by Corky Carroll
It’s been said that Kemp Aaberg is “possibly the nicest guy to ever set foot on the sands of Malibu.” This could be a totally true statement; Kemp is truly one of the nicest and coolest guys I have ever met. The dude is also one of the surfing world’s greatest living legends, still going as he smoothly moves into his eighties (born in 1940).
The first time I became aware of him was when I saw him in Bruce Browns surf film “Slippery When Wet,” which came out in 1958. He was one of the stars of the movie and had a great style with a big back arching bottom turn. A photo of that turn that was run in one of the first issues of SURFER magazine actually became the logo for that mag and lives on in surf photo history. Kinda like Jerry West being “the logo” in the NBA, Kemp is “the logo” in the surfing world.
I am not sure where I first met Kemp, but one of my favorite early memories of him was on the North Shore in Hawaii. The first day I went out and rode Sunset Beach it was big and I was pretty scared. On my first wave I took of behind Kemp, figured he knew what he was doing so I would be ok if I just followed him closely. I did and we both made the wave and came out over the shoulder just flying. He looked at me and I looked at him and we both just hooted and laughed. He says, “well, whaddaya think?” I was just kinda beaming and said, “let’s do it again.”
I became good pals with his younger brother Denny, both through surfing and playing music. Super cool guy, my age, and amazingly fun to hang out with. We have surfed together and played music together many times over the years.
Which brings me to my next favorite memory of Kemp. In the early 1970’s right after I retired from competitive surfing I moved up to Ketchum, Idaho. (commonly known as Sun Valley, the ski resort that is located there). I rented a house in the “warm springs” part of town, not far from the ski lifts. Kemp came up for a couple of weeks one of the years I was there and came over to visit one day. He brought his guitar with him. Kemp is a fantastic classical and flamenco guitar player, super good. At that time I was learning how to play violin and also working on the cello. I had a nice cello that I had brought up from the beach. So, we decided to record ourselves doing a guitar and cello duet. I didn’t really have a clue what I was doing, but I could stay on key and play a few notes in a couple of easy keys. I had a tape recorder and we cranked it up and actually made a kinda cool sounding recording. I just played a couple of basic notes, within whatever key it was, and Kemp played a beautiful guitar piece. And it worked. I wish I still had that tape. But I do still have the memory and it’s a good one.
Kemp has lived in Santa Barbara for it seems forever, drove a UPS truck for a living until he retired. His wife Ella is beautiful and posts regularly on FACEBOOK about how Kemp is doing and a lot of nice stories that he tells about different times and people. In his early days he wrote a lot of stories for the surfing magazines. He has been dealing with Parkinson’s for many years but is hanging in and doing it, as Ella puts it, amazingly graceful. That kind of sums of Kemp, his surfing and his personality. Amazingly graceful.
Glad I got to share this memory of one of the best and coolest surfers ever. Kemp Aaberg.