Groundbreaking regularfooter from Dana Point, California; often described as the original power surfer for his water-gouging turns, and credited as the first person to ride Hawaii's Pipeline. It was Edwards, along with friend and part-time rival Mickey Dora, who created the technique, image, and language for surfing in America—and the rest of the surf world—from the mid-'50s to the mid-'60s.
Edwards was born (1938) and raised in Long Beach, California, moved with his family to Oceanside in 1946, and began surfing at age 12. He wasn't the first surfer to turn consistently on the wave; by the time he was 20, however, he was turning harder, and with more authority, than anybody else, and was a consensus pick as the world's best surfer.
Edwards often began his rides in a straight-backed, bowlegged trim stance. Hitting a likely spot on the wave, he'd quickly move his back foot to the tail of the board and stomp into a turn, leveraging with bent arms, knees, ankles, and hips, often pushing the move a little too far before letting up and recovering with a series of improvisational nods, feints, and shimmies. "It all seemed too radical, or too deep, or too much on edge," surf magazine publisher Steve Pezman said of Edwards's surfing. "But it was totally controlled. And it was like he understood something that no one else did."
Although Edwards's claim to being the first to ride Pipeline has been challenged (by 1968 world champion Fred Hemmings, among others), he was almost certainly the first to complete a ride at Pipeline (Hemmings admits he wiped out), and was without question the surfer who proved that the notoriously dangerous break could in fact be survived. Edwards's debut at Pipeline was memorably captured in Surfing Hollow Days, Bruce Brown's 1962 surf film, with Edwards dropping into an eight-footer and angling at high speed in the shadow of the curl. "Now it hunkered high up over me," Edwards later wrote of his ride, "hissing and singing, white and boiling, moving faster than anything I had ever seen."
In 1964 Edwards finished fourth in the United States Surfing Association final standings and second in the Peru International, and served as a judge in the World Surfing Championships. For the most part, though, he avoided surfing contests. His reputation was first earned through word of mouth, then from surf movies—he starred in Bud Brown's Cat on a Hot Foam Board (1959) and Gun Ho! (1963), among others—and surf magazines. Good-looking and articulate, Edwards was surfing's first media star, winning the inaugural Surfer Magazine Readers Poll Award in 1963, as well as the sport's first professional surfer, as Hobie Surfboards introduced the Phil Edwards signature model surfboard in 1963, and Hang Ten sportswear produced a Phil Edwards line of beachwear in 1964.
Edwards's fame continued to grow. He was introduced as "the amazing Mr. Phil Edwards" in Bruce Brown's 1966 surf movie classic The Endless Summer, and the following year he was featured in a Sports Illustrated cover story. You Should Have Been Here an Hour Ago, Edwards's Harper and Row autobiography—the first book of its type by a surfer—was published in 1967, and was excerpted for a six-page Saturday Evening Post feature. The "power surfing" mantle had by that time passed from Edwards to Australian Nat Young, 1966 world champion, who in turn became the most influential surfer of his generation. Edwards dropped off the surf scene during the late '60s shortboard revolution, and was mostly unheard from until 1988, when the longboard revival prompted him to reissue his Hobie signature model.
Edwards was inducted into the International Surfing Hall of Fame in 1966, and to the Huntington Beach Surfing Walk of Fame in 1995. Surfer magazine in 1999 named him as one of the "25 Most Influential Surfers of the Century." Surfing magazine ranked him among the "16 Greatest Surfers of All Time" in 2004. Surfer listed him at #12 in the magazine's "Greatest Surfers of All Time" feature in 2009.
Edwards has been married twice and has one child.