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Curren, Pat


Impenetrable surfer and surfboard shaper from La Jolla, California; generally regarded as the best big-wave rider of the late 1950s and early '60s, as well as the era's finest big-wave surfboard craftsman; father of three-time world champion Tom Curren.

Pat Curren was born (1932) in Carlsbad, California, the son of a surveyor, and grew up in San Diego's Mission Beach. At 18, two years after dropping out of high school, he moved to La Jolla and began surfing; he later became an original member of the La Jolla–based Windansea Surf Club, the loudest and rowdiest group of its kind in the nation.

Curren first visited Hawaii in 1955, and two years later was among the first group of surfers to ride Waimea Bay; the slim regularfooter wiped out on nearly all his rides, as did the rest of the half-dozen surfers out that day, largely because their surfboards were unsuited to the conditions. Curren had been shaping boards for less than two years at that time; he returned to La Jolla and dedicated himself to making specialized big-wave equipment, and before the end of the decade he'd become the acknowledged master of the big-wave board. "Pat was the first guy to produce the ultimate gun," California-born surfer Fred Van Dyke later said. "Others were making nice all-around boards, but Pat made the stiletto, specifically for Waimea, where all you want to do is make it alive from Point A to B."

Curren had meanwhile become the most patient of the big-wave surfers, and would often sit quietly for two hours or longer waiting for the right wave. He took off on fewer Waimea waves than any of his companions, but invariably got the one that everybody remembered. Once up and riding, Curren kept his feet and legs fairly close together and used a medium crouch, with a ramrod- straight back, his arms swept out like wings.

Nearly mute at times, Curren nonetheless had a fully developed sense of humor. In the winter of 1958, inspired by the Anglo-Saxon legend of Beowulf, he rented a three-bedroom house on the North Shore along with eight other La Jolla surfers, gutted the interior so that it was essentially one high-ceilinged room with a surfboard rack along the wall, and built a giant communal table down the center. Curren called it Meade Hall, and presided over dinners with a Viking helmet jammed down over his close-cropped black hair. He meanwhile showed little or no interest in the surf media, and responded as follows to a 1963 Surfer magazine questionnaire: 

What do you like about surfing? no answer

Club affiliation: none

Personal surfing history: no answer

Hobbies: no answer

Other sports of interest to you: diving

Future plans: no answer

Outlook for surfing: no answer

Curren had a midday wedding in Hawaii, in 1961, and surfed Waimea that afternoon. He and his wife, Jeanine, moved to California the following year, where Curren worked mainly as a diver and board-builder. Tom Curren, the couple's first son, was born in 1964; second son Joe was born in 1974. Pat left the family in 1981 and moved to Costa Rica; he and Jeanine were soon divorced. Curren moved to the southern tip of Baja in 1988, near San Jose del Cabo. Pat and Tom surfed together in Costa Rica in 1985, while Joe joined his father and older brother for a surf trip to Ireland and France in 2000, but Curren family members have for the most part gone their own ways.

Curren has had almost nothing to do with the nostalgia-tinged "surf legends" revival of the '90s and '00s, but he did visit California to produce six full-size replica balsa guns in 1994 and made 10 more in 1996, selling them for an average price of $3,500; in 2000 he announced that he would start making two or three $10,000 boards per year. In 2000, the the 68-year-old Curren had a baby daughter

Curren is featured in many first-generation surf movies, including Surf Crazy (1959), Barefoot Adventure (1960), Cavalcade of Surf (1962), and Gun Ho! (1963).