Flamboyant goofyfooter from Surfside, California; winner of the United States Surfing Championships in 1966, 1967, and 1969, and the sport's chirruping master of media in the '60s, '70s, and '80s. "He's been cheered and booed," surf journalist Jim Kempton wrote in 1998, "reviled, honored, laughed at, accused and credited with everything from defiling the name of surfing to inventing the career of 'pro surfer.'"
Carroll was born (1947) in Alhambra, California, the son of an electrician, raised in the southwest Los Angeles County town of Surfside, and got his first surfboard at age nine. He developed into a razzle-dazzle hotdogger who viewed the sport as an opportunity to entertain. "Corky Carroll: The Clown," a 1964 Surf Guide magazine interview, introduced the "controversial" gap-toothed 16-year- old as a surfer who "does so much so fast that spectators have trouble keeping up with him."
Although not a great natural talent, like silky-smooth rival David Nuuhiwa, Carroll was the most dedicated competitor of his generation, and won more surf events than anybody during the '60s and early '70s. Aside from his three U.S. titles, he won the juniors division of the 1963 West Coast Championships, placed third in the 1966 World Championships, won the 1967 Peru International, and was the United States Surfing Association season points leader in 1966 and 1967. He competed in the 1968, 1970, and 1972 World Championships without making the finals; in the 1970 event, held in Victoria, Australia, it was front-page news when he was temporarily suspended from the meet after allegedly starting a food fight during a precontest banquet. Well-muscled at 5' 10", 160 pounds, Carroll was also among the world's top paddleboard racers, winning the pier race in the 1964 U.S. Surfing Championships.
Carroll's claim to being the first professional surfer is valid, as he won a TV set for his juniors victory in the 1965 Laguna Swimwear Masters contest in Redondo Beach, and placed first in the goofyfoot division of the 1965 Tom Morey Invitational in Ventura, winning $250 in the first-ever cash-prize surfing event. But it was endorsement money that paid the bills; a 1969 Sports Illustrated article on the Smirnoff Pro-Am, held in Santa Cruz, noted that Carroll made $29,000 in 1968—all but $400 from an array of sponsors, including Hobie Surfboards, who carried an ever-changing line of Corky Carroll signature model boards.
Carroll retired from competition surfing at the end of 1972, at age 25, but kept up his bantering surf scene presence. "Cowabunga, it was good," he wrote in a 1973 Surfing magazine article, describing a big summer swell at Newport Beach. "Utter bliss and all those super-great adjectives that describe hot waves!"
Carroll appeared in more than two dozen surf movies, including Gun Ho! (1963), The Endless Summer (1966), Golden Breed (1968), Pacific Vibrations (1970), and Five Summer Stories (1972); in the '60s he was a guest on the Tonight Show, the Merv Griffin Show, and What's My Line? In 1972, Carroll recorded Laid Back, an album of earnest folk and blues songs; in 1977 he recorded the novelty single "Skateboard Bill" (with cover art by Surfer magazine cartoonist Rick Griffin); in 1978 he performed "I Wanna Be a Surf Freak, Daddy" on the nationally syndicated Gong Show (he was gonged); in 1979 he recorded the album A Surfer for President, which included the single "Tan Punks on Boards."
In 1983, the high-voiced Carroll presented himself as the happy but perpetually jobless surfer in a nationally aired Miller Lite beer commercial; from 1987 to 1989, he had an Andy Rooney-like segment on Surfer magazine's ESPN television show. He wrote more than 25 articles and columns for surf magazines from 1964 to 2000; since 1994 he's written a weekly surf column for the Orange County Register. Surf-Dog Days and Bitchin' Nights, Carroll's bawdy autobiography, was published in 1989. Meanwhile, he was Surfer magazine's advertising director from 1977 to 1986, a Honda car salesman in 1989, and a tennis instructor from 1990 to 1996.
Carroll founded the Huntington Beach-based Corky Carroll Surf School in 1996, the same year he released Learn to Surf the Fast, Easy Way, an instructional video. He also founded or cofounded Corky Carroll Spacestix (1970 to 1972), Corky Carroll Coolstix (1986–90), and Corky Surfwear (1986–90).
In 1967, Carroll won the Surfer Magazine Readers Poll Award and was California's top vote-getter in Surfing magazine's Hall of Fame balloting. He was inducted into the Huntington Beach Surfing Walk of Fame in 1996. Carroll has been married twice, has three children, and lives in Huntington Beach.