Gordon "Gordie" Duane, 1930-2011
By Steve Pezman
Gordon Duane, 81, AKA the “Compton Cabinet Maker” or “Gordie” passed away last night, July 28, 2011. For the years 1956 through the early 1960s, the city didn’t know it, but he owned Huntington Pier as far as the surf was concerned.
He inherited the surfboard shop from the prior domo, Rocky Freeman, a garage on the beach a few yards south of the pier, then just north of the pier. The “Gordie Man,” a modern carved foam figure of a surfer performing a swank arched bottom turn with arms bent back overhead, was mounted over the garage door entry. A rope was stretched across the entry during business hours. If you had the balls to step over the rope, he just might sell you a board.
Gordie was a supreme craftsman and his shapes were better than most. In the late-'50s he was known as “King of the Abstracts,” which was what the multicolored abstract resin-flowed designs running the length of the board were then called. Gordie would flow yellow and red and blue ribbons out of black fields creating the most dramatic effects. On the other hand, he signed his tails “Gordie Surfboards” over “Huntington Beach” using crude charcoal sticks; he misspelled “Huntington” on one of mine.
Gordie made a surf movie, “Sacrifice for Surf” and showed it. It featured his crew, traveling by car to Mazatlan--a big deal then. The pier surf was Gordie’s theater and he was famous for the “nose tweak” at the end of a ride, the dark goatee, the fierce mean eyes. The first time I stepped over the rope with eighty-five bucks in my pocket he snarled, “What the f--- do you want!?” I stepped backwards over the rope and drove down to Velzy’s and bought a balsa pig. Once, I lost my new three stringer Phil Edwards model on the south side of the pier and the whitewater swept it in and gently deposited it on the sand, leaning against a cement piling. Gordie was right there waiting to paddle out and just watched as the next wave snapped my board in two around the piling. I couldn’t believe he just watched. As I got near he said to me, “Next time get a Gordie!”
When Huntington started to become Surf City Gordie moved his shop to Coast Highway and 14th Street, the Foam Man went with it. He had rebuilt it after I had tried to steal it one night and ended up just breaking the foot off. If he had ever found out I would have been dead meat. My friend Stu Herz, who taught me how to refine my shaping skills, began as a patcher for Gordie. One day he was using Gordie’s planer to grind of some hardened glass on a patch job. Gordie saw him doing that, and from three steps behind him, strode up and kicked him in the ass full on! Stu said he deserved it but it still really pissed him off.
Gordie was famous for being a grump. He had a crew of scary guys that frequented his shop, Andy; a redhead with crew cut and huge muscles was one. Hawaiian’s liked Gordie because he respected them and he was so skilled. He had pictures of his visiting Hawaiian buddies on his shop wall. As his local kids grew up they started a club called the “Hole in The Wall Gang.” It was a Gordie club, and to the end a few members kept an eye out for his well-being.
In recent years he had been declining, living in a motel room in Sunset Beach, just south of Seal. One of the old pier gang that watched out for him, “Frog," passed word of his passing to Duline, and she to Leo, and Leo to us. I can still remember Gordie and Chick Edmondson at the Buzz Inn across the street from the pier (it was torn down when they built the Golden Bear--now that’s gone too) where the waitress had a red birthmark that covered half her face. There they would sit at the counter eating undercooked pancakes and drinking bad coffee on cloudy mornings. Those were great days, filled with the characters that makes surfing special. — SP