Boisterous pointbreak specialist from Pacific Palisades, California; best known for his noseriding and deep-set turns at Malibu in the late '50s and '60s. "He was the best surfer there," Hollywood director/screenwriter and former Malibu surfer John Milius said in 1999. "He read the waves better, never made a mistake, and only fell off deliberately at the end of a ride . . . or if he was drunk."
Lance Carson was born (1943) in Santa Monica, California, and raised in nearby Pacific Palisades. He was a spina bifida baby, and his parents were told that water exercise might promote bone growth, so Carson took to the surf at age four, at Malibu, on a four-foot-long balsa bellyboard made by his father.
In 1956, Carson was the youngest of a new generation of Malibu surfers that included Mickey Dora, Mike Doyle, and Mickey Muñoz. By the turn of the decade, Malibu had become the world's best-known surf break, and Carson and Dora all but defined Malibu surfing: the dark-haired Dora with his jazzy, theoretical style, Carson with his forceful cutbacks and perfectly composed noseriding. Both were featured in Bruce Brown's 1966 surf movie classic The Endless Summer, with narrator Brown commenting during a long Carson noseride that "he's so relaxed up there you get the feeling he could have a ham sandwich while he's waiting around."
Although Carson had no interest in surfing contests, he was ranked #2, behind David Nuuhiwa, on a 1965 Surfer magazine list of the world's 10 best noseriders. He worked at Jacobs Surfboards in Hermosa Beach, first as a salesman, then as a shaper, and in 1965 Jacobs introduced the popular Lance Carson signature model surfboard.
Carson's reputation for beer-soaked capers and stunts, meanwhile, almost matched his standing as a wave-rider. "Every time I went to a party," he recalled in 1984, "I seemed to think of something new and crazy to do." An oft-told tale in the Carson canon, perhaps apocryphal, has Carson perched on the hood of a friend's station wagon while being ferried across a Winchell's Donut shop parking lot dressed in nothing but a strategically placed honey-glazed donut. He continued to drink heavily through the '60s and into the '70s, then quit in 1979. Carson later expressed regret for his "wild and radical" years, saying it made him "a second-rate person."
Carson was all but left behind as a relic during and just after the late 60s shortboard revolution. In 1976, however, anticipating the longboard revival, he founded the Lance Carson Surfboards label and began selling longboards to Santa Monica–area surf shops. Carson himself never stopped longboarding, and continued to surf Malibu on a 9' 6" noserider. He became an early surfing environmentalist in 1984, spearheaded a local effort to clean up the polluted Malibu Lagoon, and helped launch the Surfrider Foundation.
Carson appeared in a small number of surf films in the early and mid-'60s, including Walk on the Wet Side (1963), A Cool Wave of Color (1964), and Strictly Hot (1964), and is featured in Legends of Malibu, a 1987 documentary. Carson was the model for the talented but alcoholic surfer Matt Johnson, played by Jan-Michael Vincent, in Warner Brothers' 1978 surf movie Big Wednesday.
In 1991, Carson was inducted to the International Surfing Hall of Fame.