What's your most memorable surfing experience?
by Joel "Salty" Saltzman
Corky is the professional writer and I'm just the IT dude, but had an idea that I'm hoping Corky runs with called "Best Surf Stories". Anyone who has been surfing regularly for decades, surely has had some memorable oceanic experiences. I have had a whale's tale nearly knock me off my board. I have seen bails of weed floating by me in the surf. One of my buddies, now known as "Dolphin Danny" was injured after I saw a dolphin jump and land on his back while he was laying on his board. None of that stuff even comes close to my most mind numbing dolphin experience though. I thought this story had been long lost but SwellMagnet Mike just dug it up from his archives. This is a 100% unembellished, true story with witnesses. My regret is that it happened well before all the cameras showed up at the beach. Enjoy, and please share any amazing experiences you may have also had. We love this stuff...
Almost every longtime El Porto local has "met" the friendly Manhattan Beach dolphin pod at one time or another. Perhaps they chose to surface within arms reach or if you were really lucky, shared a wave with you. This is my true story of an event that I will never forget for the rest of my life.
On a warm summer morning nearly two decades ago I decided it was too nice a day not to paddle, even though it was only waist-high at best. The sun was out and the water was so clear I could even see the bottom. All of my friends had already surfed and left the parking lot. I lazily paddled my longboard over and joined a pack of 5 other guys I did not recognize in front of 40th street. It was very inconsistent and mushy except for the very occasional set wave. After 20 minutes of nothing, I had the great fortune of being the only one in the group to spot the best set of the day in time. After paddling out an extra 30 yards beyond the pack, I picked off a 3 foot glassy roller that barely broke. As I approached the pack riding straight towards the beach I was stunned to notice a dolphin was directly underneath me with another 2 flanked on each side of my rail within 1 inch. Initially I was sure that I would hit them but they remained in perfect formation with me in the center. After sharing the wave for about 20 yards with them, I decided to do soft "S" turns only to realize that these dolphins seemed to know exactly what I was going to do before I did. It seemed like they were playing a game to see how close they could come to my board without actually touching it. I surfed with them all the way to the sand without them touching my rails or bottom despite being within 1/2" away the whole time.
Once I reached the shore, I stepped off my board and quickly turned around just in time to see them all do an 180 turn in unison seaward about 5 yards off the beach. Like a golfer hitting a hole in one, I quickly looked all around me to see if someone else had the good fortune of seeing this but no one was hanging around on the beach or in the parking lot. Even though I had decided this was going to be my last wave, I paddled out again just to ask the group if they had seen what I had just experienced. The first guy I encountered responded with "that looked bitchin, dude". Not knowing whether he saw the dolphins or was just commenting on the wave, I said "But did you see those three dolphins". He looked at me and said, "three dolphins? I saw three dolphins on each side of your board with one underneath all the way to the beach for a total of seven". We watched them all surf with you to the shore. At this point two of the other surfers acknowledged that they too had seen this and I wasn't hallucinating. It happened!
Later that morning I told my friends, family, employees and anyone else who would listen about this strange ride. Most of them looked at me like I had been held under water too long. At about 5:00pm the same day, I realized I had no wax for the following morning. I stopped by Beckers Hermosa Beach Surfshop to purchase a few bars. As I approached the counter with the wax, I saw the "that looked bitchin, dude" guy in an animated discussion with the Becker sales manager behind the counter. He spotted me, his jaw dropped like he saw a ghost, and he pointed in my direction shouting "hey, hey, thats the dolphin dude!" We spoke for several minutes about this amazing event regretting that no one had gotten it on film or tape. Anyway, after this experience, I came away feeling that the dolphins were the real El Porto locals. Fortunately for us, they seem much less territorial than we are and obviously enjoy sharing their waves.
Over the years since, I have seen what may be the same pod with an enormous male who I would swear looks and gives me a nod when they pass by as if he recognizes and old friend.
Corky on Skid Row Surfers
by Corky Carroll
I was recently asked to write an advice piece to younger up and coming surf stars on how to avoid the disasters of the big financial fall off when the glory and limelight years of their surfing years come to an end and the prize money and sponsorships dry up. And they will. Kelly Slater may have an argument to this, but that dude is far from the norm and you can’t count on being on the pro tour into your eighties like he seems to be aiming for. Surfing is a young person’s sport for the most part.
With the big wave tour now happening it does open up the door for people being able to compete and draw sponsorships at older ages than before. But still, no matter how great you are at some point it’s going to taper off and come to an end, trust me on this. It was pointed out to me that there are some fairly well-known surfers who are for the most part penniless and living on the streets. “Skid Row surfers,” if you will. So, how to avoid that kind of thing is the question for the day.
Surfing is just like any other sport, so this holds true no matter which one we are talking about. Your big money producing years range from the late teens through mid-thirties, if you are lucky to have a long and successful career. And during those years, especially the middle of them when you are at your peak, it is really easy to think that this kind of income is going to last forever. When you are 25 it seems impossible that you will ever be 45. You are superhuman and life is wide open. This is when you need to also be super smart and realize that, even though you don’t think it’s gonna happen, one day this income is gonna be gone. And what are ya gonna do? It can come as a huge shock too. It can come early in the event of a bad injury or something of that sort. And it is a fact that the big surf companies only want to use the hottest young talent in their ads. Their big market is teenagers, so they advertise to that demographic. As an example, when I was in my 40’s I was still a very well-known surfer. I was in a number of national television commercials, including a series of them for Miller Lite Beer. One day I was out reading for a part in something and I ran into a guy who told me that his son was a pro surfer. I had not heard of this guy and it turns out he was like number sixty something in the rankings. He had a $600,000 a year sponsorship from one of the big surf companies. At that time I was lucky to get a free bar of wax, and I was infinitely more well known than that guy. The key thing was, and is, they want YOUNG people, not some old geezer in his 40’s. I am pretty sure the surf industry has come down a bit in the big money deals for pro surfers too, so if you are fortunate enough to get where you can pull down some big bucks these words are for you. Put a large amount of what you are making now towards ensuring you will be able to survive after the party is over and the lights go out. Buy a home, and if you can pay it off even better. Having a home and no house payment is huge. I can’t tell you where or how to invest, but that is exactly what you should do. My mom always told me to stay away from fast cars and fast women, advice I totally ignored. But, looking back, that is really good advice. I really did NOT need those Porsches and Jaguars that I wasted a ton of money on. You don’t either. If you don’t know where to put your money then find somebody trustworthy who does know and get some help. But don’t just spend it all in a blaze of glory and think it’s still gonna be there tomorrow.
Now, to those who are in the surfing game but not at the level to be pulling in the big bucks. If you plan on staying in surfing after your competitive years then it’s time for you to think of exactly how you are going to be able to do that. This is not easy either. Good jobs in the surfing industry and not as bountiful as they might have been in years past. You need skills of some sort. Can you sell? There is always work for people who can sell stuff. In surfing or anywhere else. During one lull in my life I sold cars for a while. Or another way is to come up with a business that is successful and be your own boss. Don Craig, amazing surfer and cool dude, is a great example of this. For years he was a sales rep for a number of surf companies. Through this he saw and opening in the market that he would plug into, the highly neglected geezer demographic. So he started making “Old Guys Rule,” t-shirts. They went so well it became a super successful company and his years of being a sales rep were over. There are other stories of this same kind out there. Find something you can do and take it from there.
The key thing is just don’t do nothing and think you will be ok later because you are ok now. Prepare now and be happy later. The “Golden Years” are closer than you think and they are NOT at all what they are cracked up
My first leash experience
by Corky Carroll
One of the questions I get asked a lot is about surf leashes. There are many longboarders who do not use them due to the fact that the cord always wants to get tangled around your legs and feet when you walk the nose. But there are also many people who think that everybody should use them for the safety of everybody else. It’s a good discussion and I have talked about it here before, and probably will again. But today I wanted to share with you a story of what happened to me one day surfing the Huntington Beach Pier and how the surf leash came into play.
This was back in the 1990’s and there had just been a couple of lawsuits against surf leash companies because they had got tangled around one thing or another and a guy drowned because of one of those instances. The claim was that they were too hard to get off underwater, especially when getting churned by a wave at the same time. So, they came out with a safety release pin surf leash. It had a little pin with a ring on it that you could pull and it would release the leash from your leg. A friend of mine who owned one of the big leash companies came to me when he had a prototype and asked me to give it a try and see how I thought it worked.
So I used it for about a week and never had a situation come up to try it out. But then one day I paddled out at the Pier in Huntington Beach when a big south swell was running. Big lefts were coming up the beach on the south side and raging through the pier full bore. I had ridden a couple waves successfully and was on one of the bigger ones and entered the pier with the plan to make it out the other side without having to go around any pilings. To do this you have to enter just inside the first piling and have a ton of speed. IF you play it just right you can get out the other side in the same gap between the lines of pilings. But it didn’t go that way. As I was tucked into the wave and fully committed to blasting out the other side, in the same line, I realized that I was not going to make it and it was too late to straighten out to go around the piling that was right in front of me, looming large and full of razor sharp barnacles. So, doing the wise thing, I dove off into the face of the wave. Thankfully I got washed out the other side without hitting anything. And my board did too. The bad part was that my board had gone around that last piling and now it was hung up by the surf leash.
A huge wave was coming and I was getting drug away from the pier by the current, but my board was struck hanging from the piling, the leash stuck on the top of the barnacles as the water sucked out for the oncoming wave. In short, I was in a jam. But then I remembered I had on the pin release and I reached down and pulled it. Voila, it came free and my board dropped from the piling. As it did the nose hit the water first and sprung the board directly at me, the fin making it turn sideways just as it got to me. This made it perfect for me to climb on and paddle as fast as I could to just make it over the upcoming crusher wave that was about to cream me.
As I got over the wave and let out a happy “whew,” there was a guy sitting there on his board that had seen this whole thing happen. He looked at me and commented admirably, “Wow, you REALLY know what you are doing!!!”
All I could do was laugh and say, “Yeah, that stuff happens to me all the time.”
The dude paddled away and I think he thought that I was being serious.
Corky's Time Machine
by Corky Carroll
I get asked often to talk about certain people, events or periods in my surfing life that have stood out to me as meaningful. With that in mind I thought that today I will do a little visit back to the summer of 1963 when I went to Hawaii for the first time and spent a couple of months surfing Ala Moana, on Oahu’s south shore. This was a very meaningful time for me as it changed my approach to surfing and had a lot to do with teaching me how to keep my mouth shut when it did not need to be yapping like it normally did.
Ala Moana is a great surf break, screaming fast left hander with a big bowl section at the end when it’s bigger. I love that spot. Here is a paragraph from my new book, “Not Done Yet.”
“It was on my first day out there that I met two of my all-time surfing idols, even to this day. George Downing and Paul Strauch. The waves were big, bigger than I was used to anyway. And they had the Hawaiian power and speed which was much more powerful and faster than California waves. I had taken off on a big set wave and was screaming down the line going as fast as I could go. All of a sudden I was deep in a very dark tunnel and the wave was roaring over my head like a freight train. I panicked and jumped off, in the process I think I let out a very girlish like scream. George and Paul had been paddling out and saw, and heard, the whole thing. When I came up they were both rolling off their boards laughing. Geeze, how freaking embarrassing was that. Two of the biggest surf stars on the planet having witnessed THAT. Argh! But, to my amazement, when I finished swimming all the way in to get my board, and had paddled back out to the lineup, both of them were super friendly and offered kindish words of encouragement. It was a humbling afternoon to say the least. “
That summer I got to witness first-hand the surfing of some of the greatest riders in the world, ones that I had only seen in the surf movies up to that point. One of them that really impressed me was Conrad Canha. He was known for being able to keep standing through the heaviest sections and whitewaters. He was a kinda bow legged and thick dude and was in his mid-thirties and slightly balding. But it was his “tube riding” that stood out to me. This guy was getting deeper in that bowl section than anybody that I saw for many years surfing there. In a 1967 interview in SURFING magazine Conrad said, “There is a bowl section there, and if your timing is right, you can get locked in. I mean, completely locked in. People can’t see you from shore. When I’m making a ride like that, there is a feeling there that I’m all alone, just me and the wave, and nobody around me. All you can see is just a little hole in front of you. It’s fantastic!” He was kind of a prequel to Gerry Lopez.
Then there was a whole crew of guys who were amazing that you never heard of. Buzzy Knubell and Ivan Vanetta stand out in my memory banks as two of the best young surfers I had ever seen, not sure what became of them but at that time they were A list Ala Moana flyers. Jackie Gonzales too. “Gonzie,” also was a musician and I still remember he had a cool song called “Temple of Colors” that he showed me many years later on the North Shore.
Sometimes Freddy Hemmings would come out, he was close to the same age as me and was already riding big waves out at Makaha. Jeff Hakman too. So many great surfers that it made me realize that I wasn’t as good as I had thought I was before going there. I needed to be quiet and try to stay under the radar, they did not take to loud mouthed California “haoles” who thought they were hot. One day when I was first there a good local guy named Roland Toku aimed a spear at me, this more than less made the point very clear.
So, that summer was a lesson in surfing more powerful waves and going fast which definitely changed my style and approach to surfing. I came home and won the United States Championship in the Junior Mens division shortly after. It also gave me a big dose of learning how to shut up. Of course I still had a big mouth, no mistake about that, just not as big.
Corky on East Coast Legend Balsa Bill Yerkes
by Corky Carroll
This is the story of my pal “Balsa Bill” Yerkes. Bill is as laid back a hard-core surfer as you are gonna find anywhere and has seen all sides of the surfing industry with over 50 years in the business. He is currently 72 years old. Here is how he got there.
Originally born in Mount Holly, New Jersey. He would learn to surf at Malibu when his parents made a brief move to California in 1960, at which time he fell in love with the sport and the lifestyle that went along with it. He went back to the East Coast and became one of the better surfers there at that time, riding boards made by the great Charlie Bunger. Bill also had a knack for photography and started making surf films of East Coast surfing and surfers. He made “How the East was Won” in 1967 and “A Way of Life” in 1968. Many years later he would put together another one, “Summer of ’67.” In 1968 Bill received a degree in film from Ithaca College in New York.
In the seventies Bill relocated to central Florida and became the licensee for SUNDEK, a company known for its bright colored shirts and surfwear. Within a short amount of time he built it into one of the biggest and most sought after brands in the world.
This is where I enter the story. I had met Bill back in the 60’s at some of the surfing events on the East Coast and we had become friends. When I was running the Advertising Department at SURFER magazine from 1976 to 1986 we worked together on the advertising campaign for SUNDEK, and became closer friends. This led to me leaving SURFER and working with Bill for a few years doing “CORKY” clothing and surfboards under the SUNDEK umbrella. We had an office in Capistrano Beach.
I love Bill, he is like a stoked surf gremlin and he is my age. As he downsized with the shrinking of the surf industry at the end of the 1980’s he kept a line of great surf trunks alive under his own name and made screened t shirts for a number of companies in Florida.
He eventually opened a great little surf shop, “Balsa Bills,” in Satellite Beach, Florida where he makes and sells custom made Balsawood Surfboards. He is a master balsawood surfboard craftsman. He is also a great musician, plays the heck of the ukulele, piano and guitar. He worked with the Beach Boys putting together the great coffee table book, “Surfboards, Stratocasters and Striped Shirts.”
If you go into his shop he will most likely be kicked back playing some vintage Hawaiian song on his Uke. He also sells ukes and will be happy to teach you how to play one if you have the time. He goes surfing on his personally crafted wood boards out behind his shop regularly and also makes it to Waikiki every year to hang and surf with the heaviest of the local beach boy crew. Bills vibe and attitude is all positive and all about surf history and respect. He is an astute surf historian, especially on East Coast surfing. A close pal with Murph the Surf, Dick Catri, Gary Propper and the Slater family. Bill gave Kelly Slater his first sponsorship and Kelly’s mom a job working for SUNDEK. I met Kelly for the first time when I was the MC for the “Sundek Classic” surfing event in Florida. He was maybe 10 at the time and winning the “boys” division of the contest. I clearly remember saying on the microphone, “this kid is going to be World Champion one day.” I was right, he did it eleven times.
Balsa Bill Yerkes is a “real surfer,” to the bones. Never won a major championship but has none the less has been a major player and huge influence on the surfing world over the past 50 years. And I am proud to say is my close friend. Not sure why it has taken me th
Lot's of Surf options in the OC
by Corky Carroll
This morning I was sitting here thinking about how Orange County has so many great surf spots to choose from. No matter what time of year it is there is always somewhere to go to catch the swell as we have places that are good on just about any direction of swell. As I was pondering this it also came to me how each of our different areas seems to have its very own personality, or “vibe” as you might want to call it in the hipper vernacular. North county and south county are like the north and south pole, with the other spots like a sandwich in the middle.
Let’s start at the far north end and work our way down. The Seal Beach, Surfside and Sunset Beach area is a little world all onto itself. The surf spots there tend to be frequented by locals and those coming down from nearby Long Beach. As the freeway takes most people going south right past those spots, with the promise of maybe better waves farther along most don’t choose that exit and keep going. You get a definite hard-core small-town surfing vibe there. Locals are fine with you not stopping and happy in their own cocoon. It blows out there earlier than anywhere else too.
Then the greater Huntington Beach world surf center. Make no mistake, this is one of the world’s foremost surfing areas and the vibe tends to be an unusual blend of global and the hardest of core locals you can imagine. The main spot is, of course, the Huntington Beach Pier. Some of the best surfing on the planet takes place each and every day on both sides of that thing. Unknown kids that are groundbreakers are abundant. It’s also one of the hardest places to get a wave you can find. Very aggressive out there. Inked and pierced meanies with red glowing eyes and forked tongues slashing lips like Wearing blenders. I swear I have seen dudes out there with actual horns on their heads, chicks too. It’s a world class stage.
Then you get to Newport Beach, another “off the freeway” and even “off the highway” spot. A ton of great surfers there and a very tight knit surf community. Not hostile, yet “locals” none the less. Surf is fickle, can be great or can be junk. Most that surf there live there or just like that salty beach town feeling. Again, most pass by five miles inland on the 405.
Laguna Beach is in its own totally different world. It is a beach town yes, but not in the traditional sense. It’s more of an art town, combined with great musicians, interesting characters and has surfing and surfers tossed into the mix to add color and spice to the stew. Lots of rocky coves and a few intersecting surf spots, not easy to ride and mostly only by those who are dedicated to riding them on a daily basis. I love Laguna Beach, not for the surfing as much as it just has its own culture.
Then you have the Dana Point area. Not sure how to describe this. It was once the focal point of the surfing world back in the glory days of Hobie, SURFER magazine, Clark Foam and Bruce Brown Films. Very good surf spots that ranged from Salt Creek, Killer Dana (the cove) and Doheny State Park. A lot has changed since then with the addition of the Harbor and all the hotels etc. When it was just Pacific Coast Highway as the main up and down the coast route this was a popular area to stop and surf. Lot’s of great and colorful surfing people lived there. Now it’s kind of one more “off the freeway” area that seems to still get surfed but there is not the hard-core surfing vibe that you would feel farther north, or farther south. A lot of “boat” people there.
Then lastly we come to what I like to generalize as “south county.” San Clemente to San Onofre Surf Beach. Some of the best surf in the world, and certainly on the West Coast, gets ridden along these beaches. San Clemente itself is a lot like Newport Beach in the fact that mostly only those who live there surf it’s beaches. Very beach town. But at the south end you have the great reefs at the “Trestles” and San Onofre spots. The points at “Trestles” will feature the best surfers and best surfing all the time. It’s a showcase for that. Very aggressive, yet with the fact that there are people from all over out there, going for it, there isn’t as much of a “local” vibe as a “top talent” vibe. The good guys rule, period.
And San Onofre is still the good old family surf beach even after all of these years of State Parkage change and all of that. It still has the same vibe as back when I first started hanging out there in the late 1950’s, even many of the same people. A lot of those people were already old back then. Family beach, don’t take offense if everybody rides the same wave. Lots of history there.
And there you have my off the top of my head vibe trip thru O.C. surf areas. I only touched on the main areas, there are other pockets of action
Corky's Annual Tips
by Corky Carroll
Yes kiddies, this is my annual tips column on how to survive going to the beach this summer. This has absolutely nothing to do with Covid 19, by the way. As always, this is aimed at newbies and other non-beach-oriented people who might be a tad clueless when it comes to the hazards to your health from what would seem to be a fun day at the beach. For those of you who have read these in years past, and yes I pretty much say the exact same things every year, I suggest you stick with me and read this one too, just as a refresher in case you forgot any of this helpful information.
First off, and probably most importantly, that big ol' summer sun is not in any way your friend. Yeah, you are looking to put on a nice glorious golden tan and look all cool and weathered in your summer outfits. That’s all good and fine, but you need to do this without getting sunburned, and that is the issue that most people either overlook or are not aware of. Sunblock is your friend, your very very good friend. You will still get plenty tan no matter how much you use, and you should use plenty of it. Put it on at least twenty minutes before you go into the sun and reapply it fairly often. Yeah, it says it lasts all day and is water resistant and all that, but it lies. You need to keep using it, especially if you go into the water. I know that there are some of you with the opinion that you can hang out for a little while, getting “color,” before you apply any protection. This is a really bad opinion because you will burn. I cannot impress on you how important this is. Todays sunburn is skin cancer twenty years from now, trust me on that because I know all about it. Besides that, sunburn hurts. Wear a hat too.
The next thing that is super important at the beach is having a good pair of polarized sunglasses. All those pretty sparkles on the ocean are a zillion tiny mirrors reflecting sunlight directly into your eyes, and yes kids….your eyes can get burned too. And they do. The sand is also highly reflective, just like snow. Sunburned eyes can lead to growths that your eyes form to protect themselves, I know all about that too. I have had the surgery to remove them and I can tell you right now that it is no fun at all. Well, unless you think having somebody cutting on your eyes while you are awake is fun. I, for one, am not into that kind of thing.
In short, the sun that you seek can really ruin your day if you do not know how to protect yourself from its little not so hidden hazards. Another one of these is that as the day progresses the sand gets hotter and hotter. People head down by the water and get a nice spot all set up for the day when it’s still cool. But then later in the afternoon when they pick up their gear and attempt to walk back to the car, or whatever, that stretch of beach between you and it has turned red hot. The famous “burning sands,” called that because they are actually just that, freaking BURNING sands. If you don’t have something to put on your feet you are in for a world of hurt. First you will start to hop, then run, then run as fast as you can while screaming as your feet blister right under you. This, once again, is no fun. And the total idea of going to the beach is to have fun. Getting burned is a bad thing.
Another very bad thing is dehydration. You need to take along water or some sort of electrolyte beverage. Cokes, coffee, beer and everything like that are all dehydrators. If you get dehydrated you will feel exactly the same as if you have food poisoning or what people call “the revenge.” The thing is more times than not when people think they have something like that it is actually dehydration. It is dangerous too as it can cause you to have a stroke, something you really do not want to have happen to you.
So, the quick version is protect yourself from the sun and drink a lot of water. Use sunblock, wear a hat and sunglasses and take along something to wear on your feet for when the sand gets hot.
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.
Chris Marseilles Rides On
by Corky Carroll
Today is one of those days that I dread, telling about a great surfer and friend who just passed away. On May 10 we lost the legendary Chris “the Gremmie” Marseilles after an eighteen-month battle with cancer, he was 74. This is a guy who most of you have not really heard of, he was not a famous professional surfer or known much at all by the general public. But if you were at all tuned into surfing in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s you will know that he was one of the best surfers ever to come out of Orange County and was highly regarded as a world class talent. In the era when myself, David Nuuhiwa, Mark Martinson and Danny Lenahan were the top up and coming young surfers on the West Coast it was a fact that Chris Marseilles was better than the rest of us.
I first started hearing his name when I was just starting to get a little bit known as a kid with some potential. I would hang around the fire rings at Seal Beach and Huntington Beach pier and listen to the stories the older guys would tell about this that and the other thing. Surf heros and chicks were always the main topics. They would tell about a kid they called “the Gremmie,” who was blowing people away at “Lower Trestles.” He was known for great noseriding skills, they said he could “hang ten” all day long. I distinctly remember hanging out in the CROW surfboards shop behind Kanvas by Katin one afternoon listening to the Crow rave on about having seen this kid the day before and telling me that I was good, but not nearly as good as the Gremmie. I was naturally boiling over with jealousy.
But then I met Chris one day at a school event in Huntington Beach, we were both still in elementary school at the time. He went to Huntington and I went to J.H. McGaugh in Seal Beach. We hit it off right off the bat. He was really a cool dude and had a huge smile and was fun to be around. Not long after that I met up with him at Huntington Beach pier and got to surf together for the first time, super fun experience where we were both just going for it and hooting each other on. I could see how good he was and the whole kid jealousy thing totally vanished. I liked him and was stoked that he was so good. Soon after that he moved to Newport Beach, where his reputation grew.
The day that I truly realized just how great he really was came one afternoon at Lower Trestles. I had gotten a ride down there with one of the Long Beach guys, Roy Crump or might have been Steve Pezman. The surf was really good and I was paddling out all amped up and ready to rock. Just as I was getting almost to the lineup I saw Chris Marseilles take off on a big perfect, maybe six to eight-foot, peak. He paddled into the wave fading to the left and stayed laying down all the way almost to the bottom of the wave. Then he smoothly slid to his feet and cranked a huge bottom turn to the right and quickly walked all the way up to the nose as he was climbing the face of the wave. He hung all ten toes over the nose and just perched there with this sly grin on his face and the most perfect style I had ever seen. In my head I just went, “WOW.” I implanted that scene into my little brain right then and there because I knew that I wanted to do THAT.
I think I heard him tell that it was Denny Buell that game him the nickname “Gremmie,” and it stuck. Chris was small framed and not all that tall, and with his quickness and sly grin he was just the perfect, well, gremmie. It was him.
When he was sixteen he took off for Hawaii. There were tales of him at Sunset Beach riding huge days alone of with only a handful of others out. And then later he spent a lot of time on the Island of Kauai, where two of his four sons still live to this day. The last half of his life was spent back in Newport Beach with his 30 plus year love Susan Hoyle. His son Beau has been a pal of mine on Facebook for a number of years and tells great stories of growing up and surfing with his dad. He was a member of the Blackies Surf Club and a part of the beach where he normally surfed has been dubbed “Marseilles” for years.
Everybody loved Chris, a guy known as “a small man with a huge heart.” And even though most of the world would not have heard of him, those of us who did are all saddened by his leaving us, but very glad that we knew him and knew of him. Chris Marseilles was one of the best surfers to ever paddle out.
Ride on Gremmie.
Corky Tries the North Shore
by Corky Carroll
In order to avoid having to talk about the virus, as I am not an expert nor do I have any valid opinion on that subject, I have started a little series on “Surf Safaris” that I have taken over the years, starting with the early ones. Today I am going to talk about my first trip to the infamous “North Shore,” on the island of Oahu.
The first time I had gone to Hawaii was actually the summer before this, the year was 1963 and I was a 15-year-old loud mouthed up and comer. A couple of months surfing at Ala Moana, on the “South Shore,” went a long way towards shutting me up and teaching me some respect. I was pretty good, but not nearly as good as I had thought I was when I got there. By December I was ready to just keep my mouth shut and go and see what it was like to ride the big stuff on the North Shore and if I had the guts to do it or not.
I was lucky to get to go over with a crew of great surfers and proven big wave riders. Mike Doyle, Mickey Munoz, Joey Cabell and Chuck Linnen. We all met up at Mike’s moms house, about a half a mile from Los Angeles International Airport late one winter afternoon and got ready for our flight to Honolulu. In those days you just checked your board in as baggage, no board bags or any protection. Most of the time they came out with dings and broken off fins, but that was just the way it was. I took one board with me, a 10-foot speed board Phil Edwards had made me. I was lucky to only have some scratches on it when it got there. I had an 11-foot big wave board already there at the Hobie shop waiting for me. It was red and made it into a famous big wave photo of a bunch of guys taking off at Waimea Bay and a big red board going up the face with a foot sticking out of the water just behind it. It was my foot. I was paddling out and jumped off going up the face before I got sucked over the falls by this big monster wave.
I hung with Mike Doyle on that trip and was glad I did. Mike was without a doubt one of the best big wave riders of all time, and he was pretty good at looking out after me. We wound up staying with a huge crew from the mainland that had rented an old Quonset hut out by a place called “Velzyland.” There were 15 guys, 2 girls and a dog.
On our first day there we caught Sunset Beach about fifteen feet. I was scared but managed to catch a good-sized wave right off the bat. A really good California surfer named Kemp Aaberg was in front of me and I just watched where he was going and followed as closely as I could. We both made the wave and I was totally wide eyed and blown away. Kemp smiled at me and said, “So, you like this big stuff huh?” After that the fear factor turned down a notch and I was able to get a bunch of rides.
The very next day the swell jumped up in size and Waimea Bay was going off. This was the premier big wave spot on the planet at that time. I had survived the first day at Sunset Beach so when Mike grabbed his board to paddle out I grabbed mine too. He looked at me and said, “Are you sure?” I didn’t answer, I just went. And no, I was not sure at all. This turned out to be a whole nother deal all together. I was in shock as to just how big those waves were when you actually got out there in the middle of all that power. They were not only tall, but as thick as a shopping mall and moving really fast. The sheer energy and sound made me feel very insignificant. When I was sitting in the lineup debating about if I was going to try to take one or not I saw the great big wave surfer George Downing looking at me. He asked me if I was afraid. I wanted to say no, that I was fine and this was totally cool. But a tiny “yes” is what came out. He smiled and said, “Good, then you will be o.k.” This made me feel better. I got three rides that day and was lucky to not have fallen off on any of them. I remember on the first one when I stood up at the top of this monster wall of water. I was thinking, “Twenty feet? Hell no, this thing is more like three hundred feet…. I’m gonna diiiiiiieeeeee.”
The highlight of that first trip to the North Shore was getting to surf the “Pipeline” for the first time. This is the spot that I really fell in love with. Being right foot forward, “Goofy-foot”, this was perfect for me. A big powerful left. I loved that spot and had some of my best surfing days there. The last time I rode it was on my 50th birthday. It was so crowded by then that I couldn’t get a wave without at least two guys dropping in on me. But back during that first winter for me there would only be a few people out there at a time and it was just surf dog heaven for me. I was lucky to spend a lot of time in Hawaii over the years and got a ton of super good surf. But that first winter always stood out as a special, and totally eye opening, experience for me.