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Fletcher, Herbie


Hustling, media-obsessed surfer/manufacturer/impresario from San Clemente, California; semifinalist in the 1966 World Surfing Championships; leader of the longboard renaissance in the 1970s; owner of Astrodeck traction pads and producer of the Wave Warrior video series; father of aerial specialist Christian and big-wave nutcase Nathan Fletcher. "In rock and roll we've got Iggy Pop and Mick Jagger," surf journalist Jamie Brisick wrote in 1996, "in surfing we've got Herbie Fletcher."

Born in Pasadena in 1948, Fletcher began surfing at age nine. In 1966, the brown-haired 17-year-old won the juniors division of the Laguna Swimwear Masters contest at Redondo Beach, finished second to David Nuuhiwa in the United States Surfing Association juniors division final ratings, and placed seventh in the World Championships.

Fletcher kept a fairly low profile during the shortboard revolution, then suddenly reappeared on the cover of Surfer in 1976, noseriding on a bright red longboard—it was the magazine's first longboard cover since 1968 (and the last until 1997) and an early and unmistakable sign of the nascent longboard resurgence. Herbie Fletcher Surfboards was founded the same year, with a Dana Point showroom stocked full of Fletcher-shaped longboards, and an advertising campaign built around images of Fletcher hanging ten and a slogan proclaiming "The Thrill is Back." With the exception of Gordon & Smith Surfboards in San Diego, Fletcher was the only person keeping longboards in stock.

In 1975, Orange County surfer Jim Van Vleck developed Astrodeck, a spray-on urethane nonslip coating for surfboards; Fletcher bought the company the following year, created a peel-and-stick version, and turned Astrodeck into the sport's best-known accessory, largely due to the fact that he personally distributed the product to nearly every top surfer in the world during the late '70s and '80s.

Fletcher positioned himself in the vanguard of the surf video movement in 1985 with the release of Wave Warriors, a no-frills 45-minute promo for Astrodeck. Four Wave Warrior sequels followed, each as energetic and mindless as the original, followed by The Best of Wave Warriors in 1991. Next came the Fletcher-produced Adrenaline Surf Series, released at about twice the rate of the Wave Warrior videos, as well as a steady supply of longboard-only videos. "I've made so many movies," Fletcher declared in 1996, "I don't know how many I've made." As of 2013, Wave Warriors XI  was in post-production. 

Fletcher himself continued to surf at a furious pace, accoutered in the brightest possible colors (lime-green surfboards and flaming red wetsuits in the mid- and late '80s), and in 1995 he again made the cover of Surfer. While Fletcher appeared in Free and Easy (1967) and Five Summer Stories (1972), he didn't become a surf cinema regular until the '80s, first in surf movies like Ocean Fever (1983) and Amazing Surf Stories (1986), and then in dozens of his own videos.

Fletcher was also a tow-in surfing forerunner: in 1985 he rode 25-foot waves at Waimea Bay on his Kawasaki 550 Jet Ski, and in 1987—four years before Laird Hamilton helped popularize the technique—he towed Martin Potter, Tom Carroll, and Michael Ho into 12-foot waves at Pipeline.

Fletcher is married to Dibi Hoffman, sister of two-time world champion Joyce Hoffman and daughter of big-wave pioneer and surfwear textile giant Walter Hoffman. Christian Fletcher, Herbie's oldest son, became a trailblazing aerial surfer in the late '90s; second-born Nathan Fletcher, also a first-rate aerialist, branched out into motocross, snowboarding, and skateboarding, then returned to surfing as a big-wave hellman of the first order. The Fletcher clan was described as "The First Family of Surfing" in a 1992 Esquire magazine cover feature that was by turns impressed by their surf world fame and mocking of their near-complete ignorance of anything in the nonsurfing world. "Family Values," a look at the unusual family dynamics of the Fletcher clan, written by surf journalist Chas Smith, was printed in the New York Times Magazine in 2011. 

Longtime friends with New York artist and filmmaker Julian Schnabel, Fletcher in the late '00s began selling his own art, including the "Wrecktangle" series featuring pieces of broken boards glued together.

Fletcher performed stunt surfing sequences for the 2007 HBO series John From Cincinatti, and the show's Yost family was thought to be loosely patterned after the Fletchers. 

Herbie Fletcher was inducted into the Huntington Beach Surfing Walk of Fame in 1995.