I first met him in the then dirt parking lot of Cardiff Reef. He was 12 years old, wet, a little sunburned and electrified as he walked up and introduced himself.
The conversation as I recall went something like this.
“Hi, I’m Brad Gerlach and I want to give you the opportunity of being the first one to interview me because I’m going to be a big deal.”
I was doing some work for Surfer Magazine at the time and was certain they knew as little about this kid as I did, so I said something about getting back to him some day.
Realizing he was about to be blown off he shifted gears.
“What about a story on ‘grommets?’” “Who did you have in mind?” I countered, to which he answered, “Well there’s me and Kenny Clemens.”
I chuckled politely, said I’d think about it and went back to work at the surf shop I was managing across the street.
Over the next few years Brad grew in stature and fame, winning some amateur events and getting a few shots in the local magazines.
Then, at 18 years old, he won a pro event in Oceanside, beating soon-to-be World Champion Tom Carroll in the finals.
The next time I heard about him he was being called “Gerr,” or “The Gerr,” an appropriate nickname that was sometimes altered to “Gerr slash,” or “B-Rad.”
But Gerr stuck, and he quickly roared his way through the ranks, where in the early 1980s he was ranked No. 2 professional surfer in the world.
Poised for what he had always considered a World Title, he stunned the surfing world by dropping the pro tour in favor of traveling and exploring life beyond competitive surfing.
That quest led to pioneering one of the world’s largest waves, Cortez Bank, attempting a new surfing contest format called “The Game,” acting, coaching and ripping wherever he found waves.
Just prior to the dominant Kelly Slater era beginning in the early ’90s, Brad Gerlach was everywhere, including playing music on stage.
From a distance it looked cool, but for him it was apparently not enough and he was gone from public view.
I haven’t been in close touch with Brad in years, and last I heard he had started a family and was living in Bondi Beach, Australia, where he was applying his massive surf knowledge to a coaching career.
A conflicting story says that he is living in New York.
I’m not sure, but Brad, always a lightning quick learner, was mentoring surfers by using the knowledge he had acquired through top surf coaches who had once taken him on.
The list includes Ian Cairns, Peter Townend and Ben Aipa. I even took a crack at coaching Brad once and like to think that he applied some of my suggestions. He may have, and if so he didn’t really need them.
He set his goal for the top from at least 12 years old. I would like to say that I knew he would make it, but that is not really the case.
If anyone has an email for the elusive Mr. Gerlach, please pass it on to me via The Coast News. I’d love hearing about the next chapter of a life well lived. Until then, blessing to you, dear friend.