History of Surfing Blog


March 21, 2017

This interview ran in the September 1963 issue of Surf Guide, and was titled “Buzzy Trent: Power to Conquer the Giants.” The author is uncredited, but it was probably Surf Guide editor Bill Cleary.

From the introduction: “Buzzy, 34, is married to Violet, a beautiful Hawaiian girl, who describes him thusly: ‘Six-feet tall, 190 pounds, square jaw, very big head, very entertaining, charming with the ladies. Bad temper. When happy—very, very happy. But when angry—look out! Never forgets when offended. Loves people, loves children, loves animals, loves cats, loves food. Loves to read. Loves to talk . . . about anything. Loves classical music, German cars, German history, battle history. Loves paintings of bullfighting . . . wanted to be a bullfighter. Loves hiking shoes, knives, boxing . . . used to box when younger. Hates the city! Loves the peaceful country life.'”

A bit more from Cleary: “A strange beast, Buzzy Trent. He’s known for speaking out. Has a distinct personality and he expresses his feelings with a clarity and succinctness that is uniquely Buzzy.”

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When I started surfing things were pretty different. Nobody knew about surfing. In 1945 there were probably a thousand surfers in the entire state of California; those guys were little different from today’s surfers. There were no crowds in the water, due mainly of course to the war, but also because boards were pretty unwieldy, and took a long time to build. There was no publicity for surfing like there is today. All these things kept surfing from the people. Still, there were gremmies . . . in fact I was one of them and not a very good one at that.

There used to be a sharp rivalry between the younger surfers of Malibu and the older San Onofre surfers, and when Simmons introduced the lighter boards this became even more evident. At San Onofre they were still using the old redwoods; we Malibu kids were using thirty pound, twin-finned, concave-bottomed balsa boards which outperformed everything in sight as far as turning, paddling, and acceleration. They used to call our boards potato chips . . . they said they’d never work in big surf.

At first any kind of surf impressed me—even the smallest. I was a typical wave-hog. Now, after ten years in the Islands, it takes a big, well-formed wave to impress me. I left California because I saw some surfing movies in 1950 and just had to ride big waves in Hawaii. I finally made it here by ’53, liked the climate, loved the local people, the diving, and most of all—the big surf. The water was warmer than in California, the waves superior, so I stayed.

Of course my attitude has changed. When I was younger, surfing was first and foremost in my life, but now my job and family come first. I’m a construction worker for the Dillingham Corporation. In my spare time here I either dive, surf or read—usually Hemingway, Steinbeck, or Tolstoy. My philosophy of life is “Live and let live.” My wife wants to teach me to dance—I don’t know how—and I guess she’ll win out eventually. I love my wife and two handsome children. I love the Islands because I love the sea.

There’s no comparison in terms of the surf. There is more and better surf here in Hawaii; we’re closer to the storm centers, and most important we have no continental shelf, we’re sitting out here alone in the blue. My favorite spots are Makaha Point Surf, Laniakea, Sunset Beach, and Waimea Bay. The best by far is Makaha Point Surf when it gets up around twenty feet. It’s really hairy. In fact, on a giant takeoff at the point one time I got the axe so bad that it snapped my leg like a toothpick. That’s power.

I enjoy the speed and acceleration of big wave riding, the close contact the surfer has with nature and her powerful elements. In addition I guess the cleanness of the sport attracts me just as does the feeling of doing something well. But small-wave riding just doesn’t move me. There’s no speed, no fear. Of course, hotdogging done well is just as hard as big wave riding, but the striking difference between the two styles is this: you can overpower a small wave, but you can never harness a twenty-foot monster. Big wave riding is the ultimate; everything connected with it is functional. There’s none of the garbage you see done in smaller waves, the spinners and head-dips and so forth. I don’t like beachbreak surf either, there’s just no speed. I do appreciate hotdogging though, and the outstanding ones in my mind are Phil Edwards, Mickey Munoz, and Matt Kivlin who is potentially the best of these three. In big waves it’s George Downing and Peter Cole, but the all-around best surfers in my mind are Paul Strauch, Paul Gebauer, Buffalo Keaulana, and Kimo Hollinger.

In California there’s a popular misconception that the haoles are the best big wave riders—this is far from the truth. The best, as I said before, is George Downing and following him is Paul Strauch, who also rides small waves well—and both are local Islanders. An up-and-coming big-wave rider is Kealoha Kaio—one of the few pure Hawaiians.

In big-wave riding a good board is all-important. I’m very fussy about mine; I prefer the best. Downing’s experience, along with his craftsmanship and ideas, have combined to make my board—an 11′ 2″, pointed-tail, Magnum Cannon—the best board of my life, and I’ve owned over thirty boards altogether. Some people think surfboard evolution has stopped but it’s obvious that as long as there is competition between manufacturers, consumer demand will stimulate progress. Just as there have been tremendous steps forward in the past fifteen years—from redwood to balsa to foam—it will continue in the future.

The sport is a growing giant; I’ve seen it grow in leaps and bounds, due chiefly to surfing movies and lighter boards. The movies are great—especially Bud Brown’s films. Gun-Ho, his latest, was fantastic. I’m sure that things will even go further. We can certainly look forward to watching surfing in the Olympic Games in the next decade. If I were able, I’d open up more surfing beaches through political pressure, give every up-and-coming surfer a free board, and see that everyone wore a safety helmet. Surf clubs are fine as long as I’m not in them. I don’t join organizations or clubs, I’ve got better things to do. I respect younger surfers, admire the older ones . . . and avoid kooks!

Surfing to me is an individual sport, and that’s why you find so many egomaniacs. It’s cheap entertainment, builds strong bodies and develops the reflexes. There’s a challenge in riding both kinds of surf, big and small, and a great feeling of self-satisfaction after a good ride. But you’re always seeking perfection and that’s what keeps you going.

  • Samuel Ortegón Pepke

    Props to Buzzy for giving a shout out to Paul Strauch.

    • Matt Warshaw

      I need to do a post on Paul. All the surfers I respected most as a kid–BK, Hakman, Lopez– say Strauch was their idol. If you did a flow chart, Paul was the guy who influenced that whole generation.

      • Samuel Ortegón Pepke

        Today is Paul’s birthday. He is truly a prince of a man.

  • Bob Feigel

    For some reason we never discussed Bill Cleary would often leave his interviews and photos uncredited. Same with photos taken by staff photographers.

    • Matt Warshaw

      Drew Kampion did the same at SURFER in the late ’60s. He told me that, because he was doing so much of the work, it would look kinda rinky-dink if all the bylines were his.