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.