A lot of rules don’t apply to people as cool as Billy Hamilton. Ain’t fair, but there you go. Self-contradiction, for example. Hamilton was so cool that he could lay down a fist-pounding-on-table anti-contest rap (“contests should not fit into surfing, and surfing should not fit into contests”), while at the same time cashing checks from big North Shore events—dude was a three-time Duke finalist, and ’71 Smirnoff runner-up—and nobody called bullshit. Meanwhile, Hamilton’s surf-musings were outstandingly hippy-dippy, even by the fatuous standard of the era. Here’s a taste, from a 1975 Surfing article: “We all have our individual rhythms and tempos, which we use in accordance with the various evolutionary patterns of time and space.” Fifteen-hundreds words of that. And every surfer on earth, save Flippy Hoffman and Bluey Mayes, read that article, nodded his shaggy unwashed head, and muttered “Right.”
Hamilton got away with this and more because he was surfing’s Jesus of Cool. I mean, the hair alone. A perfect marcelled dirty-blonde comb-back, in combination with a tidy middleweight moustache that made Gerry Lopez’ face furniture look pubescent and weak by comparison. Add black Wayfarers, a closetful of well-fitted glam-casual clothes and a Robert Redford smile, and Hamilton’s cool was redlining before he even set foot in the water—where the whole effect was multiplied into something that made you feel the rapture was nigh. And I choose the word carefully. Surfers throughout the years have talked of having a personal relationship with Christ. Okay, but the Savior actually gave Hamilton style tips. Billy’s sublime frontside cutback? It’s based on a picture of Jesus giving the Sermon on the Mount, arms raised and fingers pointed with divine beauty. Hamilton stared at it for hours. Decided he didn’t want to cutback like Corky or David. He wanted to cutback like God.
Did he pull it? Watch the clip. Tell me Jesus isn’t smiling.
(Photo: Art Brewer)