LEGENDARY SURFERS

Copyright © 1996-99 by Malcolm Gault-Williams. All Rights Reserved.


Buzzy Trent

"You don't go hunting elephant with a BB gun. If you're going to hunt big waves, take a big gun. "

"Life's a supermarket. Put anything you want in the shopping cart, but you have to deal with the checker on the way out the door. "

If I was limited to only interviewing one legendary surfer at the exclusion of all others, my choice would be Buzzy Trent. But, he's a hard guy to pin down for an interview. Someday, I hope it will happen. Meanwhile. . . Aloha and welcome to Chapter 23 of LEGENDARY SURFERS. This chapter tells the story of one of the century's greatest surfers, Buzzy Trent. It is taken completely from sources outside myself, as I have yet to interview Buzzy. Please also note that some of the material in this chapter on Buzzy is duplicated elsewhere in LEGENDARY SURFERS.

Enjoy, spread the stoke, and -- if you have the time -- let me know how I'm doing.

Contents: WW II Malibu & Post Era Surfing with Simmons -To & Fro the BeachTijuana Sloughs, Christmas Time, December 1949 -Sunset Cliffs, January 1951 Before The Call of The Islands Makaha, 1952 -Makaha, 1953 -Bob Simmons on The North Shore -The Photo Seen Round The World -Talk Story Makaha & The North Shore, 1954Quonset Hut Life -Greg Noll & The Hermosa Guys, 1954 -Phil Edwards on The North Shore, 1955 -All Out Attack on The North Shore, 1955 Laniakea, November 1955 -Outside Reefs -Coast Haoles Takeover The North Shore -Waimea Broke Open, November 1957 -Bizzy later - -

Buzzy Trent

In high school, Buzzy Trent was "a top sprinter and an all-state football player," noted Peter Cole, an early fan of one of surfing's most legendary of legendary surfers. But, everyone has to start somewhere and even Buzzy Trent was a gremmie once.

WW II Malibu & Post Era Surfing with Simmons

During World War II, Buzzy was just a gremmie under the tutelege of the "Father of the Modern Surfboard," Bob Simmons. While fighting raged overseas, Trent often surfaried with Simmons through the Southern California coastal zone. These surfaris would go on even after the war was over and those who had served in the armed forces returned home.

When noted surfboard shaper Joe Quigg returned on leave in the summer of 1944, he made note of the few surfers he saw. "I was in the Navy during the war," retold Quigg, "and I came home to Santa Monica on leave that year. Right after I got home, I drove up to Malibu to surf, and though the waves were good that day, there were only three guys out. One was a guy with a withered arm named Bob Simmons, and the other two were kids named Buzzy Trent and Matt Kivlin. " Kit Horn was another youngster at Malibu during the early days of World War II. He and Buzzy turned Peter and Corny Cole onto surfing that same year. Both Cole's would arrive on the North Shore in the later '50s, following in Buzzy's wake, and go on to become big wave riders in their own right.

Kit Horn remembered the first time Simmons showed up at the "Bu. "Simmons swam a huge board out, with his left arm on the board. Simmons was 8-to-10 years older than the kids at Malibu. Most everyone his own age was either in the military or in production during the daytime. Simmons was obviously deferred due to his deformed arm. Some of the kids hanging around Malibu would later became his friends -- Peter and Corny Cole, Matt Kivlin, and, of course, Buzzy Trent. Toward the end of decade, Quigg would even be in business with Kivlin and Simmons.

Simmons had a stripped down '31 Ford, with flat bed and racks, which became the surf vehicle for he and his younger friends. "He modified fuel mixtures with kerosene to extend his mileage," noted his friend and biographer John Elwell. On surfari with the 1931 Ford, Simmons racked up repeated tickets for speeding and vehicle violations.

The most animated of this younger bunch was Buzzy Trent. "Together, they were a real pair --" recalls Joe Quigg's good friend Dave Rochlen, "like the mad scientist and his big, burly side-kick Igor. "

To & Fro the Beach

After the war, Buzzy Trent and Matt Kivlin were still hitch-hiking to and from the beach. On a day C. R. Stecyk identifies as October 12, 1946, they were doing their usual hitch-hike to the beach. "The presence of their ungainly boards is enough to prevent most from offering them a ride," wrote Stecyk. "Fortunately, today Joe Schecter is driving back to his [Malibu] colony house. Among local kids, Joe is considered the ultimate ride, because not only will he haul your timber, he'll drive you right into the beach at Old Joes [private entrance with locked gate]. Today the gods have favored our boys and they will catch it on the perfect tide".

A year later, on surfari with Simmons, a classic Buzzy story is told of September 19, 1947. Simmons and Buzzy rode "up the coast in [Simmons'] old Model A flatbed," wrote Craig Stecyk. "Trent needs to relieve himself in a major way, but Simmons as usual is in a hurry. The ever-innovative Buzzy climbs out on the wooden flatbed, squats over a convenient hole in the platform and begins to answer nature's call. Other motorists are taken aback at this graphic spectacle. Bob is outraged. . . 'Trent, you stupid bastard, quit shitting through that hole. 'Trent's well-measured reply was one that could only come from a person in that state of satisfied quietude and relief, 'OK Simmons, what do you want me to do, shit in your front seat?' End of discussion".

Tijuana Sloughs, Christmas Time, December 1949

Dempsey Holder remembered a time when Simmons and Buzzy Trent surfed the Tijuana Sloughs and some killer whales cruised by. "Bob Simmons drove all the way down and he brought Buzzy Trent. So I went out. We got on the outside, sat out there a little bit, and a wave came along. Trent caught it and rode through the backoff area and then got his lunch somewhere in the shorebreak. His board ended up on the beach and he ended up swimming in.

"Simmons and I sat there talking, not really expecting anything. Well, we're sitting there, I'm looking south, and two big fins come up -- one big one and one not so big. They were killer whales and were about fifty yards from me. Scared me so bad I didn't say anything to Simmons; he hadn't seen them. I didn't want to make any noise at all.

"I'm sitting there on my board. I'm not sure if Simmons saw anything until they went underneath us. Before I could do anything, the little boils come up around us. I remember my board rocking just a little bit. I looked straight down at the bottom -- one of them passed directly beneath my board. We were only in 15 feet of water. I just saw parts of it. The white spots appeared, moving pretty slowly. Boils come up around. Simmons looked around and saw something. I remember him being profane -- he was really excited about the size of these things. I wanted him to shut up. I hadn't said anything. I'm still alive. I could see that big dorsal fin. Then the boil disappeared. "I was still alive and I began to swivel my head around. I could see them fifty yards away or so, going straight out to sea. We relaxed a little bit. A little later Trent came back out and we told him what had come by there. He turned right around and went back in. Then Simmons and I looked at each other and went in. "

Sunset Cliffs, January 1951

Leslie Williams, who was one of the very first Malibu Board standouts, vividly recalled Simmons at what now amounted to be his surfing backyard -- Sunset Cliffs, January 1951: "As stated earlier, Bob was gutsy and demonstrated that to Buzzy and I the morning after the 'North Bird' incident. We had stayed the night at Dempsey Holder's Imperial Beach Lifeguard facility and the next morning went to the Tijuana Sloughs, which was still 12'+ but with a seven foot high tide so the outside breaks were not doing it. Buzzy and I piled into Bob's '39 coupe and we went to Sunset Cliffs. Garbage was 10-12' or so but the only trail down to the water was in constant surge to a depth of 2-3' over the tiny cove beach.

"Bob told Buzzy and I to go down the trail as far as we could and he would drop the boards to us. Buzzy and I swam out and Bob pitched our boards to us over the 8' cliff at the bottom of the trail. We retrieved our boards and Bob dropped his off, which we recovered, before he jumped off the cliff, which he did in a modified cannonball with legs out-stretched. He thought he was jumping into 6' of water (he normally would have been), but he landed on a solitary rock about 4' under the water. He suffered a sore okole and was a little chagrined.

"Remember we went out there at Bob's insistence at a super high tide and without wool suits (the wetsuits of that period). We surfed for 2 1/2 hours until the tide went down enough for us to scale the slippery trail.

"As usual, Bob was the gutsy one in respect to his inability to swim strongly with his bad arm. In truth, the rights that day were slow even though they did occasionally close to 'Subs. 'None of us had much experience with Sunset Cliffs at that size but we followed Simmons' lead. In contrast to what happened in later years in the Islands, Bob's board worked well in the thicker waves that day. This was in the pre-slot board days but he had a thin twin-fin concave, which was to be one of his favorites. "

Before The Call of The Islands

Another surfer who looked up to Buzzy was Ricky Grigg, who recalled that he, "got into surfing," at the beginning of the 1950s, "because I was there and it was happening around me. My sister liked Tommy Zahn. He lifeguarded at Malibu and got her interested in surfing. She became the hottest gal on the whole coast.

"Buzzy Trent was my hero. I used to sit at his lifeguard station and listen to him tell stories. He took me surfing when I was nine years old. My sister was out there with us. It was like the beginning of a whole subculture. Hearing about the other surfers in these little pockets up and down the coast, we almost became mythological to each other. Then we started traveling and meeting at different spots and it was great. We built on each other's experience.

"When I was eleven I got hurt pretty badly while surfing at State Beach. On a wipeout, my board whipped up under my ribs real hard and busted my spleen in half. Buzzy Trent was ten or fifteen yards ahead of me in a sand-buster and he got me to the beach. For three or four minutes, I couldn't get any air. Buzzy was doing what he could and, finally, I started breathing again. Then Buzzy took me to the hospital in his '39 Packard. "

When Buzzy was in the possession of an old Chevy business coupe with a handmade wooden surfboard rack screwed into its dented and rusting roof, Peter Dixon observed him one summer's Malibu day in 1952:

"It's crowded. Seven guys out at first point. The surf is five to six and peeling to the pier. "In the lineup were, "Dave Rochlen, Matt Kivlin, Buzzy Trent, Peter Cole, and Chuck King. They're all in the lineup and waiting their turn. Back then no one took off in front of someone else. "Trent, Cole, and Rochlen were my heroes. Buzzy because he was a great football player - surfer. Cole, one of the fastest swimmers on the West Coast, was a fellow beach lifeguard. Rochlen's mystique was hard to fathom. He had that gleam in his eye that wouldn't tolerate bullshit. . . . Chuck King, another beachguard, was a bit older than the others. That summer Chuck introduced me to my future wife. . . "The surf was 'bitchin' and I watched Buzzy ride a fast Malibu wave right into the rusted wire fence that separated the Adamson Estate from the public beach. Buzzy walked up the dirt path. . . He spotted my new board, showed interest. I asked Buzzy if he'd like to surf the balsa. He nodded in the affirmative, yanked the balsa from the back of the Zephyr and ran for the water. Buzzy didn't waste words.

"Buzzy was fantastic. The board that I had lovingly shaped seemed to come alive under his agile maneuvering. After a twenty minute display of his muscular, wave riding talent, Buzzy paddled in and returned the board. This time he spoke. 'Worst board I ever surfed. Thanks, kid. '"

Makaha, 1952

There had been several waves of coast haoles that preceded the wave Buzzy rode in on. These waves went something like this: * 1920s -- Tom Blake, Sam Reid * 1930s -- Whitey Harrison, Pete Peterson, Gene "Tarzan" Smith * 1947 -- Joe Quigg, Tommy Zahn, Matt Kivlin, Melonhead, Dave Rochlen * 1948 -- Walter Hoffman, Ted Crane, Dave Mojas

"Our living quarters, Summer 1950," recalled Walter Hoffman, amounted to "a $25 a month basement and backyard garden area where we kept our boards. " Summer 1950, the Malibu chips, "were just beginning to arrive in the islands in the hands of guys like Zahn, Quigg, Kivlin and Rochlen who would bring them over and sell them when they left. "

In notations Walter Hoffman made for a reprint of some of the photographs he took of the big surf summers of the late 1940s and early 1950s, he recalled, "When I first got to the islands [1948] I heard about Makaha. So I started going out there in the winter [1949-50] and found out that, shit man, the place got really big. Dave Mojas and myself were the first two California guys really actively surfing it three to four times a week for the entire winter. That was the year I took movies (which I still have). I also sent still pictures to Flippy (brother Phillip) and Buzzy [Trent] telling them to get over here -- it's bitchin, and Burrhead saw those and all those guys came the next year for the winter, and we camped on the beach at Makaha. From then on for the next few years we would rent houses near Makaha for the winter and in Waikiki during the summertime. "

"After spending a couple of summers in Waikiki," reiterated Hoffman, "I went out to Makaha one early winter day, it was four foot and a lot of fun, so I kept coming back. I talked my friends from town into joining me and we'd go out there and camp on the beach. I talked a lot of guys into going out there and surfing with me. We could leave our boards and stuff right there on the beach for days and no one would mess with it or take anything. Buffalo, Henry Preece and Homer would come out from Waianae and surf with us and drink beer in the afternoons after work. "

The core surfing scene quickly developed into a bi-polar "town and country" surf culture, based at the Waikiki Surf Club and Tavern in the summertime and switching to the country out at Makaha in the winter. "The period is primal to the contemporary roots of our lifestyle and sport," wrote publisher Steve Pezman in his Surfer's Journal, "both on land and in the water. From the cool surf trunks they had custom made at small shops like Lynn's in Waikiki and M. Nii Taylors in Waianae, to the first Makaha guns that evolved from the Kivlin and Quigg balsa chip boards that they brought with them from Malibu and cross pollinated with the hot-curls of island watermen/craftsmen George Downing, Wally Froiseth and Woody Brown."

O`ahu's first big wave surfers -- the Hot Curl guys likeWally Froiseth, John Kelly, Fran Heath, Russ Takaki, Woody Brown, Henry Lum and George Downing -- were first joined by mainland haoles like Joe Quigg, Tommy Zahn, Matt Kivlin, Melonhead, and Dave Rochlen. Soon afterwards, Water Hoffman, Dave Mojas and Ted Crane were added to the list. After them and because of Hoffman's ravings by post, Buzzy joined up.

"He went out Makaha with me," Woody told me of his first time out with Buzzy in tow. "You know, with Wally and I the first time. He'd never been out at Makaha before. 'Wow!' he said and his eyes were big. He asked, 'We're going out there?'

"'Sure, sure!' So, he was game. We paddled out and, boy, we're sitting there waiting for the wave and these monstrous swells just go by. But, they weren't big enough to catch, you know. And Buzzy's eyes bulged. 'You mean, we're gonna catch these?'I'll never forget that!'You mean, we're gonna catch these?'But, he did. He got into it."

"Buzzy came over from the Mainland and he talked about big waves," Woody retold the story to Ben Marcus and we said, 'Come with us.' We went to Makaha and it was a pretty good day, maybe 20 feet. I'll never forget his expression. Buzzy saw these waves, and all you could see were two big eyes, and he said, 'You mean we're going to catch these?'And we said, 'Sure, Buzzy. Let's go!' But he got into it. He got into the swing. "

Makaha, 1953

The winter surfing season of 1952-53 was "A great winter for surfing," testified John Severson of, particularly January 10, 1953. Severson would, years later, become one of the first surf film makers and, more significantly, the founder of Surfer magazine, surfing's first magazine. "That Saturday was the capper -- twenty feet at Rincon. "

Back at Makaha, it was Walter Hoffman's 3rd winter there. Chuck McCulle, George Elkins, Charlie Reimers, Chuck Parker, Flippy Hoffman, Junior Knox, Ted Crane, and Buzzy Trent now made up the core crew. A notable event that year was when Tommy Zahn paddled the O`ahu to Molokai route -- a 36 mile paddle -- in October 1953, in 9 hours and 20 minutes. He then returned to Southern California to win the 32 mile Catalina paddleboard race.

Bob Simmons on The North Shore

Makaha was the main place where big waves were ridden, up to this point. Of course, the North Shore had been broken open as early as the late 1930s by Whitey Harrison and Tarzan Smith. And, afterwards, it was regular fare for the Hot Curlers. After Dickie Cross lost his life at Waimea, the winter of 1943, that put the damper on enthusiasm for the North Shore. Although it continued to be ridden, it was done so rarely in favor of the point surf of the Makaha bowl.

One of the first to reverse this trend and tap into the North Shore was Bob Simmons. Like Burrhead, Flippy Hoffman, Buzzy Trent and a bunch of others, Simmons was drawn to O`ahu because of the glowing reports sent back to the Mainland from Walter Hoffman.

Hoffman and company, "a group of Simmons' friends," wrote John Elwell, "surfed big Makaha. Walt Hoffman sent a message for Simmons" to "'Get over here right away. 'Simmons packed up, with his bicycle and board and headed for the North Shore. He wintered there, surfing alone and with Flippy Hoffman. He came back with a wider view of the problems of big waves. He remarked that he surfed Banzai Beach [Pipeline]. 'That place has real possibilities!' He had also called a bunch of surfers at Makaha, 'shoulder hugging chickens!'"To add insult to injury, in true Simmons style, he also disgustedly complained, "They're surfing paddleboards over there!' Such was Simmons, concluded Elwell."

Leslie Williams, who came over with Simmons, listed the major aspects of the trip. "We got off a cargo boat with boards and single speed bike, middle of October, '53. Bob started circumnavigation of Oahu by bike the next day.

"We stayed at Buzzy Trent's hut at Makaha, south of Dok's, early November."

"After Buzzy and I returned from town early November '53 (and left Simmon at Makaha for six hours), Bob literally railed at us about the fact that Makaha had been 20' while we were gone (when we got back it was still 8-12' as it had been in the morning when we left for town). He said check with Dok's wife about what she saw -- she always was the recipient of many calls from town regarding Makaha surf status. Bob was really upset that we didn't believe him -- maybe an unintentional turnabout was fair play?He used to confront us with this 'Simmons constant,' which was, 'Surf size (to him) = reported size ÷ 2 + 2. 'His infamous divide by two and add two.'

"In mid-November on a Sunday, George Downing suggested we haoles join him and go to the North Shore for bigger surf (at this time Makaha was 6-8'). In that era the only two people riding the North Shore was George and Henry Preece. We put our boards in George's wagon. He took Buzzy, and Bob and I joined Woody Brown in his Henry J. Because George and Woody had military passes we were able to take the Kolekole Pass to Schofield Barracks and the road to the North Shore. As we dropped down towards the North Shore (fringed with white water!), Woody started his story about his 'experience' in 1943. Woody continued his story until the cars arrived at Sunset Beach. Of course, at the time there was no one out and no cars parked there when we arrived. "

"To us, Sunset looked like a perfect Ventura Overhead at 12' with medium offshores. Since Bob, Buzzy and I were experienced with 'Big Overhead' we paddled out to join George. Woody stayed on the beach consistent with the results of his 1943 'experience' story. Direction of the swell was perfect and the peak did not shift sidewise as it came in. Simmons was using his big 'slot board' with rope deck handles. Early in the go-out Bob and I took off on a challenging peak with Bob on my inside. For only the second time in my life I saw Bob pull back on a wave! Could this have been a reaction to Woody's earlier story to us?" Williams asked. "The only previous time I had seen Bob pull back on a wave without taking the drop was at 12-15' North Bird Rock in January '51 (with Buzzy and me).

The Photo Seen ĽRound The World

On November 27, 1953, a Honolulu photographer named Skip Tsuzuki took the famous Associated Press photo of Buzzy Trent, Woody Brown and George Downing riding a 15-foot wave at Makaha that went world wide.

"That's the first big wave that was ever photographed that had world wide distribution," noted Woody. "After that, of course, people started getting gung ho over big waves. That's probably when they started going the North Shore. That stirred everybody up. They started going everywhere there was big waves. "Woody clarified that, "When we were riding Makaha, other surfers were starting to go there; about the time Buzzy Trent came over to Makaha. After that, he started going over to the North Shore with those guys, too. "

About the famous AP photo of Trent, Brown and Downing, Woody told Ben Marcus, "That was the first big-wave photograph ever made and it stirred up a furor on the Mainland. All those guys came over and there were the movies, and then they rode Waimea Bay and the magazines started up. But that [the movies and magazines] was after my time. "

"That shot blew everyone away, all up and down the coast," wrote Nat Young. "Keen surfers had already seen Bud Browne's early surfing movies of big-wave riding in Hawaii, but seeing that shot in a mass-circulation paper made everyone realise what Hawaii could hold in store for them. After that every winter, about November, a crew of Californian surfers made the pilgrimage to Hawaii with the intention of riding waves at Sunset Beach and Makaha. "

"The Associated Press sent a picture that most major newspapers ran as front page news," testified Fred Van Dyke, who was surfing Santa Cruz in those days, "-- of a mountainous wave at Makaha Beach. Buzzy Trent, George Downing and Wally Froiseth were the riders.

"The school Superintendent handed me the newspaper, and when I saw the picture, that was it. I quit my job and headed for Hawaii." Van Dyke was not alone. Others to head for the islands after viewing this photo included Greg Noll and Pat Curren.

The AP photograph grabbed Mike Doyle's attention, too. Doyle admitted, "that whetted my appetite even more for going to Hawaii. It was of three surfers -- George Downing, Buzzy Trent, and Woody Brown -- riding very straight, old-fashioned redwood boards at Makaha, on the west side of Oahu. The wave looked massive to me -- at least twenty-five feet -- a thick, boiling mountain of water. I'd heard about waves like that, but I'd never imagined they could look so beautiful and terrifying at the same time. And as far as I was concerned, the guys riding them were the most courageous men on earth."

"Years later, after I got to know George Downing, I told him how much that photo had impressed me as a kid. George laughed and said, 'That was really only about a twelve-foot wave. The photo was tilted to make it look twice as big as it really was. '"

"The year after this," documented Walter Hoffman, "Greg Noll and the Hermosa guys came over. "

Talk Story

"Buzzy [Trent] loved to tell stories to his friends," recalled Peter Cole, who heard many. "Buzzy enjoyed being at the edge of life, whether being on scafolding 14 stories up, hang gliding off the Wainae Mountains, or riding giant surf. One story Buzzy told took place during the transition from Makaha to the North Shore:

"1953 probably was a turning point in my life as far as hairy experiences is concerned," Buzzy began. "I was surfing at the big Avalanche. On that day, I estimated [the waves to be] at least 30 [feet] or over and we were out a mile and a tenth. This one position I got myself in, I'll never forget. I lost my board on a big wave. I came to the surface and I looked outside and I saw this huge, huge set and so the first thing I thought was, 'I got to get through this big, big wave. '

"I started swimming as fast as I could. I swam like a maniac and went up the face of this wave, swimming and swimming and swimming. I could feel the thing pulling and pulling as I swam through it. It had a hold of me like an old maid has hold of a sock. It was pulling on me and I swam through this thing and I broke the surface and felt the thing. As my eyes cleared, I felt the thing rumble as it broke inside of me about 100 yards and, low and behold, as my eyes cleared -- this is the most terrifying experience I ever had [up to that point], cuz at the time, I thought I had everything made. I looked as my vision cleared, and here was Jim Fisher, paddling like a jack ass up the face of another wave which I estimated looked twice the size of the wave that I swam through. He gets up half way on the face of this wave, stands up on the board like this and backs off. And I'm sitting in the water like this, watching the board coast up the face of the wave. And I can see Fisher swimming through this gigantic wall and the board hovers at the very top of this wave and I'm watching this board and looking over to my right, where five other guys are hanging on to the outside buoy, which is nine-tenths of a mile. Then I look back over at Jim Fisher's board and back at the riders, then I look at that board, again, and the wave breaks about 160 yards in front of me and smashed that board right in two. It was a solid redwood/balsa. The pieces just flew up into the air and I'm hyperventilating and I'm looking at 25 foot of soup and I'm looking over at these guys by the buoy and I'm saying, 'If I was only over by you. 'They're laughing at me and I'm looking at the buoy. I thought I had it. . . "I levelled off at 15 feet [underwater, after diving under the oncoming wave] and opened my eyes and saw this gigantic grey cloud rumbling towards me. I leaned forward so I wouldn't tumble under water and lose my sense of direction, because it was 70 feet [to the bottom] where I was. [I] Held on for a tremendous long period of time and I finally made the surface and there was 3 1/2 feet of foam on the surface. After a long struggle, I reached the beach with half that board I saw broken in two and, boy, was I glad to get into my panel truck!"

Makaha & The North Shore, 1954

Woody told me:"California surfers started coming over after" the AP photo "went to the mainland and, boy, that drove everybody crazy. They couldn'tbelieve that. So, they all wanted to come out here and see for themselves. But, I didn't know any of those guys. I didn't go with 'em then. I just went with Wally and them. I just never got to know 'em. For instance, Joe Quigg -- nice guy, gentle, quiet guy. "

"We were kind of separated into two bunches, then. Wally, [John] Kelly and me and those guys -- we would go to Makaha. California guys went more for the North Shore. I don't know why; probably because the waves were more peaks and you could play around on the peak, where Makaha had this wall and, man, you had to have a good, fast board and had to really trim it to get going; to get across. That, maybe, didn't appeal to them. "

Quonset Hut Life

Woody, George and the other Hot Curl surfers who were the veterans at Makaha lived in town. The haoles coming over from California roughed it in the country by renting World War II quonset huts. These small bands of mainland surfers coming over to Makaha and the North Shore of O`ahu started getting some attention from the Hawaiian media. At the beginning of 1954, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin described the surfer lifestyle in these locations:

"If you asked the average Islander to point out Makaha to you, you'd probably run into a lot of inaccurate pointing. . . But a small band of Californians have found Makaha without any trouble. They are content to go without the usual luxuries of modern day living, just so they can surf there. Three Californians arrived about 10 days ago to join a hardy band of some 15 ascetics living in a shack about two blocks from the surf. The new arrivals have taken a cottage across the street -- for $10 a month each -- and have scattered swim fins, spears, and surfboards around their new house-with-kitchen -- the kitchen being a Coleman stove. "

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin reporter went on to write:"Overhead, surfboards hang by rope so they can be let down with ease, while swim fins hang on chairs scattered in between seven beds, bunks and cots. "The article was accompanied by a photograph with the caption: "From California to Makaha. " It showed the current crop of mainland haoles including Buzzy Trent, Flippy Hoffman, Chuck McClelland, Junior Knox, Jim Fisher and Ted Crane. Buzzy was quoted by the reporter as saying, "We have a garden, we spear our fish -- yesterday Junior Knox got us a 65-pound turtle -- and we have salads, stews and things. It's a community thing. We are over here strictly to surf, and corny as it may sound, the surf over here is terrific. It's the best. "

There's this mid-February 1954 photo of "Walt, Mojas and Hap Jacobs patching boards in front of the Tavern. In those days, even more important than the availability of cocktails at surfs edge, was a belly full of food for a hungry surfer. Recalls Walter, 'The Tavern had a great $1 salad bar where we trained for M's Ranch House, the infamous South Shore restaurant that offered the truly daunting challenge of eating a 4 1/2 lb. steak and all the trimmings in one hour for free, otherwise it was $9. 95.' "This was accomplished by Walt, Tommy Zahn, Tom Moore, Carter Pyle and Buzzy Trent (who broke the record by eating everything in 20 minutes "to the horror of the proprietor"). Bud Brown's got part of it on film.

Months later, Walter Hoffman recalled, "Buzzy and I stayed in this little house on Kaiulani Avenue in Waikiki during the Summer of '54. It didn't have a kitchen, just a place to wash and sleep for $35 a month, which we split."

Greg Noll & The Hermosa Guys, 1954

At the end of summer, Greg Noll made it over and so did a number of his friends like Sonny Vardeman.

Sonny Vardeman, in talking about Buzzy Trent and how he influenced others, said that, "Greg [Noll] and I have been friends since grade school. While he belonged to the Manhattan Beach Surf Club, I was a member of a surf club called the Hermosa Beach Seals, along with our friends Mike Bright and Steve Voorhees. We'd see each other at the beach all the time. During the early fifties, there were very few surfers. You'd see the same guys at the different spots up and down the coast. That's how we all got to know each other.

"In high school, we all hung out on the beach together. Mike Bright and a few of us played on the football and basketball teams, then surfed during the summer. Greg wasn't much into high school athletics. He hung out at the Manhattan Beach Surf Club, spent most of his time on the beach. Greg is a very proud man. He doesn't like to be a loser. I think that's what made him good in paddleboard racing. I also think that was one of the reasons he didn't go out for high school athletics. If Greg can't do something well, he won't participate in it.

"Greg devoted most of his energy to surfing. Buzzy Trent, Joe Quigg, Dale Velzy, Bob Simmons and George Downing were all six or seven years older than we were. They're the guys we watched. George lived in Hawaii, but came to the Mainland for paddleboard races. Buzzy was a lifeguard around Santa Monica and Malibu. He went over to the Islands in the early fifties and became one of the pioneers of modern surfing at Makaha and of big-wave surfing. Greg really learned about big-wave riding from Buzzy. If you compare films of Buzzy and Greg, you can see that Greg emulated Buzzy's style. Greg admired George Downing, but he emulated Buzzy's style. "

Phil Edwards on The North Shore, 1955

The following year, when Phil Edwards made his first trip to OĽahu in 1955, he surfed Sunset the second day he was on the island and he rode in good company. Chris Aherns told the story, beginning with the ride to Sunset:

"The men in the car discussed their equipment, and found general agreement that Curren made some of the best big-wave guns in the islands. 'Yeah, I love his boards,' said Trent, 'but he's so damned quiet that I never know what he's thinking. You know how he is, sitting outside at Sunset without saying a word and then, when you think he's nearly asleep, he'll catch the biggest wave of the day. 'There was admiration in Trent's voice as he spoke of Curren.

"Coming out of miles of pineapple fields, Phil saw the North Shore for the first time -- a powder-blue sky dotted by white clouds, and surf breaking for as far as he could see. It looked small to him, and he was surprised by the reaction of the other surfers. 'Floor it,' said Walter before Phil hit the gas.

"'Let's go, let's go,' said Buzzy nearly frantically. The kid drove down the thin highway, past small tin-roofed homes and well-kept fields, some of which were being cultivated by men using nothing but a plow pulled by an ox. They drove past miles of empty surf, perfect waves fanned by offshore winds formed symmetrical, blue triangles. . . They continued to drive without seeing another surfer anywhere until Phil was told to pull over onto the shoulder. Here they faced a long, wide beach.

"The kid looked out and watched a clean wave of about four foot break fairly close to shore. He thought, 'This looks like home; I like this. 'Walter [Hoffman] and Leslie [Williams] got out of the car and grabbed their boards. Buzzy gave a loud hoot, and stood next to the kid, and said with serious joy, 'Look at that, man, look at it!' Phil followed Buzzy's eyes far away past the medium-sized surf of the shorebreak he was watching, to a place on the edge of a massive rip, where a huge peak toppled in slow motion.

"Seeing that Walter and Leslie were already on their way out, Buzzy grabbed his board and ran to catch them, outdistancing them as he committed himself to the river of a rip, and then paddling over to the big peak. . . . Phil grabbed his board, and fearing to look toward the sea, he paddled out with his head down. . . The kid paddled hard for the outside where the others were sitting, looking like dots."

"Phil sat in the pack with the others and looked around for the mushy peak he had seen from shore. A wave approached quickly and Phil spun around and knee-paddled for it, just as he had always done in California. The strong offshore wind blew him back over the top and out of the wave as drops of warm water pelted his skin. Walter looked with concern at Phil and told him not to knee-paddle into the waves saying that if he did, he would never make the drop. Phil dropped from his knees and laid flat onto his board and scanned the horizon for sets."

"Not even Buzzy seemed calm now. They all huddled, waiting quietly for a long time until the next wave approached, a beautiful peak, a gift to the kid who began to stroke in early from a prone position. . . Eventually they all made shore and sat together on the sand for a while, verbally replaying their rides.

"Buzzy spoke for them all saying, 'Hey, did you see Phil out there today?' Hoffman smiled proudly. Buzzy gave the kid a warm slap on the shoulder."

All Out Attack on The North Shore, 1955

"Buzzy Trent, who often surfed alone at Sunset, organized an all-out attack on the North Shore in 1955, wrote Fred Van Dyke who had come over from Santa Cruz, California, the year before. Van Dyke was a school teacher and not part of the quonset hut bohemians, but he nevertheless went on to become one of the big wave surfers who helped open up the North Shore. A notable time in his recollections was November 1955.

Laniakea, November 1955

"Pat Curren, Buzzy, my brother Peter, George Downing, Wally Froiseth and I drove up to an untouched surf spot in November of '55. The day was glassy, and no one was out. Cylinders tubing at 20-foot plus for 200 yards lined the point. We didn't know if we could get out.

"Buzzy said he had dived in the area the previous summer. . . finally everyone waxed his board.

"Bud Browne. . . climbed to the top of a water tower. . . and set up his camera. . . no waves under 15 feet all day. " It was this first known surf session at this spot that resulted in Laniakea getting its name as a surf locale. Bud Browne had seen the name "Laniakea" on a sign on a house close by.

"We were exhausted when we drove back to Honolulu," continued Van Dyke. "Two days later Bud Browne got his films back and we screamed and yelled at wave after wave, 15-20 foot walls 200 yards long rolled by on film. In those days we could measure pretty accurately the size of waves by looking through a view finder, and using pieces of paper to measure our stance. Then you multiplied the stance by the number of times you could put it against the wave. "

"We were pioneering a new area," explained Van Dyke. "Aside from making pacts to retrieve one another's board, we never knew whether we would get back to shore. After a wipeout we did not know which action would get us to the beach fastest. Most often we chose the comfort of the rip and waited until someone paddled a board out. "

Outside Reefs

"Alonzo Wiemers and Buzzy Trent took me to the North Shore on a day in 1955," continued Van Dyke, "when all of the outside reefs were breaking -- exploding. Thousands of tons of white water crashed and blew up with the force of the bottom reefs, and tradewinds scanned the broken wave faces. . .

"We drove to Sunset to find it completely closed out. No decision needed there except to turn around and drive to Makaha.

"Laniakea was breaking a mile out in the ocean, so we passed on to Haleiwa. Stopping there, we went into a little coffee shop -- Jerry's -- fronting the sea. From the window we saw the outside break at Haleiwa. It was a snowy mountain avalanching, cascading forward; tons of soup filling the horizon. If it looked huge from three quarters of a mile away, what would it be like up close?

"We finished our coffee and headed back to the car. Buzzy took one more look and said, 'Let's just paddle out and look at it, before we go to Makaha. '

"I looked at Alonzo. He had a pained look on his face.

"Buzzy asked again. Alonzo looked at the avalanching break. The view on his neck reddened. 'Yeah, sure. We'll just go out and give it a little check. What do you think, Fred?'

"'Uh, sure, sounds good to me. 'It looked big, but from shore, just like any other break -- except for its huge size.

"We drove to the Alii Beach, where we could wax up and paddle out through a small channel on the edge of the boat harbor. Pat Curren was sitting on the beach, his board tucked under his arm.

"'How does it look?' Buzzy asked.

"'Good to me,' answered Pat. Buzzy and Pat picked up their boards and headed to the shorebreak.

Alonzo looked at me and said, 'Well, you wanted to ride big waves. '

"'Yes,' I answered, feeling my throat and tongue dry, my heart racing.

"'Yes, let's hit it. '

"We paddled and paddled. I changed from knee paddling five times before I could really see the size of the outside reef break. It was an entirely different dimension.

"Lining up, I backed off on the first wave. Buzzy and Pat caught it and disappeared. The set ended, a lull filling in the silence. I looked over at Alonzo drifting toward Kaena Point.

"Relaxing for a moment out there was my first mistake. Number two, not turning around fast enough. I looked seaward and saw, like a heard of galloping horses, a set of waves racing across the horizon, their manes waving wildly in the wind.

"They crossed the outside harbor channel and climbed skyward. They were moving mountains, and I was sitting directly in front of their forward momentum. I paddled frantically outside, barely making it over the first one, only to be confronted by a second even larger wave. It sucked out, vacuuming ever higher. I paddled, and as I slid backward down the face, I hit the bottom of that force, peal tailblock first, and slid off, all thirty feet plus cascading down upon me, and my board placed less than a foot away from my head.

"The initial impact drove me deeply into darkness. I told myself to relax, but whitewater wrenched at my arms and legs. I waited for the wave to abate -- let me go as other waves did, but not this one.

"When I had waited long past the time to fight for the surface and air, the soup dispersed into churning blackness. There even was a moment of seemingly suspended time. "I felt as if this might be it. What a fool to lose life this way! In the utter darkness I stroked my last struggle for the surface, and bumped my head full force into lava. The soup had driven me into a cave. I was trapped.

"I threw up water and surrendered. It wasn't so bad after all. I had chosen to go out; it was my fault.

"That was all! And then, just before dizziness prevailed completely, I saw sunlight down by my feet. I was upside down, had lost all equilibrium, and had swum down instead of up, bumping into the bottom.

"Surfacing, I got a breath before the next wave broke upon me and repeated the same driving spin cycle. This time I was pushed in toward shore and surfaced to face a near-mile swim through breaking waves, rips, cross currents and shallow reefs. Twenty-feet high soup carried me over an exposed reef still half a mile out in the ocean, but I made it to the beach. Dragging myself out of the water, I felt much the same sickness as that day when I nearly drowned in the surf off San Francisco.

"Flippy still tries to get me to go outside Haleiwa, to 'Avalanche' on big days, when the North Shore regular spots are all closed out. I always say 'No, no way!'

"His usual reply, 'God, Van Dyke, Avalanche is an old man's dream for riding a truly big wave. It's a cinch. It's got the drop and it was made for guys like you and me. '

"I think to myself, 'Not this old man, Flippy. '"

Coast Haoles Takeover The North Shore

The following year (1956), with the Laniakea footage and other stuff,"Bud Browne went back to California with his new film [probably The Big Surf]," wrote Van Dyke, "and it was an instant success -- with one drawback. Crowds came to the North Shore -- or what we considered crowds -- about 20 new guys in all. . . "

Bud's surfing years spanned the period 1938-57, "around that time" -- that's the way he put it to me. Surfing's first commercial filmmaker's surf films stretched from 1953 to 1977. Surfers that Bud caught on film reads like a who's who of legendary big wave riders of the 1950s and '60s. Bud organized the recollections by surf spots. "There was Waimea with Peter Cole, Fred Van Dyke, Ricky Grigg, Kimo Hollinger. . . Pipeline: there was Gerry Lopez, Rory Russell, a whole bunch of others. . . Makaha: there was Buzzy Trent, George Downing, Greg Noll, and lots of others. "

By 1957, surfers riding the North Shore were predominantly visiting Californians and California transplants. "In the winter of 1957," wrote Nat Young, "the Californian surfers in Hawaii included Greg Noll, Mike Stange, Mickey Muľoz and Del Cannon. Some Californians had already made the move permanently:Ray Beatty, Bob Sheppard, Jose Angel, Fred Van Dyke, Pat Curren, Peter Cole, John Severson, Bruce Brown, Jim Fisher, Buzzy Trent and a few others. . . "Yet more waves of "Coast Haoles" followed as "Still more Californian surfers began leaving the mainland, with a dream of riding giant island waves:Kemp Aaberg, Mike Diffenderfer, Al Nelson, Little John Richards. . . "

"There was fierce competition," wrote Greg Noll of the surf scene -- "on a friendly basis, of course, among the big-wave riders: Peter Cole, Pat Curren, Mike Stange, Jose Angel, Ricky Grigg, Buzzy Trent, George Downing and myself. This was the nucleus of guys during my time who really enjoyed riding big waves. Each guy had his own personality and his own deal. "

Waimea Broke Open, November 1957

"Downing and Trent had helped establish Makaha as the No.1 big-wave or any-size-wave spot in the Islands," Greg Noll noted in his autobiography. "Up to this time, the winter of 1957, no one had ever ridden Waimea. "

"For three years I had driven by the place," continued Noll, talking about Waimea, "on my way to surf Sunset Beach. I would stop the car to look at Waimea Bay. If there were waves, I'd hop up and down, trying to convince the other guys, and myself, that Waimea was the thing to do. All the time, I was trying to build up my own confidence.

"At that time the North Shore was largely unexplored territory. We were kids who had heard nothing but taboo-related stories about Waimea. There was a house that all the locals believed was haunted. There were sacred Hawaiian ruins up in Waimea Canyon. And of course, the mystique of Dickie Cross dying there. We'd drive by and see these big, beautiful grinders. . . but the taboos were still too strong. "

"The forbidenness of the place is what made Waimea Bay so compelling. I wanted to try it but didn't have the balls to go out by myself. So I kept promoting the idea of breaking the Bay. Buzzy Trent, my main opponent, started calling me the Pied Piper of Waimea. He said, 'Follow Greg Noll and he'll lead you off the edge of the world. You'll all drown like rats if you listen to the Pied Piper of Waimea Bay. '

"One day in November, we stopped at Waimea just to take a look. I finally jerked my board off the top of the car and did it. "

Buzzy Later On. . .

Between 1957 and 1959, he got together with his wife-to-be Violet. Through the 1960s, Buzzy gradually disengaged from surfing.

In 1994, I asked Bud Browne about Buzzy Trent. "I lived with him for six winters in Hawai`i at Makaha and the North Shore," Bud replied. I asked him why Buzzy had gotten out of surfing. "Well, I guess age has something to do with it and he got other interests like hang gliding, diving for fish, does bicycle riding, now. I think when you get in your 40s and 50s you just don't tackle big surf like you used to. . . It's a young man's sport, big waves. "

Sources Used In This Chapter:

Associated Press - Ben Marcus-Bruce Brown -Bud Browne -Burrhead - C. R. Stecyk - Chris Aherns - Dempsey Holder - Flippy Hoffman - Fran Heath - Fred Van Dyke - George Downing - Greg Noll - Honolulu Star Bulletin - Joe Quigg - John Elwell - Leslie Williams - Malcolm Gault-Williams - Nat Young - Pat Curren - Peter Cole - Ricky Grigg - Russ Takaki - The Surfer's Journal - Tommy Zahn - Wally Froiseth - Walter Hoffman - Woody Brown


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