Article

Terry “Tubesteak” Tracy

Remembering a surf icon

| posted on September 20, 2012

A young Tubesteak Tracy. Photo courtesy of Encyclopedia of Surfing

Terry was celebrated as the Big Kahuna. Kahunas are the ruling class in Hawaiian history—the priests and the kings of the islands—and there was never a king in any realm who could hold court like Tubesteak Tracy. His entire life he loved to be surrounded by friends and family: telling tales, pronouncing judgments, giving his blessing always with his patented sigh. Those who knew Terry loved his sense of humor, his contrariness, his often inscrutable way of beating around the bush while telling a story—which was one of his most endearing traits.

But what makes Tubesteak an icon in surfing’s lore is the fact that his style and personality became the archetypical west coast surfer. For those of us who discovered surfing in the 60s, we more than likely discovered it through a little film called Gidget. The main hero of that story was based on a real life character—Tubesteak Tracy himself. He coined the name Gidget, helped craft Da Cat’s controversial contrivances, and created the mythic desperado of Dora. He epitomized both the sorcery of surf and the essence of understated cool.

At just 9 years old, after a glimpse of the surfing life from that film, I didn’t want to be a cowboy, an astronaut, a first baseman, or a racecar driver—I wanted to be a surfer.

I had the pleasure of knowing Tubesteak for about 30 years—a newcomer compared to many of his friends. But we had some wild Mexican adventures, and many hearty laughs at San Onofre. He always personified the carefree style that he practically invented—he cooked up hilarious capers, and pontificated elaborate fables, but always appeared to do so with effortless ease. He set the style on the beach while Dora and crew set the style in the water.

He loved his family, and was married to the same lovely woman, whom we call “Saint Phyllis”, and lived his life with honor and dignity as well as fun and frolic. He never forgot his friends, and of course we could never forget him.

The Big Kahuna has passed into surfing mythology. The surf world will be less without him, but his legacy will forever be engrained in our culture. —Jim Kempton