Nov 8, 2015

George Greenough, At 74 ...

George rang up the other night. The subject? Well 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???

Well...he was!


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...'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


  1. Great Photos and Words Paul......thanks

  2. Very Nicely Done Paul

  3. Very Nice Paul
    And Happy Birthday George!

  4. Along with his other creations, inestimable levels of joy for us all.
    Happy Birthday GG!
    And thank you Paul for this post and your longtime role as GG's collaborator.

  5. Yep, none like George. A true waterman.
    Well said Paul.
    I still remember the day back in the late 70s as a grom, when i saw this blip speeding across a big SE lump out the back of the Cocked Hats.
    I asked my mate, 'who or what is that?'
    'That's just George'

    Have seen it many times since and i never tire of it.

  6. Thanks for those words Paul always so well said, thanks George for all the inspiration ! Also thank you Paul, my surfing life has been enriched by you 2 guys for more than 45yrs!

  7. Any discussion of "watermen" has to include GG. I doubt if any surfer in history has ridden as many waves as George Greenough -- perfect waves, good waves and not very good waves. And few, if any, have contributed more to surfing, board and fin design and surf photography. Thanks, Paul and Happy Birthday George!

  8. Being 10 years younger than George & life-long kneelo, GG is naturally someone I've always admired for his many talents. Over the last 15 years I've also been privileged to meet him a number of times, both "at the beach" & at his home. I've also managed to acquire a couple of boards for my kneeboard collection, made by Bob McTavish, but direct copies of Georges first two Velo boards, so although I missed seeing him surf around Noosa during his time here in the sixties, at least I've been able to gain some personal contact with one of the greatest surfers of all time, & certainly the most innovative. That seems a long-winded way of saying, "Thanks Paul, for a great presentation" & "Happy Birthday George"( not that you are likely to read this)

  9. Great CONCEPT Article with the Dylan parallels and awesome photos!

  10. Great tribute to George's surfing on his birthday.Happy birthday George!!!!

  11. I have the absolute privilege of surfing with George on almost a daily basis apart from when he's out on his self designed boat catching his meals or ripping Lennox Heads apart. I only met him about two years ago, and if you were ignorant you may fob him off due to his excentricity. The man is a walking talking computer, and if you don't take the time to listen to him, you are much poorer for it. I recently started toying with home made paipos. Now you may expect someone with such a reverence for mats to tell me to wake up to myself, however he has offered nothing but encouragement. He has re-sparked in me an enthusiasm for the ocean and surfing something which I will be eternally grateful. I shook his hand the other day and wished him a happy birthday, and he seemed almost embarrassed. A modest legend. By the way Paul, your piece is a great tribute to a great man.

  12. As kids we watched in awe at places like Big Dume and Rincon, the speed was incredible. Happy Birthday George, for keeping us all excited as hell!

  13. I surfed and windsurfed with George for over 30 years in Lennox. I might not see him for weeks when he went overseas filming, but he would continue the same conversation we had left off. I remember when he ought his first pair of ugg boots because his feet were finally feeling the cold. (he never wore shoes).
    Happy Birthday George

  14. Great great article about George Greenough. I was lucky enough to see him surf Rincon Point in 1967-69. My best friend at the time Steve Bissell the best photographer in Santa Barbara had heard that George was going to ride and film Rincon surfing on his Knee board and filming at night. We took some night Photos of him surfing with Lights on his back with his giant camera. The whole wave lit up when he got a wave.. Amazing who would ever think up something like night surfing Rincon Point in 5-6ft waves in 1968.... Never will forget this ...... hats off to George Greenough.

  15. one word , LEGEND .

  16. Just iconic,,,,in & out of the ocean. His bottom turns & spoons inspired me as well. I just turned 61, still splashing around G-land & Indo.
    He inspired me to make spoons, NONE of em worked close to his or yours Paul. Thanks for sharing, stay deep GG!!!

  17. He was my idol in the 60's. From him I rode a mat for years and ended up with a spoon type "House of Paipo" kneeboard. Rode that for years. I still have it in my office. Alex Laine

  18. My most fun day on the water, at age 14, Spring of 1963, was surfing with George and Steve Vucas at Santa Rosa Island on a big south swell.. We took his 13" Boston Whaler before dawn and surfed all day and returned at dusk after riding the swells all the way back..

  19. great article on the old Santa Barbara kid ... dyng to see and/or read more on the new experimental air bag!! :-)

  20. As a Central Coast of California knee-boarder of the late 60's, George Greenough was my inspiration! I never rode a flex-spoon but the owner of a local surf shop shape me a board that was spectacular. 5 feet long,soft v-nose, concave mid-board, releasing to a soft v, tri-fin. Designed for fast beach breaks or fast points.

    George Greenough is the Edison of surfing, period. Happy birthday George, your the man!

    I am looking forward to trying mat surfing and the the newest design you guys come up with.

    Thanks for letting me share,

    Mike Clark

  21. Thanks Paul - That's quite a tribute! And if George Greenough is reading, Happy Birthday!! Anybody that active at that age is an inspiration to all.
    John Mellor

  22. Awesome bio. I'm in Albuquerque, land locked still wanna be surfer and actually bought a George Greenaugh board here a few years ago.
    Really enjoyed Chris Clarks recollection of his day with George.
    Hopefully next trip to Calif. will result in a really good first decent standing up 'all the way' ride.
    George is definitely an inspiration to this 65 year old surfer wanna be. . . .
    Is an address available that I might send a card to George on his next birthday?

    Susie Sirl, Albuquerque


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