Greg Noll sizing up third reef pipeline- Photo:surf coaches
“Da Bull.” Greg Noll is larger than life. The stories he tells and the things he has seen first hand are the stuff of legend. He built a reputation as a hard partying, hard charging stubborn sonofabitch in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He was among the first wave of Californians who ventured to the North Shore of Oahu to concur the huge waves of Sunset and Waimea Bay. In fact he was part of first guys credited with surfing the Bay for the first time. That was 1957.
Jed and Greg Noll Photo:Surfeurope
Besides being a pioneer in the surf, Noll was one of the first to create a thriving business with his surf shops, surf movies and team rider endorsed surfboards. Today Noll lives in northern California fishing and making replica surfboards for collectors. He stopped surfing after 1969 when it is rumored he caught one of the biggest waves ever ridden at Makaha.
Pat Curren Smoothes on glue with his hands after it went off too soon. Photo:watermans
If Greg Noll was the ringleader and showman, Pat Curren was the quiet assassin. While he charged harder than anyone, Curren was always in the background as he hated publicity and fame. History will note that his legend grew bigger because of his reluctance to the limelight. His peer group is one of the finest pedigree in the annals of surf history and they would be the first to say that Curren is hands-down the best big-wave rider of the 1950s and 1960s, bar none. He too was one of the first to surf Waimea Bay on that sunny afternoon in 1957. Right away the thin surfer from La Jolla California knew that the boards all needed to be crafted for the wave itself.
The master’s eye. Photo:watermansmaster
Soon Curren was making the finest surfboards on the planet for large waves. “The big-wave surfboards I make for Shane Dorian at Jaws now can be traced right back to Pat Curren,” says Hawaiian shaper John Carper. “They are the same bottom shape. It was Curren who made big-wave surfing possible.” Today the 85 Year Old Curren splits time between Carlsbad California and Baja. He has two sons, Three-time world champ Tom Curren, Artist and photographer Joe Curren and at age 68 in 2000, he had a daughter (name unknown).
Eddie at Sunset Beach. 1975. Photo:XGames
Hawaii’s favorite son, the late Eddie Aikau has become legend for not only his big wave bravado in massive North Shore surf but also for his lifesaving record at Waimea Bay. Aikau became the first lifeguard to ever be hired by the of Honolulu to work on the North Shore. He is credited with saving over 500 people but that number is believed to actually be much higher. Eddie was part of a traditional Hawaiian group that was going to sail a traditional polynesian ship on an ancient migration route to Tahiti in 1978. The Hokule’a left the Hawaiian islands on March 16, 1978 but soon capsized in huge surf. Aikau, always the one to jump to the rescue, left the ship and crew and attempted to paddle a surfboard to shore to get help. He was never seen again.
Eddie at his lifeguard tower at Waimea Bay. 1974. Photo:Rainbow
Decades later, an old Hawaiian Lifeguard board, like the one Eddie paddled off the ship that fateful day in 1978, washed up on a beach in Guam, covered with bird crap and barnacles. The board had been floating at sea for years but nobody could confirm that it was the actual board Aikau used that day he vanished. Today there are sticker and a surf contest that bear the slogan “Eddie Would Go.” He did go that day, and all the days he saved lives in treacherous surf on Oahu’s North Shore. Aikau is a legend of the highest order.
Trent was always a physical specimen. Photo:EOS
Master surfer, boxer, Skin diver, football player and hang glider aficionado. It can be argued that Buzzy Trent was the most fit surfer to ever live. Born in San Diego and raised in Santa Monica, Trent gravitated toward body surfing as a child and soon found himself surfing by age 12. Before he moved to the islands to pursue surfing, he was an all-state fullback and also became a feared boxer. In an urban legend, fellow Santa Monica surfer Ricky Grigg(RIP), Trent once was in the ring and “hit an opponent so hard it killed him right there.” He moved to Hawaii in 1952 at the age of 23, beating many other Californians to the big waves of Oahu’s famed North Shore.
Standing with the finest surfboard of its era, Buzzy Trent and “Excalibur” Photo:Pintrest
It was there after many years of charging huge waves that he was asked about riding big waves to which he responded by coining one of surfing’s most famous sayings; “Big waves aren’t measured in feet, but in increments of fear.” In some famous stories, Trent one time was a construction worker and was on a high rise job in Honolulu. He lost his footing and fell off the 20 story unit and would have surely died if he had not grabbed onto the scaffolding after falling 2 floors. Another time he survived a hang gliding crash that left him badly injured. The doctor said that if he wasn’t in such superb shape, he would have surely perished in the accident. Trent died of throat cancer in 2006.
Brock Little Makes History at Waimea Bay 1991. Photo:Surfline
Brock Little, the older brother of famous shorebreak photographer Clark Little made a name for himself by charging the heaviest waves of the 1990’s. “Cocky Brocky” as he was known to friends was brash, loud and intimidating. Everything needed to be a successful big wave rider. In 1990, Brock was invited to surf in the prestigious “Eddie” contest at maxing Waimea Bay. Closeout sets were the norm and competitors were wary to say the least. The then 22 year old, sat deeper and went on the biggest waves the day could throw at him and he eventually caught was considered the biggest wave ever ridden at Waimea Bay. Little was named as the best Waimea riders in peer polls conducted in 1990 and 1993. Since that time he has gone on to become a Hollywood stuntman and a water safety professional for surf contests all over the world. He’s currently battling stage 4 lymphoma.
Brock is battling stage 4 cancer, 2016. Photo:Beachgrit
Mark Foo Dominated Waimea Bay in the 80’s-90’s Photo:EOS
In one of surfings worst days, December 23, 1994, Mark Foo died after wiping out on a 15-foot wave at California’s famed big wave spot, mavericks. Foo had flown to California with fellow Hawaiians Brock Little and Ken Bradshaw to chase a massive swell. It was his first time at the big wave spot. On a smaller wave, 15 feet or so, Foo can be seen on video falling.
Mark Foos last moments on this earth. Photo:Nobelexperiment
It doesn’t look bad, but that was the last time he was seen alive. The theory is he either got hit in the head by his board and knocked unconscious or his leash snagged a rock and he drowned. His claim to fame came on January 18, 1985, when he paddled out into wild closeout surf at Waimea Bay in Hawaii and got cleaned up by a 50 closeout set. Not one to quit, Foo caught and rode a legitimate 30-foot wave to the cheers of the crowds on the beach.
Video Courtesy: EOS
Kelly Slater at maxing Waimea Bay Photo:Surftotal
Slater is the most decorated surfer of all-time. The 11 time world champion may hail from Coco Beach Florida, but his big wave bravado is the stuff that has made him the best all around surfer the world has ever seen. Beside winning over 50 professional small wave contests, he has also competed in big-wave events, finishing runner-up in the Men Who Ride Mountains event in 2000 as well as winning the Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau at Waimea Bay in early 2002. He has surfed massive Jaws, Mavericks, Waimea Bay as well as every other big wave in the world.
Kelly Slater(orange) isn’t afraid of big waves. Photo:Grindtv
Big Roger. He was never a sponsored surfer or even one who made a living off of riding waves. He was an Vietnam vet who was trying to find peace after the horrors of war. His story is different than everyones on this list. Erickson was shipped off to Nam and just days after arriving “In-country,” Erickson saved a fellow Marine after he had stepped on a landmine. For his bravery, Erickson and was presented with the Purple Heart award. Not long after that everything went south.
Erickson caught malaria and was sick for weeks. When he became lucid again he received a call from his father saying Rogers wife had left him. It seemed to be the fuel that got him through his time at Khe Sanh during the TET offensive. After the war, Roger found it near impossible to fit back into society and served time in prison for assaulting an officer. Lucky for him, he found his way to the North Shore of Oahu where he reinvented himself as a big wave surfer. By 1990, he was considered one of the best bug wave surfers at Waimea Bay. Surf writer, Derek Hynd once said, “He was 41, with a gladiator’s build, and his eyes had it all: life, death and wisdom. Here was power, in mind and body.”Roger was one of the last of the old guard before the modern age of big wave surfing.
Shane Dorian at Peahi on Maui. 2015 Photo: WSL
Shane Dorian wasn’t always known for riding big waves. During the 1990’s, Dorian chased the pro tour around the world and had fairly pedestrian results for the most part. He soon lost interest and became a successful free-surfer and slowly started casting his gaze at the outer reefs of Oahu and Maui. Within a decade he has established himself as the world’s premiere big wave rider.
Shane Dorian paddled out into the line-up at Mavericks and changed everything. Photo: Surfingmag
When Dorian finally made his way to the West Coast to surf Mavericks in 2010, he put on a clinic in big wave riding that had never been seen there before. “He did in 20 minutes what the rest of us have been trying to do at Maverick’s for the past 20 years,” said Evan Slater, famed big wave surfer and writer. Dorian has won seven Billabong XXL big-wave awards in multiple categories from 2005-2015. His big wave exploits lead him to develop the first inflatable wetsuit that the user could activate in an emergency situation. Since its inception in 2014, it is now a standard accessory for most big waves surfers.
Jose Angel(in front) would go on any wave that came his way. Photo:Tumblr
Jose Angel has become a legend of the North Shore, not only for his big wave exploits but for also his incredible free diving skills. Angel moved to Hawaii in 1955 and immediately took to the powerful waves along the North Shore of Oahu. He soon became known as a thrill-seeker who would go on any wave, anywhere and not care if he made it or not. Angel loved freediving as much as surfing and became quite well known throughout the islands. Angel would often dive to depths of 300 feet and hold his breath for up to 5 minutes. Angel was once separated from his boat during a dive off Maui. Stranded over 13 miles out to sea, he put his head down and started swimming to the island of Molokai. Hours passed and he eventually made it to land. where he hiked over four miles till he found the nearest phone.
Jose Angel with his catch in 1969. Photo:EOS
He soon became a teacher and eventually the principal of his local elementary school, while that all seemed well and good, Angel could never let go of his love of the sea. On July 24, 1976, Angel went free-diving off Maui to look for black coral. Angel slipped over the side of the boat, looking to hit a ledge that sat at around 280 feet. Angel slipped past the ledge into darkness, never to return from the depths. His diving partner later said that Angel might have misjudged the depth and blacked out. Jose’s oldest daughter, didn’t see it that way, “My dad was never going to grow old gracefully,” she said in 1993. “He needed to go out with a bang.”