Reprint from the BMS Archives
by Corky Carroll
Today I thought it would be fun to talk about one of the really great surfers of the past half-century, the one and only Mike Purpus. Mike was one of the top competitors of the 1960s and into the 1970s. You could find him in almost any final in any contest. He was one of those guys you really did not want to see show up in your heat. He was really good and really competitive and he knew the ins and outs of how to compete in surfing. I think he was a finalist at the United States Championship something like seven times as well as just about every other event on the West Coast.
My first memories of Mike were at competitions when we were both little kids in the “Junior Men’s” division. He and Dru Harrison were the hot up-and-comers from the South Bay. Mike reminded me a little bit of the legendary Dewey Weber. He was sort of short and stocky and had the bushy, bushy blonde hairdo — he looked exactly like what you would think a surf “gremmie” should look like. He also could turn a surfboard extremely well.
In later years, many felt he had “the best cutback in the business.” I would not argue that point. I remember one day I was paddling out at Lower Trestles, near San Clemente, and saw him lay one out so perfectly and so radically that I was blown away. And he did it with great style. The guy really could surf.
We kind of came up at the same time — I might have been a year or so ahead of him as I think I am a year or so older than him. He was definitely one of my main competitors. As we were not from the same area we never hung out together, would mostly only see each other at events or somewhere like on the North Shore. I always liked the dude, even though we were always against each other in the events. He is a really good guy, to this day. There were other dudes who were great surfers, but I could not say the same about their character as with Mike.
What I really appreciated about him was that he did things his own way regardless of what everybody else was doing, and he had my favorite personality trait — a great sense of humor. I have always said that if you are not afraid to embarrass yourself in front of zillions of people then you have a special gift. Mike surfed to his own drummer. Surfer magazine once did a feature where they asked a bunch of top surfers what they wanted out of life. Everybody was all wrapped up in the “soul brother” thing of that period and the answers were all like, “live in peace and harmony,” “find my inner soul and become one with nature,” “world peace,” stuff like that. It was the thing to say. Mike, on the other hand, confessed, “I wanna Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud full of naked women.” Hey, ya know what? I think I am going with his answer. Let the soul bros eat granola, show me the money. I love it.
Another of his famous quotes was, “I found out a long time ago that all the soul in the world can’t buy me breakfast
Truth is, Mike’s surfing was, and is, as soulful as anybody’s and way more than most. You look at Gerry Lopez deep at Pipeline and think, “That dude is the sultan of soul.” True. But check out a full-speed Mike Purpus cutback at Sunset Beach and tell me that isn’t a work of art.
Mike is one of the few guys from my era of pro surfing that is still surfing every day. I follow him on Facebook. I always see photos of him in some sucked out beach break gnarly barrel someplace in the South Bay. He can still do it, it’s obvious.
The best part is that he retains the stoke, it’s written all over his face. It makes me happy to see this stuff — I love guys who carry such a good vibe around with them.
I respect Mike Purpus for that, his great surfing, his unflinching charging on his own terms, and the fact that through all of that he is a truly good person. I am looking forward to the next time I get to surf with him. I hope it’s soon.