Hey All,

World tour pro surfing came to Mainland America for the first time on August 16, 1977, at the Florida Pro, on the same day Elvis Presley toppled off his Graceland toilet in a Quaalude coma and hip-swiveled his way to the Great Hereafter. The King’s death was huge and dramatic and slightly tawdry. The Florida Pro was small and dramatic and slightly tawdry. Read Bruce Valluzzi’s report on the contest here, and my take on Bruce’s take here, which isn’t as meta as it sounds.

When the show rolled into Sebastian Inlet, the IPS world tour was less than a year old, and the man-on-man format had been introduced just six months earlier, at the Stubbies contest in Queensland. The Florida Pro was the 8th stop on the 12-event calendar—the next four contests would take place on the North Shore and Shaun Tomson would squeak by Wayne Bartholomew for the title. Watching this video of the Florida Pro, I keep wondering what happened to Jeff Crawford in ’77. He ran the field at Sebastian and took the win easily—no surprise, Jeff was a Brevard County boy and had the place on lock. He also had Pipe cred to burn and loved Sunset Beach. (I once wrote that Crawford could have won the 1972 World Championships, and I stand by that claim.) Yet he didn’t make the Top 16 in 1977.

Encyclopedia of Surfing

There’s always been a bit of a cloud hanging over Crawford—as best I can tell, he rode the aggro hard and well enough to get to the top (here in Florida, and with a huge 1974 Pipe Masters win), but never throttled back and it all turned on him somehow. Hell of a surfer, though. Before leaving Sebastian Inlet, here’s a pic of Florida Pro runner-up Wayne Bartholomew, and apart from it being straight-up adorable, I think it’s safe to say that the early pro surfing’s DIY ethic extends to Bugs cutting his own hair—possibly with a wax scraper.

Encyclopedia of Surfing

Rolling back to 1964 (another bad year for Elvis; Meet the Beatles dropped in January), here’s a new page on the Makaha International, with 18-year-old Punahou Prep schoolboy Fred Hemmings snatching a win over Paul Strauch in big junky surf, and Joyce Hoffman dancing all over the field to take the women’s. It was billed as the unofficial world championships, but Makaha was the whipping boy of competitive surfing at that point. Sheer bloat had a lot to do with it. Makaha that year had a starting field of 441, and some of the heats had 18 or more surfers. But mostly it was the judging format, which involved riding for distance and surfing around buoys (“the competitors were required to follow a zigzag course,” Time magazine reported, “much like a slalom ski run”), with bonus points added for turns and cutbacks. A big hot mess, in other words. Just like Florida in ’77. Just like Pipe, next week. Yet we can’t turn away! Most of the time, anyway.

Encyclopedia of Surfing

Finally, before saying goodbye, it was 29 damn degrees here in Seattle yesterday morning, which reminded me of those cold clear winter mornings at Ocean Beach with the frost crunching beneath my neoprene-clad feet as I pranced across Great Highway, caffeinated eyes darting north and south looking for the best sandbar. The finest days of my surfing life. Although to be honest, I miss the tubes not the cold. The guy at the very end of this clip—that’s how surfing feels when it’s 29 damn degrees outside.

Encyclopedia of Surfing

Thanks for reading, everybody, and see you next week!


PS: Big salute to Jerry Law and John Hughes at Florida Surf Museum for the Sebastian video. Crawford pic by Lance Trout; Makaha pic by Bill Cleary.