Remembering “Da Bull,” Surfing Legend and Board Creator Greg Noll
Big waves. Big legacy.
Greg Noll, a bold, big-wave surfer with a knack for shaping, storytelling and swearing, died earlier this week at the age of 84. Born in San Diego, he moved to the South Bay of Los Angeles as a child, not far from the Manhattan Beach Pier. “I was at a prime spot to see what was going on,” he told Southbay magazine a few years back, regarding the area’s growing surf scene. He noted that some of the older local surfers would sometimes take a beat-up board, light it on fire and toss it off a cliff because “that was supposed to bring up the surf.”
He started surfing at age 10, growing up alongside young surfers like Bing Copeland, Dewey Weber and Hap Jacobs. But it was as a teenager in Hawaii that he first became the stuff of legend. In 1957, he made the push to ride Waimea Bay and its waves of unsettling reputation. Greg and his friend, Mike Stange, paddled out one day to a ride a few 15-foot rollers, and the rest was history. “I dropped into a wave and thought I was going to get flushed down the toilet, but I made it, popped out and was still alive. By the end of the day there were seven or eight guys surfing. The taboo was broken.”
During the 60s, Greg began his business as a shaper and manufacturer of board, opening a 20,000-square-foot facility in Hermosa Beach. During the height of production, he was cranking out roughly 200 boards a week—with many of the boards heading to the East Coast.
Jed Noll, Greg’s son and the current CEO of Noll Surfboards, notes that the Hermosa facility was entirely unique, as it was a “completely vertically integrated surfboard manufacturing plant.” Greg brought in raw chemicals to create surfboard foam blanks in one end, and then he blew the blanks, shaped, laminated, colored and then eventually sold them out the other.
In 1969, Greg made history again, snagging what was then the largest wave ever ridden just off the shores of Oahu. “It satisfied a need. If I didn’t catch the biggest wave on the next big day, I wouldn’t have to rush to the local therapist and have my head examined and be pissed off until the next swell showed up,” he said.
Greg soon stepped away from surfing to focus on the family. Noll Surfboards reemerged again, this time in San Clemente and under the leadership of son Jed. But Greg still dabbled in the business, creating vintage-style boards from the Golden Era of surf. “Surfing has some kind of magic, some kind of pixie dust,” Greg once said with a laugh. “It’s so goddamned cool.”
We were honored to host Greg and other surf legends at the debut of the film Think Bing: 60 Years of Evolution. You can watch the film in link below:
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