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Trent, Buzzy


Hypermasculine big-wave surfer of the 1950s and '60s, from Honolulu, Hawaii. Trent was born (1929) in San Diego, California, the son of a mining engineer father and wealthy landholding mother, and the grandson of the architect  John Parkinson, who desgined the Los Angeles Coliseum, Los Angeles City Hall, and many other landmark buildings in the region. Trent was raised in Santa Monica, and began surfing at age 12 at Malibu. In his midteens, he was mentored by eccentric surfboard design genius Bob Simmons, 10 years Trent's senior. "They were a real pair," Malibu regular Dave Rochlen later recalled. "The mad scientist and his big, burly sidekick Igor."

Few surfers in history have had Trent's measure for pure athletic skill. He was an all-state fullback in high school and ran the 100-yard dash in 10.1 seconds; as a freshman running back for the University of Southern California, he broke his leg while playing against Ohio State, at which time he became a Golden Gloves boxer. According to fellow Santa Monica surfer and future big-wave rider Ricky Grigg, Trent once "hit an opponent so hard it killed him right there in the ring."

Trent moved to Honolulu in 1952, after seeing film footage of Makaha shot by Walter Hoffman of Laguna Beach. Hoffman was one of the original big-wave specialists, along with Hawaiian George Downing, but it was Trent who became the godfather and patron saint of adventure-seeking big-wave riders. He was a raw, no-frills surfer, using a functional straight-backed squat, and always seeking the highest possible line of attack. Once comfortable in Hawaii, he began looking for the biggest waves he could find, preferably 20-footers or larger at Point Surf Makaha. A 1953 Associated Press photo of Trent, Downing, and Woody Brown on a sparkling triple-overhead wave at Makaha was published in newspapers across the country and encouraged a small but influential group of California surfers—including Peter Cole and Fred Van Dyke— to try their luck in the big Hawaiian surf.

Trent looked at the surf media as a opportunity for performance of a different kind. Asked to speak as a big-wave authority in a 1963 surf movie, the square-jawed Trent begins a lesson on riptides by calling for a blackboard, which is wheeled in by an attractive bikini-clad, lollipop-licking assistant. In a classic 1965 Hobie Surfboards ad Trent played the steely death-or-glory adventurer, standing bare-chested in a surfboard factory and staring coldly at a new big-wave board. Trent, in fact, was the first to describe a big-wave surfboard as a "gun," and he coined one of the sport's most famous epigrams, saying that "big waves aren't measured in feet, but in increments of fear." The Buzzy Trent signature model big-wave board from Surfboards Hawaii, produced in 1964, was advertised as the ultimate surf vehicle and cost $250, more than double the price of a stock board. (In 2007, a Buzzy Trent gun sold at auction for $33,000.)

Trent was a judge for the 1965 Duke Kahanamoku Invitational, and in 1966 he was inducted into the International Surfing Magazine Hall of Fame. He appeared in about 10 surf films, including Surf Crazy (1959), Surfing Hollow Days (1962), and Cavalcade of Surf (1962). Trent quit surfing in 1974, age 45, because he "only enjoyed big waves," and felt he'd done all he could do in that field. He took up hang gliding, which he accurately described as "ten times more dangerous than surfing." Trent worked as a lifeguard in the '40s and early '50s, as a fireman in the '50s and early '60, and as a construction worker until he retired in 1980.

Trent's reputation took a hit in 2006, after The Surfer's Journal published "King of the Beasts," a long interview, in which Trent, 76, offhandedly used the words "nigger" (changed to "African-American" by the Journal) and "faggot" (not changed). Trent, already suffering from throat cancer, died two years later.

Trent was married twice and had two children. Ivan Trent, Buzzy's son, rides big waves and was a Navy SEAL.