Cool-handed regularfooter from Honolulu, Hawaii; arguably the finest all-around surfer of the '60s, and certainly the decade's best in international competition; cofounder of the Chart House restaurant chain. "He's Mr. Perfect," California surfer Mickey Muñoz said of Cabell. "Everything he does, he does well."
Cabell was born (1938) and raised in Honolulu, and began surfing at age seven. By the late '50s he'd become a surfer of unmatched range and polish, able to ride with total panache in waves from two to 25 feet. He studied the moves and countermoves of surfing competition as if it were chess, and won easily, unemotionally. In 1963 he placed first in the Makaha International, held in booming 15-footers, as well as the Malibu Invitational, where the waves were barely waist-high. The following year he was runner-up in the United States Surfing Association final standings and also finished third in the World Surfing Championships—denied the win, many observers felt, only because he ignored the new "sportsmanship" rule and rode in front of other competitors.
Cabell then spent two years in Colorado. In 1967 he returned to surf competition and won at Makaha; in 1968 he won the Peru International, and defended his Makaha title; in 1969 he won the Duke Kahanamoku Invitational; in 1970 and 1971 he was invited to the Expression Session contests.
Cabell and partner Buzzy Bent opened the first Chart House steak and seafood restaurant in 1962 in Aspen, and it was an instant success. Branches soon appeared in Redondo Beach, Newport Beach, and Honolulu. Cabell created the Chart House ambience, selecting the menu items, designing the wood-paneled decor, and dressing the staff in brightly colored aloha shirts. The Chart House became a kind of surfing institution, as two generations of Californian and Hawaiian surfers took jobs there as waiters or bartenders, so as to free up daylight hours for surfing. A sequence of Redondo Breakwater in John Severson's 1970 surf movie Pacific Vibrations is shot from the low-lit interior of the beachfront Redondo Chart House. Cabell sold his interest in the chain—but retained ownership of the Honolulu Chart House—in the early '70s.
Cabell's interest in the restaurant business faded in part because of his involvement with the late-'60s shortboard revolution, as boards were transformed from bulky 10-footers to sleek seven-footers. In 1968, at the relatively advanced age of 30, Cabell became one of the shortboard movement's key figures, putting forth his "speed surfing" theory, wherein the surfer rides in a crouch with his feet and knees together, seeking out the fastest line across the wave. Cabell himself, riding a pointy 8' 3" homemade board called the White Ghost, seemed to be riding faster than any surfer alive. Speed surfing was a forgotten concept by 1971—surfers opened their stance and simply ran the new equipment all over the place on the wave—and Cabell didn't have any direct heirs to his style of riding. But he'd done his part for the shortboard movement, and for a time established himself as a kind of surfing demigod. "He is a leader," Pipeline surfer Gerry Lopez said in 1970, by which time Cabell had grown a full Moses-like beard, "whose followers seldom realize they're being led."
Cabell appeared in more than a dozen surf movies, including Surf Safari (1959), Strictly Hot (1964), Evolution (1969), and Forgotten Island of Santosha (1974). He was named to Surf Guide magazine's First All-American Surfing Team in 1963; the following year the California state legislature drew a one-page resolution congratulating Cabell following his 1963 Makaha win. In 1985, Surfer magazine named him as one of "25 Surfers Whose Surfing Changed the Sport."
Cabell's oldest daughter, Raina, was married to 2000 world professional surfing champion Sunny Garcia; the two were later divorced.