by Corky Carroll
I just got the news that Gary Propper passed away in his sleep on March 15. If there was anybody that I know that I would not have bet would have gone while sleeping it would probably be “GP.” The dude could party with the best of the heavy partiers. I would have picked him to drive off a cliff going 150 in a Lamborghini with two hot chicks sitting on his shoulders, or something flaming and flamboyant like that. But that is not the story that I will tell you about this dude, because the fact is that he was one of the most important and influential surfers of all time. Gary was the very first international surf star from the East Coast and one of the very best small wave surfers ever. He could ride two foot and under surf better than anybody of his era. In fact, in my life I have only seen two people who could ride surf that was seemingly flat to the naked eye and make it look like it was totally firing. The other is Tom Curren.
I first met Gary in 1964 when I was with Bruce Brown and Hobie premiering the surf film “Endless Summer,” and doing surfing exhibitions on the East Coast from New York to Miami. We had heard about this kid who was reported to be amazing and got a chance to watch him surf one day in Jacksonville. There was no surf that day to speak of, but Gary paddled out to show us what he could do. Rumors were true, he amazed us. He could take off on the tiniest of swells, crank a big sweeping turn and run to the nose, hang ten, run back, crank a big drop knee cutback followed by another sweeping turn and do a fly away kickout. All of this would happen within about 20 feet from the beach on a tiny swell that never ever would break. Hobie liked what he saw, and wheels were in motion to get him involved on the surf team. The next season saw the release of the Gary Propper East Coast model and the Corky Carroll West Coast model. Over the next five or six years we both would do very well with the relationship with Hobie and our boards selling very well. The first couple of years his outsold mine by far, then mine were the big sellers in the later 60’s. I don’t have exact numbers, but my guess is that we both sold upwards of 6000 boards with our names on them from 1965 to 1970. One of Gary’s models was called the “Eastern Star.” That was him, he was Mr. East Coast during the period that saw the biggest growth in surfing ever. And, no matter where the wave was, he could ride small waves as good or better than anybody.
GP was also a very driven and clever businessman. He was smart enough to invest the money he was making and set himself up for after surfing, something that not many of the early pro surfers even thought of. He became a very successful event promoter and brought many rising musicians and bands to the concert halls in south Florida. This led to him getting into management with successful stars such as Hank Williams Jr. and then later with comedians Gallagher and Carrot Top.
But, other than his surfing career, the big jewel in Gary's incredibly successful career was the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” He loved the comic book and bought the rights for movies and products. He made tons and tons of money with the Turtles and for a while retired to the island of Maui.
GP was never the kind of person to just relax and take it easy, that was just not in his DNA. He came to Southern California and that is when he took over the careers of Gallagher and then Carrot Top. I ran into him in Las Vegas one time when Carrot Top was playing there, he was so completely in his element there. He loved what you could call “fast times.” A true mover and groover.
The last time I saw Gary was at the SURF EXPO in Orlando two years ago when we both showed up to do an appearance in the HOBIE booth. Same big smile, swagger and energy as I first remember on that day in Jacksonville when we first met.
Gary Propper was a true icon in American surfing and an amazing person. RIP amigo.