Like most of my surf heroes from the ‘60s, I first became aware of Jackie Baxter through Surfer Magazine. He couldn’t have been any older than 15 when he appeared in a small ad for Dave Sweet Surfboards, in Venice.
A few years later, Baxter moved to Huntington Beach to take his place in the lineup with then-future legends Herbie Fletcher, Tom, and his brother Bob Leonardo and David Nuuhiwa. This tough crew that was making waves internationally, and Jackie or Jack as he was sometimes known, held his own with them. In the water, he was smooth, fast, and powerful. On the beach, he was quiet — shy, I realize now. Then, however, I figured he was arrogant. I would have been if I surfed half as well as Jackie Baxter.
On Coast Highway, just down from the Golden Bear, was a surf shop called Vardeman. It was there that $125 could buy you a Jackie Baxter Model board. His models were clean and clear, unique looking with their blue condensed foam stringers.
By the late ‘60s, longboards passed out of fashion and with them models named for the top surfers of the time. I doubt that mattered to Jack — he moved to the North Shore of Oahu, where he built a reputation as one of the top surfers at Sunset Beach and Pipeline. Somewhere in the mid-‘70s was a photo of Jackie at Sunset, bottom turning after fading left on a big, powerful right-handed wave. I still recall the essence of the caption, written by then Surfer editor, Steve Pezman. This is not an exact quote, but it said something like, “Jackie Baxter, 50-yard fade at Sunset.” I studied that photo carefully to see how he had drawn his line. A few years later, he was featured going left at Pipeline during the Golden Breed Expression Session.
I don’t recall seeing Jackie in many surf movies, and I don’t think he ever won a major surf contest. I honestly doubt any of that mattered much to him — he was a free surfer and a free spirit who was never more at home than when riding waves.
It’s been nearly two decades since I became friends with Jack, his wife Kathy, his son Josh and his daughter, Bonnie, whose wedding I performed a few years back.
I realized then that what was at the center of Jack’s life was family and friends, followed by surfing and anything to do with the ocean.
During one conversation with him, I mentioned how I recently had words with my wife. He looked at me sadly and simply said, “Please try not to do that.” Those were the last words Jack ever spoke to me, and they have stuck with me, and made me a better husband.
On Oct. 4, 2018, Jackie Baxter peacefully, quietly and stylishly flowed into the next world. His many friends jammed into Doheny State Beach to pay their respects and celebrate the waves that were his lifetime.
Today he continues to ride high through his family and the countless friends who love him.