It was a terrible week for loud, hustling, hyper-talented surf-world gods of the 1960s. Hotdog ace and 1966 East Coast Champion Gary Propper died in his sleep a few nights ago at age 72 (no word yet as to cause), and surf guitar king Dick Dale passed yesterday at age 82—again, no cause yet cited, although he had a long history of health issues. Dale did not, unfortunately, “die onstage in an explosion of body parts,” as he promised a few years ago.
Surfing doesn’t make people like this anymore (yes, Dick Dale surfed), and I think it very much has to do with the fact that we’re no longer outsiders. Gary and Dick were double-outsiders. Gary was originally from the Bronx, Dick came from Boston. You had to work so hard to be good at it, but surfing would take in the misfits and outsiders, and shape them, and the very best of the lot, like Gary and Dick, would in turn re-shape surfing.
So long, boys. And thank you.
I spent all of last week way down deep in the 1930s and early ’40s, focusing on the plank surfboard, the hollow board, and of course Tom Blake. Here’s the edit I did on planks, and here’s the one on hollows. (And just in case you’ve ever wondered, here’s how to build a plank, and how to build a hollow. My god. I thought I was handy jigsawing my own skate deck in ’74.) What I really wanted to get at, though, was why anybody rode a hollow in the first place, which led to this deep-ish dive into the hows and whys of Tom Blake’s famous design, and I don’t want to spoil anything here, but I think, with regard to hollow surfboards, basically we were sold a bill of goods. Unless you were a paddleboarder, in which case you were 25 yards ahead of the pack and pulling away.
Finally, and I don’t quite know why I feel this item tells you much of what you need to know about the man, but here is Tom Blake’s 1935 Manual of Surfboard Technique. When I was nine, my Uncle Dan handed over my first board and told me to never turn it sideways to incoming whitewater, and that was about it for my formal surfing education. Blake’s offering to the surfing newcomer, on the other hand, looks like a first-year law student casebook. It looks like something Dale Velzy would have set on fire to warm his hands before paddling back out. That, and a hollow surfboard.
Thanks everybody, and see you next week.
[Photos: Dave Darling, Leo Hetzel, Doc Ball]