I don’t remember exactly when I first met Bruce King. It might have been during my brief employment at Hansen Surfboards in the early 1970s.
Hansen was then pioneering a process for making hollow surfboards. I was a grunt, a too-old shop rat cleaning up the sticky mess made when fiberglass meets resin.
Bruce, who even then was an experienced board builder, was at the opposite end of the chain, involved in the board’s construction.
I had seen him surfing Swami’s, a place we each regularly rode any time a ripple larger than that made by a duck’s wake creased the shallows.
I think Bruce had become busy working hard and raising a family, because I didn’t see much of him for a while.
He surfaced again about a decade later, during the early days of the longboard renaissance where boards in the 10-foot range again became common, especially among those of us who had ridden them in the 1960s.
What had changed even more than board size in Bruce’s case, however, was the size of his family. He then had a wife and three kids in tow.
The kids did what kids do, throwing rocks at animate and inanimate objects, raiding tidepools and building sandcastles. I had no way of knowing then that two of them, Syrus, and Leila, would soon be among the prime movers in the reborn art of longboarding.
Syrus was something of a magician, a surfing genius really who seemed to be able to make his board do whatever he wanted. I still recall the time he took off fin-first on a tiny wave, ran up, hung five, and stood there as the board spun beneath his feet until the nose was pointed toward the sand. (I had never seen that move done before and have not seen it since.)
He was one of those surfers you could spot a mile away simply by his style. And, he was, in my opinion, the regular-footed answer to Joel Tudor’s goofy footed brilliance.
Leila has her brother’s drive, grace and style and was a pioneer of the “girl power” movement, something which continues to this day.
They were both extremely advanced, something that seems only natural since surfing to them was a combination little league sport, family picnic and classroom. They had been trained by a father whose love of the ocean is only exceeded by his love of family.
I can still remember the King camper bouncing down the road, boards stacked high on the roof, kids rumbling in the back, Bruce bleary-eyed after hours on the road as he pulled into some dusty campsite from Baja to Santa Cruz.
They were there for the surf club contests, and the kids often made the finals. Bruce did okay too, once winning the Malibu Club contest.
He probably would have done better in other events also had it not been for his organizing the contest, and working as the Swami’s Surfing Association president, a position he held for seven years.
He set up camp, made meals, judged heats, surfed and looked after his kids and anyone else’s who happened to stray into the area.
The King family reflects all that is right with American values: hard work, family loyalty, unity and a tribal sense that every real surfer understands and forever admires.