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Chapman, Craig "Owl"


Frizzy-haired regularfoot surfer from the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii; famous in the early- and mid-'70s for his tuberiding at Sunset Beach and Maalaea, and for his flamboyant "hood ornament" stance at Pipeline, where he'd race through the tube with arms spread and his right knee dropped to the deck of his board.

Chapman was born (1950) in Detroit, Michigan, moved with his family at age nine to Newport Beach, California, and soon began surfing with his older brother, Gary. Both the Chapman boys moved to Hawaii in 1967, and Gary, while living on Maui, became one of the first shortboard test pilots. Craig—nicknamed "Owl" as a play on his woeful nearsightedness—soon became one of the most dedicated surfers on the North Shore, and was featured in a number of period surf movies, including Cosmic Children (1970), A Sea for Yourself (1973), and Super Session (1975). He was also invited to both the 1970 and 1971 Expression Session events.

Chapman remained a part of the North Shore surf scene long after most all his contemporaries moved on, and became known for his zoned-out but epigrammatic phrasing. "When I was 22," he said in 1985, "I had a Cadillac, ten surfboards and ten girlfriends. Man, I thought it would be like that forever." As journalist Mike Latronic later described it, Chapman "walks the fine line between profound philosopher and space cadet."

In 2006, surfer-writer Jeff Johnson turned in a piece called “El Hombre Invisible (With Apologies to William S. Burroughs) An Owl Chapman Story" to the Surfer's Journal. In the good-natured, lighly-exasperated article, Johnson described ordering a big-wave board from the eccentric Chapman, paying up front, trying in vain to track down Chapman months after his board was supposed to be done, then finally receiving a board made to specification he hadn't asked for. Chapman, however, was not amused, and sued the Surfer's Journal for libel. The suit went to trial, and a federal jury in Honolulu dismissed the charges in 2009.