"George [Greenough] is the only genius we've ever had in the evolution of surfing," Nat Young explains. "We've had a lot of really talented, smart people that have contributed a lot, but for me, George was the genius. There's so many aspects to what George is thinking. From cameras, to boards, to fish, he's out there."
Last year in the lead up to an exhibit at the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center in San Clemente, Young broke down very matter-of-factly who he thinks is the great mind of modern surfing. The exhibit was entitled "Go Faster" and focused exclusively on surfing's need for speed and the evolution of the shortboard during the transition era of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. And, at the center of it all was Greenough.
Originally from Santa Barbara, for the past 40-plus years you can't get the man out of Lennox Head unless he's hunting surf or sharks. There, surfing's eccentric genius continues to tinker with design concepts and innovate ocean craft.
The defining moment for Greenough and Young came at the World Surfing Contest in 1966, but their relationship predates that.
"George was fooling around with [Bob] McTavish up at Alexander Headlands," recalled Young. "He wasn't working for him, he'd been a commercial fisherman out of Santa Barbara for quite awhile at that stage, so when he came to Australia, which I believe was '64. He made a real impact on us because we could see that you could store energy in the fin, which was energy in the board, which could drive you forward."
Who actually fired the first shot of the Shortboard Revolution remains a contentious subject to this day. But in all reality, with surfboard design shifting radically in California, Hawaii and Australia, it was the ultimate convergence in design theories that ultimately pushed things forward.
"I went on to California and lived at George's," remembers McTavish. "Karl Pope offered me a deal, so I made him a real honey: 7'10" x 21", slight vee, pointed nose like Dick Brewer. It went absolutely unreal at Rincon. That, my friend, was the real Shortboard Revolution."
"By '69 I was back in California and then Hawaii. At Ehukai Beach Park in February '69 I was with RB [Dick Brewer] and [Mike] Hynson. Bunker Spreckles went out at six-foot Pipe on a Vinny Bryant-shaped 7' knee board with radical dropped rails. We three laughed. Bunker zapped through fast sections. We were shocked. No edge catching, just rocket speed," McTavish continues.
Hawaii was the proving ground for the ever-changing shortboards of the late ‘60s. And when one talks about Hawaii at that time one name lords over all others: Gerry Lopez. Spending a lot of time surfing with Reno Abillera, the two had an itch to get a pair of boards made from Dick Brewer, who had moved to Maui and launched Lahina Surf Designs (i.e. LSD).
"Reno and I both bought Clark reject blanks from Fred Swartz at Surfline Hawaii and we flew over to Maui, landed in Kahului and hitchhiked to Lahaina," Lopez explained. "Reno got his board shaped. It was a refined Pipeliner gun- a 9'6". That's basically what I wanted. Everyday Brewer would put off shaping mine until more than a week went by. Finally, he goes, ‘Okay, we'll do it.'"
"So we're all waiting for him down at the cannery and he shows up. Just when he shows up another car pulls up with all these weird looking surfboards piled on the roof. And it's Nat Young, George Greenough, Russell Hughs, John and Paul Witzig, and McTavish," Lopez continued.
"My blank was already sitting on the shaping room rack. So we walked over there, and I'm trying to tell RB that I want a board just like Reno's. I want a 9'6". I think the blank was a 10'6" and he cuts a foot off the nose. And I go, "Hey, RB, I want it 9'6"!"
"And he's just in the zone. Then cuts another foot off the tail. And I'm like, ‘RB! What are you doing!' And he looks over at me and goes, ‘I got an idea, man, just flow with it.' So, he made this board that had a hot dog nose, a gun tail, and man, it was not like any board any of us had ever seen before. I'm standing there goings, ‘Shit!' And Reno's over there snickering in the corner because he's already got his board."
"So, this board RB shapes is 8'6", just under 22" wide, and it had vee in the bottom. It was really a beautiful board, but it was just different. Super different. I carried it over to the glassing room where John [Thurston] was doing all of the glassing. And he had these thick Coke-bottle glasses. I put it on the rack and go, ‘John, what do you think?'"
"He looks at it, squints, wiggles his nose, and goes, ‘Interesting.'"
"We ended up calling those boards the ‘mini-guns' and they were the first real shortboards in Hawaii," surmises Gerry.