Surfer, Lover, Fighter, Lifesaver
by Corky Carroll
I just received my copy of “Remembering Butch” from Amazon. This is a new book about the life and times of legendary surfer and colorful character Butch Van Artsdalen, put together and written by Douglas Cavanaugh. I had been wanting to read this for a while so the minute it arrived I dove into it. I love this book. It takes the very cool approach of being told mostly through quotes from friends and other famous surfers who knew him and were witness to his life from the early years at Windansea Beach in La Jolla, California to becoming one of the world’s greatest surfers and eventually one of the first lifeguards on Oahu’s intense “North Shore.”
The back cover of the book sums it up very well and reads as follows: SURFER, LOVER, FIGHTER, LIFESAVER…
“Butch Van Artsdalen was all of these things and so much more during his all too short but exciting life here among us. Everyone who was around the surfing scene from the 1950’s to the 1970’s has a ‘Butch story,’ many of which have been compiled in this oral history of his life and times. From his early days as a part of the wild Windansea Beach crowd to being the first ‘Mr. Pipeline’ to becoming-along with Eddie Aikau-the first lifeguard on the North Shore of Oahu. Butch rarely knew a dull moment and he packed a lot of living in his thirty-eight years. He had many ups and downs in his life, starting with becoming one of surfing’s brightest stars in the early 60’s with his cutting edge performances at the dreaded ‘Banzai Pipeline’ in Hawaii, to losing his status as one of the ‘in’ crowd with the hippie shortboard revolution later in the decade. He would realize a more important role when he saved countess lives as a lifeguard in the 70’s, but sadly his severe depression, exacerbated by alcoholism, kept him from fully understanding and embracing everything that he meant to so many people. Regardless, there is nary a dull moment in his life, which is fully and richly documented here by his friends and family.”
That pretty much describes the book. It is just full of great stories and quotes by many of the surf legends and inside hard-core surf people, not only telling the story of Butch himself but also giving a very cool and colorful look at the surfing world as it developed into a sport and lifestyle.
I first met Butch at the Hobie surf shop in Dana Point in about 1963. He had been in all the surf movies surfing the Pipeline on the North Shore that previous winter and was a huge surf star. He was working at the shop repairing dings in a little shed out back. I had seen him at surfing contests but other than that didn’t really know him. I liked him a lot, the dude had a huge personality and was very friendly and funny to be around. Hobie put me to work in the shop as a salesman and we got to be friends quickly, as I think was the normal deal with Butch. People liked him and respected his full charging approach to surfing.
The following summer I had an apartment up the street from where Butch and Mike Hynson were living. One night I was walking down there to see what those guys were up to, and I ran into Mickey Munoz. He asked me where I was going, and I told him I was off to visit Butch and Mike. He advised me to not go over there because Butch was drinking. I soon learned that as fun as Butch was to be around normally that all changed when he drank. He could be mean and liked to fight. I will leave it at that as all that is well documented, and I would prefer to talk about the guy I knew as a surfer and very great person.
Over the years I got to surf with Butch a lot in Hawaii. He was a very gifted big wave surfer, one of the best of that era along with Mike Doyle and Eddie Aikau. I had many great sessions with him at Waimea Bay and Sunset Beach, the guy was fearless. I always liked to be out there with him because his “stoke” helped take the edge off the fact that we were often in severely dangerous conditions. Butch would hoot, swing around and drop into a very late takeoff on some 25-foot monster like it was 3-foot shore break at La Jolla Shores.
This book tells so many great tales of the life of Butch, a must read for any surf historian or fan of surfing lore. He was one of the greatest from the early years of the surfing boom and this book gives you a really inside and good look at both his life and the surfing culture back then.