Sunday, March 20, 2011

History of Cuban Surfing

History of Cuban Surfing

by Luis Manuel Mazorra, Founder, CubaSurf
Pablo Sampedro Editor/Translator
Herb Silio Editor/Translator

Surfing began in Cuba in the 1990's, in the neighborhood of Miramar, a western district of Havana. It was in those early days that two Chileans were first seen grabbing a few waves to a astonished crowd of onlookers at a beach called “Playita de 12” also call "los Yaquis" for Jacks for the old childhood game due the shape of the breakwaters there,. It was said that the Chileans would show up at the beach whenever a cold front (northerner) would be forecasted. The two would surf aggressively over the reef that was about 50 meters along the Miramar shoreline. Young people in the neighborhood would come to observe this “amazing feat” as demonstrated by these skilled Chilean colleagues, and from this first demonstration, directly led to a handful of teens (the most active and brave of these early Cuban watermen) to head into the water with pieces of wood they called "pleybo" (plywood) to try to mimic the foreigners and try their best to surf the waves, some upwards of 12 feet. Surfing and bodyboarding were becoming increasingly popular; it was not unusual to catch a few early surfers anxious for the next cold front to hit. These early and humble surfing ventures were primitive at best, dropping into a wave on a rough shaped plywood with no fins added with the challenge of doing so only feet away from some of the narliest reefs around - extreme conditions witnessed in disbelief by many neighborhood onlookers from the shore.

By the late 90's and beginning of the new millennium, the sport began to take on a more modern appearance and expanding beyond that initial Miramar beach, to over eight other breaks further to the west and including three others closer to the center of Havana. Young men and women of distinction began to emerge who not only shared a passion for waves, yearning for knowledge, but a desire to take the sport to a new level. This groundswell of enthusiasm resulted in a grass roots approach to “coger olas” (aka catching waves) and to the growth of the modernized version of the sport within Cuba. Early surfers like Joan, El Tito, Borroto, El Fide, Humbertico (one of the best surfers of Cuba), El Jompy (Juan Pedro), Yuniel, and many others, to numerous to name, were the true early pioneers of surf in Cuba.

This passion drove them to create an entirely indigenous surf manufacturing operation using the materials at hand. These kids were as creative as the earlier generation had been in keeping the old American cars running. Using materials scavenged from boat repair yards and junkyards the early shapers began making surfboards and bodyboards from ship building materials, broken down refrigerators, and foam that would occasionally wash up on shore.

Tito, Jompy and Guajiro (Wa-heero) were some of the earliest "shapers" to make a name for themselves. Tito manufactured one of the earliest Cuban fiberglass bodyboards resembling a boogie board without fins. Jompy took this a step further building surfboards from refrigerator foam using templates taken from surfboards that were being left behind by tourists. Jompy would rough out the shape, finish it by hand tools and glass using boating cloth and resin. Fast forward a few years and Guajiro started manufacturing more modern type surfboards using traditional materials (foam, glass and resin) donated by visiting surfers that heard of the absence of materials.  What is impressive is that these early shapers produced rustic yet usable boards notwithstanding the lack of materials while working under very primitive conditions with rudimentary tools.  Sadly, the situation in Cuba has gotten worse throughout the decade and today it has gotten quite difficult to find the raw material for manufacturing surfboards and consequently it’s almost impossible to find a Cuban made surfboard anymore.
These early surfboards and bodyboards were being sold for $50 USD to $150 USD respectively, boards that could only be purchased by the fewest of surfers who worked and scrapped enough change to purchase these prohibitively expensive boards. Cost of these boards was equivalent to one to three months salary for an average working person.

Surfing began to gain popularity in the high schools in Miramar, especially at the "Marcelo Salado" High School a school dedicated to competitive aquatic sports. As a student of the school, Louis Manuel Mazorra, (nicknamed Luisma and founder of CubaSurf) together with his older friend Felix went to check out the beach as the waves were pumping one day. Luisma recalls that in those days, he knew little of surfing, but heard of surfers riding massive waves in places like Hawaii. His early exposure to surf was as a child bodysurfing whenever the families would vacation at the beaches of Varadero in relatively calm waters. Those summers of playing on the beach amongst the waves would leave a lasting impression these boys.

That winter day when Luisma and Felix stepped on the sand was to change everything. Big waves were hitting Cuba’s north shore hard and there was a testosterone-backed buzz of youngsters ready to brave them. “Playita de 12” had overhead waves breaking over a formidable reef.  With about 10 other boys already in the water, all with clear differences of competency, their initial bravado waned as they sat there standing before breaking waves face-on. Despite this, it was clear that they could not back down given the number of onlookers egging them on to go out. Emboldened by the taunting and their swimming proficiency they eventually shrugged stating, “Hey, I’m a very good swimmer, what could possibly happen to me?” and the boys decide to hit the waves straight away.
On the swim out through a keyhole channel, Felix, a veteran of some early thrashing, provided brief instructions on how to get out; but the meager instructions never included anything about what do when one was to grab any of those enormous waves. The boys neither had proper equipment, rash guards, or leashes, except for Luisma who had a battered piece of plywood that they found floating amongst the rocks earlier. That big day turned out to be awful for the boys as most of the time they spent involved fighting current and whitewater, doing a number on their egos. Eventually, each boy got a chance paddle into a wave, throw caution to the wind, and once on the face of the wave, charging directly towards the gnarly “dog tooth” coral, a target that both instilled fear yet gave birth to a passion for surf and the sea. Though these boys didn’t quite know it, that stormy day not only generated plenty of fear and exhilaration, but also gave birth to a life-long love for the ocean and surfing.

Luisma commented later that the plywood board he found and used that day was coincidentally painted with the same color of blue that was used on the desks at the swim school. And it turned out that he was right! Those old school desks continued to be the source of surfboard and bodyboard equipment that the kids used to hone their early surf skills.

These experiences attracted a lot of interest amongst the classmates as they recounted the harrowing experiences, fear and euphoria they all felt that day. Consequently, a close nit group of friends started a journey – one that would eventually develop a local surfing community.  And unlike their earlier experiences of viewing foreigners from afar, they would eventually develop the experience, equipment and tricks, to surf virtually any break or wave depending on the situation. A trip to the beach now had new meaning and they were enthralled by it all.

These groms eventually began acquiring their own “real” surfboards and bodyboards; those that couldn’t, would resort to their old wooden desktop versions; and forming small groups of rookies. The winter of 2005 was a good one for surf in Cuba as every week brought a new winter storm and with it big surf that would have kids borrowing equipment or reaching for any available plywood to join their friends. Luisma got his first real surfboard that year which was imported from Brazil, which he happily traded his prized skateboard and bodyboard, and with that new equipment, his passion grew more than ever as did his skills.
As their enthusiasm grew exponentially, so did it drive the kids’ mothers and teachers crazy. To them going out during a winter tempest was irresponsible, suicidal and sheer lunacy. As there was no way to convince them otherwise, they resorted to coming up with little white lies every time the surf was up and storing the boards where no one could observe them going out to surf. By 2007, Cuba had more than 300 surfers with many more breaks identified and popularized throughout Havana, including beaches in the north eastern provinces of Cuba which faced unobstructed by the Bahamas the open Atlantic Ocean swells.

During that same year, surf cinematographer Taylor Steele and  professional surfer Ozzie Wright traveled to Cuba to film the surf film “Sipping  Jetstreams” ( This  event, as can be imagined, created a huge buzz in Cuba. It was the first time they  had ever met a professional surfer and consequently followed him like a rock  star. They were in awe as Ozzie went through his repertoire of tricks;  floaters, snaps, aerials, 360’s - things that they thought impossible, and  what’s more, the experience left them certain that surfing could and would grow  in Cuba.

By 2008, many more foreign surfers came to Cuba including those from USA, Australia, Chile, Mexico and Panama. To add to this exchange, the kids added to their fledging surf experience via videos, magazines and posters which included learning the differences between board shapes, surfers, beach types, tricks and available equipment.  This knowledge was applied with zeal as demonstrated by the early talent amongst the Cuban surfers in Havana including: Humberto, Lusson, Arnan, Mamekto and body boarder Frank. As seen in the following pictures:

In 2009, a group of young surfers and college students decide  to create a national surfing organization in Cuba named CubaSurf. www.cubasurf.caThe founding group included Massiel Nasser (photographer), Liset Campos (video camera), Oliver  Gell, Camilo, Kevin Gell, Humberto, Arnan, Mamekto, all the boys in Santa Fe that formed the Surfing  Oeste surf team and Luis Manuel Mazorra as lead and founder.

The  group went further by promoting free surf sessions to local kids, offered in Havana and in beaches west  and east of the capital. Once the CubaSurf website hit the Internet the Cuban surfers began to make even more  contact with foreign surfers wanting to travel to Cuba. In fact, by 2010 Ryan Sheckler and Panamanian surfer Gary Saavedra  shared many sessions with the Cuban surfers. (Link Here)

The biggest surf event to finally reach Cuba was realized thanks to the PASA (Pan American Surf Association) and surfers Ametza Nicholls (Barbados), Icah Wilmot (Jamaica), Junior Edwin Gomez and Ten both Dominicans.

In early 2010, surf seminars led by Marcos Conde, coach of the Brazil surf team, provided much needed education for the Cuban surfers to learn about surfing competitions, techniques, championship rules, etiquette and many other things related to surfing.

Throughout 2010, thanks to the promotion of CubaSurf and their website, the group received a number of timely donations from foreign supporters. Donations received included: Chile (Daniela), Brazil (Mercosur Chamber of Commerce), Canada and Japan from our friend and collaborator Herb Silio.
Cuba’s first competitive surf team, called the Surfing Oeste (West Surfing) Team sponsored by CubaSurf was founded to support young surfers (groms) ages 12 to 18 to further the future of surfing in Cuba. The few boards and equipment that these kids have are a direct result of the donations received and the shared “aloha” that permeates the worldwide surfing community.

Throughout 2010, a number of surf trips were planned and executed for the first time in Cuba. This early surf tourism would take over a hundred visiting surfers touring from one beach to another to share waves, supported by photographers and cameramen documenting the early success. Examples of these surf trips are shown on the CubaSurf website and Facebook pages, shared regularly with many online visitors from around the world.

CubaSurf members provided numerous free surfing lessons to local kids throughout the country. They assisted with much of the Cuba-based PASA-sponsored surf competition, planned and conducted surf trips to undiscovered surf spots throughout Cuba. All the while, welcoming visiting surfers with raw enthusiasm that is rarely seen these days.

CubaSurf’s main objective is to advance the sport on the island and its members and founders, have much to be proud of for their early pioneering work. With over 2,300 miles of beaches, Cuba is a true wonder to behold and is capable of providing world-class venues for international surfing, bodyboarding, kitesurfing, standup paddle competitions as well as openness for surfing tourism. Despite all the economic and political problems that exist in Cuba, it is clear that this new generation is working hard to develop the sport of surfing as well as the infrastructure needed to promote and expand the sport for future generations.

Pictures found here:

For additional information, please contact  the following:

Luis Manuel  Mazorra Fernandez
011-34 981-925-006  (landline)
011-34 609-126-720  (cell)

United    States
Pablo (Paul) Sampedro  Sust
Dana Point,  California
949-285-5289 (cell)
949-715-2080 (landline)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Whitey Harrison 3

Late 1930s into the 1940s

Although he worked for Pacific Systems for a while, most of Lorrin Harrison’s shaping was done in his own shop.  “... in 1936.  I’d just come back from Hawaii and I was shaping boards for different guys like Joe Quigg and Matt Kivlin, guys that [later] surfed Malibu and all over.  They’d drag a blank down to Dana Point and have me shape it.  I had a garage with balsa shavings a foot thick all over the floor.  Tom Blake and everybody would come down and sleep there... You know, we had big waves at Dana Point [before the harbor was built].  I even made a storage rack down on the beach and kept all the boards down there.  There was no way anybody was gonna take one of those boards by carrying it outta there!  It might float away before anybody was gonna carry it out.  Peanuts Larson would come by the shop and take the leftover balsa and make model planes.”[1]

When Hot Curl surfboards were developed on O‘ahu, toward the end of the 1930s, Whitey erroneously adopted the design for California waves.  “A lot of guys – like Whitey Harrison – when they came down and saw what our boards could do at Castle him and Pete Peterson cut their tails down – right there on goddamn Waikiki Beach!”  Hot Curl surfer Wally Froiseth told me.  “They cut their tails down.  Of course, when they went back to the Coast, they took their boards with ‘em.”[2]  Unfortunately, the Hot Curl design, while working well for larger reef and point surf in Hawai‘i, failed miserably in the relatively smaller surf of predominantly beach-break Southern California.

Lorrin surfed O‘ahu most every year during the 1930s and was one of the small group of surfers who helped expand surfing’s Hawaiian boundaries out beyond Waikiki.  Even as early as the winter of 1932-33, he had witnessed big surf on the North Shore, at Hale‘iwa.[3]  Later on in the decade, as a friend of Hot Curl surfers like Wally Froiseth, Fran Heath and John Kelly, Whitey not only rode the biggest waves O‘ahu’s South Shore had to offer, but branched out to the North Shore.  Old timers generally credit Whitey and another Mainlander – Gene “Tarzan” Smith – as the guys who first “rediscovered” the North Shore as a surfing area, in 1938.[4]

Paumalu – now known as Sunset Beach – is a spot on the North Shore noted for excellent surf both in the modern era in the times of the ancient Hawaiian legends.  It is likely that the North Shore of O‘ahu has always been ridden at one time or another – at least since the first Polynesian settlers made their home in the Hawaiian Chain.  Unnamed surfers must have been surfing the area, if only on and off, all the way through.  We know that guys like Andrew Anderson were living at Mokule‘ia and surfing there in the 1920s and ‘30s.  But, in relationship to the surfing movement of the Twentieth Century, it wasn’t until Whitey and Tarzan made the call that the North Shore was put on the surfing map.

“This is the way it happened with us,” Wally Froiseth told me.  “Whitey Harrison – he and Gene Smith went out to Hale‘iwa one day.  This was, like, around ‘37 or ‘38, whatever it was.  They went out to Hale‘iwa.  It was a big day.  And they both almost drowned.

“So, Gene Smith was telling us about this.  ‘Oh, Christ!  You ought to see these waves!’

“Me and my gang [the Hot Curl riders], we hear that – ‘Hey, let’s go!’  So, the next weekend we go out there, you know, but Hale‘iwa wasn’t that good, but Sunset Beach was good, so we just went Sunset.

“At that time, there wasn’t a name or anything [that we knew of].  We just saw a good surf and went out.  It was just when we started to have our Hot Curl boards.”[5]

“Who started going out to the North Shore?” I prodded.

“Well, like I say, Whitey Harrison, Gene Smith... Whitey came over to The Islands two or three times.  He [first] came in the early ‘30s.  We were surfing Castle – ‘31, ‘32, somethin’ around there.  I mean he was...

“My brother and I, Dougie Forbes... Fran, of course, Kelly – there were really only a couple of guys who went North Shore after Whitey and Gene.  It was just too much for the other guys...”[6]

Soon afterward, World War II took over the life of the planet.  Amongst other things, the war put surfing in a kind of suspended animation.  There were guys surfing when they could, but most everyone was involved in the war effort on some level and the war took everyone’s time – one way or the other.
After the war, board experimentation and manufacture continued its shift from Waikiki to Southern California.  Materials-wise, besides the addition of balsa, the innovation of the skeg and the introduction of new materials like fiberglass helped propel development.  As far as shaping was concerned, the scoop nose and use of rocker had long term effects on improving board design.

In 1946, at age 33, Whitey married his second wife, Cecilia Yorba, from one of California’s pioneering Spanish families.  Cecilia was “a descendent of the Yorba family that originally owned one of the largest Spanish land grants in old California,” wrote Whitey’s daughter from his first marriage, Rosie.  “She lived with her grandmother in the adobe Pryor homestead one half mile inland from Doheny.  When her grandmother died, the house, which was built before the San Juan Capistrano Mission, was willed to her along with some acreage.  I remember first meeting her.  I thought she was very beautiful…”[7]

“The Yorba family had an inherent fear of the ocean,” continued Rosie.  “Cecilia didn’t even swim when my dad talked her into going surfing with him.  That first ride resulted in a wreck.  She fell on the board and cut her lip with her front teeth.  But it didn’t stop her.  She and my father were married in 1946 and went to Hawaii for their honeymoon.  Where else?”[8]

Whitey recalled: “When I met Cecilia, she was walking down the beach at Doheny with her cousin, and I came ridin’ in on this board right to where she was standing.  That had to be about 1945.  She said, ‘That looks like fun.’  I said, ‘Yeah, you’ve gotta try it.’  So I spent a week talkin’ her into going surfing with me.  She said, ‘Well, I don’t know, they’ve had such awful drownings in my family, nobody wanted to go near the ocean.’  So I said, ‘I’ve worked lifeguard for five years, I’m not gonna let you drown.’  A fella named Voss Harrington was surfing with me at the time I was going with her.  We were in the abalone business together.  Voss, Fritz and Burrhead worked abalone with me all up and down the coast of California... I talked her into coming over and helping trim abalone at the cove.  Then I got her to go surfin’ with me at Doheny.  Voss had this 11’ board.  I caught a wave with Cecilia and he was on the shoulder and jumped off when he saw us coming tandem.  I was standing up, and his board flipped right over, hit on top of her head and shoved her teeth through her lower lip.  So that’s how we started.  Since then she got so she could ride real good.”[9]

Whitey and Cecilia raised their family in the Yorba family’s historic 200-year-old adobe in San Juan Capistrano.  The adjacent “Lorrin’s Barn” – built around 1890 – became an important Southern California “research and development center” for experimentation with various watercraft during the decade and more after the war.  Experimental designs covered a broad range of equipment, included diving gear, paddle boards and outrigger canoes, as well as surfboards.[10]

“When I came here [to Capistrano beach] we kept horses in [the barn] for the kids,” Whitey recalled. 

“Later I converted it into a surfboard shop where Fly and I built two hundred and sixty rental boards for Steamboat over in Waikiki.  I’ve probably built twenty canoes here altogether.  I built five that were 44’-11’’ long, right here in the barn.”[11]

Later on in the 1950s, polyurethane foam surfboards would have their beginnings here and in the workshop of Dave Sweet and Dave Rochlen.[12]

Whitey’s daughter Rosie recreated the scene in Lorrin’s Barn: “The barn felt cool to me on the hot summer day.  I dug my bare toes through the soft layer of silt and sawdust to feel the hard floor underneath.  It was just dirt but so hard it felt like cement.  I remembered the first time I went into the barn.  It contained an old horse-drawn buggy, cow hides hanging from the rafters and a warm milky smelling calf in the one stall… saw horses, sandpaper, tools, varnish, redwood, assorted diving and fishing paraphernalia and projects in various stages.

“Daddy subscribed to the school ‘If you can dream it, you can do it,’ or rather in his case, build it.  His creations weren’t necessarily for practical purposes.  They were more inventive and he was compulsive about building them.  When he was involved in a project not much could distract him.”[13]

“The boats, lobster traps, the shop and many of the items needed for commercial fishing, my dad built himself,” Rosie continued.  “But most of all he really liked to create just for the fun of it.  Lots of the results were a quick fix, but then there was the thirty-eight-foot dugout outrigger.  It took him five years to build it.

“… He had looked at the old sycamore tree for a long time imagining how the natural bow in it would shape into the perfect surfing canoe much like the ancient Polynesian Koa wood outriggers.  The ‘Nofre gang accompanied us with saws, ropes, and chains, everyone ready to lend a hand to bring down the old sycamore for Lorrin.

“The sunlight caught on the pale grey trunk with golden brown patches like age spots darkening on the face of a grand old lady.  The tree was majestic and slightly leaned off at an angle.  It took some doing to bring her down.  Then she was revered, covered and cared for while curing for several years.  Well, it should have been five years of curing but Lorrin was impatient to begin the work.  On poor wave days at San Onofre, when they would rather be playing music, drinking beer and dancing, Daddy would heckle and prod, ‘Oh it will be fun to work on the canoe.  We’ll be able to ride waves in it.  Let’s do it.’  Everyone did get to use the big sycamore canoe finally.  They rode waves in it and dove out of it.  Voss and Margret’s daughter, Luana, remembers having to accompany her dad on skin-diving expeditions in the canoe because they could get an extra limit with her along.  Sometimes she got pretty bored waiting for them.

“They swamped it too in some mighty ‘hair-raising’ surf…

“I must have been ten when he finished it because I gave a report on it in the fifth grade.  I might as well have been talking about a safari in Outer Mongolia.  None of the kids in my class could relate except for one boy.  He was from an affluent family that had traveled to Hawaii several times and had ridden in outrigger canoes at Waikiki.  Oh, was he ever my childhood sweetheart!  Someone who could sort of understand my other life…”[14]

“As head of the household,” continued Rosie, Whitey “set the rules for us kids to live by: Absolutely no smoking, ‘Just nothing but a human incinerator.’  No cussing… A little beer or wine was okay.  Work hard, love your fellow man, above all have fun, enjoy life and you had better be ready to load into the car at 9:00 a.m. sharp on Saturday and Sunday morning to go to the beach…”[15]

“After a long Saturday at the beach and a hearty dinner, we would curl up on the floor in front of the big radio with the green glass eye that lit up and listen to Hawaii Calls.  I fell asleep listening to the soft guitars and Hawaiian falsetto voices, the smell of lemon tingling my nostrils.  My dad was big into lemons.  He washed his hair with them, used them for mouth wash and for colds and sore throats.  They were supposed to lighten and brighten your hair.”[16]

As late as 1948, most all Southern California surfers still knew or knew of each other.  Greg Noll, who began surfing in the 1940s, recalled that “up to that time [around 1948] there was Matt Kivlin and Joe Quigg riding redwoods at MalibuDoc Ball and the guys at the Palos Verdes Surfboard Club.  [Dale] Velzy, Leroy Grannis, Ted Kerwin, the Edgar brothers at Hermosa and Manhattan.  Lorrin Harrison, Burrhead and the guys at San Onofre.  A few guys down in La Jolla.  The entire surfing population consisted of maybe a couple hundred guys, most of them riding redwood boards, paddleboards and balsa/redwoods.”[17]


The Harrisons prospered in the 1950s.  As testimony of this, Whitey was able to take his whole family to Hawai‘i.  “In 1953 Lorrin was to realize his dream of taking the entire family to Hawaii,” wrote Rosie. “He had a good year fishing lobsters and diving for abs in ‘52.  They were able to save enough to take us on the S.S. Lurline, the Matson luxury ocean liner…

“Daddy had made four brand new balsa wood boards to take with us.  They were the latest thing and lightweight enough that we could carry them.  He could hardly wait for us to try them out in the tropic waters of Hawaii.  Five kids, four boards, guitar, uke, diving gear, and luggage…”[18]

“We were such an unusual phenomenon.  ‘Family of seven travels to Hawaii with four surf boards, fins, and diving gear.’  A lady reporter came to take our pictures for the newspaper and interview us.

“… Everyone who was anyone in our book seemed to know Lorrin Harrison.  As we walked down the beach it was, ‘Hey, Whitey, how you been?  What’s you doin’ Bruddah?  Long time no see.’
“We were introduced to Duke Kahanamoku and sat in the shade of the Outrigger Club and visited with him for a while.  We met Rabbit Kekai, Blackout, Blue Makua, Splash, Steamboat, Pua, Yoyo, Curley, Mango, 8 Ball, Nigger, Opu, Nose, Red, and even some with normal names like Barney, Johnny and Clarence.  Our dad was literally treated as a celebrity of the famous Waikiki beach… So much camaraderie, laughing, joking!  I think those guys talked as much with their hands as their voices…”[19]

“Daddy bought a 1936 Chevy sedan for $60.  It was perfect.  He could hardly wait to drill holes through the roof to install home-made surfboard racks on top.  Kahele ran to the house shouting ‘It has pukas in the floor and Uncle Lorrin is making pukas in the top.’  The floorboards were so rusty they were eaten through in spots, leaving holes as big as three inches.  We thought it was great fun to look down and see the road going by.  What was left of the headliner hung in tatters, the old mohair upholstery faded and worn, but it was roomy and the seats were all there.  Ethel christened it ‘the Chuck-a-luck.’” [20]

Arriving at Makaha one day, they “were only a little surprised to see a small group of San Onofre boys already camped there – Burrhead, Buzzy Trent, Walt and Flippy Hoffman along with Rabbit Kekai...” [21]
Whitey loved to play the ukulele.  “Many evenings one or two [beachboys] would come home with us and play and sing until early morning.  Daddy literally attacked a ukulele.  Banging away at it he strummed out all of the old tunes we knew by heart.  Most of them were made famous by Harry Owens such as ‘Cockeyed Mayor of Kane Kakai,’ ‘Princess Pupuli Has Plenty Papaya,’ ‘Poi My Boy Will Make a Man of You.’  We laughed and sang along with these and dozens more like them.  The Hawaiians had a soft gentle way of playing a uke and we learned some very old traditional songs from them like ‘Koni Au’ and ‘Kaimana-Hila’ all sung in Hawaiian…”[22]

While on O‘ahu, Whitey further refined his skills in making his signature coconut hats.  “Sitting on the beach weaving away, he learned a few new tricks from the beachboys.  They would say, ‘Whitey, you make da kine like dis, is mo bettah kine fo you,’ and he would chuckle and crease the crown or leave flying ends to wave in the breeze.  Each boy had his own style.  It was such a treat for my dad to be able to weave with real coconut palm.  In California he had to use the cocus palm that grew there.  The yellow heart of that palm was pretty but a lot finer and shorter than coconut and difficult to weave.” [23]

“Daddy began to talk of pollution.  Too much sewage was being pumped or was leaking into the ocean as the population of the country grew at a rapid rate.  He was very much aware that the detergents were killing the magnificent kelp beds along the coast.  The abalones were getting more and more scarce.  I listened and he showed me where the sewage entered the sea.  White bubbles of scummy stuff floated on the water.  But it seemed to me there were still plenty of abs.  We still often had big loads we processed until late in the evenings.  The fact that the decline seemed gradual was deceptive, for within a few years the detergents wiped out much of the sea life as we had known it.” [24]

“There were surfing contests along the coast,” remembered Rosie, “although at that time there were still more paddling contests than surfing.  Most of them were not taken too seriously yet other than the Makaha in Hawaii.  Even it was relatively small.  Daddy and I won the tandem contest at San Onofre in 1957 beating Linda and Benny Merrill.  We received a little trophy about five inches high and got our pictures in the Santa Ana Register.  It was all in fun.  None of us realized that Linda would go on to win national championships or that in just a few years the ‘Nofre prizes would include trips to Hawaii, Peru, surf gear, money, etc.” [25]

Meanwhile, Whitey continued fishing.  “The fishing industry was always fraught with hazards,” Rosie continued.  “Tales of them were most often interesting and amusing.  Lorrin was on the Capo pier operating the winch when his jeans, which often were well used and tattered, caught in it and ripped totally off of his body.  He was standing there stark naked.  Two ladies that had been walking on the pier and had been frozen in their tracks aghast at the incredible scene were now attempting to direct their eyes away.

“Another time his jeans caught in the winch on the jeep pickup when he and Dave Tompkins had it jacked up to pull the skiff in.  It had the same results but at least he was not exposed to the opposite gender.  Once the material gets caught it winds around the winch until it tears away or gets completely ripped off…”[26]

“The first person to try foam in a surfboard was Bob Simmons in 1950, using polystyrene foam,” wrote Greg Noll.  “In 1955, Lorrin Harrison in Capistrano Beach became the first to try polyurethane foam, and in [May] 1956 Dave Sweet in Santa Monica made the first sustained effort to develop polyurethane foam boards.”[27]

Mid-decade, Whitey “was doing some real interesting experimentation with molds,” recalls Rosie.  “He tried making an all-hollow board in a mold just out of fiberglass.  I was standing on the cliff at Dana looking down when he took off on a good size wave with the first one of these.  As the wave broke on him the board just sort of slid apart like an Oreo cookie.  I was embarrassed, but the guys up there watching with me were fascinated.  They knew something great was in the works.  Groups of those young guys would get together at Hobie’s and spend hours brainstorming on new ways to design and make boards.

“But Lorrin was on his own.  His first hollow fiberglass ones that were successful had a hole with a cork in the tail to drain water that seeped into them.  They were not terribly practical and didn’t hold up too long.  He discovered foam through his older brother, Verne, who worked for an aviation company.  It was a very light substance and they had been experimenting and using it for some time in airplane construction.” [28]

“Daddy had taken one of his big foam boards to Hawaii.  Some of the beachboys were pretty impressed with it.  He contracted with the Outrigger Club to make a whole bunch for them.  Each one came out of the mold exactly the same and they were all a bright red color.”[29]

In June 1958,” pinpointed Greg Noll of the commercial industry, “Hobie Alter came out with the first commercially successful polyurethane foam board design.  Then, in 1961, Gordon “Grubby” Clark formed Clark Foam, which became the largest foam-blank manufacturer in the world.  “Foam didn’t change surfboard design all that much, but it did stabilize and streamline the boards.  The same type of board could be made over and over again without worrying about different weights of wood, bad grain, etc.”[30]

Whitey’s Last 30 Years

Going into the 1960s, it became more and more difficult to make a living fishing, “but Lorrin never seemed to be daunted.”[31]  For a short while, he even gave a go of lobstering in Ireland, teaching American methods and learning Irish.[32]

“The crowds had descended on the surfing scene in hordes,” wrote Rosie Harrison Clark.  “It was a chore just to fight the traffic going to the beach on the weekends, much less get out on the waves with a zillion kids going off in every direction.  There was a culture evolving from the sport with its own rules, lingo, and apparel.  It was the early ‘60s.  The singing group, The Beachboys, popularized it even more with their renditions of surfer music.  My dad got a charge out of it all.  The more the merrier.  He was happy to see anyone enjoying the sport that he loved so much and he was always willing to help new kids learn.”[33]

“He had many adventures during this period,” continued Clark.  “He joined a crew of friends to sail a Rudy Choy catamaran to Hawaii.  He fished aboard Miles ‘Lani’ Nesbitt’s seventy-foot tuna boat off the coast of Baja… Usually more than one of my dad’s old buddies accompanied him on these grueling, physically stressful ventures where one mistake could endanger a whole crew.  Ted Sizemore, an ex-cop, and Windy Brown, an old Navy man, were both excellent watermen and enjoyed the company of Lorrin as they worked about these boats.”[34]

“I was told a story of when they were in a school of tuna so large they were not fishable.  Daddy hooked into one and went right overboard with it pole and all…”[35]

Living such a rich life, it is not surprising that Whitey had many stories to tell.  Some of the more thought provoking ones included finding a herd of dinosaur remains on the ocean floor, all facing north, as though some force of nature had stricken them where they lay.[36]  Another time while diving, he found a Spanish galleon half buried in the sea floor.  With it was a huge gold cross that was too heavy to lift out.  Doing his best to mark the spot on his maps, he was nevertheless never able to find the spot again. [37]

“Sitting around the big table in the kitchen many friends and family enjoyed listening to these tales and more…”[38]

But, “It was difficult for landowners and farmers to keep their land in California in the ‘60s,” continued Rosie.  “The taxes escalated with all the progress and construction.  Along with the decline of sea life came new laws every year restricting diving and fishing.  My dad and Cecilia struggled along with this for about eight years.  When they were approached with an offer to lease the land in front of the house for a trailer court it seemed like a sound idea.  So out with the avocados and in with the mobiles.  Suddenly they were semi-retired.  That afforded Lorrin more time to pursue his passions.

“They continued to promote and coach the outrigger team and make the trips to Hawaii.  Having bought a little property on the Big Island they decided to build a house.  It was a kit home delivered by boat in sections and pieces to be put together like a big jigsaw puzzle.  The problem was that all the pieces didn’t arrive at once or in the right order…”[39]

“Spring of 1986,” wrote Rosie Harrison Clark, “Eye on LA was interviewing a group of senior citizens that were all still very physically active in their chosen sports.  There was a weight lifter, cowboy, and of course Lorrin ‘Whitey’ Harrison, senior surfer.  I still think it is one of the best videos of him.  Dallas Raines narrates as they visit the barn, then off to ‘Nofre for little waves that my dad is totally stoked about.  He points out to sea fairly wiggling with anticipation and says the proverbial, ‘Let’s go! Let’s go!’  They question him about his heart surgery the year before.  He replies, ‘I feel 100%, like a million dollars.’  He even got Dallas out for a few rides in the two-man outrigger canoe.  That was the beginning of a series of television spots, magazine features, and commercials that kept Daddy flying.  We had to laugh when we picked him and Lele up at the airport every year and they were outfitted in new Nike tennies, T-shirts, sweat pants, jackets and caps.  When he answered the phone in Hawaii, he said, ‘Sure, right, Yeah, I’ll do it,’ for ten minutes before he asked, ‘Who’s David Letterman?’

“His eyesight was becoming so poor that he almost had to be on top of his hats to weave them…”[40]
Grubby Clark remarked about Whitey’s stoke:  “After all the places he’d been and waves he’d surfed, he could still get pumped about a 2-foot day at Doheny.  That’s the most remarkable thing about Whitey – how he retained his skill and enthusiasm for surfing throughout his long life.”[41]

Mickey Muñoz, from a later generation of surfers and also fortunate to have known Whitey well, wrote that “Lorrin was, in my way of looking at it, one of my guiding lights.  If I was ever feeling down about stuff, just being around him would be uplifting and I’d just go to myself, ‘Jesus, if this guy lived in days that I would envy and is still as positive and as happy as he appears to be, then that’s the way I wanna be and things can’t be all that bad.’”[42]

Muñoz told some stories of events that occurred toward the end of Whitey’s life that were typical of Lorrin’s attitude: “By eminent domain they [the state] condemned or took a right of way through their property to put a road in, basically a bridge going over San Juan Creek connecting two main roads in Capo Beach and Dana Point.  When your lifestyle is being split, if you will, by a road or violated by a road, you’d probably be pretty bummed out.  Lorrin, on the other hand, came running over to my house with saliva coming out of his mouth, he was so excited that he could hardly talk and he goes, ‘Yeah, part of the deal he says is that we got to cut down that big sycamore tree.’  He had a huge sycamore tree that was hundreds of years old and he says, ‘Yeah, that’s gotta go, but I’ll tell you what,’ he says, ‘it’s part of the deal that you have to cut it, but that will make a perfect canoe.’”  Muñoz laughed at this point.  “I mean this is a man in his ‘80s so excited he could hardly talk, babbling about this tree that he wanted to make a surfing canoe out of, and so, you know, it sort of tells what kind of man he was, turning what could have been a very negative event into a very positive thing.  I think Lorrin’s life has been kind of a series of those kinds of reactions.”[43]

“He had a four or five way bypass [surgeries]…” continued Muñoz, “and, typical of Lorrin, he goes out surfing too soon and rips some stitches internally, so the doctor scolded him and put him back in the hospital and they had to cut him open again and re-stitch him.  You know a month after the bypass he was out riding in some contest or something.  So, he was just like this invincible guy... I always considered Lorrin as being invincible because he had such a wonderful outlook on life and physically he was lean and mean.  I don’t think the man had ever been out of shape in his life... he went in probably a pretty good way.  He had been surfing all morning and his eyes weren’t too good so he had stopped driving and Cecilia had been doing most of the driving for the past three or four years, so they were driving home from the beach and Lorrin had a heart attack and went right away, bang, right out and down.”[44]

Six or seven years before, Pop Proctor – a  friend of Whitey’s – had also died suddenly.  Mickey drew a comparison between Pop’s kickout and Whitey’s:

“I had the privilege of spending some months with Lorrin and Pop Proctor on the Big Island of Hawaii shortly after Lorrin got his property over there and he had put up kind of a kit home on it and he had taken Pop over there for Pop’s second trip to Hawaii at 97 years old.  So I got to spend quite a bit of time with both of them.  Pop at that time had just lost his driver’s license and having lived in a van or truck for the last 45 or 50 years, you know losing his driver’s license was like hey, you might as well cut his head off.  Pop was totally independent, he could take care of himself, he’d have a couple glasses of wine, talk story.  He’d go in the water everyday.  Unfortunately when they came back to here [the mainland], they put Pop in a hotel in San Clemente and Pop kind of looked at his life and went jeez this isn’t what I want to do, this isn’t how I want to live my life, so he just kind of shut himself off and checked out, and because of Pop’s tenacity with life up until that time, at least as long as he had his driver’s license and was independent, I think Pop would’ve lived until God knows what, he could’ve lived until his hundred and tens, who knows.”[45]

When Whitey found out about Pop’s departure, his response had been, “Great! Great!  Good way to go, at least they didn’t get a chance to put those Goddamn tubes in him.”[46]

“That kind of sums up a lot of how I feel about him and how I looked at him as a man,” Muñoz concluded.  “You know, he wasn’t a great craftsman, but he was never afraid to try anything, build anything, make anything, do anything, you know the man’s babbling out of control over a 30-foot boat he’s gonna make in his ‘80s and you know that sycamore log sits, waiting to be seasoned... the man had so much knowledge of life in general, but especially of the water and what worked and why.  Maybe not even why, he just knew what worked through trial and error through knowledge accumulated over 80-plus years of dedication.”  Muñoz ended by saying the sycamore would be seasoned in two or three years and after that, he hoped to be part of a team effort to go ahead with Whitey’s plan to build that vision of his “perfect canoe.”[47]

On September 8th 1993, “He and Cecelia were in Hawaii and had just been to the beach for their morning swim when his heart failed,” wrote Rosie.  “It had been a happy week for him visiting with old friends and beachboys over for the longboard contests.  It was as though he just turned out the light…”[48]

On the Saturday after Lorrin “Whitey” Harrison passed away, approximately one hundred friends and family members spread his ashes in the waters off Kawaihae on the Big Island of Hawai‘i.  There were also ceremonies held at San Onofre marking the passage of one of surfing’s greats; a man whose positive contributions we benefit from each day we hit the surf.

“He was a well-loved person,” Doc Ball acknowledged.  “He was one of our surfin’ guys that could really handle the board in big waves.  He could really ride that big stuff at Dana Point.  I got pictures of him, down there, doin’ his stuff.  He was in the water most of the time,” meaning he made his livelihood the sea.  “Son of a gun, if I remember right, he went out and cut – what was it – a cottonwood tree and made him an outrigger canoe out of the thing; like they have in the Islands… that was a big job.”[49]

“I’m glad I’ve lived during the right time,” Lorrin said shortly before his passing.  “I’ve enjoyed every minute of my surfing life... Of course I hate all the changes.  You even have to pay to get to the beach now, nothing’s free anymore.  But what can you do?  Stop going?”[50]

“Lorrin was the stuff life was made of,” Mickey Muñoz offered.  “Lorrin was around here long enough to remember Steelhead salmon spawning up San Juan Creek, and through all of the pollution in general, Lorrin was always true to himself.  He wore his coconut hat and would get up in the morning with a big smile on his face and kind of face all of these issues with that smile.  He was always enthusiastic and positive... hey we lost a great light and energy.”[51]

“‘This is my church,’ I remember him saying of the beach, ocean and sky surrounding him on a brilliant Sunday morning.” [52]

[1] Stecyk, The Surfer’s Journal, Winter 1993-94, p. 42.
[2] Gault-Williams, Malcolm.  Interview with Wally Froiseth, April 3, 1996.
[3] Stecyk, The Surfer’s Journal, Winter 1993-94, p. 38.
[4] Gault-Williams, Malcolm.  Interview with Wally Froiseth, April 3, 1996.  Wally offered 1938 as the date; he was still in high school.  This was verified by Fran Heath, who had the original receipt for the board that became the first hot curl.  See also “Gene ‘Tarzan’ Smith” chapter, this volume.
[5] Gault-Williams, Malcolm.  Interview with Wally Froiseth, April 3, 1996.  See also Gault-Williams, “Surf Drunk, the Wally Froiseth Story,” The Surfer’s Journal, Volume 6, Number 4, Winter 1997.  More detail in the Tarzan chapter, this volume.
[6] Gault-Williams, Malcolm.  Interview with Wally Froiseth, April 3, 1996.  See also Gault-Williams, “Surf Drunk, the Wally Froiseth Story,” The Surfer’s Journal, Volume 6, Number 4, Winter 1997.  More detail in the Tarzan chapter, this volume.
[7] Clark, Let’s Go, Let’s Go! © 1997, p. 24.
[8] Clark, Let’s Go, Let’s Go! © 1997, p. 24.
[9] Stecyk, The Surfer’s Journal, Winter 1993-94, p. 38.
[10] Surfer, Vol. 35, No. 1, January 1994, p. 30.
[11] Stecyk, The Surfer’s Journal, Winter 1993-94, p. 42.
[12] The Surfer’s Journal, Vol. 1, No. 3. Stecyk, pp. 41-42.
[13] Clark, Let’s Go, Let’s Go! © 1997, p. 30.
[14] Clark, Let’s Go, Let’s Go! © 1997, pp. 33-34.
[15] Clark, Let’s Go, Let’s Go! © 1997, p. 34 and 37.
[16] Clark, Let’s Go, Let’s Go! © 1997, p. 37.
[17] Noll, Greg. Da Bull, p. 93.
[18] Clark, Let’s Go, Let’s Go! © 1997, pp. 66-67.
[19] Clark, Let’s Go, Let’s Go! © 1997, pp. 75-76.
[20] Clark, Let’s Go, Let’s Go! © 1997, p. 78.
[21] Clark, Let’s Go, Let’s Go! © 1997, p. 79.
[22] Clark, Let’s Go, Let’s Go! © 1997, p. 86.
[23] Clark, Let’s Go, Let’s Go! © 1997, p. 89.
[24] Clark, Let’s Go, Let’s Go! © 1997, p. 109.  Around 1954.
[25] Clark, Let’s Go, Let’s Go! © 1997, p. 115.
[26] Clark, Let’s Go, Let’s Go! © 1997, p. 116.
[27] Cralle, Trevor.  Surfin’ary, ©1990, p. 40.  Greg Noll quoted, probably from Da Bull.
[28] Clark, Let’s Go, Let’s Go! © 1997, p. 112.
[29] Clark, Let’s Go, Let’s Go! © 1997, p. 127.
[30] Cralle, 1990, Greg Noll quoted.
[31] Clark, Let’s Go, Let’s Go! © 1997, p. 124.
[32] Clark, Let’s Go, Let’s Go! © 1997, p. 134.
[33] Clark, Let’s Go, Let’s Go! © 1997, pp. 129-130.
[34] Clark, Let’s Go, Let’s Go! © 1997, p. 134.
[35] Clark, Let’s Go, Let’s Go! © 1997, p. 134.
[36] Clark, Let’s Go, Let’s Go! © 1997, p. 134.  Lorrin actually brought home what he thought were fossils from this find, but after testing they were found to be rocks.
[37] Clark, Let’s Go, Let’s Go! © 1997, p. 134.
[38] Clark, Let’s Go, Let’s Go! © 1997, p. 136.
[39] Clark, Let’s Go, Let’s Go! © 1997, pp. 136-137.
[40] Clark, Let’s Go, Let’s Go! © 1997, p. 153.
[41] Surfer, Volume 35, Number 1, January 1994, p. 30.
[42] Munoz, Surfing, February 1994, p. 28.
[43] Munoz, Surfing, February 1994, p. 28.
[44] Munoz, Surfing, February 1994, p. 28.
[45] Surfing, “Whitey’s Passing,” by Mickey Munoz, February 1994, p. 28.
[46] Munoz, Surfing, February 1994, p. 28.
[47] Munoz, Surfing, February 1994, p. 28.
[48] Clark, Let’s Go, Let’s Go! © 1997, p. 160.
[49] Gault-Williams, Malcolm.  Interview with John “Doc” Ball, January 10, 1998.  Whitey was the main guy responsible for bringing outrigger design and craft to Southern California in the 1930s.
[50] Stecyk, The Surfer’s Journal, Winter 1993-94, p. 42.
[51] Muñoz, Mickey.  “Whitey’s Passing,” Surfing magazine, February 1994, p. 28.
[52] Clark, Let’s Go, Let’s Go! © 1997, p. 144.