JUICE MAGAZINE 13 YEAR ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL
INTERVIEW BY JAMES O’MAHONEY
INTRODUCTION BY JAMES O’MAHONEY
PHOTOS BY ART BREWER AND THE FLETCHER FAMILY ARCHIVES
With the avalanche of media that is shoved down our throats daily and with the millisecond attention span of the average geek, things are usually lost to a gum commercial. If nothing else, Juice Magazine has a shelf life and has documented these historic people and what they have contributed to the sports that they have loved and dedicated their life to. Let’s hunker down with Herbie Fletcher. Here’s a chap that’s basically your mild mannered, true blue guy, sorta like Andy of Mayberry. But the minute you put him on any device, whether it floats, rolls, slides or revs, he turns into a monster. He is a pioneer of sports, sports that he had to write the rules for. Herbie’s act will be impossible to follow (There is only one first golfer on the moon.) He’s a natural athlete that can charge Waimea, tuck in at Teahupoo, or get past vert at Mt. Baldy. He is one of those people who can adapt to any physical activity with soul, starting 50 years ago. If they ever do a U.S. stamp of a pre-X Game pioneer, they will have to use Herbie’s picture on it… or mine.“I WAS MAKING SURFBOARDS AND GOING SURFING ALL THE TIME. WE WERE PARTYING AND WORKING ON A MOVIE CALLED “RAINBOW BRIDGE” WITH JIMI HENDRIX. THAT WAS AN EXCITING TIME.”
Did you get that swell down there?
Yeah, I did.
Middles.It was offshore and perfect and sunny and beautiful. It was about a foot or so overhead, peeling off.
Cool. Was it crowded?
No, not bad. Nobody knew how to surf. It was going down the beach. It’s not snappy, but it’s right in my backyard.
Are you ready for your staff interview? People want to know who’s behind this magazine.
Who makes it up and what they’re going to make up?
[Laughs.] Yes. Juice is honored to have you and Dibi on board. You guys are vital. How do you like being a Features Editor for Juice?
I’m stoked. We have fun with it. I get to talk to my friends and see what’s going on and watch them grow up.
Let’s talk about your life. Do you promise to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth?
When and where were you born?
I was born in Pasadena, California in ’48.
Do you have any brothers or sisters?
I have a couple of brothers.
Do they surf or skate?
My oldest brother is a sailor. He’s sailed around the world, and hung out for 30 years on the ocean. Now he’s a rancher in Missouri. My other brother was probably the most underrated surfer when we were kids. He was really good. He’s a big guy. He liked big waves.
And your parents? Did they do anything?
[Laughs.] They had me. My dad was a salmon/albacore fisherman. My mom was a housewife. She loved the beach.
Did you ever go fishing with your dad?
I’ve been fishing with my dad and my brothers, when we were young, growing up, and all the way up.
Did you get into a lot of mischief as a kid?
[Laughs.] I didn’t get caught.
[Laughs.] What did you do first, surf or skate?
I skated first, in ’55 in Pasadena. My brother was like, “We can put our roller skates on the bottom of a 2×4.” So we did that and skated on the sidewalks. I remember one time my skateboard locked up on a rock and I landed on my toes I was barefoot, of course, and I broke my toe. I kept on skating. That didn’t stop me.
Did you ever play baseball?
I was a little leaguer. I was a catcher. That’s where the action was.
I was a halfback. I was fast. I played everything at school, including dodgeball.
Where did you go to grammar school?
Pasadena. It was wild. It was a heavy mixture. It was pretty crazy, but it was a lot of fun. I lived right across the street from the rec center and the school, so I was over there all the time playing.
Were you in a “Little Rascals” type of gang? Did you have buds that you’d light firecrackers with?
[Laughs.] Oh, yeah. We’d throw rocks and stuff like that, and beat up people.
[Laughs.] Throw rocks at cars?
[Laughs.] And not get caught. That one guy almost kicked my ass. I couldn’t believe it. I thought it was all over and this guy came up from behind me and grabbed me. It scared the shit out of me. That was the last time I threw rocks at cars.
When did you move to Huntington Beach?
’62. I was doing anything I had to do to go surfing. First stop was Huntington Beach after I talked my parents into it. It was a rough group down at the pier, but it was also where everyone came that was anyone in surfing. They also had the Huntington Beach surfing contests at the pier. It was really great to see everyone come through. I wanted to be like those guys. I wanted to go surfing and ride the best waves. I ended up down at Hobie’s watching Phil Edwards make surfboards, and then I got enough money to move to Hawaii and surf Pipeline. My goal was to be able to surf Pipeline.
You’ve done it.
I’m still doing it.
You never wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer?
I wanted to be a surfer.
Where did you go to high school?
Did you go to the prom?
Who was your first girlfriend?
[Laughs.] I don’t know. Who was yours?
Barbara Summers. That was in third grade.
[Laughs.] Third grade? You must have liked that, huh?
Chicks are hot. When did you realize that surfing was the life for you?
I was 14. I didn’t know anything else, so I started making surfboards.
What was your first job?
Bruce Brown and Hobie hired me to do the wet set. I made enough money to go to Hawaii and that was the end of it.
You never had jobs like delivering newspapers?
I had a paper route when I was nine. That’s how I bought my first surfboard. It cost me $27. It was a balsa Velzy-Jacobs.
How did you transport it around?
My dad carried it at first, and then I made a little rack so I could wheel it to the beach.
Those little rickshaw things?
It had two wheels and I’d guide it by the fin. It was pretty low to the ground.
Which surf shop were you a rat at first?
Not Jack Haley?
No, Jack’s was second. That’s when I had that photo of me skating at that pool in ’63.
Did you go to the Rendevouz Ballroom?
Yeah, and I’d see Dick Dale there. I used to watch Stevie Wonder at the Airport Club.
What about the Cinnamon Cinder? That’s where Katina would play a lot.
She’d come down to the Pavalon at Huntington Beach Pier. Cinnamon Cinder was in Garden Grove.
The big deal was to be one of the first guys at the front of the stage so you could look up her dress.
[Laughs.] Oh, boy. I was dancing and having a good time.
When did you start competing surfing?
It was at Huntington Pier when I was 14.
Was that the Huntington contest?
Yeah, it was the only one, the Cove contest.
What team were you on?
The Haley, the Gordie, the Hobie… I won of all the Huntington boys, but David Nuuhiwa would always win the contests, and I’d get second. Corky moved up to the Men’s so he didn’t have to surf against David. David was the man.
Who gave you your first money for surfing?
Were you on the Hobie skate team, too?
No, just the surf team.
Weren’t you in that movie with Davey Hilton?
That was after I was on the surf team. I was a surfer, but I did skate. I skated the San Clemente hills when they were building those places. We’d skate Laguna and Portofino.
Where was the first pool?
Stanton. The Pool.
What were you riding?
I got clay wheels from the Pavalon skating rink, and my friend Bob Leonardo got a pair of skates and we put them on these boards we made in wood shop.
Were you riding barefoot or with shoes?
We always rode barefoot.
Were there any skate heroes then?
No. There was Phil Edwards, Skip Frye and Hynson. Joey Cabell, and a few kids like me. The Jaks team wasn’t even around yet.
Who were your surf heroes then?
Phil Edwards, Ilima Kalama, Jeff Hackman, David Nuuihwa… Do you want me to go on?
[Laughs.] What was the first time you had too much to drink?
Oh, boy. That was a bad scene. Bob Leonardo and I were on our way to the Pavalon, and we got really drunk. We drank a fifth of Kentucky bourbon. We’d fill a glass up halfway with Coke and then fill it up with bourbon. We’d have a race to see who could drink it the fastest.
How long did it take?
Not long. Then I couldn’t feel anything. I almost died that night crossing Coast Highway. I just remember seeing lights and hearing horns honking.
Who gave you your first joint?
Did you laugh and get hungry?
No, but after that we did.
Who told you to always keep stuff swirling in your stomach?
Walter. He says, “You’ve got to keep your stomach working.” But you get fat that way.
Do you know a bigger food pirate then Walter? Remember at Rick’s wedding, he wrapped up a whole prime rib in a tablecloth and tried to sneak it out? And that was before the reception. That was really a howler.
[Laughs.] That was funny.
You brought the thrill back to surfing. How?
The Thrill is Back! When I came back from Hawaii, there weren’t any waves. I always had a longboard in my quiver, so I started riding it. You’d come down and we’d go surfing at Doheny and have a good time.
So I just started making longboards and having a lot of fun. I was getting people surfing when there were no waves.
Your boards worked well with the square noses.
With short boards, it just got too technical. Guys couldn’t surf and have any fun. They got older. They couldn’t use their boards anymore. Those little boards were like sinkers. They’re called buoys.
What’s your favorite spot to surf?
Where’s the scariest?
What’s the biggest wave you ever rode?
Big. I’ve ridden closed out Waimea on my jet ski. In the days of riding the waves, getting in the waves, standing up, not on the couch. That sit down thing is like sitting on the couch.
What was your worst wipeout?
I’ve had a lot of them. Probably Honolua. I was down for a few waves. When I came back up another was hitting me. I hit the bottom and it was square on the outside on a big giant set.
And you rode the jet ski on closed out Waimea?
I made it. I held on with both hands, I just didn’t have any feet on it. I was flapping like a flag on a pole, blowing in the wind.
Jet skis were fun in the waves.
Yeah. You just have to keep ‘em going.
There was some guy that upset you out in the water once. He made the mistake of trying to grab you around the waist and hold you under for while, but you took him down and reversed the role on him.
Yeah, that happens every now and then. Some guys think they’re big shots.
They learn their lesson though?
They usually do. What am I supposed to do? This guy was drowning me. It’s scary out there. You don’t want to almost drown because someone is being an asshole and wants to mess with you.
They were trying to hold down the wrong guy.
Right. The trick is they hold you down, but you keep going down. Then you drag them down. They keep going down. They’re like, “Where are we going? I need air.” And they just keep going down. Then they panic and you’ve got a hold of them. And they just keep going down.
[Laughs.] That’s a good one. What’s the most vert you ever skated?
That was probably Mt. Baldy.
Mt. Baldy is the most photographed skate destination in the history of the sport. You were one of the first people to skate it back in 1974. Tell me about that.
It was so fun. I couldn’t believe it. I went with you, Waldo Autry, Jim Freeman and Greg McGillivray. Waldo was killing it. I’d never seen anything like that.
That photo was the most published photo ever in skateboarding, because it was the first picture to show that you could get past vertical. You did it.
I got vertical, first time.
You were in “Skateboarder” magazine in ’75 skating Baldy, and there was another picture of you in there doing a 2-foot manual. How much practice would it take for you to do that again?
Five minutes. The first time I got on it probably.
Have you broken lots of bones?
I lost count at 33.
Was there a Herbie Fletcher model skateboard?
Yeah. I have a couple of them left. I made them for Dana Point for Herbie Fletcher Surfboards. We put Road Riders on them. The urethane wheel was out and precision bearings were right around the corner.
How about the first Herbie Fletcher surfboard?
The first one was the Soul model we did with Harbor in ’66.
I quit riding for other people and did my own thing. We were anti-establishment back in the ’60s. We made our own surfboards. The older guys got older and they lost contact with the beach and they didn’t know what was going on. We were changing the world. Do you remember? You were there.
We were all generals, right?
The establishment was the enemy.
That’s true. How did you meet Dibi?
I met her at the beach at Makaha. She was the hot little chick running around.
Is that old enough?
Did you have to wait six months?
I saw her that summer and she was pretty hot, so we dated.
Who pursued whom?
I think we both pursued each other.
Whose idea was it to run away to the Islands?
It was hers.
How was life then?
Life was on the edge, heavily.
Where did you surf there?
I surfed mostly Pipeline, Honolua Bay, Sunset, Velzyland, Haliewa, or whichever way the swell was coming.
You started pumping Grubby’s blanks?
We opened the blank business in ’69. It was a pretty stable thing. I was making surfboards and going surfing all the time. We were partying and working on a movie called “Rainbow Bridge” with Jimi Hendrix. That was an exciting time.
Did you have anything to do with the movie?
I surfed in it and hung out.
You didn’t get high did you?
[Laughs.] Never. Nobody did.
Is that movie still around?
You can go rent it. It’s funny. It’s great. It was like, “Turn on the camera, come back in a year and let’s make a movie”.
That’s cool to have Hendrix play.
Yeah, that was really bizarre.
Your boys became great surfers and skaters. Was that heredity?
I guess so. I took them along with me. I hung out with them. You hung out with them. All of my friends hung out with them. They just hung out and did what all the big guys did. They had skateboards and surfboards and listened to music.
What are they doing now?
The same thing. They’ve had rock n’ roll bands, which you probably know. You’ve kicked the guitar and drums around.
You auditioned for my band with Rick, playing harmonica.
[Laughs.] I even sang “Night Rambler”. That was the one, right? The one you’d never seen before.
[Laughs.] When did you live in the mountains?
That was in the mid ’70s. I loved it, but I’d always go to the beach in the summer. I’d go to the mountains in the winter. I couldn’t handle it year round.
When did you first snowboard?
That was in the mid ’80s. I did it locally at Snow Summit with Damian Saunders and all those cats, and Christian and Nathan. I hit my head twice, so I went skiing. Then I went to Mammoth and it snowed about six inches, and it was great snowboarding. I haven’t gotten on my skis since.
Powder is king.
It’s unbelievable. We’d go up on powder days and it would be me, Christian, Nathan, Hosoi, Alva, Reategui and Duncan. Hackett would show up. It was fun. It was a bunch of skaters on snowboards.
What’s been your best snow day?
That was in Valdez, Alaska, for sure. Fresh powder. We were going off jumps and lips. I was having a good time with Farmer and Palmer. They were doing the King of the Hill, They would go a couple runs with me and have some fun and they’d go off on their own and climb peaks and jump off of ice things and go crazy doing flips down the mountains.
When did you start Astrodeck?
Can you still get to the nose?
I fly on the nose. Are you kidding? At Backdoor. Nobody else can say that.
They don’t even want to attempt it. They go, “I can get in the tube, but not on the nose. No way.”
Let’s got to Cabo for a second. How do you play King of the Rocks at Zippers?
You get on there with a bunch of kids and play. Waves come over it and knock you off, then someone else climbs up and thinks they’re king for a second. Then you pull them down in the waves and someone else climbs up. Sometimes you can take the wave and end up landing on the rock and push them off. Christian jumps over the rock with his surfboard.
What about the time you saved a certain Mr. Brown from being killed at the Palmera Restaurant by one of the Green Bay linebackers. You flew down the stairs and took the guy out with a gravy boat or something?
The guy was hassling me and Rick butted in. Then the guy was like, “Oh, you’re a wise guy, huh?” He drew his hand back to punch Rick and I slammed him in the head with two plates of chicken dinner. They were big, thick Mexican plates. I slammed him in the side of the head. He was falling forward and Rick hit him in the forehead with a bottle of wine. He went down hard. Then the cops jumped up, and the bar guy jumped up. He had three other guys with him and they jumped up, but then they saw everybody. The cops were like, “Pick up your buddy and get him out of here now.” The cops had billyclubs and guns. That was pretty heavy. The guy was 6’4”. He looked like a door, and he was hassling me. He was calling me a wise guy. Then Rick butted in. When the guy drew his arm back, he was like a sitting duck. He went down and didn’t get back up.
Those Mexican plates are thick.
Yeah. And then we went outside to where they were doing construction. I had a pipe and a piece of rebar. We saw the guys the next day and they didn’t even recognize us.
[Laughs.] They were probably drinking that whiskey and coke combo.
[Laughs.] They were just assholes. They wanted to fight somebody. And I’m not a big guy. That guy was huge.
[Laughs.] David and Goliath.
[Laughs.] I don’t fight fair. I’d get my ass kicked.
What music do you listen to now?
I like the blues. I like Bo Diddley and Ron Wood in South Beach. We put a little show on down there. I like The Rolling Stones, Ozzy, Dylan, the list goes on. I was listening to Janis Joplin the other day and she is one bad-ass chick, huh?
She rips. Jeff Beck just played here a few weeks ago, and he had a girl that opened up for him and she reminded me of Janis. She was really good. Let’s talk about the movie “North Shore.” Did you have anything to do with that?
I had a little bit to do with it. The director did my first movie “Wave Warriors”. He used that movie to get the job on “North Shore”. Then he stuffed us. He almost got his lunch served in Hawaii trying to pull it off, but he got away with it.
How many “Wave Warrior” movies did you do?
We did five.
Are you still shooting movies?
I still have a lot of movies in the can, but I haven’t edited them. I have one that’s almost finished. I have about three days to go to do the credits and title. Then I have a bunch of other stuff in the can. I guess I’m just collecting now.
When did you get into photography?
When I lived with Greg McGillivray and Jim Freeman on the North Shore. Jim used to show me his camera and teach me about photography. I thought it was pretty interesting.
What are you shooting with now?
I shoot with a bunch of different cameras. I mainly use the EOS-1V Canon.
Digital or film?
Film. It’s fast. Then I have a Pentax medium format. That’s pretty much manual. Then I use different movie cameras, super 8s and video cameras.
Was your buddy Julian Schnabel responsible for you putting on the beret and painting?
No. I used to paint a lot when I was a teenager. When we lived on the North Shore, I’d paint the inside of the house when it would rain. I’d do album covers and t-shirts. I really appreciate art. Finally, after the kids grew up, I got time to paint. Julian has been a big inspiration. He’s helped me and trained me. I pay attention. We do some collaborations now and then. He’s been a big inspiration. I study with him. He’s like a heavy professor. And he’s around a lot of those types of people, too. I see a lot of artists when I’m around Julian. I’m around a lot of art, from Andy Warhol to Picasso. There are critics that come by also, and museum curators and gallery owners. It’s pretty interesting. We just did a show in New York where Julian blew up some of my photos twenty feet high and painted on them and then put them in the old PanAm Building. I believe it’s in the Rockefeller Center in New York. There were eight of them. They had class and lectures and they were talking about the art. It was pretty cool.
That’s really neat. 20-feet? That’s big.
You know what? The waves weren’t even life size. In real life, those waves are much, much bigger. Those waves are big and powerful, Jaws and Pipeline. You’ve seen it in the magazine. You’ve seen it in the “Juice”.
That’s the really good stuff. That show you and Schnabel did in New York sounds really cool. Good luck with that.
I was so stoked. They told Julian to make as much art as fast as he could and never stop. Just keep making it, because when you’re gone, there will never be enough of your art. Ingrid Sischy from Warhol’s “Interview” magazine said, “First we had Picasso, then we had Warhol and now we’ve got Julian. We’ve only got three of them. ” I’m like, “Oh, my God.” That was a heavy statement. When he painted on my pictures I was totally jazzed that we could collaborate. And he gave me credit. He put it right on the wall.
You guys are all royalty.
Peter Beard was there. He was loving them. He thought they looked like Monet’s “Water Lilies” with the way the white water looked. I didn’t use a real tight lens, so you could see the whitewater at Pipeline. The guy is in the tube coming out of the tube, but you can see the wave in front of him and it looks like white froth. The lip is giant with offshore with the waves behind. Then Julian painted on it. The whitewater is broken up and goes out towards the wave and then sort of goes up the face of the wave. It was black and white photos, so those things looked like lily pads. That’s why he was saying that and I was sort of blown away over it.
There were a lot of people there, congratulating me and wanting to talk to me about my photos.
Were you wearing a suit?
No, I was just wearing what I wear. I was just me.
Nice. I saw your part in Bruce Weber’s movie, “A Letter to True.” Do you think you could ever be a serious actor?
I think so. I could pull it, if I had to, and it was open, and I wanted to do it. I know I could do it.
You could do anything. What do you think about Dibi’s HBO thing?
I think Dibi is hot. She’s genius.
There’s no one like her.
She can write and she’s got the stories because she’s had the experiences. She’s really witty and smart and fun.
You’ve done every action sport that exists. Is there anything left to try?
[Laughs.] I’ve never hang glided or jumped out of planes.
I got tired of breaking my bones.
You went down like three times, huh?
A hip and an ankle.
When they were taking you to the hospital in the helicopter, didn’t they drop you out of the basket on the roof with a crushed hip?
Oh, yeah. That really hurt, too. That’s probably grounds for a lawsuit.
But you never did that.
Too much of a hassle.
Yeah. Do you have any future projects?
I’m going to keep surfing, because I love it and enjoy it. I’m going to keep snowboarding, painting, taking pictures and making movies. I’m going to keep writing for “Juice” because it’s such a fun magazine. It lets you talk shit when it’s real, and not hide it. They are very liberal. They let us opinionated people talk.
[Laughs.] Do you have any last words?
Keep on keeping on. Get up off of that ass and get going. Go play. Keep rock n rolling.
Thank you my friend. I’ll see you soon.
Well, it’s Rincon time.
HERBIE FLETCHER INTERVIEWS
INTERVIEWS and PHOTOS BY HERBIE FLETCHER