I’ve always thought of myself as having climbed near the top, and every now and again, I’d get to peak over, but never really reached it. Phil, unfortunately, reached the top and the fact was, he had no place to go but down. I don’t think his ego would allow him to have a bad day in the water. And that’s when he stopped surfing.
When I think of Phil’s achievements, however, I often go back to my very first impression of him riding a wave. Around 1950 my mom took me camping down at a lagoon south of Oceanside. I was a teenager. I remember paddling across the lagoon, walking across the beach, and paddling out into the ocean. As I’m making my way out, I saw Phil take off on a wave. He did one of his classic left-go-right turns and swung the board around and just slowly walked up to the nose. The wave started to break a bit and his tail slid out and he kind of went sideways, then reattached it on the other side and kept going down the line. I’d never seen that. You have to understand that doing anything other than going straight was radical then. And I was just slack-jawed. That just dazzled me.
In my mind, that ride is equal to the time I saw Christian Fletcher do an air over the rock at Zippers in the ’80s. It was an incredible, graceful, powerful, functional maneuver that defined why Phil was considered the best of that era. And even though I’ve said that he sees the world as a glass half empty, that’s not really true. To achieve what Phil’s achieved requires a great optimism.—Mickey Munoz