Old-time surfer uncovers history

I’ve known Richard Kenvin since September 1979, when I judged a surfing contest that he ended up winning, the Stubbies’ Pro. The event called more than 100 of our state’s best surfers to Blacks for the chance at a first prize of $1,200 and a trip to Australia. While some jumped at the idea to play for cash, others resisted, protesting by torching the porta poties. There were even reports of a gunman who was taking aim at us from the cliff before being halted by Newport’s Lenny Foster. Unlike today when Web cams compete to be the first to expose a surf spot, people then had real passion, albeit often misdirected, about the things they loved. Big news — the old days weren’t all about peace, love and understanding.
After cashing the biggest check of his life to that point, RK, as he is known by most, flew to Hawaii, lived in a car, proved himself on the North Shore and headed for Australia. Once there, he bombed in the contests, overstayed his visa and was deported.
Back home, RK continued to improve as a surfer, grooving mostly with the underground and making his name in and around Windansea. While he would never again win another major contest, he did compete a few more times, once advancing to the quarter finals in a pro event at Ocean Beach where he managed to take a heat stacked from three of the top surfers of the day: Mark Occhilupo, Tom Curren and Rabbit Bartholomew. RK called it luck, but some of us knew better.
Mostly RK stayed near home, faded deeper into the La Jolla underground, ripped regularly and was rarely heard from for nearly 30 years, until rediscovering some ancient surf craft.
The story of rediscovery actually started when lifelong friend Mikko Flemming gave RK a coveted icon — a Frye Fish. That board pulled the switch that led to a search that could apparently be accomplished quickly and easily. Just around the corner from P.B. is where Skip Frye shaped the Fish he owned. Frye, one of the best surfers of all time, is responsible for much of the refinement of the Fish, which came from world-class kneeboarder Steve Lis. Lis, in turn, leads to the inventive designers from La Jolla Surfboards, Nick and Bear Mirandon, whose Twin Pin was light-years ahead of other designs. From there the history gets a little muddy for me, splintering off in several directions — one which leads toward Bob Simmons, whose personal boards were all twin fins, the other to Hawaii and the Paipo board, which was a twin-fined board ridden as a kneeboard, or, on occasion, standing up.
Inspired by what he saw at Bishop Museum in Honolulu, Tom Wegener had carved polonia wood into an Alaia-styled board, much like those used by ancient Hawaiians. The boards have since begun to catch on with top surfers like Australia’s Dave Rastovich and Cardiff’s Rob Machado. To the untrained eye, Alaia boards look like nothing more than that, a board, but converts claim that the finless boards are faster than anything in the water.
Taking his own trip to Bishop launched RK further into a quest that would send him backward and forward at the same time. Backward to the roots of our sport, stopping in the ‘40s and ’50s to encounter the ghost of Bob Simmons, whose deep channeled twin-finned hulls were the most advanced boards on the coast for a while and to Alaia-inspired wooden surfboards. Forward, to working with aspiring new pros like North County’s Ryan Burch.
Now 48, RK no longer dreams of winning heats, but instead concentrates his time following the lines of the ancient Hawaiians and Bob Simmons. With some of the new crew, including Burch, the boys passed up the U.S. Open in Huntington, not stopping until they hit Malibu where a wave was ridden on a Simmons-inspired wooden twin-fin on a major south swell, just as Bob Simmons had done nearly 60 years earlier. Surfing past, present and future all at the same time sounds very rewarding.
Look for the full story of Richard Kenvin in an upcoming issue of Surfer Magazine. The chronicling of RK’s journey is being chronicled in a film by him titled “Hyrdodyamica.” From what I’ve seen this is a masterpiece and should not be rushed. Currently, there is no release date.


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