I was 14 years old when I first met Herbie Fletcher. He is now known primarily as a surfer, ripping through all stages of surfing’s evolution.
He made his initial splash on longboards, first in the ’60s, then in the ’90s. Between those eras he excelled on rocket-fast shortboards where he co-invented and later perfected a move called the sideslip.
He designed and marketed the first functional traction pads, took jet skiing from the bay into massive surf, became a surf filmmaker and surf film star and fathered two of the most influential surfers of our time — Christian and Nathan Fletcher.
My first encounter with Herb was not through surfing but skateboarding at the Huntington Pier.
Like me, he had freshly entered his teen years. Unlike me, he was only a few years from becoming famous as a member of both the Hobie Surf and Hobie Skateboard teams.
He was among the first ever to skate an empty swimming pool and is widely credited as being the first person ever to roll over the pool light, an accomplishment that becomes that much more impressive when considering it was done before the invention of urethane skateboard wheels.
As a surfer, Herbie first hit the big times in the mid ’60s when he co-starred in the MacGillivray Freeman surf epic, “Free and Easy.”
Over the years I maintained a friendship with Herbie — interviewing him on the beach at the surf contests I commentated and for various surfing magazines. I worked for Herbie briefly by doing voice-overs in some of his “Wave Warrior” movies.
I never knew Herb’s wife, Dibi, as well as I did Herbie, but I have known her at least as long. Surprisingly, Dibi was never a surfer — she left that to her husband, her kids and her legendary sister, Joyce (Hoffman), who ruled women’s surfing in the early ’60s.
Dibi was independent, forging her own path that would eventually lead to her becoming a mother, a film producer, a writer, an artist and something of a surf activist, for lack of a better word.
Having been married since the ’70s, she has offered me some good tips on keeping the knot tightly tied. One tip I continue to take to bed, “Don’t argue when you’re tired, go to your room,” has made my marriage better than it otherwise would be.
Dibi and Herbie’s first child, Christian, expresses all the organic wildness and creativity of his parents and is widely considered to be among the best aerial surfers of all time.
The younger of the Fletcher kids, Nathan, has taken big-wave surfing to previously unimaginable heights, getting axed in Tahiti in a way that made audiences fearful that he might never surface, and being the first surfer ever to launch into a wave from a helicopter.
The surfboard in the attached photo illustrates a collaboration between Herbie Fletcher and famed artist Julian Schnabel. But art for the Fletcher family is where you find it — on a surfboard or a skateboard, in front of or behind a camera, building and designing surfboards, screening T-shirts, painting and collecting museum-worthy surfboards, raising ground-breaking kids and grandkids, living in the moment, driving down a wave made of saltwater or concrete.
Please check out my latest passion project, the Godngangsters YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/c/GodNGangsters