World Surfing Champion Tom Curren shares invisible waves

World Surfing Champion Tom Curren shares invisible waves
Three-time World Surfing Champion Tom Curren and his band performed at Iron Cross Surfboards in Cardiff. Courtesy photo

It’s rare that your favorite things come together in one place, but on June 6 I was immersed in a sea of friends, surfboards and music. The occasion was an acoustic set played by three-time World Surfing Champion Tom Curren and the Tom Curren band, a small but talented group consisting of TC, two other guitar players and a drummer. The location was Cardiff-by-the Sea’s Iron Cross Surfboards.

Looking around and seeing shop owner Jeff Grygera and his beautiful family set the way-back machine to 1975, when I first met lifelong friend and local surfer Jeff as a 13-year-old with dreams of someday owning his own surf shop. Now, his family was working with him, and his grandchildren were walking the isles looking at Granddad’s colorful and fine creations in resin and foam. According to Jeff, “I love being a grandfather, but I don’t like being called that.” If he’s getting old, I must be approaching ancient, I thought before settling into some brilliant riffs by everyone’s favorite surfer, Tom Curren.

The music had a unique jazz, reggae tempo to it as Tom played what was either a very small guitar or a very large ukulele. And, while each song was original, and I had never heard him play live before, there was something familiar in the beat. I was baffled as to what it was until I looked up to the video screen to see Curren on a solid 6-foot wall at Rincon, near his Santa Barbara home.

As if he were scoring a surf movie, each strum seemed to match the turns being performed, and I realized that Tom Curren had been surfing to the music in his head, long before his fingers caught on to what his feet and his heart knew all along. The double pump turn he had become famous for was there in his music. So was that driving cutback, and that often imitated, never duplicated patented snap. 

We rode down the line as one as the harmony of music and waves made me think of two other friends: Tom Morey and Skip Frye. Frye, who taught me long ago that each wave has its own rhythm, has been grooving to his own beat for 60 years now. Morey had also opened my mind with his brilliant words. It was a few years ago when I asked him what surfing was, and he responded, “Can you name anything that isn’t?” Realizing that everything in life moved in waves changed the way I view everything from my own emotions to sounds played on a six-string guitar.

And there was Tom Curren, once celebrated as the best surfer in the world, soul surfing to a sound that vibrated through the audience and caused waves of good feelings to rise and spread out like a big northwest swell throughout our little community. Thanks for sharing those waves with us, Tom. It was an amazing ride.

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