Smiling power surfer from Oahu, Hawaii; the sport's most successful pro during the early and mid-'70s, and cofounder of Quiksilver USA. Hakman was born (1948) in Redondo Beach, in southwest Los Angeles County, the son of an aeronautical engineer, and raised in nearby Palos Verdes. His early years in the sport were marked by a dazzling combination of talent and good fortune: his surfing father bought him a beautiful new 7' 11" balsa Velzy-Jacobs board when he was eight, taught him how to ride, and later insisted that Jeff cut school to join him for day trips up and down the coast.
In 1960, when Hakman was 12, the family moved to Oahu; he was soon getting free boards from master shaper Dick Brewer, and the following year, at age 13, he rode Waimea Bay for the first time and had a movie-stealing cameo in the John Severson surf movie Angry Sea. During his high school years, Hakman had Peter Cole for algebra and Fred Van Dyke for science—both were pioneering big-wave surfers on the North Shore and remained lineup fixtures at Sunset Beach and Waimea.
Hakman was the youngest (17) and smallest (5' 4", 125 pounds) invitee to the inaugural Duke Kahanamoku Invitational in 1965, held at Sunset; he won the event going away, beating veterans like Mike Doyle, Paul Strauch, Fred Hemmings, and Mickey Dora.
Over the next four years Hakman had no big contest wins, but his surfing continued to progress all through the late-'60s shortboard revolution, and by 1970 he'd developed the ultimate form-follows-function riding style: feet cemented to the deck of his board, knees open, weight low and shifted back slightly onto an overdeveloped rear thigh (he was nicknamed "Surf Muscle"), back and shoulders slightly hunched, chin tucked down toward his left shoulder. Hakman's outstretched hands waved a bit as he rode, and a smile often played over his features; few surfers have ever looked so joyous in the water. The lines he drew were more precise than innovative, but his mastery was complete, and he could ride for hours—sometimes days—without falling off his board.
International surf competitions began offering modest but encouraging cash prizes in the early '70s, and while Hakman, Gerry Lopez, Barry Kanaiaupuni, and Reno Abellira, all from Hawaii, were more or less held in equal esteem as the era's top riders, Hakman's consistency brought him the lion's share of first-place checks. He won the Duke contest in 1970 and 1971 and the inaugural Pipeline Masters in 1971; in 1972 he won the Hang Ten American Pro and the Gunston 500; in 1973 he again won the American Pro. In the 1974 Smirnoff—held in 30-foot surf at Waimea Bay and regarded still as a benchmark in big-wave competition—he finished second by a fraction of a point to Abellira. In 1976, at age 27, in what amounted to his professional surfing farewell, he became the first non-Australian to win the prestigious Bells Beach event in Victoria.
Hakman had by that time developed a drug problem. He'd traveled to Australia with three ounces of cocaine glassed inside the hollowed-out fin of his contest board, with the idea that he'd barter coke for heroin once he arrived, heroin at the time being far less expensive in Australia than America. Hakman was in fact loaded when he won the 1976 Bells event. Nevertheless, he recognized a business opportunity in the form of a new, well-fitting Australian-made brand of trunks called Quiksilver, and before the contest was over he had secured the Quiksilver USA manufacturing license.
Hakman made a small fortune with Quiksilver, sold company shares to buy drugs, lost his money and the company license, and was reduced to working as a surf shop clerk. He was high during the birth of his son in 1982, and not long afterward contracted hepatitis from sharing a needle with another surfer. Quiksilver, surprisingly, gave him another chance as a founding partner in their new French-based European office in 1984, but Hakman was demoted to special projects manager after using company money to buy drugs. In 1990 he spent six weeks in a high-end rehab clinic outside of London, and as of 2012 remained drug-free. Long-term drug use seemed to have little or no effect on Hakman's health and fitness, and in his 50s and 60s he remained one of the most dynamic surfers of his age group.
Hakman was the top vote-getter in the Big Wave category of the 1966 International Surfing Magazine Hall of Fame Awards. He appeared in more than two dozen surf movies in the '60s and '70s, including: Inside Out (1965), Golden Breed (1968), Cosmic Children (1970), Five Summer Stories (1972), A Sea for Yourself (1973), and Super Session (1975). He was also featured on Biographies, a 2001 cable TV series produced by Opper Films. Mr. Sunset: The Jeff Hakman Story, a biography written by surf journalist Phil Jarratt, was published in 1997; in 2000 Hakman was featured in a lengthy Outside magazine profile titled "Mr. Sunset Rides Again." He was inducted to the Surfers' Hall of Fame in 2009. Hakman is married and has two children.