|The first time I saw Gary was in 1965 at a surf contest in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina. He was traveling with Dick Catri’s Surfboards Hawaii Team.
The team bus had just parked at the contest site. Gary stepped out, paused for a moment then strolled the beach with the cocky self-assurance of an easily recognizable celebrity.
This carried into the surf lineup as he paddled out and immediately took control of the large crowd already warming up for the competition of the day.
Many other great surfers of the era were out, too. I recognized Jimbo Brothers and Fred Grosskreutz from Virginia Beach, Dale Dobson from California, Dick Catri and Mimi Munroe from Florida. I was 16 and still living on the Outer Banks and just beginning to surf. It would be the first time for me to see really good surfing in person. Gary was not a star yet, but he was easily winning every contest he entered. He won the Jr Mens and the Open at that event.
The following year Catri accepted a major deal with Hobie Alter and moved most of his team over to Hobie Surfboards. Gary travelled to California where he astounded the locals there with his quickness and fantastic nose riding ability. Soon Hobie and Gary created the Gary Propper signature model which became Hobie’s most popular board and paid handsome royalties to Gary.
Gary and Catri’s Hobie Team dominated all contests for the next couple years… Consistently winning most everything in all age groups.I moved to Cocoa Beach in 1966 to attend college and to earn a job with NASA. I became a fairly good surfer and was offered a sponsorship from Hansen Surfboards. I surfed for Hansen Surfboards out of the Ron Jon shop and was on Ron Jon’s original surf team. I held my own in surf contests… usually advanced to the semis, some finals and won a couple of local events. That caught the attention of Catri, and soon he and Propper convinced me to join the Hobie Team.This was the beginning of our enduring friendship
|This is the way I remember Gary when we were 19.
We had some great times together hanging around Canaveral Pier and traveling together
checking the waves from the pier
We surfed together most often at Canaveral Pier (now Cocoa Beach Pier) because Catri had a surf shop up on the pier at that time and it was a popular place to hang out.
Gary was fun to ride around with. He wanted us to park right up front when we stopped to check a surf spot so everyone would see him. Surfers recognized him immediately and were curious to see if we would choose that spot for some surfing.
When we did find a suitable surf spot for that day’s conditions, he relished the attention he received as we waxed up and paddled out together. I was stoked to be at his side. On weekends we would usually surf the Cocoa Beach streets or drive down to his favorite spots around Indialantic and Melbourne Beach.
Gary ready to paddle out in Cocoa Beach
He liked to set the performance bar with his very first ride.
I remember he and I paddling out together in overhead surf one day at Indialantic’s boardwalk.
This was before we really knew each other. I was on my 9’6 Hansen Competitor and he was on one of his new Gary Propper model longboards. Several of us were paddling out as fast as we could to clear an approaching closeout set. Gary was 10 yards ahead of us paddling his longboard up the face of a solid 7-foot wave when he suddenly spun around on top of his board and with one stroke dropped in fin first.
He air-dropped down the wave between us as we paddled up the face. We turned around after the wave passed expecting to see him swimming in after his board. Then we saw him from behind riding that very wave going left way up the beach towards the pine trees.
Gary was quick and could hang heals on any wave
Gary was a paddling terror in the lineup. We had to be alert and know where he was at all times to get a wave to ourselves. All eyes were on Gary as he paddled into his first wave. He always made sure it was a wave offering opportunity for him to immediately show off. He never disappointed the crowd.
Most of the surfers we surfed with at Canaveral Pier back then were very good. It was a very localized surf spot. The lineup was usually dominated by us and the other team riders from O’Hare, Oceanside, Weber and Salick surfboards. Most of the beginners back then surfed elsewhere. Canaveral Pier offered a very good wave back in the ’60s. Fun waist size waves on either side and well-shaped a-frames far outside on the really big days. This was prior to the discovery of Sebastian Inlet on Brevard County’s southernmost border.
Best selling board
He knew when to turn while dropping in
He also liked a big fade into a deep bottom turn
Hobie Team Days…
I joined the Hobie team in late 1968 during the shortboard revolution. My first Hobie Team board was a 7’2 Silver Bullet single fin. Gary had also moved down to smaller boards … eventually to his Positive Force IV twin fin. But, he still rode his Gary Propper model longboard on smaller days.
Hobie Positive Force IV twin fin
|Gary on his 5’4 Hobie Positive Force IV twin fin at Sebastian Inlet
Gary transitioned easily to smaller boards during the shortboard revolution of the late ’60s and into the early ’70s.
He really liked the new speed and response from smaller boards
He began experimenting with all kinds of new designs incorporating deep channels, funky foils, and odd shaped wings .
|Me during an afternoon switch-foot session on my Silver Bullet back in 1968.
This was a brand-new model designed by Gary and Mickey Munoz, and shaped by Terry Martin
It was my first free board as part of my Hobie “incentive package” to join the team.
I was honored that Hobie built me a 7’6 replica of that board in 2019.
My 7’2 Hobie Silver Bullet single fin
The Hobie Team frequently traveled to other surf shops up and down the East Coast to promote the Hobie brand. We also followed the current contest circuit. My full-time job at Kennedy Space Center regulated my travels with the team to mostly long weekends and holidays. So, I missed some of the bigger surf events.
Traveling with the Hobie Team was awesome.
There were crowds waiting for us at every surf shop. Everyone wanted to meet Gary Propper. His Gary Propper Model Hobie had become the world’s best-selling signature model. Surfing articles and photographs of him appeared in most every magazine issue of the era. Gary moved through the crowds with the swagger and cocky self-assurance of a rock star. He was usually the first of us to exit the team van. Then we all approached the venue together … wearing our Hobie Team jackets. We had the looks of the powerhouse surf team that we were.
|Dick Catri was an awesome team manager and coach.
We all had assignments whenever we visited a surf shop. Our first activity was for the team to surf together as a team. These were sometimes well-planned exhibitions with no other surfers in the lineup. A microphone and PA system was set-up so Catri could introduce us one-by-one as we entered the water. I was stoked to hear my name announced as I paddled out my Silver Bullet.Gary was the main attraction and was always introduced last to the cheering crowd, and as usual, he made sure his first ride was awesome. He loved showing off.
The surfing exhibition lasted about an hour, then we all went over to the sponsoring surf shop to continue our promotional tasks. Mine was usually to sit with the locals explaining our latest board designs and functionality. Catri always made sure I had plenty of Hobie order forms with me.
While Gary was signing autographs Catri was pushing the store owners to order more boards. It was often my que to deliver several completed order forms for new Hobie surfboards to the owner.
“Coach” Catri (RIP) knew how to manage a team, and how to promote our sponsors.
Contest Surfing with the Team…
Catri knew our competition and coached us on how to surf our heats.
I recall surfing well in a contest off Jacksonville, Florida and had advanced to the semi-finals. Gary was also in that heat with me along with two other very good surfers. “Coach” Catri approached me just prior to the start of the heat and told me that I was to block for Gary in this heat. I replied, “OK, Coach”.
There was no interference rule back then, so I was to make sure that the other competitors never got in Gary’s way. Gary advance to that final. He probably didn’t need the help, but I did my part for the team.
Fun Times… I was stoked that Gary wanted me to hang with him even though we were on different career paths. He had become a surf star while I was still pursuing a career as a rocket scientist.
Yet, our friendship continued to grow back in Cocoa Beach. We often double dated usually going to dinner and movies. We spent most weekend evenings together with conversations usually leading to promoting his surfing and the surfing lifestyle.
He had a great idea to promote surf films at our Cocoa Beach Playhouse with music performed on stage by a live band. He enlisted our good friend Kenny Cohen, a great musician (and very good surfer) to have his band play during the surf film. It was awesome! The house was packed. It was a big hit with all of us.
Gary realized he could make good money promoting events, which became precursor to the next successful chapters of his life.
Later Years… We kinda went our separate ways in the late ’70s. Gary became a well known entertainment promotor. I married, started raising a family and survived the layoffs at Kennedy Space Center as the Apollo program wound down.
I managed the RonJon Surf Shop up on Canaveral Pier. And, later opened the Sunshine House Surf Shop for Sam Gornto building Claude Codgen’s Sunshine surfboards. I worked other retail jobs for a couple years before finally finishing college and found my place in manufacturing operations.
But, we stayed in touch. He often provided me with concert tickets. We shared some good times together whenever he visited.
|Gary and me at the Hobie Team reunion party – 2015…
fun times again
Gary returned to our area on a more permanent basis in the late 90s. I was stoked to actually surf with my friend again. We avoided the crowds and usually surfed near Whitey’s in Melbourne Beach. I recall our last surf together was on the north end of 2nd lIght, PAFB with our friends Jim and Ed Leisure, owners of Quiet Flight Surf Shop in Cocoa Beach.
Soon after, Gary re-injured his back surfing at Canaveral Pier. He was never able to really surf again.
When I asked Gary what happened he replied… “I was showing off”
So typical of the Gary Propper I knew for years… and so fitting, surfing hard to the end.
I miss Gary Propper.
Gary loved to surf, but he moved on to more lucrative opportunities by the mid-seventies. I am still stoked to have been with Gary during his prime surfing years. We had some great times together.
I was not one of the big stars back then and, I am certainly not a Legend today. But, I was stoked to be accepted by he and the other stars as a competitor and as a friend.
I roamed with the legends of the era. That’s good enough for me.
Tomorrow morning I’ll be looking for some surf to ride.
Gary would be stoked for me.