Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Walter Hoffman. INTERVIEW

Words: Dibi Fletcher
Photos: Walter Hoffman

Surfing is an old sport. It has been an important part of Hawaiian culture for hundreds of years, practiced long before the first wetsuit was donned or any sponsorship money was paid out. And while we will never be able to directly applaud the true originator—the first person to stand up on an opportunely shaped slab of driftwood—there are a few known pioneers to whom we can pay homage.

One of these men is Walter Hoffman. An original big-wave charger, influential board builder, and surf-inspired textile innovator, Walter’s contribution to surf culture cannot be overstated. As father to Dibi Fletcher and Joyce Hoffman, father-in-law to Herbie Fletcher, and grandfather to Christian and Nathan Fletcher, Walter has been generous in passing his gifts down to his family, whether by nature or nurture.

Dibi Fletcher: Where were you raised?
Walter Hoffman: Between Hollywood and Laguna Beach. Both places. Wintertime in Hollywood, summertime in Laguna Beach.
DF: When did you first start surfing?
WH: Nineteen forty-seven.
DF: What was the board that you surfed on made of?
WH: Balsa-redwood.
DF: Who shaped it?
WH: It was a Swastika board that I got at Snuffy’s Sporting Goods
store in Westwood.
DF: Was that a brand or a model?
WH: It was a brand. It was made by that big company that made balsawood in the old days…that carried balsawood that everybody bought.
Herbie Fletcher: Pacific Homes?
WH: Pacific Homes.
HF: And they ran out of balsawood and that’s why they created foam, right?
WH: No, that’s not right. Grubby invented the foam blank along with Hobie. The process would revolutionize surfing, making lighter boards. They always had balsawood.

DF: Who was the most influential shaper when you were a young man?
WH: Everybody wanted a Simmons board, but I don’t think they were the best. I think the best shapers in those days were Joe Quigg and Matt Kivlin. I think they made the best boards in those days…had the best-shaped boards, and rode the best.
DF: How heavy were those boards?
WH: I’m saying between 20 to
35 pounds.
DF: And they were single-fin?
WH: They were all single-fins. Bob Simmons had a lot of double-fins—twin-fins.
DF: At that time surfing was more about trimming [basic angled path across the wave face]. So how big were the actual fins at that time?
WH: Six…seven-inch fins, except in Hawaii where they used eight-inch. ...I’m talking shapers here, not
in Hawaii.
DF: So who were the most influential shapers in Hawaii?
WH: Ooo, that’s a good one. That shaped production boards in Hawaii? Probably a Wally Froiseth, George Downing. And they bought a lot of the balsa-redwood boards from here when I first went over, and there may have been some guys over there that did boards.
DF: So was weight, speed, or flotation the most important, or a combination of all of those things?
WH: Performance! A good riding board had to be able to be fast, catch waves…the same thing it is today, as far as I’m concerned. (laughs)

DF: When you spent time in California, in Laguna, did you surf up and down the coast?
WH: Yeah. Up and down the coast, from Rincon mostly, down to Wind ’N Sea.
DF: And was there a sense of localism at the different beaches?
WH: No. Not really. Everybody knew everybody in those days, and everybody got along.
Walter Hoffman.DF: Looking back, how many surfers were there?
WH: Fifty surfers from Malibu area, 50 surfers from Palos Verdes, 25…30 surfers from Laguna, not too many from Oceanside, 150 surfers from the San Diego area

DF: What kind of music were you listening to then?
WH: Whatever was popular at the time. I don’t know.
DF: What year do you think that was? Forties?
WH: Forty-eight. Right around there.
DF: OK, so at that time wasn’t
there a lot of Hawaiiana music that was popular?
WH: Yeah. We all listened to Hawaiian music. That’s right.
DF: Steel guitar and all this. ’Cause you had told me at one time that you went to what club in Hollywood to listen to Hawaiian music?
WH: Waikiki Tavern it was called.
DF: And they played the steel guitar?
WH: All the Hawaiian bands had steel guitar.

DF: Where did you surf primarily in those early years?
WH: If I lived in Hollywood, in the summertime I surfed at Malibu—in the early part of the summer. And then from about May I’d come down and start surfing in Laguna Beach, San Onofre, in that area, all through summer. And then at the end of summer—this is when I was going to high school and college­—surfing Malibu, and then towards Christmas time we’d surf the Overhead, Palos Verdes, Rincon. VIA

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