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.