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5/19/17

To the best of my knowledge, this is the complete eight-man list of the surfers who rode Waimea on November 5 or 7 (the exact date is unclear), 1957. In no particular order . . .

GREG NOLL
Mea culpa #1. Noll was 20 the day Waimea was busted, not 19, as I reported earlier this week. Noll came away from the whole episode with the most credit and glory, and rightly so. He’d been trying to rally other surfers to ride the place for two or three winters; Buzzy Trent called him the “Pied Piper of Waimea,” and said all those who followed Noll would “drown like rats” if they paddled out. Noll humble-bragged for years that he caught the first wave, and it turns out that probably isn’t true. Nonetheless, he was the fired-up point man for the visiting haole contingent on the North Shore, and the spirit of the day, if not the first wave itself, rests comfortably on his not-yet-hulking shoulders.

HARRY SCHURCH
The story goes something like this. Schurch, a Seal Beach lifeguard, was drafted into the Navy and stationed in Hawaii, where he was assigned lifeguard duty at the officer’s pool in Honolulu. He often drove to the North Shore to surf, and the morning in question he arrived at Waimea, alone, with a couple of hours to kill before he was due back at the pool for work. There wasn’t a lot of time, in other words. Schurch paddled out, rode a few, drove off. Apparently nobody saw him. In the first full account of the Waimea story, written for Surfing magazine by Mike Stange in 1965, Schurch isn’t mentioned. On the other hand, since the Schurch version of the story came to light 15 or 20 years ago, nobody has denied it, and Mickey Munoz (there that first day), and George Downing (not there, but omniscient with regard to all things surf in Hawaii surfing the 1950s), both confirm it.

BING COPELAND
Future surfboard kingpin Bing Copeland, 21, was there . . . or was he? Every account I’ve read about that day mentions Bing as among those present, but I can’t find a pic of him anywhere, and ripped through his biography twice this week (Bing Surfboards: Fifty Years of Craftsmanship and Innovation, worth finding) without turning up even a passing mention. Got in touch with Bing’s bio author Paul Holmes this morning. His reply: “We skipped it. Bing felt the story had been overdone and said ‘It wasn’t that big anyway that day.’ Although he surfed Waimea plenty thereafter.” So Bing was there, and now we knew he’s as chill as he is handsome.  

PAT CURREN
I’m guessing, but in a pretty low-risk way, that Pat Curren, 25, was the least-satisfied of all the first-day Waimea surfers. The boards in use that morning were so wrong for the job, too small and too wide, and while Noll and Copeland were also shapers, Curren was the guy who came back the next year with a fully gunned-out hardcore Waimea board. Steve Pezman bought a Curren gun a few years later. “An 11′ 4″ rhino chaser with five-feet of knife-edged rail in the back end, a one-inch redwood stringer, extremely narrow plan shape and pronounced belly in the nose. The thing looked scary just laying on the floor. Very purposeful. No doubt whatsoever what it was made for.” From ’58 to ’63, Curren continued to make the finest Waimea boards, and arguably rode the biggest Waimea waves.

MIKE STANGE
Everybody remembers him as Greg Noll’s sidekick, except for Noll himself. “The best way to describe Mike Stange in a few words is, ‘160 pounds of guts.’ From what I know of his mental attitude, and the way I’ve seen him ride, it’s my opinion that Stange could ride as big a wave as anybody in the world.” Stange was 20 when he first rode Waimea, and worked as a Los Angeles County Lifeguard in Manhattan Beach.

DEL CANNON
Windansea local Del Cannon was on his first trip to Hawaii in 1957. He was good friends with Butch Van Artsdalen, which tells you all you need to know in terms of both Cannon’s drinking habits and attraction to gnarly waves. When Del Cannon Surfboards opened in 1965, in south San Clemente, it had the distinction of being the shop closest to Trestles. Later, Cannon shaped for Lightning Bolt, and was a judge at the 1970 World Surfing Championships in Australia. But old-time fans know Del best as the likable guy who stepped in dog shit in Bruce Brown’s Barefoot Adventure.

BOB BERMELL
I got nothing. That’s Bob in the photo below, top left, and he paddled out that morning at Waimea for sure. But I don’t have a better pic, I can’t seem to find any info on him, I don’t even know if it’s “Burmell,” “Bermel,” or “Bermell.” He used to work at Dale Velzy’s shop in Newport in the early ’60s, was a Brooks Street local, and  he maybe now lives on Maui. You got anything else, please hit the comment section below!

MICKEY MUNOZ
Mea culpa #2. I said earlier that Munoz was 17 when he first rode Waimea. That’s wrong. He was 17 the first time he visited in Hawaii, but 20 when he first rode Waimea. “Mickey was game for anything,” Mike Stange once said. “He was in love with the mad ecstasy of the whole idea [of riding Waimea].” Munoz was already a hot surfer by ’57, known from Windansea to Rincon, but Waimea gave him a giant boost in confidence. “I was young and brave. I hesitate to use that word, brave, because I really am conservative by nature, but I was just in another state of mind that day at Waimea.”

  • Johnny Bee

    If no one saw Schurch, and the exact date is unclear, wouldn’t it be possible that he rode the bay two days earlier or later? I mean, how do we know he went out on the same day?

    • Matt Warshaw

      Schurch, Munoz and Downing say it was the same morning. 60 years ago, though, and at this point yes it’s all getting a little foggy and hard to pin down.

      • Dave Woody Wood

        Harry was the first confirmed by Munoz for sure and Harry himself. He’s my uncle. Though extremely humble he was still a stoked surfer and lived the dream back then. I was told the story by my father Stuart Schurch and also by my grandfather David Schurch. Both grew up in La Jolla and La Mesa CA. My father was a lifeguard in the 60’s in San Clemente and had a news article about uncle Harry and his surfing and teaching career. It was a little bio on him done in the late 70’s early 80’s I believe.
        Thanks Matt Warshaw I really enjoy all your great articles and books.

  • Howard Cooney Jr.

    Harry Schurch was a good friend of Jack Haley’s and frequently came into Captain Jack’s in Sunset Beach. Jack always told us that Harry was a noted big wave rider.

  • Howard Cooney Jr.

    Bob Bermel was a night bartender at the Lahaina Yacht Club in the late 60’s. He was great storyteller and had a happy hour between midnight and 1:00 A.M. Shots of tequila were a quarter. It was called “Attitude Adjustment Time.” He went on to own a few restaurants and is retired in Olinda, Maui.

    • Matt Warshaw

      Thanks Howard. Wow, just the moment flashed the fact that all eight of those guys are still alive!

  • Thomas S. Garlinghouse

    Ok, we’ve got the protagonists for a screenplay. I’m thinking it should be called “The First Day.” Are Stacy Peralta or Sam George listening?

    • Matt Warshaw

      Nah, let’s get the guy who made Ocean’s Eleven

  • David Stuart Boardman

    Lovin accurate history . . . . . . . and leaving the door slightly ajar to be revisited . . . . Really glad Harry Schurch is given his credit , if men of the stature of Mickey Munoz and George Downing back this version , I’m happy with that . Great work Matt : )