SURFER's Big Issue: Legends and Lore
January, 1967: Odd Man Out
South Africa’s Tony Ven De Heuval could feel revolution in the air the moment he stepped off the plane in Los Angeles. As the National Champion made his way south towards San Diego along the Coast Highway he grew increasingly curious of the vast number of odd looking characters donning long hair and dirty clothes. Though he’d already been away from home for weeks, first to Peru and then Hawaii, this was the first time it was really settling in. The buildings and setting may look the same, but he was not in Durban anymore.
Peru and Hawaii were as beautiful as he’d imagined, and the people couldn’t have been nicer, which surprised the cleanly shaven crew cut kid. So far, the outside world was not at all how he imagined it. It took a while, but he was slowly shedding the fears he had when he first embarked on his journey. None of the warnings were necessary. With all preconceptions finally tossed out the window would now rapidly become absorbed by the tumultuous events of California in 1966.
Within days upon his arrival in San Diego he’d been taken in by San Diego hot shot Skip Frye, and after posing many questions about events unfolding was immediately put on Frye’s new quest for “enlightenment”. Frye had another comrade on his search in David Nuuhiwa, the flamboyant character already pushing the limits of style in the water and out. The three hot stars had a ball chasing waves and life’s answers in preparation for the 1966 World Contest. Van De Heuval blazed through the qualifier. But by this then, he was already growing his hair out, experimenting with pot, and studying the wisdom of Swami Paramhansa Yogananda at the Encinitas Hermitage.
When he finally rejoined by his South African team he was a new man, but not the kind his straight-laced South African coach wanted anything to do with. The coach demanded Van De Heuval cut his hair. Van De Heuval refused any such nonsense, and just like that his World Contest was over.
Back home in Durban the news of Van De Heuval’s demise shocked his many minions who worshiped him. To their minds he obviously needed rescuing. His image suffered even more damage when he overstayed his visa and was tossed in jail. The boys back home made detailed plans for a major intervention upon Van De Heuval’s long awaited return. He just needed to be set straight. A rehab program was what he could really use. Sure enough, the intervention took place. But the results did not go as expected. Within three weeks he’d turned the nearly the entire Durban crew into complete pot heads.
Noll Steals the Formula – 1961
Greg Noll was the third surfboard manufacturer on the California coast to use polyurethane foam when he decided to mold and blow his own blanks.
But first he had to get the correct formula.
So one afternoon he and his father, a chemist, pulled up in front of the house belonging to Hobie’s foam wizard, Gordon “Grubby” Clark. Their motive: industrial espionage cloaked under the guise of a friendly visit. Leave all those spy cameras and sodium penathol and eavesdropping bugs to that Jimmy Bond fella’, thought Noll, all I need is a case of beer to get Grubby talkin’. As Clark moistened his tissues with the free beer, he began spilling the beans. Goaded by Noll, he started rambling on about his foam formula, unaware that Noll senior was linking the molecular tinker toys together in his mind. As Noll remembers it, “Grubby woke up the next morning with a hangover and I woke up with a foam formula.”
The widespread use of polyurethane foam as a surfboard core revolutionized both the sport and surfboard design. Polyurethane foam was lighter and more consistent than balsa wood. Its density could be exactly controlled, and an endless supply of identical blanks would go a long way toward allowing painstaking refinements in design. Rocker could now be easily manipulated and explored, something next to impossible with irregular, organic balsa wood. And most importantly, to the growth of the sport, foam allowed the mass production of surfboards for the first time.
Gordon Clark and Hobie Alter are remembered as pioneers in foam surfboards, but they both give credit to an aerospace engineer named Brant Goldsworthy. A San Onofre surfer, Goldsworthy had come across the new material at a trade show back east; as early as 1938 he had showed the material to Bob Simmons. Goldsworthy, who Clark calls “the biggest heavyweight ever to be involved in the modern surfboard,” had a plastics company that sold components to the WWII aircraft industry. During this period, Joe Quigg, in his quest for better and more durable materials, so diligently hounded the Los Angeles plastics firms that he was suspected to be a German spy. Goldsworthy and partner Ted Thal would eventually become the first to sell fiberglass and resin to the private sector.
Todd’s Escape From Orlando (1989)
Todd Chesser was at his breaking point. Staring at the feeble 2-foot wind-blown dribble of Sebastian Inlet he was growing increasingly disgusted with the state of Pro Surfing. “Why are we here again?” he asked. Granted, he’d just had a shocker of a heat that would send his Bud Pro Tour rating plummeting from the lofty heights he’d fought so hard to get to in previous months. At this point, however, his friends cared more than he did. Chesser wasn’t just a hot surfer and good friend. He was 24-hour comedy relief. The only time he ever got down was after a tough loss. Sure enough, Todd’s mind was already somewhere else: in Hawaii, to be exact, and an early winter swell that had the North Shore cracking. Enough of this flying around the globe only to surf crap waves. He just wanted to go home.
So within moments of the confirmation of his last-place finish, he loaded up his car and bolted for the hotel where he immediately hit the phone lines in a desperate effort to change his ticket for the final flight out of Orlando…but to no avail. Every single flight was overbooked with tourists sporting mouse hats from nearby Disney World. Stuck for another 24 hours, “Cheese” was facing one hell of a long night. But he knew exactly what he needed to survive it.
“You guys want to go get some dinner?” he asked. Of course, dinner on Chesser’s budget was a nothing but snacks and drinks out of the hotel lobby. Still in their sandy trunks, the crew jumped in the elevator and quickly plucked the tiny aisles clean. At the checkout, the lady behind the counter was slightly amused at Todd’s choice of chips, salsa, candy and soda.
“You must be hungry,” she said. “Will that be all?”
Todd thought about it for a moment, staring at the wall behind her. Then, without even a stutter, he figured it wasn’t. “I’ll take one of those Penthouse magazines too…” Her brow rose and her lips curled just enough to notice before she reached for the periodical. Todd didn’t even blink.
“Alrighty then…” She said, growing increasingly suspicious as Chesser’s friends burst into laughter just outside the store. “And anything else?” She asked, seemingly hoping the answer was no.
“Well, while you’re at it…I’ll take one of those little jars of Vaseline back there too.”
The poor gal turned bright red as she completed the transaction. But Chesser…well, he still wasn’t flinching. There wasn’t the slightest hint of shame. In fact, when their eyes met as she bagged his items, he gave her a naughty wink. With the goods in his hands he turned to his friends, now bent over and near tears, and said, “Well…I guess I’ll see you guys in the morning.”