Sutherland, Jock


Quirky switchfoot surfer from Haleiwa, Hawaii; winner of the 1967 Duke Kahanamoku Invitational, and the first tuberiding virtuoso of the shortboard era. Sutherland was born (1948) in Long Beach, California, the son of a fisherman and World War II navy officer. The family moved to the North Shore of Oahu in 1952, and Jock began surfing in 1956 at age eight.

Sutherland had a great five-year run as a competitor. At 17, he got caught in traffic driving to the West Side to compete in the finals of  the 1965 Makaha International event; paddling out with only 15 minutes left, he blitzed the lineup to gain his five-wave minimum, and finished runner-up to David Nuuhiwa by a single point. In the 1966 World Championships, held in San Diego, Sutherland finished second to Australian Nat Young. A few months later he won the small-wave division of the 1967 Peru International, and in December of that year won the Duke. (He was featured prominently in ABC's coverage of the 1968 Duke, and a violent Sutherland wipeout from that year's event was later used in the Wide World of Sports' opening credits to illustrate "the agony of defeat.") He also won the Hawaiian State Championships three times, from 1967 to 1969.

But it wasn't competition results that elevated Sutherland to the top spot on Surfer magazine's 1969 Readers Poll Awards; it was his newly honed skills as a tuberider, especially at Pipeline in Hawaii. The late-'60s shortboard revolution, with board sizes dropping quickly from 10 feet to seven feet, played to Sutherland's strengths. He'd long been a first-rate switchfoot surfer, able to perform equally well with either foot forward, but he'd never been particularly fluid, riding in a splay-legged stance with a rigid back, arms nearly locked in position. The short surfboards loosened up Sutherland's style, and he developed an efficient new way to get inside the tube, by stalling and angling his board just after takeoff instead of dropping to the bottom of the wave.

Sutherland also became one of the sport's most interesting characters, with a love of phrasing and description; he memorably recalled the inside of a big Pipeline tube as looking "just like the Pope's living room." Sutherland's wave-riding creativity expanded further—possibly amplified by his regular intake of LSD—as he mixed conventional turns with side slips, noserides, and flying kickouts. He became the first surfer, in late 1969, to ride the big surf at Waimea Bay at night. "We used to call him 'the Extraterrestrial,'" fellow Hawaiian surfer Jeff Hakman later said, "because he was so good at everything. He could beat anyone at chess or Scrabble; he could smoke more hash than anyone, take more acid, and still go out there and surf better than anyone."

In early 1970, for reasons never made clear, Sutherland abruptly left the North Shore and joined the U.S. Army. He didn't see active duty, and returned to Hawaii in November 1971, but the surf world had passed him by. His tuberiding mantle had been picked up by Gerry Lopez, who improved upon Sutherland's methods and had become the new Pipeline master.

Sutherland appeared in nearly a dozen surf movies, including Golden Breed (1968) and Pacific Vibrations (1970); he was also featured in Duke Kahanamoku's World of Surfing, a 1968 one-hour CBS sports special.

Surfer named Jock Sutherland #47 in a 2009 list of the "50 Greatest Surfers of All Time."

Gavin Sutherland, Jock's firstborn son, won the men's division of the 1996 United States Surfing Championships and by the early '00s had become one of the world's top aerialists.

Jocko's, or Jock's reef, a fickle left-breaking wave on Oahu's North Shore is named after Sutherland.