By Corky Carroll
I spend way too much time on Facebook and I know it. But, in my defense, I get a ton of info there and come up with ideas that would not surface if I didn’t. As I spend way more time more or less “off the grid” than on it, tucked away at my happy and warm little tropical getaway, the internet and social media keep me at least somewhat it touch with reality, or at least the current state of what people are thinking. Lately there have been some photos posted of the late great Butch Van Artsdalen and suggestions that I write something about him. I have done this, but it was decades ago and I guess it’s time for a redo, or at least fresh look.
Butch was a very wild dude, anyway you slice it or dice it. He was an amazing surfer and just one of those all-around gifted athletes. He lettered in Baseball, Basketball and Football three years in a row at La Jolla High School, after moving to San Diego from Virginia at age 14. He took up surfing at Windansea, one of La Jollas heavier surf spots, shortly after and within a short amount of time was one of the standout locals in the line-up. He started surfing in most of the contests here in California in the early 1960’s and also was a solid paddle board racer. The dude was ultra-competitive.
During the winter of 1962-63 Butch went to Hawaii and became the first guy to really ride the famous “Pipeline” in a dominant kind of way. It had been ridden before him, but he was the first to really do it well. He was nicknamed “Mr. Pipeline” after his performances there, which were well documented by tons of surf movies and magazines. This was later passed down to the great Gerry Lopez some years later. But it was Butch who really showed us how to ride the place in the beginning.
I met him at a few of the surfing contests but didn’t really get to know him until I started working at the Hobie shop in Dana Point when I was about 14. Butch did repairs in a little shed behind the shop and also lived right down the street from where I shared an apartment with a couple of pals. I loved the dude, he had a great personality and was easy to laugh, my favorite trait. But, I learned really fast not to stop by to say hi much after dark. Butch surfed hard, worked hard and drank hard. Mister totally cool could turn into Mister really mean really fast. Best to avoid that part of the package if possible.
Although, on the North Shore of Oahu, where his life more or less had to take him, this kinda worked in his favor. His fearless hard charging surfing in the biggest and most gnarly waves combined with his love for drinking, fighting and general all out rowdiness was endearing to the local Hawaiians, many of whom shared the same kinda approach to life. The dude just was one of those “go for it at all costs” kinda people. He was super fun to surf with, especially when the waves were really big. His total “isn’t this incredibly fun” kind of attitude could spill over onto those of us who were kinda, well lets be honest, scared. Many times I took off on waves steeper and deeper than I might have if Butch hadn’t been yelling out, “yeaaaah, GO FOR IT!!!!” And he would give me a hoot if I made it or laugh his butt off if I ate it like a rat. To him it was all fun. I think Butch would have made a great pirate if he had lived in different times.
He became a lifeguard on the North Shore, probably the most dangerous lifeguard job in the world. He was one of the few people with the nerve to charge rescues in the most challenging situations.
Butch lived hard and died just as hard, drinking himself to death in 1979 at the young age of 38. A big ceremony was held for him at Pipeline and his ashes were scattered into the lineup, the rightful place for him. One of the greatest surfers ever.