The Five Best Interviews in Surf

The Oldies are the Goodies

I came across a list of the five best interviews in surf last week, then reacted on the E.O.S. blog. I salute the choices. But a second perspective might not go amiss. Another viewpoint. And while this isn’t a competition…except, you know what, fuck that, of course it’s a competition.

Presenting the real Five Best Interviews in Surfing:



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1. FRED VAN DYKE

Old and wrinkly. Yeah. That’s how I like ’em. When I climb the mountain in search of knowledge, the guru at the top damn well ain’t looking like Noa Deane. He looks like Fred Van Dyke. (Or Betty Friedan.) This does not mean he (or she) is humorless or beyond earthly things. Interview-wise, Dorian Paskowitz was a stick in the mud right up until his 70s, at which point he started talking about the pussy and would not stop. No, it just means that your five-star interviewee must have perspective. Range. Yes, wisdom. I interviewed senior citizen Fred Van Dyke four or five times in the ’90s and ’00s. He was warm, bright, learned, and completely shorn of bullshit. Self-effacing, nearly to the point of self-lacerating, especially when it came to what he sourly referred to as his “surfing career.” Not at peace with himself, but getting closer day by day. I could post 50 examples of why Van Dyke tops my list, but I’ll go with the crowd favorite. Fred, famously, in a 1967 Life magazine interview, said that most big-wave surfers were “latent homosexuals.” In 1992 I asked him to clarify:

“What everyone missed was that I said latent homosexuals. I didn’t say we were all lovers. I meant that we all came to the North Shore, and it was Boys Town USA. One guy would rent a house, 10 other guys would move in, all these macho big-wave surfers, and it turned into a classic case of arrested development. Freud describes different levels of development, and one of them, for males, comes at around 10 to 12 years of age. That’s when you band together as guys, and don’t let girls into your lives. It doesn’t mean you’re gay. It means that the only thing that matters is your status among male friends—and that was everything for us. Everything! But instead of being 10 years old, we were 18, 20, 22, even older. We were still like kids. We were stuck.”


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2. TERRY TRACY

This Malibu original, the slyest, archest man to walk the golden sands of First Point, had the courage and good sense later in life to embrace Gidget and call bullshit on Dora:

How did you get the nickname “Tubesteak”?

One summer I got a job right next to the Malibu Inn, at a place called “Tube’s Steak and Lobster House.” People would say to me, “Hey you still at Tube’s Steak?” and then it just went to Tubesteak. But a lot of people thought that “Tubesteak” meant…ah, some kind of cylindrical piece of meat.

Do you ever see Dora?

No, not for years. Last time I saw him, he said “Stick a fork in me, I’m done.”

You’re not someone who particularly idolizes Dora.

Well he wasn’t really part of our Malibu scene. He wasn’t part of the Gidget-Moondoggie-Tubesteak thing. He was down there a couple days a week, but nobody really wanted anything to do with him—with this self-exiled loner. His whole gig was to irritate people. And he’d pick on the little guy. He’d take a guy’s board, some poor helpless little guy, and a few days later he’d give it back.”

But you agree he influenced a lot of surfers.

Oh, absolutely. There was nobody like him. He had this incredible presence. Everybody at Malibu started to surf like him, walk like him; they all did his hand gestures. He was very elegant in his own way, you know.


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3. BARTON LYNCH

The youngest surfer on my list, but wise beyond his years. Barton and I talked just a few weeks after his stirring world title win at Pipeline in 1988, and maybe the comedown from that high had something to do with his readiness to call out the denizens of the sport he had so recently conquered:

“Surfers as a group are extremely self-righteous. Grab any group of young surfers and they’ll be more self-righteous, cocky and judgmental than any group of young people you’ll find anywhere in the world. When really all they’ve done is found an outlet for making themselves feel good. That’s all surfing is. Something that makes you feel good; something that lets you get away from the drudgery of the rest of your life. Now, I’m not putting surfing down. I mean, surfing has basically structured and directed my whole life. And I’ve had so many incredible moments in the sport; moments that no one could comprehend. But there’s so much out there in the world! There are so many other ways to become aware, and there are people who contribute things so great, people who are so incredibly influential—and they’ve never stood on a surfboard in their lives.”


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4. WAYNE BARTHOLOMEW

If we’re talking sheer story-telling horsepower? Nobody touches Bugs. Of course, for full impact you need to experience it live, and the closer the better—hear his voice leap Errol Flynn-like from one pitch to the next, feel the air move as his hands and arms slice hither and yon, inhale the rich hoppy lager scent of his breath. In another life he no doubt entertained kings. In this life, he is one:

“Ian Cairns and I checked Waimea and it was still 20-foot. This was the day after Reno won the Smirnoff, in ’74. Kanga looks at me and says, ‘Right, we’re gonna surf outside Pipe,’ and I thought, ‘You’re joking.’ But I had to go along. Kanga was boss-man that year, I was the junior. So we get to Pipe and there isn’t a soul on the beach. We paddle straight through, way, way outside. And of course right away we see this giant set. Neither one of us had any idea what to do. Ian makes his call, I make mine. He paddles off toward Keana, I go toward Sunset. Kanga takes it full on the head, I make it over. So now I’m alone, out at sea, in the middle of nowhere. Shitting myself. But I’ve got to do something. Paddling in is not an option. Finally another set comes, I take off on the first wave, and it’s huge, I don’t know how big, bigger than anything I’d ever ridden. I do a bottom turn, this endless turn, and here comes the inside section, and it’s all I can do to get a rail dug in to head back down the line. Then it’s straight through the inside. Full speed. Full trim. Next thing I’m standing straight up inside the barrel. Came out, went into this horrendous closeout section, ate it, swam, walked up the beach and Peter Townend—PT! I couldn’t believe it!—runs down the beach, jumps up into my arms and hugs me and says, ‘You made it, Bugs! You’ve done it!’ And that was the start of my days at big Pipeline.”


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5. PHIL EDWARDS

Another one who ripened with age. Up to a point. Edwards folded his tent about 20 years ago, in terms of being a public figure. I was lucky enough to sneak one in just before that happened. Man was working blue at that time, and listening to his articulate ravings was an honor and a privilege:

Your thoughts on Southern California surfing these days?

I love to tell Bruce Brown he screwed the whole thing up. First the Beach Blanket Bingo bullshit, then Bruce comes out with Endless Summer, and suddenly everybody’s heading west. Between Bruce and those assholes from Hollywood, that was it. It became a commercial thing. The beach lifestyle and all that crap.

The “beach lifestyle.” You say that kind of…

For me, the beach is something you walk across to get to the water.

All the spots you rode in the ’50s and ’60s are so crowded now.

Well, not to sound too uptight or anything, but there’s just too much fucking going on. Too many babies being born. The whole world is too crowded. I mean, the population in this country has doubled in my lifetime!

At least the weather here [Southern California] is still nice.

Oh yeah, yeah. Of course. Look at the national weather report. I mean, it’s pretty much screwed everywhere else. Southern California, man, every day it’s clear and 72 degrees. Things are falling apart, people are killing each other in the streets of LA—but the weather’s good.