Larson, Merv


Futuristic wave-ski surfer from Ventura, California; winner of the 1969 Rincon Surf-Ski and Kayak Championships. "Nat Young and Jock Sutherland probe the outer limits of performance on their feet," surf writer Drew Kampion noted. "Greenough does it on his knees. And Merv Larson? He does it on his ass."

Larson was born (1940) in the city of Orange, California, raised in Huntington Beach, and began bodysurfing at age seven. In 1959 he saw kayaker Don Golden riding at Doheny Beach in Orange County, and was intrigued; in 1965 he installed footstraps, a small seat, and a seat belt to an old paddleboard, building his first wave-ski. The board originally had a fin, but when it broke off Larson found he preferred the wider range of motion allowed by a finless craft, and discovered that he could get more than enough forward thrust by sinking a paddle blade into the water. Larson also wired a small water-proof transistor radio to his white plastic crash helmet, and was able to ride to music. (Joe Cocker was Larson's top choice.)

By 1968, Larson and fellow Southern California experimental surfer George Greenough, a kneerider, were the two most advanced surfers in the world; from atop his buoyant nine-foot ski, Larson was able to mix long-arc carves, hairpin turns, spins, slides, reverses, barrel rolls, and head-over-heels "tumble turns"  in a way that stand-up surfers wouldn't begin to match for 20 or 30 years. In Surfer magazine's 1970 spoof "End of the World" issue, Larson was chosen to be the only surfer allowed into the apocalypse-surviving time capsule. "Who," the magazine asked, saluting Larson as the New Adam, "is better equipped to carry the banner of surfing into time immemorial?"

Larson won the 1968 American Olympic trials for the one-kilometer kayak flat-water paddle sprint, and traveled that summer to Mexico City to compete in the Olympics, where he was eliminated in the early rounds. During the '70s, he won the wave-ski division of the Santa Cruz Surf Fest five times. From 1972 to 1996 he owned Merv Larson Aquatic Designs, a small wave-ski-building company in the Santa Barbara/Ventura area.

Larson appeared in two surf movies, Waves of Change and Pacific Vibrations, both from 1970.