Bill Sharp, my college roommate, was a kneeboarder. Smart guy. Funny as hell. Later became editor of Surfing mag, and ran a surfwear company or two. But a crazy fucker! Would jump off bridges in the middle of the night, midwinter, fully clothed. Got a ticket once for speeding down an alley—in reverse. Rode a hot-pink-and-black kneeboard at the Wedge, as big as it gets, and charged the North Shore outer reefs.
I never asked, but I’m pretty sure Bill got into kneeboarding because of George Greenough, who—and I say this with great affection—was the craziest kneeboarder of all, with his scarecrow haircut, Rain Man voice, broad-spectrum design genius, and pathological generosity. Never wore shoes. His feet looked like road kill.
For awhile there, because of Greenough, it was like you almost had to be a misfit to ride a kneeboard. Fish innovator Steve Lis was introduced to the surfing world in a magazine profile simple titled “Mysto Man.” Then there was Rex Huffman, who smashed into the reefs of La Jolla with roughly the same frequency and body-crumpling results as Evel Knievel smashing into Las Vegas parking lots. And of course Peter Crawford of Australia, who pranced around cackling and talking in riddles, like an Alice in Wonderland refugee.
And then suddenly kneeboarders just…vanished. Raptured away from the rest of surfing, it seemed like. I lived in the Bay Area from 1991 to 2011, and except for a couple of deeply-bearded survivalists up in Mendocino County, rarely saw a kneeboarder.
A few months ago I found the Legless.TV website, and was glad to learn that kneeboarders are in fact alive and well, and apparently all living in Wollongong, New South Wales. Ripping the shit out of it, too. Huge fin-ditch top turns, and these Superman-y things where board and rider disconnect midair, and snap back together like Legos just before landing. Really fun to watch.
Saddened me a little to see that they’ve gone all normal, though. Chayne Simpson of Wollongong may turn with Dane Reynolds-like flare, but he looks and talks like Opie Taylor. Nice kid. Friendly and bright. Don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing he wears shoes pretty much every day.