Farewell big wave legend

Greg Noll ponders big Pipeline, 1964. Photo John Severson.

By Phil Jarratt

“It is with a heavy heart the Noll family announces the death of our patriarch, Greg Noll.

Greg died of natural causes on Monday June 28, at the age of 84.”

This sombre post from Greg’s ace surfboard shaper son Jed woke me up on Tuesday morning, and dumped me in a pretty bad place. Not that I knew the legendary big wave rider and shaper as well as many did, but “Da Bull” was big of heart as well as stature, and once he’d embraced you in one of those grizzly bear hugs, you’d formed a bond forever.

That’s what happened to me. We were pretty close for about a decade, and although I hadn’t seen him for at least a decade, I can still see him sitting by the pool at South Pacific, or hiding in a corner of his trade show booth, resting between signing autographs, and I can still hear that loud, throaty chuckle as he cracks wise while talking story. That was Greg.

Already a noted big wave rider at Makaha on Oahu’s Westside, and one of the pioneers of the relatively unexplored North Shore and a place called Waimea Bay, Greg first came to Australia in 1956 for the international surf carnival being held at Torquay, Victoria, in conjunction with the Melbourne Olympics. He and his mates on the combined Hawaii/California lifeguard team brought with them their new-fangled and finned balsa pig surfboards, which enabled the surfer to turn the board and ride the face of the wave, rather than ride straight in.

These relatively lightweight boards had been seen in Australia earlier than this, but no one had seen them ridden like Greg Noll and buddies including Marilyn Monroe’s surfer boyfriend Tommy Zahn demonstrated at exhibitions along Sydney’s northern beaches. And when they left the country, their surfboards stayed, igniting the surf craze which, for some of us, continues to this day.

Greg went on to have a stellar big wave career until 1969, when he famously rode “the biggest wave ever ridden” at Makaha Point, came in and retired to become a professional fisherman. That phase had passed and he was an in-demand shaper when I first met him at early surf trade shows in California in the 1980s. Our paths crossed again at the Biarritz Surf Festival in France in the ‘90s, when he was reviving his Da Cat model with Miki Dora, and when John Brasen, John Lee and I started thinking about creating a surf festival for Noosa, strangely the big wave legend whose feet hadn’t been in the wax for 30 years was the first international guest I invited.

At the inaugural festival in 1998, affable Big Wave Greg got us all the headlines we needed and never tired of signing his famous big wave posters for fans, and he and wife Laura fell in love with Noosa. In fact on a trip up the beach to Double Island Point with Jim Tatton, and after a splendid Luc Turschwell beach barbie lunch, the crew nearly got Greg to paddle out! (At the last minute Laura subbed for him and stood up a couple of times.)

The following year Greg and Laura came back, this time with the Greg Noll Legends Reunion, a huge collection of leading surfers from across the world, across the generations. The surf didn’t really co-operate that year, but it was such a fun week. One of my abiding memories of the 1999 festival – and of Greg – is watching him, Billy Wallace and Buffalo Keaulana carrying the koa bowl to the water’s edge for the blessing of the waters. The three wise old men of surfing, and now Buff is the last man standing.

Aloha ‘oe, my friend.

Wave pools live!

Seeing as I bagged the Surf Ranch last week, I should point out that the global wave pool industry is not quite dead and buried. In fact, if you believe the industry-created media, it’s currently on a roll, and nowhere more so than in Queensland.

For starters, Surf Lakes marketing honcho Wayne Dart is back in his caravan at Yeppoon and spruiking deals in progress for the coffee plunger wave creation system at about half a dozen locations in Australia, Europe and the US. How the continuing Covid saga is going to impact on these is an unknown, but the model seems to be getting traction, as well as big support locally for the multi-purpose water park that the R and D facility is now set to become.

Meanwhile, and closer to home, Wavepoolmag.com reports that the Endlesss Surf wave pool slated for Australia Zoo’s backyard at Glenview has got approvals at state and local government level and is good to go. Sanad Capital is the developer behind Actventure, a $65 million water park and family resort on Steve Irwin Way. The site will feature retail shops and restaurants, along with water slides and other pools with swim-up bars and other frills to keep mum and the kids happy while you rip and tear. Can you still say that?

The Endless Surf system can produce between 500 to 1000 waves an hour, both lefts and rights ranging from two feet to seven feet, with rides ranging from 60 metres to 200 in the maximum-size pool. The technology also uses a sophisticated software synching system to customize surf sessions. Surfers can go online, fill out a profile, complete safety forms and book their sessions, selecting wave preferences such as barrel, turns or combo waves.

Sound too good to be true? Well, for the moment, it is.