About the time that the surfing bug hit fully, my friend Lou showed me a surfing magazine and it blew my mind. Later I bought magazines of my own and starred in disbelief at my now adopted surfing idols.
I scoured ever advertisement and read every article in hope of gathering as much information as I could get. In one ad, I saw a name that was seared into my mind. Tom Curren – Boys Champion. I could barely surf but I knew this Tom Curren would be someone I would want to surf with. On another page I saw a huge Sunset peak with a miniscule sized blonde haired kid about to take the insanely steep drop. The caption said he was Cheyne Horan from Bondi Beach. How a kid only a few years my senior could do this was beyond me.
Years later and living on the east coast of the U.S., I took a trip to surf in a contest in North Carolina. The contest was The Record Bar Pro and I was in the amateur event.
At the contest, I found myself rubbing elbows with all of my heroes. Riding in an elevator, I saw a young guy that I knew as Mark Occhilupo standing right to my side. I did not want to even look at him.
But Occy was not shy at all.
Gonna be a fun one today, mates! Looks good!
I nodded and agreed and truthfully I would have agreed to just about any statement he made because this guy was hitting legend status.
Down at the shore one evening, my buddies and I sat to watch some free surfing. Tom Curren was out and he was our main focus. As was Joey Buran from California. But then strolled Cheyne Horan over the sand dunes. In his arms were a few boards and one in particular was fat with a weird fin. I had seen a pic of this fin in a magazine and was beyond curious to see it action.
After a wave on the more normal single fin, Cheyne came out and swapped it for the weird board. All the focus shifted from Tom to Cheyne.
So the first few rides were fairly decent. He did a few turns and was going fairly fast. But then he caught a wave that he went backside on and weaved through the flat spots towards the inside. The board took off like a rocket and as Cheyne approached the shore, he furiously launched skyward into a very critical backside straight air and plopped down with no problems and casually dry-docked it on the shore. Our eyes were now as wide as saucers and this moment was burned into my being as a blue print to follow for future surfs.
When he came in, we approached him and he began to chat with us about the boards and the speed. This was my first encounter with Cheyne.
Soon after this event, Cheyne was fully on the winged keel and as luck would have it he would get some boards shaped by Natural Art and their talented team of shapers such as Ricky Carrol and Richard Price. So we both had a shared connection as I surfed for Natural Art Surfboards.
One day, I walked into the shop and to my amazement was THE board owned by Cheyne Horan himself. I asked someone in the shop what was going on and he said Cheyne had come by and dropped his favorite board off to be duplicated as close as possible since this was before shaping machines. I then asked the craziest question…Could I ride the board. Amazingly the answer was yes. So me and a few of the shop rats ran across the street for what would be an hour of frustration.
So yes, I wrote off that board as useless. But something made me think about my conversation with Cheyne and the weird things he spoke about. I grabbed the board and tried to imagine Cheyne riding and not me trying to ride it as a thruster. Suddenly, the board sprung to life and it became my newest obsession.
Somehow word got out to Cheyne that a kid was riding his board and I was allowed to take it home and use it. From there came my journey into a world that conflicted with my normal life…zen, flow, stance against wiggling, skating, aggression, and snapping.
I only personally spoke with Cheyne a few times during this whole period. This was the 80s and it was pre-internet and e-mail. So I would go to the shop and someone would hand me a note. Just a few scribbled instructions on how to make my journey with the board flow. On one occasion, he left a poster for me with some more words of encouragement.
Down the road, I had my own keel hull and was riding it in contests. My peers heaped praise on my surfing but there was always that but…but you would do better with a more normal board. I also saw that Cheyne was not meeting his goal of being a world champ and was going further into Buddhism.
Finally, I made a painful choice. To return back to the thrusters and to a more contest style of surfing. As for me and the master…the correspondence dried up as well.
I will say this. Riding the keels did help my surfing a lot. For once I had to get the board on rail and just hold it. No bouncing and hopping or two staging a turn. So it gave me an appreciation for the art of rail surfing to go along with the airs and other tricks.
As for the keel, I still talk to shapers about getting one made to just carve around on. I hope it happens at some point.