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Van Dyke, Fred


Bright, friendly, outspoken big-wave rider from Haleiwa, Hawaii; one of the first surfers, in the mid-'50s, to move permanently from California to the North Shore. Van Dyke was born (1929) in San Francisco, California, the son of a dentist, and learned to bodysurf as a teenager along the San Francisco-area beaches, but didn't ride stand-up until 1950, at age 20. He earned a double major B.A. in creative writing and physical education from San Francisco State in 1953, and later that year received a teaching credential.

Van Dyke moved to Honolulu in 1955, after seeing an AP photo in a local newspaper of three surfers shooting across a 12-footer at Makaha; for 30 years he worked at the exclusive Punahou primary and secondary school, teaching math, science, English, and social studies, and coaching football, basketball, swimming, and diving. California surfers Rick Grigg and Peter Cole, among others, also moved to Hawaii in the mid-50s, and joined Van Dyke to form a loosely affiliated group of dedicated North Shore big-wave surfers.

Not a great natural surfing talent, Van Dyke compensated with extra hours spent in the water, and by adhering to a strict health and fitness program. Personable, articulate, and ruggedly handsome, he was often called upon by mainstream magazines to speak on behalf of the sport. Eyebrows were raised among the big-wave fellowship after Van Dyke was interviewed in 1963 by Life magazine. "Many of us ride to supplement something lacking in our lives," Van Dyke said. "I'm sure the underlying reasons are concerned with a need for recognition."

In "The Peril of the Surf: A Veteran Surfer Asks, Are Surfers Really Sick?," a cover story Van Dyke wrote for the Australian edition of Life in 1967, he went a step further, infamously stating that many big-wave surfers were "latent homosexuals." Van Dyke explained that he wasn't talking about sexual preference, but merely stating that big-wave riders were like preadolescents, concerned only with impressing and interacting with male friends. But the nuances of his argument were lost, and he was soon being greeted along the North Shore with shouts of "faggot!" and "queer-boy!" Van Dyke says he also lost friends after he quit riding giant waves in the late '70s. "None of them would admit it," the soft-voiced surfer later recalled, "but I wasn't one of the big-wave gang any more. It hurt."

Van Dyke appeared in about 10 surf movies of the '50s and early '60s, including Bruce Brown's Surf Crazy (1959) and John Severson's Angry Sea (1963). He was also featured in Surfing for Life (1999), a PBS-broadcast documentary on senior surfers. From 1965 to 1972, he was meet director for the annual Duke Kahanamoku Invitational, held at Sunset Beach; before that he was an event official at the Makaha International.

Van Dyke authored about 25 features and columns for the surf press, between 1963 and 1988. He's also published five books, including 30 Years of Riding the World's Biggest Waves (1989), and Surfing Huge Waves With Ease (1993). Once Upon Abundance, Van Dyke's autobiography, was published in 2001.

Van Dyke has been married three times, and has four children. His siblings—brothers Peter and Gene, and sister Gretchen—were all accomplished surfers.