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BEHIND THE BOARD WITH MIKE BROCK AND BING COPELAND
Introduction: I first had the opportunity to meet Bing Copeland a couple of years ago when I was still shaping. Over the past few years I have learned a lot from him and his experiences. Master shaper, big wave pioneer, successful business man, and much more. Its easy to get lost in his long line of accomplishments, yet he still stays open to “talk story”, and share all of his wisdom to anyone willing to ask. Bing now splits his time between his homes in Baja and Idaho, and at 66yrs old proves to be a great resource for us all to learn a little more about surfings history from.
Thanks again for granting this interview. Mind if we talk about the old days of big wave pioneering? Sure, but you have to remember it‚s been over 45 years since my time of big wave surfing.
That‚s no problem. So when did you first go to Hawaii? In October of 1955 six of us flew to the islands. It was before jet planes were used for commercial flights so from Los Angeles it was about a ten hour flight. We were all between 18 and 19 years old.
Who did you travel over with? The six of us were, myself, Rick Stoner, Sonny Vardeman, Steve Voorhees, Mike Bright and George Kapoo.
Any others already over there at the time? Some of the other guys we surfed with were, Buzzy Trent Walt Hoffman, Peter Cole, Rcky Grigg, George Downing, Fred Van Dyke and Greg Noll when he came over from the states.
Any of the local guys kind of help coach you on the waves? George Downing was a big help teaching us the line ups and how to get in when we lost our boards in big waves.
How was the travel over? This was before board bags so we all used our sleeping bags to ship our boards in. We all were riding Velzy balsa boards.
Where did you stay? The first night we slept on the floor at George Kapoo‚s sister‚s house. She owned “Lilly‚s Lei Stand” in Waikiki. Then the second day we rented a little one room place about a block from the beach and surfed “Queens” every day for two weeks. We all chipped in and bought an old car for $60. and moved out to the country where we rented a quonset hut just off of the point at Makaha.
It must have been quite a challenge on the equipment of the time to start riding that size surf. Luckily we were able to gradually work up to riding bigger and bigger waves so it wasn‚t the shock of just paddling out in giant surf. We had everything from fun 6‚ waves to 18‚ to 20‚. When your sitting outside at Makaha on a big day it‚s pretty awesome. First of all you‚re a long way out and these giant walls are coming at you and you have no idea when you take off if your going to make it all the way to the bowl at the end of the wave. If you do you had to ride high on the wave then drop through the bowl when it sucks out. This was all before leash‚s so when we didn‚t make a wave we had to straighten out and try to prone it out which is pretty hairy on large waves. we all got in really great shape and became pretty good swimmers.
How long did you focus on Makaha? We stayed at Makaha for two months and were running out of money. At that point rick stoner and I were in the Coast Guard reserves and found out we could go active and be able to stay in the islands for two more years.
How long after this did you start thinking of Waimea? On the week ends or when we had vacation time we would head out to Haleiwa where we could stay at the beach park and surf the whole North Shore. Every day we would drive from Haleiwa to sunset beach which at the time was our favorite wave to surf. When you go from Haleiwa to sunset you went past Waimea Bay, we always looked at it and wondered if we could ride it. But Sunset was so good, and never crowded. I remember getting pretty cocky at Sunset and had the feeling I could ride anything it could throw at me until one wave (and not a very big one) pounded me good and when I finally reached the beach I decided that I had better have a lot more respect for the ocean. From then on I started to use my head and make better wave selection. I think then, at twenty years old, is when I really grew up.
Ok so you know I have to ask, tell me about the first day. One day in early november 1957, sunset closed out, and we went to look at Waimea. There was a bunch of us watching the waves when greg noll said he was going out. When your that young it’s kind of like i”ll go if you go. so we went out and rode it and it really wasn’t that big a deal.
I’m not too sure about that. Well the waves were big, about 20‚, but if you didn’t wipe out on the take off you would just shoot out into the channel.
Still pretty impressive being able to claim being one of the first. Did any of you imagine the impact that day would have? I honestly don’t know if it was the first day it was ridden or not. We really were not thinking about firsts, just surfing.
Exactly who else was there? If my memory is right some of the others besides Greg and myself that went out that day, was Pat Curren, Mike Stang, Mickey Munoz and Del Cannon.
Were you still riding the Velzy balsa? Well, the board I took with me was a 9‚4″ Velzy balsa. After the first year it was pretty wasted so I sold it and found Joe Quigg on diamond head and had him shape me a 9‚ balsa that was a little more appropriate for the island waves. I glassed the board myself on board the Coast Guard ship that I was on.
You make it all sound like just another day surfing. I always pictured it as a lot more intimidating. Remember this took place 36 years ago and memories have a tendency to fade. Yes even though we were used to riding big waves it is always hairy and intense when you paddle out into large waves and especially when it‚s an area that you have never surfed. You don‚t know what the bottom is like, how the rip‚s run, how and where the waves will break. And mostly you have no line ups which are critical being in position. I do remember that it wasn‚t really bumpy the real challenge was where to sit and where to take off. And, you are right the shore break at waimea always was difficult to time and punch out through. Once through the shore break it was a pretty clear paddle out, unless it was closing out. And if Waimea is closing out you don‚t want any part of it.
So what’s one off your fondest memories of early Hawaii? When Rick and I were in the Coast Guard we bought an old Plymouth station wagon and painted the back side windows out then made a bunk on one side with two boxes under it for each of our clothes and for the next two years, when we were not on duty we lived in our woody. We had a key to the showers at the Ala Moana Yacht Harbor where we surfed great lefts in the channel..
I’ll let you get going now. thanks again for the memories.