Corky Carroll's Blog
Our first modern surfer brought Hawaiians to pier
Surfersvillage Global Surf News, 1 October, 2012 : - - Continuing with my little series on local surf legends... By all accounts that I have come across, our first surfer in Huntington Beach was a dude named Delbert 'Bud' Higgins. I had heard his name many times when I was growing up and have had the good fortune to meet him a few times while I was growing up in the shadow of the pier and downwind around the fire ring.
Then while researching a story on Southern California surfing pioneer Lorrin Harrison, I came across many references to Bud as part of the early crew of actual California surfers. Bud was born in 1908 and became a Huntington Beach lifeguard. He grew up riding what we would call a "bellyboard" these days, along with body surfing. His first experience with actual surfing came when he witnessed Duke Kahanamoku and two other Hawaiians surfing at Corona del Mar in the late 1920s. At that time, he talked with them and invited them to surf at the Huntington Beach Pier.
After the Hawaiians surfed the pier, they left a couple of 11-foot boards but suggested that, in the event Bud and other locals decided to make their own boards, it would be better to make them a bit shorter, like 10 feet. It was at that time that Bud and Gene Belshe made their first solid redwood boards. They weighed 135 pounds. Obviously these were not all that easy to carry around. You just didn't see guys riding their bikes down to the beach with a board under their arm in those days.
By Bud's own account, they would wind up using old telephone poles that were weather beaten and had become lighter just to get the weight down to a "manageable" 100 pounds. An interesting side note is that these dudes took to attaching metal "nose guards" on their big wood boards to protect them from damage caused by running into the pier. Can you even imagine getting run down by one of these massive board/ships with a big macking metal nose guard? Amazing that they didn't just knock the pier over on the way through. Bud Higgins is credited with being the first surfer to "shoot the pier."
Bud became chief of lifeguards in Huntington Beach. In 1933, they held the first surfing contest in town, which was sponsored by the Life Guard Department. Over the years, there were a few small events here and up and down the coast, leading up to what is considered the real beginning of modern surfing competition here in California – the 1959 West Coast Surfing Championship held here at the pier.
That eventually morphed into the United States Surfing Championship in 1961 and continues to this day as the US Open of Surfing, the largest surfing competition in the world. Bud and his brother Gordie became legendary surfers in California and were inducted onto the International Surfing Walk of Fame in 1997.
Corky Carroll is a three-time international professional surfing champion and five-time overall U.S. champion. Send comments to corkysurf @ aol.com
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