San Diego boardmaker and entrepreneur Larry Gordon, who died on January 1st from Parkinson's-related illness at age 76, was one of those people you appreciate more and more with age. Quiet, steady, low-key, dependable. Never showed up at work with a flask snuggled in his back pocket. Never had the IRS breathing down his neck. Didn't set any fires, literally or metaphorically.
Along with partner Floyd Smith, the Chicago-born Gordon brought storefront retail to the San Diego surf scene in 1959, with the opening of Gordon and Smith Surfboards in Pacific Beach. Larry did much of the shaping in the early years, but eventually focused his attention on keeping the business running smoothly, and it was his firm hand that guided G&S neatly through the shortboard revolution—an event that proved catastrophic for most other establishment boardmakers. If you surfed in California during the Nixon years, you owe Gordon a debt for the 1974 introduction of the full-templated, soft-railed G&S Modern Machine, which helped wake us up from our collective North Shore-worshipping hypnotic state and thus give up the Sunset-ready pintails we'd been riding at Hermosa Pier, Trestles, and every other gun-inappropriate break up and down the coast.
In his humble way, Gordon was among the most attractive figures in all of surf manufacturing. Surfers wanted to ride for him. Shapers wanted to sign their name under the G&S label. Skip Frye, Barry Kanaiaupuni, Mark Richards, and Rusty Preisendorfer were among the dozens who were involved with Gordon over the decades (A deeply religious man, Larry nonetheless had the business smarts to make room on the team roster for heretics and hellraisers like Mike Hynson and Butch van Artsdalen). In later years, with his health declining, many of these old associates, without conscious thought, adjusted their relationship with Gordon from professional to personal. He was a person you wanted to keep in touch with.
Goodbye, Larry Gordon. It was a graceful ride.