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#4 // Part 1 – THE SHORTBOARD REVOLUTION

Blog, Juicy Roots

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A Gerry Lopez Lightning Bolt Pipeline gun circa 1975. From the collection of John Mazza.

The Shortboard Revolution was bubbling through the first half of the 1960s, but at the 1966 World Contest at Ocean Beach, San Diego, David Nuuhiwa put his foot on the nose of a traditional, 10’ 0” longboard, while Nat Young pressed his foot to the tail of a board he called Magic Sam: a 9’ 4” kinda-Pig-shape that was 22″ wide at a point 6″ behind halfway and 2 1/2″ thick.  Magic Sam was shorter and thinner than Nuuhiwa’s nose-rider, and Young rode it different – turning in and out of the pocket, cutting back and occasionally running to the nose in a kind of style he called “Total Involvement.”

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As important as any dimension, Magic Sam was powered by a Greenough Stage 1 fin – 10 3’4” high with a 9” base. Greenough’s fins were based on dolphin and other natural propellants, and they had been bubbling on his kneeboards going back to the early 1960s.

Now Greenough’s fins powered Magic Sam and Nat as they shook up the world.

In The Encyclopedia of Surfing, Matt Warshaw defined the Shortboard Revolution “Surfboard design phase lasting from roughly 1967 to 1970, when average board specs dropped from 9’6″by 22″ and 26 pounds to 6’6″ by 20″ and 10 pounds; accompanied by an equally radical shift in wave-riding styles and techniques.”

The Shortboard Revolution caused havoc in the shaping bays and showrooms of the established surfboard makers like Hobie, Bing, Noll and Weber – whose labels and boards had dominated the 1960s, and made bank. There were tens of thousands of surfboards on the shelves which were all of a sudden obsolete – and it’s true that a coalition of surfboard makers begged/demanded/threatened the surf media to hold off on broadcasting the Shortboard Revolution through the summer of 1967 – so they could clear their inventories and not lose bank.

The Shortboard Revolution resonated all the way to Hawaii, where Hawaiian surfer/shapers like Herbie Fletcher and Mike Hynson and many others began to experiment with boards they called “mini guns.”

Herbie Fletcher counts himself lucky to have been a teenager in Hawaii when the times they were a-changin’:

Back then everyone went down to surf Sunset. You don’t see too many pictures of Pipeline in those days. Not until 1969 when Dick Brewer showed up, no one came down to Pipeline and Backdoor. It was just our spot. And then after the World Contest Gary Chapman and I moved into a house at Off the Wall before it was called Off the Wall. There were all these perfect rights coming down the beach at Pipeline because it would be small. Everyone in those days was big-wave riding so everyone hung out at Sunset, Haleiwa, Waimea. People didn’t go to Pipeline. They thought it was too small or just a beachbreak.

But in 1967 it was just Pipeline Rights and I was surfing it with just a few guys: BK, Hakman, myself, Chapman, Tiger Espere, Mike Hynson. Hynson moved in right next door to us and he had a shaping room so he was making lots of boards and experimenting a lot. He was sort of the same size I am and same style and he had money and he would make all kinds of surfboards and experiment with them and I was right there getting all the advantages of it and I felt really privileged to be.

Hynson was the guru. The Maharishi as he was called. Hynson was the man. He was really innovative and a designer and he had learned his stuff from Phil Edwards.

While Herbie and Hynson and that crew were experimenting with miniguns going right at Pipeline and Off the Wall, the goofy foots were probing the depths of Pipeline in ways barely imaginable a few years before.

In The Encyclopedia of Surfing, Matt Warshaw wrote:

As quickly as surfboard design was changing, so, too, were surfing techniques, with riders now jamming up and down across the wave face, rebounding off the whitewater, and riding ever deeper inside the tube—an area of the wave that had been mostly off-limits on longboards.

The entire sport was also being re-shaped by Woodstock-era drugs, music, language, graphics, fashion, and politics. Surfer magazine cover captions went from “Jock Sutherland charges down the face of a Pipeline giant” (1966) to “Tom Stone suspended in the Pipeline vector complex” (1970).

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Jock Sutherland took second to Nat at the 1966 World Contest at Ocean Beach, then returned to Hawaii and took the mantle of Pipe Maestro from Butch van Artsdalen. Describing a Pipeline tube as “just like the Pope’s living room,” Jock was the first Pipeline specialist of the Shortboard Era. Sutherland jumped on the miniguns and they changed not just his style but the way surfers rode Pipeline: “The short surfboards loosened up Sutherland’s style,” Matt Warshaw wrote in The Encyclopedia of Surfing. “and he developed an efficient new way to get inside the tube, by stalling and angling his board just after takeoff instead of dropping to the bottom of the wave.”

A small difference, but also a huge difference. Sutherland also became one of the finest surfing characters of the middle 1960s: “We used to call him ‘the Extraterrestrial,” fellow Hawaiian surfer Jeff Hakman later said, “because he was so good at everything. He could beat anyone at chess or Scrabble; he could smoke more hash than anyone, take more acid, and still go out there and surf better than anyone.”

Sutherland was so eccentric, he enlisted in the Army to fight the Vietnam war that most other surfers were doing their best to avoid (See: Big Wednesday). Sutherland’s enlistment left a lot of surfers scratching their heads, and others scratching to fill his Top Spot at The Pipeline.

Gerry Lopez was born in 1948 and raised in Honolulu by a newspaperman father and school teacher mother. He attended the Punahou School – an institution which supercharges its students to greatness, whether it’s charging Pipeline, or becoming president of these here United States.

Lopez began surfing at nine, and was inspired by the smooth, calm stylings of Hawaiian regularfooter Paul Strauch. Lopez won the Hawaiian Junior Championships in 1966, was a three-time finalist in the state titles (1968, 1969, and 1972), and a finalist in the U.S. Championships in 1969 and 1970.

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And then the Shortboard Revolution hit, Jock Sutherland was in the Army now and it was Gerry’s time to shine. Standing next to Jock Sutherland at a Patagonia store in Cardiff, California, Lopez remembered his first exposure to The Pipeline – and Jock:

I remember the first time I went out to the Pipeline and… I think it was in ’62 or something. Me and a friend of mine went out there, and it was just a small little day, four feet, and we tried to take these waves…. they were so steep, even at four feet. We couldn’t make a single takeoff and we kept losing our boards and going in. Finally we became so frustrated we just were bodysurfing. Then Jock paddled out. He had a coconut hat on and he proceeded to take the place apart. I think we are all or 14 years old, 13 years old or something. We were just amazed at how well he could surf the place. We introduced ourselves and he gave me a tip that day that pretty much launched my whole career at The Pipeline, you know, he told me, a simple thing: ‘You’re trying to go straight down. Take off at an angle and you’ll have a lot more success.”

And that was it!

Lopez said, “In ’68 and ’69, this guy by far was the best surfer in the world.” But then Sutherland went barmy and joined the Army, and Lopez took that Sutherland angle and rode it into surfing legend. According to Jason Borte from surfline.com:

The shortboard revolution/hippie generation needed an archetype, and it was Lopez. He discovered yoga, meditation and psychedelia around the time he began shaping under the tutelage of Surfline Honolulu’s Chris Green. Jock Sutherland, who had been the king at Pipeline, left to serve in the military, and Lopez eased onto the throne. The barrel at Pipe had been surveyed, but not fully explored. During the epic winter of 1969-’70, Lopez set the standard for riding the tube at the world’s most dangerous break. Suddenly, nothing else mattered in surfing. The barrel was now hallowed ground, and the barrel at Pipe was Shangri La.

Writing in The Encyclopedia of Surfing, Matt Warshaw said similar things:

The shortboard revolution had by then enshrined the tuberide as the ultimate surfing maneuver, and while Lopez was in the high-performance vanguard, ricocheting off the curl and doing hairpin cutbacks, he began to focus on riding as far back inside the wave as possible. Taking cues from Pipeline ace Jock Sutherland, Lopez taught himself how to take the simplest but deepest line through the tube, first making the near-vertical drop down the wave face, then turning and positioning himself beneath the curl with an absolute minimum of adjustments, and finally assuming a tranquil posture within the tube itself, knees slightly bent, arms and hands lowered, gaze steady.

Tom Curren summed up Lopez at Pipeline with one of the best sentences on surfing since Captain Cook: “One movement, one breath . . . very Zen. Like an archer pulling back and letting the arrow fly.”

Stay tuned for Part 2 of the Shortboard Revolution.

Juicy Roots is brought to us by contributing writer Ben Marcus