Smooth, quiet, refined surfer and surfboard shaper from San Diego, California; competitor in the World Surfing Championships in 1966 and 1968; leader of the late-'60s shortboard revolution in California; and a master of the undervalued art of trim—finding and holding a pure angle in the fastest part of the wave. "He's a minimalist," surf journalist Chris Ahrens wrote in 1992, "all function, flow and speed." Frye was born (1941) in San Diego, the son of a navy aircraft mechanic, raised in East Mission Bay, and began surfing at age 16 after moving with his family to the north San Diego suburb of Pacific Beach.
By the mid-'60s the shy but focused Frye was one of California's best competitors. He finished third in the 1965 Tom Morey Invitational, and was runner-up in both the 1965 and 1967 United States Surfing Association's year-end standings; he placed second in the 1966 U.S. Pro Championships, won the 1967 Laguna Masters, and placed third in the United States Surfing Championships. Frye was in many respects the model California surfer, with combed-back blond hair, a friendly grin, and a pair of black Ray-Ban sunglasses.
Frye began shaping in 1962, and within two years was working for San Diego's Gordon & Smith Surfboards. In 1966, G&S introduced the Skip Frye signature model. Frye was riding a 9' 6" board in late 1967 when he traveled to Australia with the Windansea Surf Club—a group based in nearby La Jolla, whose membership included most of the top California surfers of the day—for an America versus Australia team contest. Once in Sydney, Frye and the rest of the Americans were astounded to find the Australian surfers riding wide-backed eight-foot boards ("like something out of Star Wars," Frye later recalled) that literally turned circles around the longboard-riding California surfers. It was the beginning of the shortboard revolution, and back in California a few weeks later, Frye was the first West Coast shaper to build the new Australian-invented vee-bottom design.
Frye began working under his own label in 1976, specializing in boards that were slightly longer, wider, and thinner than average; from 1990 to 2001 he owned a factory-retail outlet called Harry's Surf Shop. Frye has shaped boards for 1995 world champion runner-up Rob Machado and 1991 world champion runner-up Brad Gerlach, among other surfers. Frye himself, in the early '90s, began to use a 12-foot surfboard as he invented a kind of cross-country form of surfing, riding each wave as long as possible, then paddling to an adjacent surf break, riding, and moving on to another spot—often stringing together as many as seven different breaks, and once riding a dozen in a single go.
Though Frye was seen on ABC's Wide World of Sports in 1965, when he finished runner-up in the slalom division of the International Skateboard Championships, he was missing almost completely from '60s-era surf movies, apart from a lengthy appearance in 1969's The Fantastic Plastic Machine. He was later featured in a number of surf videos and movies, including On Safari to Stay (1992), Blazing Longboards (1994), The Seedling (2000), Sprout (2004), Glass Love (2006), and One California Day (2007) as well as Liquid Stage: The Lure of Surfing (1995), a PBS-aired documentary.
Frye was nominated to the International Surfing Hall of Fame in 1991, the International Surfboard Builders Hall of Fame in 2006, and the Huntington Beach Surfing Walk of Fame in 2011. In 2000 he won the masters division of the 2000 Longboard Magazine Readers Poll. Frye's wife, the former Donna Sarbis, won the 2001 Surf Industry Manufacturers Association Environmentalist of the Year Award, and that same year was elected to a San Diego city council seat.
Frye has been married twice and has three children.