George rang up the other night. The subject? Well duh...surf mat design!
After a detailed, 6 minute monologue about the performance of a prototype mat I sent him a few weeks back, the next thing he blurted out was, "Can you believe we're still talking about ways to make better mats after all these years! We're still at it! We're still learning things!"
I knew his birthday was a couple of days away, and I ran the numbers in my head as we spoke, realizing he was going to be 74. The voice on the other end of the phone didn't sound like anyone I've ever known over the age of 70. (Or 60. Or even 50.) So much positive energy was behind everything he said. Still, at this advanced age, all he wants out of life is a better surf mat and having more fun in the water. Amazing.
George was born in 1941. Skip Frye and Greg Liddle hail from the same time period as well. It's interesting how three of the world's most influential hull builders are the same age...and still actively surfing and designing. What a poignant boiling pot they grew up in! With one foot in the WWII era and the other in the cultural revolution of the 60's, they intuitively found a way to see the value in both. Surfers who are either younger or older don't have the silk touch that these three demonstrate, in and out of the water.
With that thought in mind, I looked up a website citing well known people who were born in 1941, and it netted some interesting results...including Bob Dylan.
OK, I don't want to go off the rails here with cultural analogies and such. But I've always found it fascinating that George conceived, built, and rode the first flexible spoon kneeboard in 1965...
And, 1965 was the same year that Dylan "went electric," casting aside his folkie persona in favor of heading up a band with electric guitars, an electric organ, and a drummer...
While Dylan's transition was unpopular with many of his fans, what followed over the next few years was a burst of timeless originality and creativity. The same could be said of Greenough's flexible kneeboard riding during that window of time, resulting in his well-documented influence on surfing.
The difference between the two artists is that electric guitars had been use by musicians since the early 50's. What Dylan did was take an established form of popular music -- electric rock and roll -- and utilize it in previously unthought of ways.
Greenough, in comparison, invented surfing's electric guitar. Shorter boards had been around since the dawn of surfing. But George brought so much design insight and raw surfing talent to the table, nothing that came before him is even remotely valid in terms of explaining why surfing changed in the late 60's. He was Les Paul, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Elvis, Miles, Aretha, The Beatles, The Stones, Dylan, Hendrix and Zappa rolled into one. And he did it all wearing the disarming mask of innocence.
Does this look like the guy who would change the sport of surfing forever???
George was kneeboarding when everyone else was still knee paddling...
To put things into perspective, try googling "surfing 1965" and see what you come up with.
Aside from a very cool image of a kid standing on a paipo board at Waikiki...
...it's all hot rods and 30 pound D-fin longboards. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But there was no precursor to Greenough back then. No harbinger what was coming next. No time-line of progress that leads one to conclude that if it wasn't George back in 1965, it surely would have been someone else a year or two later. Because no, it wouldn't have been someone else. Even today (50 years later!) mainstream surfboards haven't caught up to where he was in the mid-60's.
George is a one-off, and we're lucky to share the lineup with him...
Happy birthday, George!
-- Paul Gross