There are many good surfers in the world. There are fewer great ones and fewer still that can claim the title of surf legend. Beyond “surf legend” is an elite fleet whose grace and style continue to influence everyone who rides a surfboard.
In my time as a surfer, I would rate Rabbit Kekai, Paul Strauch, Butch Van Artsdalen, David Nuuhiwa, Barry Kaniaupuni, Wayne Lynch, Margo Oberg, Kelia Moniz and Kelly Slater in that category. Also in that group are Australian Nat Young, Hawaiian-born Donald Takayama and Oceanside’s Phil Edwards.
Phil is most noted for his grace under pressure power style. Nat for taking Phil’s moves several steps beyond, and Donald for his goofy foot hot-dogging that would later influence Nuuhiwa, who in turn influenced current longboard master, Joel Tudor.
It is rare to find such hall of fame superstars gathered in the same place, but the Oceanside Longboard Club Contest has always managed to do just that.
One of the only people who could assemble that many legends on one beach were Takayama. DT as he was alternately known, was a great friend, mentor, surfer and shaper who left us far too early.
Donald was the first famous goofy foot surfer from my generation, and his influence can be traced back to ancient Hawaiian kings. Once Donald left Waikiki for the Mainland, everything changed in both the boards we rode and the way we rode them.
While he may have started shaping for Velzy, I first became aware of the Donald Takayama Model when he shaped them for Jacob’s Surfboards in his adopted hometown of Hermosa Beach. Later Donald would make boards under the MTB label, then SNI and finally Hawaiian Pro Designs.
While two of the best ever to set their feet in wax, Nat and Donald’s style are opposite in every possible way. Nat is a tall regular foot surfer that likes to tear the guts out of a wave with fewer, harder turns. Donald, on the other hand, stood a mere five foot, three inches was a goofy foot and made the most out of every wave with his trips to the tip that became legendary.
Both Nat and Donald form major branches in surfing’s family tree. And while both overlap in many ways, Donald’s bloodline can be traced to early Hawaiian hot doggers like Scooter Boy and the aforementioned Rabbit Kekai. Nat, at least in his early years, was more in the line of Phil Edwards.
Style has a lot to do with body type. Tall, lean surfers generally tend to be better at noseriding while those closer to the ground exert better control in their turns. While both Nat and Donald are known for excellent turns, nobody would ever confuse one for the other stylewise.
So, who’s better? That’s simply a matter of opinion.
Through the ’50 and into the early 60s there wasn’t much debate on who the best surfer in the world was. That distinction, according to many, belonged exclusively to Phil Edwards, although some argued for Hawaiian transplants, the late Bobby Patterson and Paul Strauch being the best.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter who’s the best or how you surf. Honestly, you’re the only one who cares. Phil Edwards himself said it best. According to Phil, “The best surfer in the world is the one having the most fun.” If that were the only criteria it would mean I was the best in the world this morning.
Since there are other measuring sticks for greatness, however, I’ll let Nat, Donald and Phil share that honor with a tiny handful of others.