Farewell to Da Bull
by Corky Carroll
As most of you that are tuned into surfing know, we lost the legendary big wave pioneer Greg Noll a few weeks ago. Tons of stuff has been written about him, his life and what he brought to surfing. All great stuff. Today I thought I would share a few of my memories of him and a couple of stories that, in my mind, kinda show what a colorful character and unique personality the dude was.
Greg grew up and learned to surf in Manhattan Beach. His first board was made by the great Dale Velzy and a lot of Velzys surfboard wisdom was passed down to Greg. He also got involved in lifeguarding and became a proficient swimmer and all-around water man. When he was in High School his family moved to Hawaii and he went to school and surfed at Makaha, the famous surf spot on the west shore known to be the home of the big International Surfing Championships every winter. It was there he met and surfed with such pioneers as George Downing and Buffalo Keaulana. With this kind of influence it was not long before Greg Noll was one of the leading big wave surfers in the world.
He also had a major influence on surfing in Australia. In 1956 he went down there and took what was then state of the art “hotdog” boards that they were riding here at Malibu at the time. These boards influenced the Aussies and became the in shape for their boards for years to come. They called them “Mals,” short of Malibu boards.
Ok, there is some history for ya. I first met Greg when I spent my first winter on the North Shore in 1963. He as the big charger at Waimea Bay wearing the infamous white and black stripped surf trunks. He was out there during my first few adventures into what I considered “monster” surf. Being an expert diver and swimmer, he could hold his breath for like weeks, and I think this gave him the confidence to take off on the biggest and gnarliest waves that came by. Me, on the other hand, could hold my breath about 4 seconds and that was in the bathtub. I was a lot more scared than he was. I remember George Downing asking me if I was scared and I admitted that I was. He said good, but Greg just gave a kinda evil laugh. Sorta like, “oh man, this kid is in for a reality check really quick.” He was always nice to me though and I liked to hear him “taking story.” Greg was good at it, always had a tale to tell.
The dude had an edgy sense of humor too. There was a guy named Rick James that shaped boards for him. One day Rick accidently cut the tip of his thumb off shaping a board. First thing Greg did was grab the thumb and toss it in a jar of resin. This became a paper weight on his desk for years. Rick was not really happy about it as it eliminated any chance of having it sewn back on, but Greg thought it was the coolest thing ever.
One of the things that set him apart from others was his nerve. Not only did he charge the biggest waves, but he somehow pulled off having two wives at the same time and they all lived together. One wife took care of the business and the other took care of the house and kids. Greg went fishing. How do you do that?
An early memory of Greg was when he used to make surf movies. They would show these at high schools and small auditoriums up and down the coast. At one showing in the South Bay infamous surfer Mickey Dora, who was a pal of Greg’s, showed up with a huge water bottle filled with moths. When the movie came on and everybody was hooting and yelling at the big waves on the screen Mickey let the moths loose. They immediately went to the bright light on the projector and wreaked havoc with the showing of the film. Greg was last seen chasing Mickey through the streets of Hermosa Beach with blood lust in his eyes, Mickey being very lucky to have been able to run faster than Greg.
Of course there are countless tales of the monster wave that he rode at Makaha in 1969, myth or not. But the one ride that stands out in my mind was a huge outside Pipeline left that is on film. He takes off and gets an amazing amount of speed across the face. As the wave hits the inside reef it pitches up and gets deadly in ferocity. Greg takes a high line and tries to make the thing but just gets exploded off as he hits a series of bumps on the face. THAT one took skill and a huge amount of nerve to tackle.
Greg Noll, one of the biggest legends. Impossible to not respect the guy.