Silver SurfersPosted September 16, 2008, 9:49 am in Water Sports
We learned at the recent Surf Expo that riding the waves isn't just for kids. It had us wondering who are role models for senior surfing? Who are the silver surfer pioneers? We knew there had to be some -- and we weren't disappointed.
John H. "Doc" Bell: Any discussion of ageless surfers begins and ends with John H. "Doc" Ball. Doc began to surf in 1929 and estimates there were probably 15 or 20 surfers along the entire California coast. At age 94, Doc was the oldest living American surfer when he passed away in December of 2001. He continued to ride waves and skateboards well into his 90s near his home in Northern California. A dentist and perhaps the best-known surf photographer who ever lived, Doc captured more classic surf images from the 1930s through the '50s than any other photographer in the world. Doc wrote the classic photo book about early California surfing, CALIFORNIA SURFRIDERS (1946).
LeRoy "Granny" Grannis: Granny Grannis is 91 and surfed for over 75 years before hanging up his board in his mid-80s. He was Doc Ball's best friend for over 70 years and, like Doc, shot countless classic surfing photos. Granny was the founding photographer of SURFING Magazine. A multi-talented adrenaline junkie, Granny began hang-gliding in his 50s and sailboarding in his 60s. His recent surf photography book PHOTO: GRANNIS, profiles "surfing's golden age, 1960-69" and has received wide acclaim. After Doc Bell died in 2001, Granny and his older surfing friends spread his ashes in the Palos Verdes Cove.
Woody Brown: Woody Brown was one of the first and greatest icons in the history of surfing. A big wave rider, Brown passed away in 2008 at the age of 96. A resident of Hawaii, he continued to surf well into his 90s. A fearless, rush-seeking daredevil, Brown was one of the first five or six people on the planet to surf Hawaii’s big waves. Brown loved surfing but he was hardly a one-trick pony. Before becoming a world famous surfer in the '40s, he was an internationally-famous flying hero in the '30s, setting world gliding records for both altitude and distance. In the '50s, he invented the modern catamaran and became a yachting world celebrity.
Eve Fletcher: At 81, Eve Fletcher is one of the oldest women still surfing. She lives in Laguna Beach California and has been surfing since 1957. Eve had a highly successful career as an animation supervisor for Disney Studios where she worked on SLEEPING BEAUTY, CINDERELLA and hundreds of other films. She is an avid gardener who still surfs regularly with several surfers over 70 at San Onofre, the home of more surfers over 70 than any other beach in the world. When I was young, I tried to analyze everything," says Fletcher. "You can't do that. You just have to let it happen. You have to go on and live life to the best of your ability."
Peter Cole: Peter Cole was, and still is, a big wave surfing icon. At 76, he is the oldest big wave surfer in Hawaii and at one time was the best surfer in the world, Cole is a passionate environmentalist and the current Chairman of the Oahu Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, an environmental organization working to preserve surf sites worldwide. He graduated from Stanford where he was an All-American swimmer, and followed his friend Fred Van Dyke to Hawai to check out the big waves. He loved them as a young man and still does at in his mid-70s. Peter is the oldest person to ever surf the giant waves on the North Shore of Oahu.
Anona Napoleon: Anona Napoleon is a 67-year-old native Hawaiian who has surfed for more than 50 years. She was a championship surfer and kayaker in the late '50s and '60s, winning the prestigious Makaha International Surfing Championship in 1961. In the late 1990s, she returned to graduate school to pursue a Ph.D. in the Art of Peacemaking. She has five sons and twelve grandchildren who regularly celebrate "Napoleon's Holiday," a day when when the entire extended family skips school and work to spend the day together surfing. Her husband, Nappy, is a world-class championship outrigger canoe paddler and steersman.
Fred Van Dyke: Fred Van Dyke is a 77-year-old teacher, author and pioneer of big wave surfing. He moved from California to Hawai'i in the '50s to surf the big waves with his friend Peter Cole. He's written five books on surfing including the classic 30 Years of Riding the World's Biggest Waves. Fred also helped found and later wrote for Surfer Magazine. A physical fitness enthusiast, Fred still enjoys surfing the 10-footers as often as possible. "I can jump up as fast as I did when I was twenty-five, but my balance is not good all the time and I fall off." When he's not surfing, he and gives inspirational presentations on healthy aging and surfing.
John Kelly: John Kelly passed away in 2007 at the age of 88. A renowned pioneer of big-wave surfing, Kelly invented the hydroplane surfboard, was a Juilliard School graduate, an author, a musician, a war hero, and a political activist who spoke out against nuclear weapons. In 1944, Kelly earned a Navy and Marine Corps medal of heroism for voluntarily retrieving submerged torpedoes off Kaho'olawe with just his goggles and a gulp of air. In 1965, he founded the grass-roots environmental organization "Save Our Surf" which has opposed environmental threats to Hawaii's coastal zone and is responsible for saving over 140 surf sites on O'ahu.
Rabbit Kekai: Rabbit Kekai is 87 and the oldest competitive surfer in the world. A legendary Hawaiian big wave surfer and winner of countless international surfing contests, Rabbit says he plans on continuing to surf until he's 100. Always an innovator, in the late '30s, he became the first practitioner of "hot-dog surfing" and nose-riding. He is often considered the principal protege of Duke Kahanamoku, "The Father of Modern Surfing." Rabbit has traveled the globe many times over as the unofficial Ambassador for the sport of surfing. The celebrities choice for surf lessons, Rabbit has trained actors Gregory Peck, David Niven, and Kirk and Michael Douglas, among others.
Shay Bintliff, M.D., 70, is a poet, mother, ER physician, stand-up comedian and a surfer for over 35 years. She has travelled the world, studied with Meher Baba in India and performed stand-up comedy in clubs and on cable TV comedy specials. When the surf was good, she recalls leaving word with her secretary that she was off to a "board meeting." Extremely energetic, she embraces life, love, nature, and the challenges of aging. As she says, "change is inevitable; it's the growth that optional."
© 2006-2013. Growing Bolder Media Group. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.