Jock Sutherland grew up on the North Shore of Oahu back when the population there was less than that of Piggott, Arkansas.
He was raised by a fearless mom who made legendary ocean swims and taught her son to be comfortable, even in the most uncomfortable situations.
Between the reigns of Butch Van Artsdalen and Gerry Lopez, Sutherland was the undisputed king of the Pipeline, stuffing himself deeper into those gaping tubes than anyone before him, switching stance like he was standing on a sidewalk, and incorporating what were then new moves like the sideslip, where the fin was broken loose from the wave face, and the board slid down the wave before reconnecting again.
(The sideslip was apparently invented by David Nuuhiwa and Herbie Fletcher in the late ’60s.)
1969 is the year against which all other North Shore winters are measured against. I was on Maui and watched that year as Honolua Bay maxed out to a crowd of the best surfers in the world, including Sutherland, who had flown over for the swell and to star in John Severson’s classic movie, “Pacific Vibrations.”
As houses were being thrown across the Kam Highway and people were being evacuated to higher ground, Jock was seen as a dot against the shifting Himalayan horizon as Waimea Bay upended city blocks of saltwater.
According to the story, famed board builder Dick Brewer and other North Shore locals formed a human chain on the beach to pull Jock from the violent shore break moments before the bay and the sky went dark.
I met Jock at Doheny Beach in the mid ’60s, just after he took second place behind Nat Young in the 1966 world contest at San Diego’s Ocean Beach. School was in whenever he showed up to display moves we had never even considered.
It was around that time I heard about him surfing Trestles. According to a story corroborated by several credible eyewitnesses, Jock had broken the fin from his 9-foot 10-inch Harbor Trestles Special when he took off on a good-sized wave and nearly completed what would have been the first 360-degree turn.
I wasn’t there, but I believe it having seen him complete moves that formerly seemed impossible.
Always one to go his own direction, Jock bucked the counterculture by joining the Army at the height of the Vietnam War.
To my knowledge he never did fight in the war, but if he had, there is little doubt he would have distinguished himself for bravery, even though he was too gentle for me to ever imagine him shooting anyone.
Jock Sutherland does not fit into anyone’s conception of what a surfer was at the time.
He was among the best surfers in the world, riding misto reefs alone, beyond the crowds and the cameras. And, thanks to his English teacher mom, he was well-read and highly articulate.
For several years running, I encountered Jock Sutherland as he distinguished himself as a surfer at the Moore’s UCSD Luau and Longboard Invitational.
Of course, he ripped whatever waves showed up, and, on the beach, he was friendly with anyone who wanted to talk or take a selfie.
In short, he was the same old Jock Sutherland who made a name for himself one wave and one firm handshake at a time.
Here’s wishing you a glassy Christmas and an offshore New Year. (This greeting was lifted from a ’70s Surfer Magazine subscription card.)