Oh Larry! Where Is Thy Sting?

Stingers. Loved 'em. Here's why.

Stingers. I loved 'em. And yes, I know Ben Aipa called it a "sting," and we've been saying it wrong for 40 years now, but that's the wonderful thing about the English language—if it's wrong for long enough, it's right. I had five or six stingers, beginning around 1976, all shaped by Pat Ryan of ET Surfboards. One was magic, the best board I had that whole decade. Two or three were excellent. One was a dog. Way better hit-to-miss ratio than the twin-fins I owned in the years that followed, 95% of which rode like skateboards with the trucks on backwards.

During its brief heyday, the stinger was the fastest, quickest-turning small-wave machine around. The video above kind of makes the point, but not really, because I didn't put any shots of guys from the same era riding their non-sting roundpins or squaretails or whatever. The stinger A-team—Bertlemann, Buttons, Liddell, Dane and MR—were tap-dancing on fools more or less right up until MR ran out of his Newcastle glassing room with that first chunky red-yellow-orange twin-fin and plunged it like a shiv through the heart of the stinger. Aipa's design went from 60 to zero in about six weeks.

Three more reasons why I love the stinger:

1) The origin story. Ben Aipa will tell you that he got the idea for the sting from watching a hydrofoil glide along at speed across Honolulu Harbor, which sounds very Eureka, like Newton figuring out gravity after the apple bounces off his head. But he had a different take in 1992, during a Surfing magazine interview.

Surfing: You invented the stinger design. How did that happen?

Aipa: This is true—by accident the [Masonite] template fell on to the rail and cut the plan shape! I'd already cut out the outline.

Instead of tossing the blank, Aipa, clever man, flipped it over, made an identical cut in the opposite rail, re-templated the back third of the board, and hey ho! That just might work!

2) The Buttons-Liddell SURFER cover shot, with flaming stingers, pre-surf, Kaisers. September of '76. Here's the entire SURFER cover archive, 1960 to 2012. Find me a more joyous Page One shot than this and I will eat my trifocals.

3) I beat Larry Bertlemann in the 1977 Katin Pro-Am. I was riding a stinger. Larry wasn't. Actually, I was riding Dennis Jarvis' stinger, as the one I brought to the beach at Huntington Cliff that morning was the aforementioned dog, and Dennis was kind enough to lend me his—and oh my, people, this board was my soulmate, lifted my game from the minute I set foot on it, more twang off the bottom, sharper off the top, so much speed through the sections, look at my Johnny Winter hair whipping around behind my head like a flag in a hurricane! As I beat Larry Bertlemann! In the shittiest Southern California winter storm surf imaginable. Victory at sea, probably 12-foot at 7 seconds, current along the beach running north-to-south like the Rio Grande, and the great afro-haired Hawaiian god of high performance surfing never would have looked at the waves this day, much less gone out, if the contest wasn't on—the poor guy drifted 300 yards up the beach trying to paddle out while I spun around and rode two near-shore closeouts, while also drifting south, then got out and ran back directly in front of the judges’ stand, paddled out and wowed 'em with another foamy closeout, and took the win while Larry ended up scoreless, somewhere up around River Jetties. Look it up!

Stingers were great. I rest my case.