ENCINITAS — Terry Hendricks channeled his Ph.D in physics into kneeboard and surfboard design. That’s one reason he’s remembered by many as San Diego’s surf scientist.
“He could put numbers to anything,” said longtime friend Carl Ekstrom, who’s among San Diego’s best-known surfboard shapers.
Ekstrom was among the 60 people who attended an unveiling ceremony at Swami’s Beach on Jan.11 for a plaque honoring Hendricks, who passed away last summer.
When he wasn’t surfing, Hendricks’ long resume included work on a reverse osmosis system for the Scripps Institute of Oceanography.
“A while ago, I ran into this guy who also had a Ph.D in high-energy physics and asked him if he knew Terry,” Ekstrom said. “He took about two steps back and said, ‘I do, and wow, he’s very smart!’”
Hendricks also applied his knowledge of physics and oceanography to kneeboards and surfboards.
“He knew everything about hydrodynamics and designed boards to take advantage of a wave’s energy,” Ekstrom said, adding that Hendricks explained the physics of surfing through a mathematical formula in a late 1960s Surfer Magazine article.
“Terry was all science,” Ekstrom said. “He just had this stoke and was incredibly inspired to explore.”
The new plaque, which can be found on the pavement near the stairs leading to Swami’s Beach, reads, in part: “Terry was far ahead of his time, and since the mid-1960s, played a unique and important role in the development of various types of surf-craft.”
Hendricks had a passion for developing what are called hydrofoil kneeboards. The hydrofoil, attached to the bottom of the board, lifts the rider above the water’s surface.
A hydroplaning bodyboard, one of his latest creations, is evidence he was innovating even up to his death.
“When, or if, we found out all of what he was working on (before) he died, I guarantee it will not be understood for another few decades,” said Stan Pleskunas, another longtime friend and surfboard shaper.
Whether at Swami’s or Black’s Beach, Hendricks often surfed alone at night, with a light on his helmet and the moonlight guiding him.
“Terry was the first guy to introduce me to Black’s Beach and the incredible waves there,” Pleskunas said. “I clearly recall him telling me about the bathymetry and why the waves are so good there.”
Above all, Pleskunas said he’s indebted to Hendricks for providing guidance at a key juncture of his life.
“I was a kid of 14 and completely operating without adult supervision,” Pleskunas said. “I think Terry understood I needed some guidance and really stepped up to the plate. He taught me about fins and why and how they work. He taught me about how to build a mold and use it. He taught me algebra as it relates to surfing. Terry made the world come into focus for me.”
“Terry’s spirit lives on in all of those who embrace curiosity and are also bedeviled by it,” he added.
Swami’s Surfing Association member and friend Eric Klockenteger helped facilitate the plaque’s installation.
While Hendricks is now celebrated as one of San Diego’s best watermen, Klockenteger fondly recalled the story of Hendricks’ first attempt at surfing.
In his teens, Hendricks moved to San Diego from Minnesota. Upon seeing surfers in the water in La Jolla, he decided to give it a try, even though he had limited exposure to the ocean.
“He went to the local drug store, bought an inflatable air mattress, went to Windansea, paddled out and got thoroughly thumped,” Klockenteger said with a laugh.
Yet not long after, Hendricks’ surfing and ability to shape boards rapidly progressed.
For his part, Klockenteger remembered Hendricks as extremely intelligent, but also humble.
“The guy was totally brilliant, but he would never talk down to anyone,” Klockenteger said. “He didn’t see himself as anything special.”
The quality endeared Hendricks to so many people, Klockenteger believes. He noted a paddle-out honoring Hendricks this summer drew more than 150 people.
“He’s a legend at Swami’s and revered by people throughout San Diego County,” Klockenteger said.