by Corky Carroll
I was super stoked to get to hang out in Huntington Beach this year during the big week of the U.S. Open of Surfing and take part in some of the events going on. I have missed this event for a number of years, having chosen to avoid the crowds and spend time surfing in tropical locations with no traffic. This has had it's upside and its downside. The upside, obviously, is surfing in tropical conditions with no traffic. The downside is not seeing a whole lot of people that I like to see. So, this year it was really fun to be there and see, well, a whole lot of people that I like to see. My longtime pals David Nuuhiwa, Ilima Kalama, Peter Townend, Chuck Linnen and John Peck on that list among many others.
One of them was the great legendary surfer, L.J. Richards. The “L.J.” stands for “Little John,” as his name is John. When he was a kid growing up in Oceanside he got the nickname due to his small stature and to separate him from all the other “Johns” in the line up.
L.J. Started surfing while attending Oceanside High School in the early 1950’s. He was a year behind the great Phil Edwards, already well known as one of the best surfers in the world. Phil was making balsawood boards and L.J got one. He and Phil became pals and surfed the breaks around North San Diego County and also traveled up to San Onofre from time to time.
Known for his smooth style, L.J. was featured in many of the early surf magazines and in surf films of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. He was a top competitor in surfing events and won the United States Championship at Huntington Beach in 1963, the same year I won the Junior Mens. He was a finalist at the World Championship at Manly Beach in Australia in 1964. Always one of the top surfers in the rankings and on everybody’s “favorite” surfer list.
I first met L.J. when I was about 13. My dad had driven a couple of us down the coast on a “surf safari,” we wound up at a spot in Carlsbad called “Tamarack.” The surf was pretty good and L.J. was out that day. I spent a lot of my surf session watching him surf. He was so fluid yet did such radical turns and cutbacks. Great nose riding too. Most of the time that I wasn’t watching him I was grilling him with a zillion typical “gremmie” questions. I was a surf star’s worst nightmare in those days. I was a total “motor mouth.” Mike Doyle picked me up hitch-hiking home from Doheny one day and said that after that relentless questionaire he never picked up another hitchhiker again, unless it was a chick.
When L.J. was young he was a lifeguard. That led to a lifetime career as a fireman in North San Diego County. He has remained a full-time surfer his entire life and is well known and liked by everybody. Most will tell you that he is one of the nicest and most humble and friendly guys that you ever could meet. I agree with that. Along with Paul Strauch, he has been dubbed “the Gentleman Surfer.” The dude is the epitome of super cool and smooth.
So anyway, I was really happy to see L.J. at the event and get to visit for a while with one of my favorite surfers ever. A pal for 60 years. (How did I get this old?).
He has been inducted into both the Surfers Hall of Fame and the International Surfing hall of Fame. Currently he and his wife Kim live in Carlsbad, and on most days, he will be the best surfer in the water at local breaks.