Aloha and Welcome to another chapter in the LEGENDARY SURFERS series, this one focusing on the life of Ricky Grigg. It is drawn primarily from the writings about Ricky done by Bruce Jenkins and John Balzar. My appreciations go out to them for the use of their work. My apologies to the reader for sometimes confusing tense. This chapter was originally written about a decade before Ricky’s passing and not all present tenses have been changed to past.
To read more about Ricky Grigg, his autobiography is available and recommended:
As A Kid
First Wave - Malibu, 1947
Santa Monica High School
Peter Cole & Santa Cruz
North Shore, 1958-61
Duke Invitational - 1967
Sealab II - 1965
Bodysurfing Big Waves
Whale Wack - 1968
Tow-ins – January 1976
Eddie Aikau – Gone, 1978
Recollections of Fellow Surfers
Mike Doyle – Joey Cabell – Paul Gebauer
A Philosophy of Life
“A Graying Surfer’s Love Affair”
Ricky Grigg was one of the most honored and accomplished scientists in the history of oceanography, a professor, Ph. D, author, magazine editor, world renowned expert on coral reefs... and a legendary surfer and diver.
Born in 1937, Ricky grew up without a father. His parents divorced when he was three and his father Dick Gregg died seven years later. His mother, Gena, was a painter and self-styled romantic. His grandfather grubstaked Gena $7,000 for Mary Pickford’s old rundown house on the Santa Monica boardwalk. Muscle Beach was his front yard and the Pacific Ocean was his back yard and these were the places where he grew up.1
“My Mother was a pure, honest person,” Ricky remembers. “The role model she created for me was so impeccable that I grew up admiring people who were that way. She used to say, ‘Above all, you gotta be honest. That’s the true measure of a man, his honesty.’ She must have told me that a million times.”2
As a kid, Ricky remembers running down the beach with an open pillow case, filling it with air and jumping into the shore break, riding the pillow like a surf mat.3 Joe Quigg remembers him at eleven years of age and being “a wild and happy kid.” 4
The Grigg youngster explored the breakwater and, with a pair of goggles, dove for lobsters. He could hold his breath for three minutes. The lobsters – he sold those along the boardwalk.
It was a special day when a young Buzzy Trent introduced a much younger Ricky Grigg to surfing.
“I guess it was 1947,” Grigg said, “when I was 10 years old, and I was bodysurfing at Malibu when Buzzy Trent came paddling by on his 12-foot Simmons concave. Trent was a larger-than-life kind of guy that everybody looked up to, and he says to me, ‘Hey, kid, what’re you doing? You wanna catch a wave?’” Before Grigg could muster up a response, Buzzy had him on his board, paddling him out on what Grigg described as a perfect 5-foot day. 5
“I’m laying down like a skinny little bird, shivering, holding onto the board for dear life, and Trent starts stroking into a really good-sized wave. After about 40 yards, I felt his hands grip my chest. He lifted me up like I was nothing, planted me down in front of him and held me there as he took a couple of steps back. After another 40 yards or so, he said, ‘I’m gonna let go of you. I want you to lean forward.’ So I did. And we kept going another 40 yards – except he wasn’t on the board! He jumped off and I was riding this great wave, right in the curl, by myself! So that was my first wave. Buzzy has been my hero ever since.” 6
After a time, Grigg could be seen riding his own 8’10” Quigg not only at Malibu, but at State Beach and other spots. “I’ve always thought I was the luckiest guy in the world,” he said. “Guys like Buzzy, Kivlin, and Peter Cole surfed all the time, and they started taking me with them. I was the only surfing kid from the next generation, and I’d be stuffed in the back seat, you know, like a dog (laughs). But I surfed all over the place with those guys.” 7
Another early influence on Ricky was his blonde, fit and striking sister Robin.
“She was a great surfer, just phenomenal,” Grigg said with pride. “She was the best female surfer in California during her time, and in fact, she was the girl Giget was modeled after. Nobody ever said that. The credit always went to girls like Vicki Flaxman and Canvasback Claire (laughter). But if you knew what was going on, you knew it was Robin. She’s three years older, and my big thing was always to match my sister.” 8
Around Santa Monica in the late 1940s and beginning ‘50s were not only guys like Buzzy Trent and Peter Cole, but also veterans like Pete Peterson, Bob Simmons, Matt Kivlin, Joe Quigg, Tommy Zahn, Charlie Reimers, Kit Horn, and the other two Cole brothers – Lucky and Corny.
“Almost all of those guys were much older than I was,” Grigg explained many years later, in 1996. “I grew up as an independent kid with little social connection to my family or friends. I was very much a loner, and to some extent I’m still that way. I actually liked people, but nobody ever seemed to be doing the things I was interested in. Not even surfing. When I started at Santa Monica High (1951), I was the only kid in school who surfed.” 9
“You’d go up and down the coast,” agreed Greg Noll – also a gremmie in those days, “and you’d have Buzzy Bent in La Jolla, Bing Copeland and myself in Manhattan, and Ricky at Malibu. We were the only high school guys in the water. About two or three years later, [that situation changed and] the whole thing went berserk.” 10
Of this period in his life, Ricky particularly remembers a memorable 12-foot wave day at the Ventura Overhead when he was just 14 (1951) and an epic day at Rincon on January 10,1953. 11 It was just about the only place deemed ride able at 15-to-20 feet.
“Anyone who was around will remember that swell,” Ricky declared. “The whole coast was going off. Windansea was pushing 20 feet, Redondo was breaking more than two miles out. I went up to Rincon with Kivlin and Lesley Williams, and a couple of other guys were out, and there were some 20-foot sets that day.” 12
Grigg was riding a 10’6” balsa weighing in at around 40 pounds. “The waves practically blocked out the sky,” he recalled ten years after the day. “I felt an impulse so strong, there was no question whether to go or not. It was narcotically irresistible. An experience I had to know.” 13
“It was like discovering your destiny,” he said simply. 14
Ricky Grigg graduated from Santa Monica High in 1954 and went on to Stanford, up north. There, he earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1958. 15
While attending Stanford, Grigg got to be good friends with Peter Cole who was then teaching at San Lorenzo High School in Felton. 16
“I lived right at Pleasure Point,” recalled Cole, “and Ricky would come down from Stanford on weekends to surf with me in Santa Cruz. I’d always known Ricky, but we were never as close as we became then.” 17
“The thing about Ricky,” Cole remembers, “he always had to look good. Very important for him. So he comes down from Stanford with this real pretty girl that he liked, and he’s showing her around Steamer Lane. He’s kind of teasing her, hoping and jumping along the cliff, and suddenly he loses his balance. But he didn’t want to look awkward. So he bounced around, hopping and smiling, pretending he was trying to do that all along, and he falls right off the cliff and breaks his leg.” Peter Cole laughed heartily. 18
At that point, “I decided that I wasn’t really interested in graduate school,” Grigg said. “I just wanted to ride some big waves. Peter and I kind of pushed each other to go to Hawaii, and I think we arrived within a week of each other in the summer of ’58. We became roommates, started surfing the North Shore, and the timing was perfect…”19
“The early ‘50s were pretty much concentrated at Makaha during winter… When we arrived [on the North Shore], there was Greg Noll, Pat Curren, Jose Angel, Peter, myself, Buzzy Trent, Fred Van Dyke, kind of a small core of guys who said, ‘We’re gonna figure this thing out and do it.’ It was a full-on assault. We all knew that Greg and Pat and some other guys had gone out at Waimea on a 15-foot day in ’57. Now it was the following winter, and guys were just rubbing their hands together. We couldn’t wait to get going. The curtain came up around October of ’58 – opening day at Waimea – and we were paddling out.” 20
Peter Cole got a teaching job at the prestigious Punahou School in Honolulu and Grigg eventually went back to school for his Masters degree in Marine Zoology at the University of Hawaii. But, before he did so, Ricky took nearly three years off to ride the waves the North Shore brewed up. 21 “I did nothing else. I worked at night as a stevedore in Honolulu and surfed Makaha, Waimea when it got big, and especially Sunset Beach. That’s all I wanted to do.” 22
Grigg’s wave riding style was one that is easily recognized in the surf films of that era. He was the one who was arching his back and throwing his arms in the air in a playful style.
“That’s the way I’ll always remember Ricky,” Greg Noll said. “There’s this bitchin’ photo of him at Waimea, right at the bottom of this wave with his hands up over his head. A lot of guys, myself included, had sort of a bar room-brawl attitude about catching the biggest wave. It was almost vicious, like you’d walk into that bar, man, and you’d want to fight the biggest guy, just to see who’d win. With Ricky it was more of a playful, enjoyable thing. He had a real love affair with the ocean. That photo totally captures it.” 23
Grigg traces his style back to his teenage years at Malibu, “when guys were inventing hot-dog surfing. Dewey Weber was the man on wheels, Mickey Munoz had the Quasimodo, and my thing was the arch. I wasn’t the only guy who did it. Lance Carson picked it up, along with Kemp Aaberg, and they made it a well-known move on the coast. I kept it happening in big surf.
“To me it was a gesture of elation. It was always incredible to look up at this huge thing coming down at you. Like the Jesus statue with its arms open to the light, I’d have this feeling of giving respect to the almighty wave, embracing nature, acknowledging something that is greater than you.” 24
“Over the years,” Peter Cole said, “and even to this day, I’ve never seen anyone with the Sunset lineup down line like he’s got it. When it comes out of the west, and all sorts of crazy things happen, Ricky’s got that thing totally wired. He’s just ahead of anybody I’ve ever seen when it comes to wave judgement.” 25
“As far as really riding big Sunset – serious turns, fading in the pit, getting right in the pocket – Ricky started all that,” attested Peter Cole. “They guy was way ahead of his time. And if you’re talking about big-wave riding – this is 10 to 30 feet – you will find very few people better than Ricky. He’s got to be number one, or right up there at the top.” 26
Like anyone, Ricky Grigg was not without his own unique negatives.
His ego was big, he was often unaware of the presence of others, and the Aloha Spirit was often lacking.
“I like to kid Ricky about his giant ego,” said Peter Cole, “which he’s always had. The last time I surfed with him at Sunset, every time I had a chance for a wave, he was on my shoulder taking off, just oblivious that I was trying to get the wave. After a while I finally said, ‘Ricky, do you realize you’re snaking everybody out here?’ I don’t think he means to do it; that’s just his style, the way he’s always been. I mean, there’s a lot of people who don’t jump up and down at the mention of his name. He’s never been the most popular guy in the world, and when you surf with him, he just drives people nuts.” 27
Fred Van Dyke lived with Grigg and Cole in the late 1950s and remembers how he didn’t like how Grigg’s habit of “talking down” to surfers less skilled than he. “It really bothered me sometimes. One night we were out on the town in Waikiki, talking about surfing as we walked down the street, and he was saying, ‘Aw, Fred, you’re never in the right spot, anyway. You’re always way over on the shoulder.’ Well, I had a few beers in me, and I jumped him. Grabbed his throat and threw him down to the ground. I kind of felt ridiculous afterward, but he had that way of pissing you off.” 28
Cole especially remembers the afternoon of the 1958 Makaha International, after both he and Ricky had surfed their way into the finals. “I went and had lunch with Ricky and Phil Edwards, and these two guys are talking about how Ricky could win the contest – right there in front of me. It was like I didn’t even exist. Well, that got me really competitive. I was a hog that day. There was no way Ricky was gonna get more waves than I did.” 29
Cole won the 1958 Makaha International, one of the few contests he ever entered in his legendary career. “Ricky got fourth,” Cole said, “and he just couldn’t believe it. I made sure I got home ahead of Ricky so I could nail my [koa wood] trophy up over his bed (laughs).” 30
In his own defense, Grigg says it was his aggressiveness that helped him rise to the top of the big wave riders of his time. “I’ve dropped in a lot, yes. My strategy is to catch the wave in a place where you can make it. I don’t consider it dropping in if you take off at the same time. Some guys will give way to the inside person and not even take the wave – like Peter, he’s very courteous. I’m not that courteous. I have a reputation not so much for dropping in, but for catching a lot of waves. Getting my share. Maybe more than my share. And people don’t like that.” 31
With that kind of attitude, it was perhaps inevitable that he would butt boards with the man that got him started surfing: Buzzy Trent. It was out at Makaha, in the 1960s.
“There had been a couple of times at Makaha where we’d run into each other on waves. This [particular day] was a point-surf day, and I was coming across on a 20-footer, trimming high, and when I looked ahead of me, there was Buzzy taking off ahead of me. And I thought, ‘Well… OK.’ But he went left. He went left! Not only did our boards cross each other, mine slammed into his ankles and flipped him into the air. His head went by me upside down. And he got so mad at me, he couldn’t see straight.” 32
Peter Cole remembered the mishap. “When Buzzy gets mad at you, you just try to get out of it alive. I mean, steam was coming off him. The water was just sizzling around his head. ‘I’ll kill ya, Ricky! I’ll kill ya!’” 33
“I just couldn’t believe it happened,” Ricky remembers. “I kept going, proned out, went all the way to shore, ran up the beach and drove away (laughs). I talked to him later, and he said he was trying to teach me a lesson. He said, ‘Don’t you ever take off in front of me again.’” Grigg paused. “I’d say 99% of the things we did together were all great. I just told you about the one percent. And it really hurt me. I don’t see much of Buzzy these days, but I think he’s still mad at me.” 34
“When I was a little kid I used to dream I was a cowboy,” Grigg fondly remembers. “I had a gun and a holster and I used to gallop. I’m like seven years old, galloping all over the place. One day I galloped over to the movie house, checked my gun at the hitching post (laughs), and went in to see the show. As I remember it was called Drums of Pango Pango or something like that, and it was about pearl diving. You know, the white slave-trader type with a gang of natives he was pursing to dive for pearls, and they’d go down and break their eardrums, and you see blood coming out of their ears, and then there’s a shark – just total cornball. But I’m seven years old and totally mesmerized. I forgot all about the cowboy thing. What I wanted to do then was become a pearl diver.” 35
“Well,” Grigg continued, “in the spring of ’59 I was working as a stevedore down on the docks in Honolulu, and (actor) Sterling Hayden sailed in from San Francisco on this magnificent yacht he called Wanderer. This guy was a classic. The story was that his wife was an alcoholic, they were getting divorced, and he couldn’t get custody of his kids, so one night he just stole ‘em. Kidnapped his kids and put ‘em on board, bound for Tahiti. I was fascinated by the adventure he was on. With a few hundred bucks and some persistence, I was able to get on the Wanderer as a crewman, and we were off for Polynesia.
“Hayden was a master sailor, a Captain Bligh type: tough, no-nonsense, truculent, hard-boiled. He’d just beat people up [verbally]. I loved it. That was all part of the excitement for me. We wound up spending five months going all over the South Pacific, and in Tahiti I learned how to dive. I had a girlfriend there whose father was a pearl diver, and he taught me the whole deal. Grab a rock, hold your breath, go down to 100 feet with a rope, get your pearls, put ‘em in a basket on the end of the rope, pull yourself up – all within about 120 seconds. And man, was it fun.
“The whole trip was re-living a childhood dream for me. The girls were incredible. We’d dance until three in the morning every night and dive for pearls by day. By the time I left Tahiti in the summer of ’59, I was gonna be a Polynesian (laughs). I’d be a South Sea adventurer, and life would be wonderful. But when I got into graduate school back in Hawaii, that childish, romantic idea slowly matured into something called marine biology. It took me about five years to metamorphose into somebody more serious, and in ’64 I went to Scripps and became a full-time oceanographer. But when I went back to the North Shore in the fall of ’59, I had tremendous confidence in my ability. I knew I could dive to 100 feet, so a hold-down at Waimea would be nothing. I realized it was dangerous and I was testing my limits, but I felt virtually immortal out there.
“It all tied together. Riding big waves was like a South Sea adventure to me. It was a girl standing in the moonlight of Bali Hai with the wind in her hair and a stroke of lotus-scented breeze. I’d feel these things when I hit the water, and I knew, I just knew, I had to do this.” 36
In February of 1967, Ricky Grigg flew to O`ahu to compete in the Duke Kahanamoku Invitational. He hadn’t surfed the North Shore in two years. Like all other contestants, he was met at the airport with limousine service, a room at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel and respect. He was just about to turn 30 years of age. 37
“I was sweating bullets just coming over to Hawaii,” from Scripps Institute in San Diego. “I had a professor named John McGowan who knew I surfed and was all over my case. He watched me constantly. A few years before, the crew from the TV show ‘Dr. Kildare’ came down to San Diego to shoot a scene with Yvette Mimieux, one of the really beautiful stars of the day. She was playing a woman who had an epileptic seizure while surfing, and I was the guy they wanted to teach her how to surf so she’d look authentic.
“I’m thinking, hey, no big deal. Couple hours and it’s over with. But it turns out she drives up in this fancy car with a jaguar – I mean, a real live jaguar – in the back seat. She’s all dressed up and sexy, the jaguar’s walking behind her, and this huge crowd forms on the pier. I mean, we’re right in front of Scripps. Well, right off the bat, she falls off the board and her bikini comes off (laughs). Here I am trying to keep a low profile, and it turns into this mega-media event that wound up making the cover of Life Magazine. I swear, they almost threw me out of Scripps because of this. John McGowan used to tell me, ‘You either compete at Scripps, or you don’t compete at all.’” 38
The Duke Invitational was in its second year. Young Jeff Hakman had surprized many by winning the first Duke in 1966. He was back again for the second one, along with a classic field of contenders that included not only Grigg, but the likes of Greg Noll, Mike Doyle, Fred Hemmings, Felipe Pomar, Jock Sutherland, Eddie Aikau and Ben Aipa. 39
On the day of the contest, Sunset was exceptional and howling at 15 feet. Both George Downing and Greg Noll describe the day as the best Sunset they’d ever seen. 40
A prematurely balding Ricky Grigg hitched a ride with his long-time friend Fred Van Dyke, who was the contest organizer.
“I’ll never forget driving over the hill and getting our first look at the North Shore,” Van Dyke remembers. “Ricky kept asking me if he had any chance of winning, and I really didn’t answer, but when we got a look at how big it was, I got a kind of premonition. I said, ‘Ricky, you’re gonna win it.’ I knew he hadn’t been around, and he wasn’t a young man any more, but I also knew that he understood Sunset like nobody else.” 41
HQ for the contest was Val Valentine’s beachside house. Judging the event were Wally Froiseth, Phil Edwards and Kimo Hollinger. The beach crowd was a typical mix of fascinated locals and clueless tourists. When Grigg hit the water for his nine-man final, the sets were approaching 18 feet in stiff offshore winds. 42
“I was incredibly lucky,” Grigg admits. “I paddled out, and every wave came right to me. I had my 10’6” Noll, I was working great, and I just had one of those days where everything was on.” 43
Grigg’s win of the 1967 Duke was a crowning achievement to his years surfing. He still has his trophies from the three Duke contests he entered. All 24 invitees were given handsome Oscar-like statues along with official-looking Hawaiian “passports” that were especially prized. 44
When asked how he could transition so quickly after a two year absence from North Shore’s big waves, Grigg answered: “The sea somehow molds your personality. You become wild. Reckless, in fact. Fear gets lost out there somewhere among the waves. Your physical self gets lost. You are part of it, screaming through this beautiful, natural thing, with only the wind against you.” 45
Ricky Grigg was chosen as a member of the select crew of Sealab II. Sealab was an underwater experiment designed by the National Space and Aeronautics Administration (NASA) and the U.S. Navy to test men’s behavior to close confinement. For 15 days, Grigg and nine other aquanauts lived in a huge diving bell some 200 feet below the ocean’s surface off the La Jolla coast. 46
Grigg learned to dive while breathing mixed gases of helium, nitrogen and oxygen – a mixture designed to ward of the effects of “the bends.” 47
“It was like a reverse aquarium down there,” Grigg recalled. “We were like a little city, enveloped in a sea of life. And it got thicker and thicker as time went on. Everything from plankton to sea lions, and we probably saw 40,000 fish, all coming by to check us out.” 48
The project was supervised by astronaut Scott Carpenter who had turned his attention from space to undersea projects. He got so stoked from Grigg’s surfing stories that once the Sealab project was done, he immediately took up wave riding.
There’s this mid-1960s photo of Grigg leaping off his board at the top of a 20-foot wave at Waimea in preparation for bodysurfing the wave. It was something he liked to do sometimes.
“I was a competitive diver in high school. I always loved to bodysurf, and to me, this kind of thing was a refreshing break. The idea is to get in nice and early, go into a trim, run to the nose before the wave gets too steep, then dive forward [off the surfboard] with your body stretched as flat as possible. You can do it at Waimea, because after the take-off, it’s pretty much just a shoulder. You lose your board, of course – we didn’t even have the option of a leash back then – but you got the feeling of porpoising across the face. I actually made a lot of waves… The idea never really caught on,” Grigg said, laughing. “I was pretty much alone.” 49
Ricky Grigg was with Greg Noll and Mike Stang the day they became the first ones we know to ride second reef Pipeline.
“The biggest day I ever rode it, I got a couple of waves on the outside, then took a wipeout, and I was making kind of a leisurely swim back in. But when I got into the shorebreak, I had no idea what I was in for. I got pummeled by about six 15-foot waves in a row and was basically semi-conscious. These things kept pinning me against the bottom, and I really thought I was gone. I had to be pulled out by (photographer) Ron Church, who was filming from the beach.” 50
After that, Grigg never surfed Pipeline – outside OR inside. “I figured I’d eventually get planted on the bottom and it would kill me. I respect what guys do there; if you’re Gerry Lopez, I can’t imagine not surfing there. But I saw the place for what it is, and that’s a death trap.” 51
In the summer of 1968, Grigg and friend Tom Dana were taking underwater shots of coral off the La Jolla coast when a 25-foot gray whale passed by. Grigg took a picture and when the whale came up for a closer look, Grigg instinctively rubbed his hand against its side. Probably with no malice intended, the whale whipped its tail to move away. Grigg was in the tail’s range of motion and got whacked at point blank range.
“The impact broke my collarbone, ripped up my face, knocked off my mask, knocked me out,” Grigg recalled the incident. “I was unconscious on the bottom, 70 feet down. Never in my life have I been hit like that. It was like being slammed by a baseball bat. Tom not only saved my life, he went back down and got the camera.” 52
The underwater photograph of the whale may be the first one ever taken or printed. The most popular magazine in the United States at that time, Life magazine deemed the black and white photo impressive enough to place on a two-page spread in its large format pages. Grigg got $3,000 for that shot. 53
Grigg and Jose Angel had a plan – like many hardcore surfers before and after – of riding Kaena Point, thought at that time to be the world’s biggest rideable surf. One day in January 1976, they were practicing towing-in in preparation for the execution of their plan.
“We were working on it right here in 18-foot Sunset with Jose’s Boston Whaler,” Grigg recalled. “We kind of made a deal. I was gonna be the boatman, and he was gonna be the victim (laughs). I wasn’t sure I’d have the time or commitment to do it, and Jose really wanted to, so we made a good pair. He was set in his mind to ride a 30-foot wave out there. And then he drowned. But believe me, he would have done it.” 54
About two years after Jose Angel’s death, Eddie Aikau was lost at sea during the fateful 1978 voyage of the Hawaiian voyaging canoe Hokule`a. Grigg got a call from Peter Cole around 5:30 that morning:
“Peter said, ‘Ricky, Eddie’s lost somewhere out in the channel. Can you get a ship to go out and look for him? I said ‘I’ll sure try.’”
“So, I went down to Makapuu and called the owner of Maui Divers, a guy named Cliff Slater, and he agreed to let us take the boat for the day. The storm on the ocean that day was pure hell. We could have lost the boat so easily. But he said go for it. We went out and looked all day, rolling in those huge ocean swells, but we couldn’t find him.” 55
Bruce Jenkins, who was interviewing Grigg during this recollection, noticed Grigg’s eyes watering as he continued:
“Eddie was solid, just an absolute guarantee on a wave. He was gonna make it, no screw-up, reliable, a strong and friendly guy, right there to help you out if you needed it. Just a friend, you know? I’d like to write a book someday, and one of the chapters would be called ‘Eddie Would Go.’ He just planted himself and went.” 56
You would think that a guy with a reputation of arrogance and ego would be the kind to boast, but not so with Grigg. About as far as boasting as he got was to rank himself – justly – with the likes of Joey Cabell, Paul Strauch, Paul Gebauer and Mike Doyle.
Many of those who were around during Grigg’s heyday rank him as the first to ride 12-to-15 foot Sunset with legitimate turns, carves, fades and power drives into the hook. Grigg is more modest about it:
“I started some of those things, yes, but unless you’re talking about really big Sunset, I’m not sure I was ever in Paul Strauch’s class. Take a look at this –“ Grigg pointed to an old photo showing Strauch at medium-sized Log Cabins with ten toes on the nose and a huge smile on his face. “Now, you’re talking a different kind of league [here]. I mean, look at that. Ever see anyone so that today? And look at the smile! Paul was the first guy in history to surpass Phil Edwards in all-around surfing, and he was also the last guy. That’s Paul Strauch. Absolutely the best surfer that ever lived.” 57
“Doyle was technically as good as anyone,” Grigg recalled of Mike Doyle, “but he didn’t come over here and put in a lasting kind of performance. He’d be here for a couple of weeks and then take off. Cabell was right there, too, although he was more Makaha; he seldom surfed the North Shore. Gebauer is the guy a lot of people forget. He was kind of a quiet, private sort of guy, not somebody who wanted to go out and take over the spotlight. But he was like Barry Kanaiaupuni. When he caught a wave, everybody sort of went, ‘Wow. That was cool.’ A beautiful surfer and very progressive.” 58
Ricky Grigg’s eyes lit up when he talked about Buzzy Trent:
“People forget what kind of background this guy had. Buzzy told me many times that he wanted to be in the German Air Force. He wanted to pilot a Messerschmidt. That was his calling. He’s German, you know. He wanted to be in the war. Not because he believed in the cause, but because it was glory for the Fatherland. You know that classic Wagner piece, the ‘Ride of the Valkyries’? The headless horseman? Trent used to sit there reading stories of World War II and listening to Wagner. And –“ here, Grigg feigned a maniacal anger – he’d whip himself into a frenzy! Then he’d go out and surf 25-foot waves. He was a mad man, you know? But mixed within all that complexity was this grand, wonderful friend.” 59
“Buzzy’s athletic career was incredible when you think about it. He ran the 100 in 10.1 in high school, made all-CIF as a football player. He had a full scholarship to USC, but in his first year he got clipped and broke both of his legs. Just as he was reaching for that one big goal in his life, he got cut off. And he never got over that. He became a boxer in the Golden Gloves, and he killed a guy in the ring. With one punch. He got so broken up over that, he quit boxing, and then he decided to become a bullfighter. He went to Tijuana and actually became a bullfighter. And so it goes. He’s the most phenomenal human being I’ve ever known, and the greatest big-wave rider ever. Greg Noll is often considered the most famous, but Buzzy was in a different league. I mean, all due credit to Greg for riding that 35-foot wave, or whatever it was, at Makaha in ’69. But Buzzy was riding 30-foot Makaha in 1954. We’re talking 15 years earlier.” 60
Grigg laments that not more is known or attributed to Trent.
“Buzzy’s reclusive, he shuns publicity. Always did, even back then. He felt guilty about it. Felt it was an insincere way to gain recognition. You just got it, that’s all. You went out there and you shot down the enemy, and nothing more needed to be said. He looked at all these surf guys trying to be in the magazines as a bunch of dopes. Buzzy was the real thing. He still is.” 61
In 1990, at age 52, Ricky Grigg met his third wife.
“She was just standing there,” in a Honolulu furniture store, Grigg said, “and my jaw just dropped. I almost fell over, she was so beautiful. And she was so nice.” 62
“Everybody thinks she’s Tahitian, but she’s from the Phillipines and loves the Society Islands,” Grigg said of the once Maria Taguoen. “This was like having a treasure, a gift come to you unexpectedly. Words are kind of inadequate to explain what it’s like to fall in love with somebody, but what makes it clear is we went to Tahiti. We got married there, and that was kind of a going-home to the place where I first fell in love with my life’s work. Diving, the South Pacific, Tahitian music, everything tropical. And Maria was my Tahitian princess.” 63
Lihi Lani is the housing project planned for the hills above Sunset, the beach and break once known as Paumalu. It involves the building of hundreds of homes and has pitted Ricky Grigg against many of his friends in the surfing community.
As a person who has studied coral reefs for over 30 years, Grigg feels he is qualified in declaring that the North Shore’s reefs will not be affected by Lihi Lani. He points to similar housing arrangements like Pupukea Heights and Princeville, on the north shore of Kaua`i. Sediment, he believes, will not be an issue. Rather, the ocean “will be bluer than ever, because the developer will be putting in 40 retention basins to hold natural sediment runoff.” 64
Grigg went further than to give his almost-endorsement of the housing project by labelling the main group in opposition – the Save Sunset Beach coalition – as “hypocritical” and “self-serving.” He went on to say Peter Cole and his friends were a “clan” that “bought into all the new-age cliches and all the Surfrider Foundation propaganda about pollution.” 65
Thereupon ensued an exchange of views between Grigg and Dr. Scott Jenkins, a coastal engineer, Scripps oceanographer and longtime supporter of Surfrider. In the verbal volley, Jenkins brought attention to the fact that because of his position on the Obayashi project, Grigg was being “booed in the water when he paddles out at Sunset.” Guys like Ken Bradshaw, Randy Rarick and Peter Cole denied this was happening. Jenkins wondered if Grigg wasn’t on the developer’s payroll. 66
“Ricky Grigg is the single most decisive factor in getting Obayashi this far,” Jenkins wrote, “in the permitting and rezoning process.” 67
“What’s sad,” Grigg countered, “is there’s a guy at Scripps (Jenkins) who came out here and sold the community a bill of goods, telling them the ocean would be polluted, fish would die, surfers would get sick, and all of this was completely unfounded. The massive waves we get here are what controls the reefs. If you superimpose upon that some sediment going in the ocean, it’s literally a drop in the bucket, because they’re controlled by something else first. Sediment runoff is a natural phenomenon that’s been going on for millions of years and will continue doing it for millions more. It’s doing it right now, in fact. Look out there – the ocean’s all brown (in the wake of heavy rains). All of that will be gone within four or five days. And none of it builds up on the bottom.
“As far as pesitcides, we know that sugar cane and pineapple have been loading the hillsides with virtually hundreds of times more pesticides and chemicals than anything that could possibly be generated by Obayahi, without producing any negative impact to coral reefs. Listen, Scott Jenkins is a very smooth-talking, clever guy who won some battles on the mainland and became very famous. He was the surfer’s environmental guru – that was his image – and nobody blew the whistle on him until I came along. He is not highly regarded at Scripps. He has a dismal reputation in the scientific community over there. He’s just trying to backpedal and save his own face.” 68
Others also characterized Jenkins as a “flake” and “second rate.” 69
“Frankly,” Grigg went on, “it would be nice if Obayahi did go away. We’re too crowded out here. We can’t stand any more traffic. But you have to be honest, come up with some solid reasons, or you’re weakening the credibility of your organization. It’s so ironic, because I’m against it! And they won’t believe me! They figure I’ve got to be on the payroll, that my opposition to the project is just a cover. Why can’t people just be up front? I live here, too. Sunset Beach is my front yard. I’ve had this place for 24 years.” 70
“Most guys who have any common sense have figured it out,” Grigg continued, “and they say ‘right on.’ As far as Peter, he was extremely involved emotionally because it’s right above his house, and he’s already had some flood problems with sediment filling in the back where he lives. That doesn’t make him any less of a friend. He’s got a heart of gold. We just disagree on this one issue.” 71
“Ricky is an intellectual,” his old roomate Fred Van Dyke said, “but he’s an arrogant intellectual who feels he’s making a scientifically-based statement that has nothing to do with emotion. But it has a hell of a lot to do with emotion. This is his way of saying, ‘Screw you people on the North Shore. Most of you are stupid.’ He uses his degree to bludgeon all the North Shore people, then can’t understand why they don’t want much to do with him.” 72
“I’m not talking down to anyone,” Grigg maintains. “I’m simply trying to keep the debate honest. The real problem is traffic, not pollution, and I want it to be understood that I’m not battling for or against Obayahsi, I’m arguing for the truth.” 73
“I think Ricky has an ego problem,” Peter Cole stated simply, with a good deal of anger., “and he’s way off-base. To him, we’re just peons and neophytes, and it really turns him off to have non-Ph.d’s questioning him and his academic cohorts. I think that’s the giant thing that bothers him.
“What really gets me is Ricky saying the project will improve runoff. Hey, you don’t tear down trees, put in roads, do construction and landfill and improve runoff. If they said ‘negligible damage’ or something, I could live with it. But to say things will improve, that’s just ridiculous. It’s gonna be worse than before.” 74
Defending Scott Jenkins and saying he was behind his assessment 100%, Cole said, “Ricky’s always been anti-environmentalist, as far back as I can remember. I even heard him question Jacques Cousteau as being a non-scientist one time (laughter). If Jenkins says Ricky’s on the Obayashi payroll, well… he shouldn’t say that. There’s no way he’s on any payroll, as far as I’m concerned. There’s just nothing good about the project, that’s all. The whole thing is slimy and distasteful.” 75
Surf writer Bruce Jenkins asked Cole about his friendship with Grigg, considering Lihi Lani.
“Well, Ricky slammed me in that Advertiser article, and it really made me mad.
Ricky backed-off from big waves when he became old enough to be a grandfather.
“As big-wave riders age,” he said, “they’re perilously close to drowning. They know how to do it, but their bodies become brittle and their necks become extremely vulnerable to breaking on that over-the-falls kind of wipeout. I figure if guys like myself don’t back off at this age, we’re gonna drown. The reason I stopped riding Waimea is that I had a real concern about breaking my neck.” 76
Rather than quitting altogether, Grigg is just backing off. He combines this approach with windsurfing and hitting favorite spots when the crowds are elsewhere.
“Windsurfing is a sanctuary to me,” Grigg said. “I’ll go way outside and ride a 20-foot wave for a half-mile before it breaks, then turn around and go right back out. You’re out there heaving with the ocean, up and down, like you’re breathing with it. It’s a dance, you know? Very, very beautiful.” 77
Grigg is happy about the longboard revival. He’s never ridden a board shorter than 9 feet – out of choice.
“To me,” he said, “longboards require a smoother style and actually more coordination. You have to ride your edges, be more in tune with the energy of the wave. The shortboard guys are just shredding and hacking and jerking, and it’s fine if you’re a guy like Kelly Slater or Sunny Garcia. You have the athletic ability to smooth it out. But so many guys don’t. They just chew up the wave, and it looks kind of neurotic. Like they’re having a heart attack or something. I feel there’s a flow to the sea, and longboarding puts you in touch with that. There’s a music to it, a rhythm, a relaxation, a soul. You see it in guys like Joel Tudor and Rusty Keaulana; they’re just magicians out there. It’s a personality shift which I happen to think is a lot more attractive.” 78
Other contemporary big wave riders like Ken Bradshaw take note:
“I’ll never forget seeing him on his 50th birthday, and he was like a little kid out there. The surf was really good, we were all pushing him, it was really great, and he’s still out there today, catching waves. You hear guys say, ‘Who’s this old guy?’ I say, ‘Dude, back off, this guy’s Ricky Grigg and he deserves whatever he can get his hands on.’ And I’ll tell you something else. Ricky teaches a kid that you don’t have to drop out of society to be a surfer. It’s amazing to see a guy with so much maturity, so many accomplishments in our society, so much enthusiasm.” 79
“My lifelong involvement with the ocean has helped me formulate a basic philosophy of life,” Grigg wrote in his autobiography Big Surf, Deep Dives and The Islands: My Life In The Ocean. “My first principle is ‘Follow your instincts.’ To do this, you must look within yourself, deep down, and pull up your feelings. It may sound simple, but dealing squarely with your feelings can be difficult. We often are taught to compromise, to follow society’s rules and pressures and the Puritan work ethic, putting ‘success’ ahead of happiness.
“The second rule… is ‘Live with integrity.’ That means being honest and respectful…
“My last rule or motto is ‘Keep surfing.’ Surfing keeps you in touch with your soul and your basic instincts. It also helps you maintain fantastically good health; it invigorates your body while relaxing your mind.”80
“A Graying Surfer’s Love Affair”
In 2000, four years before Ricky’s passing, John Balzar wrote an excellent profile of Ricky that was published in the Los Angeles Times, August 17, 2000:
“In the '60s, he was a golden boy riding the waves. Since those days, Rick Grigg has discovered new worlds -- and himself -- without ever giving up the sea.” 81
“HONOLULU -- So where does he go, this big-wave pioneer, when his hair thins out and his scalp turns pink in the hot sun; this demigod of Waimea and the Pipeline, when the salt air pits the brass of his surfing trophies; this golden North Shore lad of 35 winters ago, now that youngsters forget his name and jeer him when he paddles out?
“Where? Well, remember, his mother told him you can only ride the waves so far.” 83
“He is introduced as Rick, which registers nothing. He climbs into a pug-faced, spherical one-person research submarine resting on its shipboard launch pad. Sweat drips off his nose and fogs his eyeglasses as he fingers switches according to the cockpit checklist. Finally, technicians bolt the hatch, and a crane swings the capsule over the stern. Man and machine splash into the sea and disappear into the deep channel off Maui. Only then someone remarks that Rick, the PhD with a wattle throat, used to be Ricky.” 84
“If you were young and lived on the West Coast back during the birth of the surf culture, the name Ricky Grigg goes off like a grenade in the memory. Ricky Grigg, first on the outer break at Hawaii's Pipeline, his arms shooting skyward like a dancer's. Ricky Grigg, the gladiator with his scythe-like bottom turns at Waimea Bay as 30 feet of water, cratered and wind-blown, gathers ominously over his head. Ricky Grigg at Oahu's Sunset Beach, tucked down and shooting out of a closing wave like a cannonball.
“Then, Feb. 1, 1967, with Sunset breaking 18 feet and hollow, Grigg, the smiling 29-year-old in the Aloha shirt, accepts a handshake and a tribute from surfing's eminence, Duke Kahanamoku. Ten breathtaking rides that day won Grigg first place at the Duke Invitational. No prize money back then. Big waves were ridden for glory alone, and Ricky Grigg's glory that day was to be champion of all.” 85
“‘Ricky,’ The Duke said, ‘you really understand the ocean.’” 86
“Where does the graying surfer go? Rick Grigg, 63, traveled barely a mile. From the moody surface to the tranquillity deep below.
“That's the distance of a life absorbed in the sea. Discovered That Hawaii Is Drowning Richard W. Grigg discovered that Hawaii is drowning. The Earth is eating its own.” 87
“Just off the Big Island of Hawaii, a hot spot in the planet's crust leaks molten rock. As the great Pacific lithospheric plate moves across this deep-sea volcanic vent at a rate of 4 inches a year, lumps of belching lava grow into mountains and rise up from the sea floor. Eventually, they break the surface and become islands. A new one is being created right now. It's 12,500 feet tall and has been named Loihi. But the summit is still 3,000 feet down and will not emerge from the water for perhaps 50,000 years, give or take.
“And the other end of the Hawaiian chain? The islands are subsiding back into the water, their reefs dead, their summits crumbling away. In time, they vanish, driven back down into the molten core of the Earth as the Pacific plate grinds underneath the continent of Asia.” 88
“Grigg mounted a five-year expedition in the 1970s to study the 4,000-mile chain. Using ships and airplanes and submersibles and teams of researchers, he helped piece together our understanding of this colossal conveyor belt that produces and then destroys the mountains of the mid-Pacific; he listened to his mother.
“’The ocean is the medium of my life. Has been since I was born,’ he says.
“It is a place to play and study, an urge and a passion, mind and matter. He speaks not from a single frame of reference, but usually two. He wanted to surf; Mom wanted him in college. "Duality" is a word he frequently uses.” 89
“In the morning, he sits at his laboratory desk and clicks his computer for the surf report; in the afternoon he dances over the waves off Diamond Head on his windsurfer and ruminates about his research dives to 3,000 feet, where beds of precious corals grow like gemstones. At his house overlooking the sea on the outskirts of Honolulu, his Duke Invitational trophy is displayed near a dried tree of gold coral --a species he discovered. In his lab, he counts the annual rings in slabs of reef corals to decipher the life history of the islands. At home, 14 surfboards hang from patio rafters, his own life history.
“’Surfing started me on an endless pursuit of knowledge about the sea. It builds on itself. The more you know, the more questions you can ask.’” 90
“Surfers call the elders among themselves watermen. There is no higher tribute. On the campus of the University of Hawaii, Richard Grigg has the title, professor of oceanography. For the waterman, there is nothing so exalted. Became a Popularizer of the Sea
“When Jacques Cousteau faded from the public eye in the 1980s, the sea was left without a popularizer.” 91
“These days few people from the ocean realm, explorers and surfers alike, are much known except by their own. Bob Ballard has something of a following. He is the treasure hunter and leader of the expedition that found the Titanic at 12,460 feet in the Atlantic. Underwater adventurer Sylvia Earle, "her deepness," is included on lists of notable conservationists. Sometimes surfing champions gain a foothold on celebrity too, but usually only in coastal communities.
“Missing, though, are those who can express a unified view of the sea--the Carl Sagans of the water part of our planet. If you tell someone you are studying the ocean, or writing about the ocean, they invariably reply, "What part of the ocean?" It seems we overlook the example of the ocean itself, where a tendril of spray whipped aloft by a typhoon off Okinawa becomes a droplet in a jet-stream cloud that falls on a vineyard in Bordeaux to lodge in a grape. Later, when it is squeezed and put in a bottle and passes through you, it's homing instinct will carry it back to the sea.
“To illustrate, Grigg grabs a pad of paper. That's how he talks, with a pencil. He begins: Suppose you are rejected by someone you love. He draws a dot for the person you love. Then he puts a circle around it to symbolize the barrier that keeps you away. Then another dot outside the circle. That is you. Love is a handy analogy because Grigg views his relationship with the ocean as one long affair. Then he explains his drawing by borrowing from an Edwin Markham poem, because Grigg also talks in poems:
She drew a circle that shut me out
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had wit to win
We drew a circle that took her in.
“Grigg draws a larger circle, big enough to encompass both dots. There. He grins. You're no longer outside. Keep drawing circles and take more in. Ride the surf. Then draw the circle out 5,000 miles to learn how waves are born in the winds of storms and travel across the fetch of the sea. Lose your footing and feel a big wave smash you against the jagged coral on the bottom. Draw the circle big enough to ponder the life of the reef. Draw it bigger and take in 70 million years of reef building and reef dying. Draw it large enough to carry you beyond the reefs, down into the eternal darkness of the greater part of the planet.
“Do this for a half-century. This is the enlightenment professor Grigg teaches. The universe of the ocean.” 92
“’I remember once in the 1970s. In the morning, I was aboard ship and we were doing submersible dives to 1,200 feet. In the afternoon, I raced home and grabbed my board. It was Sunset Beach. I was looking behind me as the waves were coming in. I was looking down, thinking about a quarter-mile below. It was a connected world, one to the other. I could feel the depth of the ocean. I could feel its power.
“’The physical and the cerebral joined. Without having to contend with anything but the natural world, I was contained within it.’
“One must draw very large circles to comprehend the ocean. To do less is to misunderstand our place in the scheme.
“’How inappropriate to call this planet Earth,’ said the writer Arthur C. Clarke, ‘when clearly it is Ocean.’” 93
“Ricky Grigg grew up in Mary Pickford's old house on the Santa Monica boardwalk. His parents had divorced; his grandfather grubstaked Ricky and his mother $7,000 for the run-down mansion. Muscle Beach was his frontyard, the Pacific Ocean the neighborhood. The postwar American dream of carefree pleasures swirled contagiously around him. He was skinny and freckled and waterlogged. The lifeguards called him a seal, and he became their mascot.
“He would run down the beach with an open pillow case, filling it with air and jumping into the shore break, riding the air pillow like a surf mat. In 1948, he was one of the first to have a surfboard shorter than nine feet. The man who shaped it from solid balsa called the 11-year-old "a wild and happy kid." Grigg explored the breakwater and, with a pair of goggles, dove for lobsters, which he sold on the boardwalk. He could hold his breath three minutes. He won the first Catalina-to-Manhattan Beach paddleboard race. He spent the summer at Waikiki when he was 16, returning to surf Malibu with hot-dog moves never seen in California. He carved the waves with the likes of Buzzy Trent, Dewey Weber, Mickey Dora and Lance Carson--Founding Fathers of the surf culture.” 94
“The future blew in and announced itself on Jan. 10, 1953. A storm hurled monster waves against the Southern California coast. Surfers grabbed their telephones. Where were waves this big rideable? Answer: Up toward Santa Barbara at a place called Rincon. Woodies and pickup trucks and convertibles caravaned up Highway 1 full of surfboards, teenage adrenaline and white knuckles. The Malibu boys had never seen anything like these 20-foot thunder-boomers peeling off the point. It scared Grigg silly. But he looked around in the water and saw he wasn't as scared as everyone else, and it gave him confidence. Oh, how he ripped that day.
“’It was like discovering your destiny,’ he says. Eventually the experience would draw him to Hawaii, beyond Waikiki to the barely explored North Shore of Oahu where the winter surf broke bigger still.
“Of course there was duality to contend with. His mother had not raised a beach bum. And her guidance would send him to Stanford for a degree in biology, then on to the University of Hawaii for a master's, and eventually to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego for his doctorate.” 95
“For a decade, he would be featured as a star in the surf magazines. In 1968, he was ranked the No. 1 big wave rider in the world. Life magazine did a spread on him. On the cover of the Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine in March 1969, he was portrayed as a bespectacled Clark Kent who at Scripps devised a scientific method for predicting surf from weather maps, a theory he would later confirm by changing costume and paddling out to ride these waves just as they arrived.
“He starred in the film "Surfari." He was hired to teach actress Yvette Mimieux to surf for a TV episode, except he couldn't teach Hollywood that a surfer needs a more substantial bikini top in a wipeout. In Tahiti, he crewed on the famed sailing schooner Wanderer, until he got drunk and was booted off for disrupting the sleep of the captain, actor Sterling Hayden. With astronaut Scott Carpenter, he spent a year on a Navy diving team. The training culminated with an experiment that put Grigg and other aquanauts in an inner-space station 205 feet deep for six weeks off La Jolla to see how humans survived under crushing pressure.” 96
“Drawn to beautiful women because of their power -- he is honest about it -- he married three times, and is a father and grandfather.
“’The keyword at the center of this is freedom,’ he says now, sipping beer on the patio of his hillside Honolulu home, with Koko Head visible to the east, Diamond Head to the west and 3,000 miles of purple-blue Pacific in front. He wears swim trunks, exposing legs that are a fraction short, built for balance. ‘Not total freedom. Because we need security; we need to bond and love and to be loved. But the undoing of most men is the lack to dare.’ Colored Coral Lured Him Into the Deep.
“Polished, it looks like stone; underwater it appears to be a plant; close-up it is revealed as a colony of animals--precious coral has gripped the human imagination for centuries. Paleolithic man gathered pieces cast upon the beach by storms and shaped them into adornment. Ancient Greeks attributed the tint of red coral to the blood of Medusa.
“Today, the red, pink, ruby, black and gold corals are the forestry of the sea, still sought for jewelry and carvings. They lured Rick Grigg into the deep, just as waves enticed him to the water. He has studied them for 40 years and ranks among the world's experts.
“Unlike the slow-growing bedrock corals of tropical reefs, precious corals create forests of shrubby, fan-like ‘trees,’ actually colonies of polyps, that cling to the rock bottom and grow up to 2 1/2 inches a year. In Hawaii, black coral trees begin at depths of 160-200 feet, beyond the reach of recreational scuba divers. Others live in the eternal darkness five times deeper.
“Coral jewelry carries a stigma in some consumer circles. Indiscriminate bottom dragging with nets has ravaged too much of the sea floor.
“It need not be this way. Since 1958, Hawaiian scuba divers have harvested black coral selectively, tree by tree. For a while, Grigg dove commercially for coral; his research forms the basis of Hawaii's harvest quotas; his wife, Maria, works in the showroom of a coral jewelry manufacturer.
“More recently, Grigg has given encouragement to a Honolulu company experimenting with advanced submersibles to harvest red corals and the strangely lustrous gold coral that Grigg discovered in 1971. A necklace of marble-sized red coral beads commands more than $50,000 retail.” 97
“’Fishing, and the resources of the ocean? They can and should be used by mankind. We can profit from them. That's an ethical proposition,’ Grigg says. ‘The question is how. The answer is we should use these resources in a sustainable fashion. And in that, there is complexity…’
“In 1992, Grigg delivered a provocative keynote speech to his fellow coral reef scientists. He took a swipe at Jacques Cousteau and mounted an all-out attack on doomsday prophets of the environmental movement. He titled it, ‘Truth Versus the Cassandra Syndrome.’
“That Grigg himself is a Cassandra of the first order is beside the point. He insists that scientific alarmists must plant themselves on firm ground, so to speak, or lose their credibility.
“Grigg noted that in 1971 Cousteau predicted ‘there would not be any fish remaining to take out of the sea’ within a decade. Similarly, scientists a generation ago forecast the demise of coral reefs in the Pacific. This was because of the sudden spread of coral-eating starfish, suspected to be the result of a human-induced environmental imbalance. ‘A disaster unparalleled in the history of mankind,’ one study warned.
“Neither Cousteau nor the starfish researchers proved right, or even close to right. ‘False Cassandras,’ Grigg called them.
“Today, environmentalists still forecast disaster for the oceans because of overfishing, pollution and climate change. In the long run, they may be correct. Particularly if today's natural systems are regarded as the proper order of things. But Grigg quarrels, sometimes to the point of name-calling, with the priorities of some environmentalists and the manner in which they frame arguments.
“Overfishing, for example, has reduced some fish populations but not wiped out any species. ‘It's not been a biological disaster, but an economic disaster for fishermen. That doesn't excuse it, but we have to understand what it is,’ he says.” 98
“And global warming? Increasing ocean temperatures may damage reefs, yes. But polar ice packs may subsequently melt, which would be a boon to coral reefs over time. That's not a call to bring it on, but only to recognize the true nature of nature's balance.
“’The doomsday environmentalists insist that nothing change, that change is bad,’ Grigg continues. ‘But the world is constantly changing and always has been. We have to understand that, and the impact of our actions on this moving target. We have to be truthful about it. That's the basis of setting our priorities.’
“Grigg's own agenda, his Cassandra call, is human population. That is this old surfer's doomsday issue: The whole elaborate tapestry of modern conservationist causes shields us from facing the one that counts most. In the end, nothing else will matter if humans cannot control their numbers and the consequent demands they place on this water planet.
“Other organisms will survive. But, he says, glumly, ‘our species has every reason to worry.’” 99
“Back in the channel between Hawaiian Islands, Grigg has descended to 300 feet. Once again, he has reason to ponder the ocean's duality. Up on the surface, the breeze scrubs the air clean and fresh. Vistas are boundless, and the mind can wander. Down here, alone in a Deepworker research submersible, the air tastes fabricated. He can barely move his arms and feet. The rest of him is strapped claustrophobically to a seat. He peers into the cobalt water through a Plexiglas bubble. Then the tiny steel encasement around him whispers in his ear: trouble.
“For one thing, water is rising in the submersible. There is not supposed to be water inside. It sloshes over his socks.
“His heart beats faster. His instruments tell him more is wrong. The percentage of oxygen in his breathing air is rising inexplicably. If it climbs too high, oxygen becomes explosive. Then the slightest spark from his soggy electronics would detonate him like a depth charge. He tries to make an adjustment and mistakenly turns off the volume on his two-way radio. Now he has lost contact with the support ship above.
“He aims his joystick for the surface. A crane swings him aboard. The hatch is opened. His eyes are wide.
“So many close calls.” 100
“They took his spleen out when he was 11: speared by his surfboard in a wipeout at Santa Monica. Earning money for college, he was temporarily blinded from the bends when he ran out of air diving for black coral at 190 feet: The lever that was supposed to safeguard a reserve supply had somehow opened. There are cavities in the bones of his legs made by bubbles of high-pressure gas, the result of his Navy deep-dive experiments. At age 51, he broke his neck: hurled off the lip of a three-story wave at Waimea Bay. He was knocked unconscious scuba diving at 70 feet off La Jolla: slapped by a sea monster. But, good news that time. He managed to get a close-up photograph and sold it to Life for $4,000. It was the first underwater picture of a gray whale.” 101
“In a memoir recently published in Hawaii and now being revised for mainland distribution, ‘Big Surf, Deep Dives and the Islands,’ Grigg reflects on danger and its seduction of the waterman:
“’I think we all looked over that edge into the abyss, into the darkness from which there could be no return, many times… To do this was both humbling and empowering. Every time I came close to drowning, I felt both emotions: unimportance and exuberance for life.’” 102
“Sometimes there is pain almost as bad as injury or mishap. Three years ago he paddled out at Waimea for the last time.
“This cramped, half-circle bay on the North Shore holds more mystique than anywhere in big-wave surfing, and Ricky Grigg holds founder's stake. In the lineup, teenage boys taunted him: Get out of here old man! He could have surfed here with their grandfathers. Except if he had, these boys would have been raised better.” 103
“’Surfing to me is something that came from the kings, quiet, sensitive, great oceangoing people. Not this. I'd been riding this place for almost 40 years. It was so sad. I wasn't angry, just so sad. I paddled in and said, that's that for Waimea.’
“Over the years, Grigg has pulled back elsewhere. Not all the way, not even close, but some. It is always an imprecise calculation between enough adventure and too much, but one that Grigg pencils out from time to time. A PhD may not prove you are smart, but it surely suggests you are not stupid. How much of life should you risk to make sure you haven't quit living it?
“’Our reach should always exceed our grasp.’ It's a Robert Browning line he borrowed from one of his long-ago college professors and turned into a motto. Maybe it's a reminder too.” 104
“So where do they go, these golden boys of the golden age of waves?
“One of them is said to walk along a highway in the Hawaiian countryside each day, his head down as if daydreaming.
“You might see another at Honolulu's Outrigger Club lunching with the business elite. One is host at his restaurant by the waterfront. Two drowned young. Some didn't listen to their mothers and faded from our awareness.
“And Ricky Grigg? On those afternoons when the trade winds blow strong enough to send garbage cans rolling down the street, you might find him just off the lagoon east of Diamond Head, jitterbugging across the water on his patched-up windsurfer with that old try-to-keep-up-with-me grin. Or when the south swell perks up, look for him on his longboard at the outer breaks of Waikiki, where locals still mix it up with the gremmies on those long, slow, perfect, straight-edged curls.
“Or think of him in the years ahead, out in the middle of the Pacific at French Frigate Shoals or some other of Earth's inner spaces where no explorer has yet ventured. Grigg has applied for a long-term grant to retrace his old expedition from one end of the Hawaiian chain to the other. Only this time, he wants to peer into the deeper reaches too, a finale to his research career.
“A line from a Robert Service poem comes to mind:
The waves tell of ocean spaces
Of hearts that are wild and brave…
“Or as Ricky Grigg puts it, ‘Just keep surfing. It's good for the soul.’” 105
1 Balzar, John. “A Graying Surfer’s Love Affair,” Los Angeles Times, August 17, 2000, p. A-1.
2 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 36.
3 Balzar, John. “A Graying Surfer’s Love Affair,” Los Angeles Times, August 17, 2000, p. A-1.
4 Balzar, John. “A Graying Surfer’s Love Affair,” Los Angeles Times, August 17, 2000, p. A-1. Joe Quigg quote.
5 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 36.
6 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 36.
7 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 37.
8 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 37.
9 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 36.
10 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 36. Greg Noll quote.
11 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 37. Balzar (2000) has the date as January 10, 1953.
12 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 37.
13 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 37. Original quote source unspecified; possibly Surfer, circa 1963.
14 Balzar, John. “A Graying Surfer’s Love Affair,” Los Angeles Times, August 17, 2000, p. A-1.
15 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 37.
16 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 37.
17 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 37.
18 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 81.
19 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 37. Original quote source unspecified; possibly Surfer, circa 1963. Ricky went on to say “because nobody had really done it,” but that’s far from true. Buzzy had been vanguard at Makaha in the early 1950s and Greg Noll, Pat Curren and those guys were already charging Waimea and Sunset by 1957.
20 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 37.
21 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 38.
22 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 38.
23 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 38.
24 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 38.
25 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 81. Peter Cole quoted.
26 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 81. Peter Cole quoted.
27 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 39. Peter Cole quoted.
28 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 39. Fred Van Dyke quoted
29 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 39. Peter Cole quoted.
30 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 39. Peter Cole quoted.
31 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 39.
32 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 39.
33 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 39. Peter Cole quoted, recalling Buzzy’s words.
34 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, pp. 39-40.
35 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 40.
36 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 40.
37 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 41.
38 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 41.
39 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 41.
40 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 41.
41 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 41. Fred Van Dyke quoted.
42 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 41.
43 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 41.
44 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 41.
45 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 41. Grigg quoted from another magazine article.
46 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 42.
47 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 42.
48 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 42.
49 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 42.
50 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 78.
51 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 78.
52 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 42.
53 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 42.
54 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 78.
55 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 78.
56 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 78.
57 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 78.
58 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, pp. 78-79.
59 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 79.
60 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 79.
61 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 79.
62 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 40.
63 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 40.
64 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 80. Original statement from the North Shore News and Honolulu Advertiser.
65 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 80.
66 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 80.
67 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 80. Scott Jenkins quoted.
68 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 80.
69 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 81.
70 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 80.
71 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, pp. 80-81.
72 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 81. Fred Van Dyke quoted.
73 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 81.
74 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 81. Peter Cole quoted.
75 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 81.
76 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 82.
77 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 82.
78 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: Ricky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 82.
79 Jenkins, Bruce. “In Trim: icky Grigg,” Longboard, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 82. Ken Bradshaw quoted.
80 Grigg, Ricky. Big Waves, Deep Dives and The Islands: My Life In The Ocean, ©1998, p. 15.
81 Balzar, John. “A Graying Surfer’s Love Affair,” Los Angeles Times, August 17, 2000. Home Edition, page A-1.
82 Balzar, John. “A Graying Surfer’s Love Affair,” Los Angeles Times, August 17, 2000. Home Edition, page A-1.
83 Balzar, John. “A Graying Surfer’s Love Affair,” Los Angeles Times, August 17, 2000. Home Edition, page A-1.
84 Balzar, John. “A Graying Surfer’s Love Affair,” Los Angeles Times, August 17, 2000. Home Edition, page A-1.
85 Balzar, John. “A Graying Surfer’s Love Affair,” Los Angeles Times, August 17, 2000. Home Edition, page A-1.
86 Balzar, John. “A Graying Surfer’s Love Affair,” Los Angeles Times, August 17, 2000. Home Edition, page A-1.
87 Balzar, John. “A Graying Surfer’s Love Affair,” Los Angeles Times, August 17, 2000. Home Edition, page A-1.
88 Balzar, John. “A Graying Surfer’s Love Affair,” Los Angeles Times, August 17, 2000. Home Edition, page A-1.
89 Balzar, John. “A Graying Surfer’s Love Affair,” Los Angeles Times, August 17, 2000. Home Edition, page A-1.
90 Balzar, John. “A Graying Surfer’s Love Affair,” Los Angeles Times, August 17, 2000. Home Edition, page A-1.
91 Balzar, John. “A Graying Surfer’s Love Affair,” Los Angeles Times, August 17, 2000. Home Edition, page A-1.
92 Balzar, John. “A Graying Surfer’s Love Affair,” Los Angeles Times, August 17, 2000. Home Edition, page A-1.
93 Balzar, John. “A Graying Surfer’s Love Affair,” Los Angeles Times, August 17, 2000. Home Edition, page A-1.
94 Balzar, John. “A Graying Surfer’s Love Affair,” Los Angeles Times, August 17, 2000. Home Edition, page A-1.
95 Balzar, John. “A Graying Surfer’s Love Affair,” Los Angeles Times, August 17, 2000. Home Edition, page A-1.
96 Balzar, John. “A Graying Surfer’s Love Affair,” Los Angeles Times, August 17, 2000. Home Edition, page A-1.
97 Balzar, John. “A Graying Surfer’s Love Affair,” Los Angeles Times, August 17, 2000. Home Edition, page A-1.
98 Balzar, John. “A Graying Surfer’s Love Affair,” Los Angeles Times, August 17, 2000. Home Edition, page A-1.
99 Balzar, John. “A Graying Surfer’s Love Affair,” Los Angeles Times, August 17, 2000. Home Edition, page A-1.
100 Balzar, John. “A Graying Surfer’s Love Affair,” Los Angeles Times, August 17, 2000. Home Edition, page A-1.
101 Balzar, John. “A Graying Surfer’s Love Affair,” Los Angeles Times, August 17, 2000. Home Edition, page A-1.
102 Balzar, John. “A Graying Surfer’s Love Affair,” Los Angeles Times, August 17, 2000. Home Edition, page A-1.
103 Balzar, John. “A Graying Surfer’s Love Affair,” Los Angeles Times, August 17, 2000. Home Edition, page A-1.
104 Balzar, John. “A Graying Surfer’s Love Affair,” Los Angeles Times, August 17, 2000. Home Edition, page A-1.
105 Balzar, John. “A Graying Surfer’s Love Affair,” Los Angeles Times, August 17, 2000. Home Edition, page A-1.