Surfing from when I started in the early ‘60s until now is a totally different sport. I was still surfing eight days a week, but was already one of the older guys trying to live up to standards that had been set by those who preceded me. Phil Edwards, Mike Hynson, Skip Frye and Donald Takayama had set the bar too high for even the best of my generation to hurdle over. My generation did the same thing, but, in spite of us, ‘80s surfboards were then into their second decade of shorter, lighter and faster, and we were left in the wake of the new kids.
I still recall the day when I was checking out the surf in Cardiff and a 13-year-old kid approached me. He said his name was Brad and suggested I write an article about the grommets. He was self-assured and I knew who he had in mind, but decided to ask anyway. “Well there’s me and Kenny Clemmons and Todd Martin and …,” he hesitated before adding his name to that short list again.
Amused but unconvinced I told him I would think about it, before I walked away and forgot all about Brad and his proposition. About a month later Swami’s was experiencing a big north swell and there was Brad, sitting behind the peak and making some hard turns before hammering his way through the inside section. I did a story on him, and continued watching from a distance as his surfing matured to the point that he was soon among the best in the state, then the nation and finally, the world.
He had just turned 18 when he beat all the top pros and won a major pro contest in Oceanside. This was followed by his first full year on tour where his fierce surfing led to the nickname “Gerr.” Rising quickly in the ranks, he finished second in the world one year. Then, right at his peak, when he was well positioned for a world title, he surprised everyone by dropping out of full-time competition.
Those are the bullet points that look good on the resume. Those items that never made the bio: appearances at La Jolla’s Comedy Club, challenging the wisdom of the day, reinventing the surf contest, and playing and writing music define him far better than any of this, or his many trophies.
Surfing is generally considered a young man’s game, and while Gerr had made his name in waves under 10 feet, the then 35-year-old rewrote history when he and his tow-in partner Mike Parsons rode the biggest waves anyone had ever attempted at the time, in an assault on Cortez Bank on Jan. 19, 1991.
Now 52 years old, the North County raised Gerlach continues to make waves. Adding to his phonebook-sized resume, Gerr now lists himself as performance coach and father. I know he would be an amazing coach, and I can only imagine the talks the kid will get from the old man about the old days and what can be accomplished with talent and determination.