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Froiseth, Wally


Prototype big-wave rider from Honolulu, Hawaii; an original hot curl surfer in the late 1930s, and one of the early surf explorers on the west and north shores of Oahu. Froiseth was born (1919) in Los Angeles, spent his early years living with his grandmother in Sacramento, and moved with his family to Honolulu in 1925. He began surfing at age eight, renting a board for 25 cents a day from a beachfront vendor in Waikiki, and was later informally mentored by master surf innovator Tom Blake.

Soon Froiseth was riding with John Kelly and Fran Heath, two other local haole surfers. In 1937, after a frustrating morning when their finless redwood plank surfboards kept "sliding ass"—the rear section refusing to hold traction on the wave face—the three surfers returned to Kelly's house where Kelly, using an ax and drawknife, streamlined the tail section of Heath's board. The new design allowed them to hold a tighter angle across the face, which in turn allowed them to ride bigger waves. It was Froiseth who noted that the narrow-tailed board could "really get you in the hot curl," and the name stuck. The outline of the hot curl was the basis for the big-wave gun board.

Froiseth, Kelly, and a few other surfers drove out to the west side of the island in the fall of 1937 and discovered waves at the mouth of Makaha Valley; for almost 20 years, Makaha would be the big-wave surfing crucible, while the quiet and methodical Froiseth earned a reputation as the island's most dedicated big-wave rider. (Froiseth, Kelly, and Heath began making occasional day trips to the North Shore in the late '30s, but all of them preferred Makaha.)

In 1942, Froiseth married Pearl Downing, aunt to future big-wave great George Downing; the following summer, the 13-year-old Downing came to live with Froiseth, who became the boy's surrogate father. Froiseth and Downing became the first to ride Laniakea on the North Shore in 1946; the following year they pioneered Honolua Bay on Maui; in 1948, along with Russ Takaki, they sailed to the mainland and toured through Southern California with their hot curls.

Froiseth worked as a tugboat operator during World War II, became a fireman after the war (eventually rising to chief of the Pearl Harbor Fire Department), then worked as a pilot boat operator.

The Makaha International surf contest, founded in 1954 and originally cosponsored by the Waikiki Surf Club, of which Froiseth was a member, was the sport's most prestigious event in the '50s and early '60s; Froiseth won the 1959 Makaha contest at age 39. The following year he became the event's director, and ran the contest until its demise in 1971. He was also the head judge for the Duke Kahanamoku Invitational in 1965 and 1966 and a judge for the 1966 World Surfing Championships.