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The author holding a book of Jeff Divine’s surf photography, including a photo of the record-breaking ride in Cardiff. Photo by Rob Gilley
Columns Waterspot

Waterspot: Surfing before distancing

Did I ever tell you how I helped break a world record? Twice actually, both times at George’s in Cardiff for something pretty insignificant.

In 1979, I was running Cardiff Surf & Sport, a little surf shop on the beach while working as California correspondent to the Australian surfing publication, Tracks. When Tracks hit my mailbox one morning there was a cover photo with a bunch of surfers riding a tiny wave. The shot was of a world record set for the most surfers to ride one wave. I recall the number being around 40 surfers, all riding straight off in the whitewater. I figured we could easily top that number and together with shop owner, Ken Eichenberg, set out to beat the Aussies at their own game.

Word of the event was spreading so quickly that we decided to hold it not in summer, but in May and on a weekday. Good thing, as there were still hundreds of surfers, tourists, media and assorted onlookers in Cardiff that day.

Talk about going viral, this thing swept the nation with news of the coming event being advertised as far afield as the New York Times. Local and LA news stations were at the ready to film, along with two surf filmmakers, local columnists, two major radio stations and the then-popular variety TV shows “You Asked for It” and “That’s Incredible.” Having to choose one, I went with “Incredible,” which turned out to be the wrong decision, since their main camera malfunctioned and the show never aired.  None of that mattered on the select morning, however, as we stood at the ready with roughly 100 surfers about to hit the water.

Accompanying local surfer stars like Craig Hollingsworth and Greg Mungal were Malibu legend Lance Carson, surf photographer Jeff Divine and international pro surfers Peter Townend and Michael Tomson.

Keep in mind that we had not secured a beach permit and so expected the police to be down there any moment to break up the fun. Thank goodness they never showed.

I was on the beach screaming through a tinny megaphone while Eichenberg manned a surf kayak and shouted to keep everyone lined up. I don’t know how many people were in the water waiting for the wave that day, but estimates go as high as 100. If you’ve ever tried getting 100 surfers to do anything at the same time, you understand my problem. After several false starts, a few dozen dings, and some bruised shins, we again lined everyone up. I saw a wave, counted down through the megaphone and somehow, with Eichenberg’s help, prompted the majority of the crew onto one little closed-out wave. Someone counted 84, but the official count was close to 54. Regardless, we were the new champs.

I sent a letter to the Guinness Book of World Records and received a reply that they were only interested in events that were somehow ongoing. Maybe next time we would need to add hotdogs to the salty mix.

Since that time there have been numerous world record attempts for most surfers on one wave. I think South Africa currently holds the title with over 400 people moving toward shore in a straight line. I have no intention of trying again, especially not since social distancing ordinances fell into place. As for keeping your distance, my hope is that the suggestion forever affects the surfing world.  There is such a thing as too close. Hey, my wave!

2 comments

Tim April 19, 2020 at 8:33 pm

Liked your article, of course, I did. My mom saw it and she would love to see or hear you. Blessings.

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Tim April 19, 2020 at 8:43 pm

Nice. Wish I were in town to have participated.

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