If a picture paints a thousand words, then it should be possible to tell the story of this Lightning Bolt ad, circa 1972, in a thousand words or so.
According to Sam George: “There were no Lightning Bolt Surfboard ads in the mags until they licensed the brand to Hobie somewhere around ’73. Then those ‘The Most Tubed Surfboards in the World’ ads began appearing.”
Randy Rarick expanded on that, writing on the surfboardline.com website: “Lightning Bolts… were licensed out to a variety of individuals, with “Pure Source Certified” licensees making them in California. South Africa, Australia and Brazil.
A lot of the Pure Source were made out of the California [factory] by Danny Brawner, who worked for Hobie who had the license for the USA mainland and was most likely shaped by Mickey Munoz or Terry Martin. It is very rare to find an actual Gerry Lopez-shaped one, and even in Hawaii, there were others shaping them under the authorization of Gerry and Jack Shipley, who owned the Bolt label in the early formative days. During its hey day of the mid- to late 70s, over 30 different shapers pumped out Bolts: “The Most Frequently Tubed Surfboards in the World.”
They had three distinct categories at one stage – known as ‘units’ – with the ‘name’ surfer/shapers at the top category, the reliable shapers in the next category, and the up-and-coming or journeymen shapers in the third category.
Unit 1: Gerry Lopez, Reno Abellira, Barry Kanaiaupuni, Tom Parrish, Jeff Hakman, Owl Chapman, Don Koplein. Price: $190. [Ed. note: $1 in 1975 would be worth around $4.40 now, so a Unit 1 Bolt in 1975 would be worth around $836 now – which is low for modern surfboards.]
Unit 2: Rory Russell, Brian Hamilton, Tom Eberly, Peter Trombly, Wayne Santos, Robbie Burns, Cowan Chang, Bill Barnfield, Mark Angel. Price: $175.
Unit 3: Steve Walden, Russel Kim, Tom Nellis, Brain Hinde, Joe Blair, Bill Stonebraker, Tony Anjo, John Carper. Price: $160.
This Lightning Bolt ad from the early 1970s features four of the best Hawaiian surfer/shapers of that time. Three from Unit 1 and one from Unit 2. From left: Jeff Hakman, Rory Russell, Gerry Lopez and Reno Abellira.
Born in Redondo Beach in 1948, Hakman was lured into surfing at eight years old by a surf-stoked father, who bought him a 7’ 11” balsa Velzy-Jacobs and insisted Hakman skip school to go surfing. Hakman was further enticed into surfing attending Punahou School on Oahu, where his teachers included big-wave surfers Peter Cole and Fred van Dyke.
Hakman was one of the new generation of big-wave surfers who were small and light. He was 5’ 4” and 125 pounds dripping wet at 17-years-old, but he showed it’s not the dog in the fight but the fight in the dog, when he won the inaugural Duke Kahanamoku Invitational, taking down the likes of Mike Doyle, Paul Strauch, Fred Hemmings, Miki Dora and all the greats: “Over the next four years, Hakman had no big contest wins, but his surfing continued to progress all through the late-60s shortboard revolution,” Matt Warshaw wrote in The Encyclopedia of Surfing. “and by 1970 he’d developed the ultimate form-follows-function riding style:… few surfers have ever looked so joyous in the water. The lines he drew were more precise than innovative, but his mastery was complete, and he could ride for hours – sometimes days without falling off his board. International surf competitions began offering modest but encouraging cash prizes in the early ‘70s, and while Hakman, Gerry Lopez, Barry Kanaiaupuni, and Reno Abellira, all from Hawaii, were more or less held in equal esteem as the era’s top riders, Hakman’s brought him the lion’s share of first-place check.”
Hakman won the Duke contests in 1970 and 1971 and the first Pipeline Masters in 1971. He won the Hang Ten American Pro in 1972 and 1973, and in 1974, Hakman and Reno Abellira charged giant surf at Waimea Bay for the Smirnoff Pro – with Abellira winning by a fraction of a point.
Historians looks to that 1974 Smirnoff Pro as a shift from the thunder lizard big-wave surfers of the 1960s to the smaller, lighter, quicker big-wave riders of the mini-gun age. Abellira wasn’t much bigger than Hakman, but they dominated in giant surf.
Abellira is two years younger than Hakman, born in 1950 and raised in Honolulu – the son of a middleweight boxer who was shot and killed in a barroom fight. Reno began surfing at four years old and his ascent was similar to Hakman’s: Winning the Junior’s Division of the Makaha International in 1966 and 1967, and $200 for winning the 1966 Hawaiian Noseriding Contest. Reno was the Hawaiian Junior’s champion in 1966 and that same year he raised eyebrows at the Puerto Rico World Contest, riding a thin, straight, stiletto-like purple surfboard – finishing sixth but giving the world a glimpse of the kind of high-performance shortboard surfing that was coming: “Abellira was also a first-rate surfboard shaper,” Matt Warshaw wrote in The Encyclopedia of Surfing. “learning the craft from boardmaking guru Dick Brewer in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, then going on to work for the Lightning Bolt label.”
Abellira was one of the leaders of the mini-gun revolution, as both a shaper and a surfer. As a competitor, Abellira placed fourth in the 1970 World Championships at Johanna, Australia, second at the 1973 Duke and was a finalist in many of the first pro events on the North Shore. Abellira made the history books when he beat Jeff Hakman at the 1974 Smirnoff Pro – still one of the heaviest big-wave events in the history of competitive surfing.
And then there’s Rory Russell, the Ringo Starr of this Fab Four, a “Happy, hedonistic, tube-riding specialist” according to Matt Warshaw in The Encyclopedia of Surfing. Russell was an Army kid, born in Germany and moving all over before moving to Oahu at 10 years old and then the North Shore next to Jock Sutherland at 15: “Sutherland, the era’s best tuberider, became Russell’s informal mentor,” Matt Warshaw wrote.
Through the early 1970s, Rory Russell was in the Top Five at Pipeline, maybe second only to Gerry Lopez. If Gerry Lopez was the quiet straight man, Russell was the class clown. “The Dog” was funny and antic on land, but all business in the water – especially when horns were sounding. Russell competed on the pro tour, but his record at the Pipe Masters was stellar. From 1973 to 1978 Russell finished third, second, second, first, first and second
The Fab Four: Jeff Hakman, Gerry Lopez, Rory Russell and Reno Abellira were four of the most influential surfer/shapers of the early 1970s. When the Shortboard Revolution begat the mini-gun and these light, strong, smooth surfers took surfing to new places at Pipeline, Sunset, all along the North Shore and around the world.
They were Lightning Bolt.
Juicy Roots is brought to us by contributing writer Ben Marcus