It was at the Vintage Surfboard Auction in Honolulu only a few years ago. They had invited a few special guests to the event, of which Ole and I were a part of, and put us up in a hotel in Waikiki. On the day of the auction a van picked us up and took us to the arena where the auction was to be held. In the van were Greg Noll, Bob McTavish, Lance Carson, Ole and me. When we got to the arena, and they opened the doors to the van, Ole jumped out and ran into the building while the rest of us sat there in amazement before trying to pry our old bones outta the van. Totally incredible man.
So Ole just celebrated his 90th birthday on November 28th at his home in Lahaina on the Hawaiian island of Maui. Probably had a surf session and shaped a board or two before cake. Although I doubt if he actually ate any cake, he is a devout “only eat green” guy. He pointed that out to me on that day in the van when I commented on what great shape he was in and he commented on what great shape I was not in. Hey, I like cake.
A little background here. Ole started surfing in 1946, before even I was born. He started shaping surfboards in 1958 to augment his job as a wood shop teacher here in Garden Grove. One of the classic Ole stories was how he lost half of the first fingers on each of his hands. The first was when he was showing his students how to work a certain power tool in the wood shop class. Cut the thing right off just above the middle. On the anniversary of the day he made that error they gave him a “farewell to the finger” party at school in commemoration. Leaving campus he went to jump into his new VW Van and noticed that one of the pop out windows was open and went to close it. Unfortunately for Ole he accidently had his first finger on the other hand in the window when he popped it close. Cut the puppy right off in exactly the same spot as he did the other finger. Voila!!! A totally matched set.
I first met Ole when he opened his shop in an old Quonset hut in Sunset Beach in the early 1960’s. His shop manager was the notorious Timmy Dorsey, who would go on to become a world class surfer, legendary lifeguard and is now my next-door neighbor all these years later. One day Tim told me that Ole had been watching me surf and felt that I might have some potential. He offered me a “team deal” on a new board. The deal was that I could get free color, anything I wanted, if I ordered a new board. I was ecstatic, mostly over the term “team” I think. Within a short time, and with the help of my dad and my paper route, I was riding my first “team” board. A red, white, and green Ole that looked like a big Mexican flag. (Note: more on the story of this board is in my new book “Not Done Yet.” Launch is Saturday, Dec 7th at 5 AM, go to CorkysNotDoneYet.com to score a PDF copy.)
Ole moved his shop to Seal Beach in a building on Bay Blvd that my pal Scott Hoxeng lived in upstairs. In 1962 Hobie Alter, of Hobie Surfboards, bought out Ole and began producing the Ole line. He hired Mickey Munoz to be the manager of the shop and Mickey recruited me to be a team rider, along with himself. It was kind of the kickoff to a long and very successful relationship with the Hobie company that is still going today.
After Ole made the deal with Hobie he decided to pack up and move to Maui. Hobie only used the Ole name for a couple of years and then Ole was free to start making his own line again. So he opened up in Lahaina and is still there shaping and surfing away as we speak. Each August they hold the “Ole Classic” surfing event over there and it’s one of the longest running, and most fun, surfing contests on the planet.
And so with all that in mind, here’s to Bob “Ole” Olsen. A happy 90th birthday and we will be looking forward to number 100. (Geeze, that means I have to make it another 10 years and still be writing this column.)