OLD SCHOOL DESIGN – MY FERAL PIGS!
By: Larry E. Rother, Sr.
Now don’t get the idea that this story is about me owning hundreds of acres of land where Feral Pigs like to roam, multiply and rut while destroying the countryside, because it’s not. Or that I have a college degree in Veterinary Medicine, so that I can help control the huge increase in the Feral Pig populations here in Florida, because I don’t.
This story is actually about the “Feral Pigs” I’ve owned in the last 50+ years which have taken me on some incredible wild rides into blue tubular heaven. Okay, you probably haven’t guessed, but I’m talking about my “Feral Pig” surfboards! A Feral Pig surfboard is a longboard turned end over end, wider or “hippy” in the back and then slowly narrowing towards the front with room on the nose to ride. It’s the complete opposite of the way surfboards are styled and shaped today. For lack of a better term, it’s “old school” and I like it that way.
Born in 1949, I started life like many other typical little boys. First and foremost – torturing my sisters (wait – it was the other way around!), playing marbles in the dirt, swinging on vines like Tarzan and singing along to vinyl 45s of Elvis in my bedroom. The only difference between me and most other little boys back then was, well……I was born and raised in Hawaii. Being the only son of a loving but strict Army Master Sargent and a native of Hawaii himself, my father decided that after the war he would raise his family in the land he loved, the land of Kamehameha.
It all started the year Hawaii became our 50th state and I was nearing the ripe old age of 10. One day our family went to visit my “Oma” (German for Grandmother). As a live in housekeeper, she worked for a wealthy widow, who on this particular day was on safari in Africa. In Hawaii, the Portlock Road neighborhood, where my Oma lived, was located on the water’s edge at the base of the 642’ high Koko Head crater, on the south shore of Oahu. The wealthiest resident at that time lived in a huge pink mansion just a few houses down. His name was Henry J. Kaiser. Yes, Mr. Kaiser “Aluminum” himself. It was and still is a very affluent neighborhood. Anyway, on this day I borrowed a longboard that happened to be laying around the yard, and off into the ocean I went looking for my very first wave. Well, within a short time, I got it! All of a sudden up from the depths crashing down on this shallow coral reef was my first wave. It was a huge one footer. I took off, rode the churning whitewater all the way in, without standing up. When my wild ride was over, I had a smile on my face that stretched from Haleiwa to Diamond Head. Okay, the wave wasn’t big, but I was stoked! To hell with riding my bike, playing baseball or learning to play the ukulele. I was stoked on the rhythm of the ocean and surfing!
After that day, I begged my Dad to buy me a surfboard and he knew I would bother him until he did. So, he found a used board an Air Force serviceman was selling and luckily it was just a few miles from where we lived in Wahiawa. Wahiawa back then was just a small, old and very “rustic” plantation town up in the mountains, surrounded by pineapples. Up that high, the sky is very blue during the day but at sundown it begins to cool off and usually rains at night. Now that I think about it, Wahiawa is still the same, just minus the pineapples. While I don’t remember the exact dimensions of that board, it was love at first sight. It was fiberglass over balsa with a few dings and not in the best of shape. Painted all white on the bottom with Menehune feet “walking” in an “S” shaped design, going the length of the board over a black and white checkered pattern on the top. No rocker – I didn’t know what that was anyway and didn’t care. I just knew it was the board for me. My father bought it on the spot. Dad, being a smart man, saw value in this surfboard and hoped surfing would keep me out of trouble, not that I was “always” in trouble! That was my first “Feral Pig” surfboard. I took good care of my new board while at the same time learning how to surf it.
I remember many a weekend when my parents would drive us kids thru Schofield Army Barracks, up and over Kolekole Pass, and down the west side of the mountain range into the rural town of Waianae. I would surf all day at the Waianae Army Beach while my mom and sisters would cook up lunch and dinner. A typical dinner at the WAB beach would probably have consisted of hotdogs on the grill with a side of “ono” (really tasty) Hawaiian macaroni salad, and of course my Uncle Dickey’s favorite, Van De Camp’s “pok” (pork) and beans. Sorry, no Spam, we would have that for breakfast with eggs and rice! Dad, the supervisor, was probably making sure everything was running smoothly. From what I remember, I never saw the waves at WAB get any bigger than four feet. As I think back a bit, the smaller waves could have been due to the angle of the bay as it faced the ocean or the small size of the reef, but whatever the reason, it was perfect for beginners. All I can say is the waves were fun. And did I mention? I was stoked!
After a few years, my skill improved and while early in high school, I decided to have a “real” surfboard made of foam and fiberglass. So, I found a local shaper in Wahiawa named Fred, who had one of his new boards for sale. With the usual glassed on fin, since back then there was no such thing as a fin box, my new board was the fifth board built from Fred’s design. The board was 9’10” made from a Clark Foam blank, with a 2” wide Redwood center stringer. (This was Pig #2). Oh and by the way, this one did have some rocker! By then I knew what rocker was and wanted it. It was easy turning and, man, what a nose rider. I was in love all over again. I surfed this board all over the North and South Shores, including Tracks, Makaha and Yokohama Bay on the West Shore. My poor loving mother would drive me everywhere and anywhere just to surf. Thank goodness the price of gasoline back then was only 37 cents a gallon. I surfed most of the breaks Oahu had to offer, except one, Back Door. Back then, the right at Pipeline didn’t have a name. I never saw anyone surf Back Door in the early and mid-1960s. We feared or thought the wave was too fast and our boards were too slow. In reality and hindsight, with no crowds, we were just as happy surfing the “slow and lazy” left at Pipeline anyway. Yeah, right, “slow and lazy”!
Since I just mentioned Pipeline, I have to tell you a true short story about my best friend, Greg Franklin. Greg and I were out at Pipe one day when the waves were about 10’ with a light offshore breeze. It was perfect, just perfect. I can picture that day in my mind like it was yesterday. We were both having a blast, when a huge cleanup set came rolling in and I yelled to Greg, “Outside!” With our hearts pounding out of our chests, we both scratched like hell for the horizon, like our lives depended on it. I was surfing my Fred (Pig#2) and I just barely made it over the top of all four waves. The largest wave is always the last one in the set, but where was Greg? He was surfing his dark red 11’ Velzy tandem longboard, a surfboard that is a lot wider and thicker than most surfboards and was never made for fast and powerful waves like Pipeline. But I still couldn’t find Greg. I did see him make it over the first three waves. As I turned back around again, I saw that he managed to punch thru the back of the lip of the fourth. At that exact same time, Greg reached forward, put a death grip on the nose and scream “AHHHHHHH!!!!” In a split second, Greg was gone. He was sucked back in over the falls. Now, it’s been my experience that no matter where you wiped out on a wave at Pipeline, you were going over the falls. No exceptions, period! I might be wrong, so don’t quote me, but I think it has something to do with physics? Greg’s wave was at least a 13’ bomber. While this was a terrible event to be a part of and watch, it was the funniest thing I’d ever seen happen to him. I have never laughed so hard in my life! No, I’m not mean, I just couldn’t help myself. After Greg swam all the way back to shore to retrieve his board – and remember no board leashes back then either – he was able to laugh about it, too, but just barely. Greg was a good surfer and he surfed that board everywhere. Yup, he had guts!
Well, since I promised you a short story – before graduating from high school, both of our boards broke in half while surfing Pipeline. Both Greg and I were devastated. Greg really loved his Velzy and I really loved my Fred (Pig #2). The best advice I can offer from this experience is, if you’re going to break your surfboard, break it at Pipeline. It’s probably broken more surfboards than any other surf spot on the planet and at least there, respect is earned. To this day, my best friend Greg still lives in Hawaii, although he no longer surfs.
Well, after graduating from Leilehua High School in 1967 (Go Mules!), I spent four years as a radioman in our U.S. Navy Submarine Service and then moved to and resided in upstate New York for 20 years. Since then, I had only one other Feral Pig surfboard. It was when I moved back to Hawaii in 1993. Until then I hadn’t touched, much less ridden a surfboard over those 20+ years. Now in my mid 40s, and after taking just three months to get back into surfing shape, I took the plunge and placed an order for Town & Country to make me another Feral Pig. It was again 9’10” long but this time, a triple stringer. Sadly, after showing T&C a picture of my Fred (Pig#2) from back in the mid 60s, they tried but failed to duplicate Fred’s design. The nose wasn’t made for riding as it was just a little too “pointy.” That’s the lesson you learn when you’re not involved in the shaping process. It was a good board, with a large Monstera leaf design on the back deck and a smaller leaf design under the nose. (This was Pig #3). I still rode this board all over the island – even on some monster days at Makaha but not at Pipeline. By then, Pipeline was way too crowded and I was getting a little too old.
I eventually moved back to the mainland in 1997 to help launch a wireless PCS market in Denver, and then four years later moved to Dunnellon, Florida, where I retired a couple of years ago. I now reside near Cocoa Beach, where the surf can be pretty good at times. So a year ago, I purchased a used 9’6” Ron Jon triple stringer longboard from a guy who lives in Orlando. He, too, was an island transplant from Oahu. Small world! I had no intentions of spending the big bucks for another new board. No Way! Not interested! Of course, I had to work out again to regain the stamina that’s required for surfing, but now in my early 60s “working out” has a whole new meaning. It now includes dieting, takes longer than just 3 months and is an ongoing process.
Now after a year surfing the Ron Jon, I was yearning for that Feral Pig design and feel. I kept thinking, damn, that’s an awful name for such a beautiful board and work of art.
So one day recently, while driving around the area, I just happened upon a surfboard manufacturing shop in a small industrial facility just off Hwy 528 on North Banana River Drive in Merritt Island. Amid all the foam, sanded blanks, fiberglass and board stands, I saw a guy working on a short board. I parked my truck, got out and approached him. He was wearing a white face mask, covered in foam “snow” and sporting a bald head. I introduced myself, we shook hands, and he in turn introduced himself. The man was Sean Slater (a 2012 inductee into the East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame) and the older brother of 11- time World Surfing Champion, Kelly Slater. After his introduction, I saw the family resemblance. Who knew? I explained to Sean my longing for another 9’10” triple stringer longboard, and showed him a picture of my Fred surfboard (Pig #2) from the early 1960s. Who would have thought that I would still have that picture after all these years? I still have it – the picture that is. Sean recognized the Feral Pig design and said “no problem” and that he could help me out. I came to find out later, this would be Sean’s first attempt at shaping a Feral Pig. Well, a few weeks passed but after finding a USBlanks 10’8” Y (Yater) triple stringer blank, and my being present at the initial rough cut, my new pig was slowly coming to life. With some “Hawaiian Style” fabric for color and an extra 4 ounces of glass on the deck, it’s all “Pau” (done). (This is Pig #4). Finally! I couldn’t be happier!
Obviously, I couldn’t have done it all by myself so, “Mahalo” to Sean Slater (SSlater Surf Life) for shaping through his elbow pain, to Pat O’Hare (O’Hare Surfboards) for his input and knowledge in old school board design, to Dan “Bagel” Capuano (Peli Surfboards) for the outstanding fiberglass job and to Keith Sims (Peli Surfboards) for the final sand and great high gloss finish. Special thanks of course, go to my Mom and Dad, Greg and, okay, my sisters, too. Without all of them, I wouldn’t have these great memories to share. So remember…….
Dropping in late, getting “big air” while grabbing the rail and making long sweeping cutbacks are great visuals but – that’s not for me. Getting in early, sliding down the face and cranking out hard bottom turns along with hours of nose time – now that is for me! This somehow feels better for the soul. So, if you ever get the chance to ride a Feral Pig, by all means do it and you’ll see what I mean. Why surfing that particular style of board just feels soooooo right. Oh, did I mention? I’m still stoked! Aloha and Mahalo.