AUTHOR’S NOTE: After reading this column, please check out the latest episode of Chris Ahrens’ web series, “God N’ Gangsters.”
I first became aware of Skip Frye when he and Mike Hynson provided a one-two punch that sent San Diego surfing to new heights. It would be a few years before I became friends with Frye, and he became the primary influence on my surfing.
Skip Frye is a synonym for style, a master of minimal effort for maximum effect in a beautiful display that mimics nature in its elegance. “Watch a pelican glide,” Frye was once quoted saying as he described the method he has attempted to imitate for over 60 years.
Pelicans, as many of you know, ride air currents that push off wave faces and allow them to cruise with only slight adjustments of their wings. Anyone who has ever seen Skip Frye surf can see where the inspiration of his own effortless gliding style comes from.
Skip Frye Surfboards are made to accommodate that glide. They are shaped only by Frye with elegance in mind. The winged logo that was drawn onto the blank before his laminates were made, hints at the purpose of each of his custom surf crafts.
I have only owned one Skip Frye Surfboard and it has been repaired (By Jeff Grygera and Moose) more times than I care to admit. The board, an 8-foot Fish, was a gift from Frye on my 55th birthday, 17 years ago. Time flies, along with the winged foam/fiberglass composite I treasure like none other
When surf filmmaker Steve Cleveland and I decided to do the first longboard revival movie, “On Safari to Stay,” in 1990, we invited Frye to join an all-star cast that included Donald Takayama, Joel Tudor and Robert “Wingnut” Weaver. Donald and Skip were already legendary while Joel and Wingnut were unknown at the time.
Wingnut had been raised in Newport Beach under the skilled tutelage of surfers like Mike Marshall, who informed him on the lost art of a less-is-more style, where excessive upper body movement is a mortal sin. He had learned his lessons well, and by the time we met him, he was hanging ten, hands at his sides, with the best of them.
The movie, which was perhaps a few years ahead of its time, proved nonetheless to be a fun romp in the ocean that I like to believe helped launch the careers of both Joel and Wingnut while solidifying the legends of Donald and Skip.
At this writing, Joel and Wingnut have surfed for longer than Skip and Donald had when our movie premiered. Like those who influenced them, these two have ridden waves with style and grace, carrying on the endless glide of the pelican.
They are now the elders of the sport, much as Frye and Takayama were when they were kids in the early ’90s. It’s good to listen to your elders in some things—in this case, the revelation offered freely by a seabird that has yet to land.