Editor’s Note: Over the span of 10 weeks – and concluding on August 17, the birthday of the organization — founder Glenn Hening tells the story of creating the Surfrider Foundation 30 years ago this summer.

Author’s Note: The abridged version of this piece appeared in Surfer’s Journal Vol. 13 #3. My thanks to Steve Pezman and Scott Hulet for printing it in 2004 on Surfrider’s 20th anniversary.

The longest and most challenging reef break I've ever ridden: Hanalei Bay, 30 years ago. Photo: George Segala

The longest and most challenging reef break I’ve ever ridden: Hanalei Bay, 30 years ago. Photo: George Segala

It was 4:44 a.m, January 11, 1984, and the delivery room felt like it was full of angels witnessing a blessed event. In my arms rested a tiny baby girl, and though my wife Alexa was exhausted, she couldn’t have been happier as I handed her our first-born daughter. A few hours later, with mother sleeping soundly, I went to see Helen Grace Hening in the observation room. There she was, bundled up and resting with a slight smile on her face. And suddenly, like an outside set looming on the horizon, the future came into sharp focus — yet, I didn’t feel caught inside by any means. I felt ready for fatherhood and looking forward to the challenge.

Was I not a surfer?

But then my thoughts turned to what surfing would be for Helen when she grew up – and what would it be for her generation. I thought about that night back in Santa Monica Canyon and the future for surfing that we had dreamed about so vividly.

Then it hit me. Maybe I better take the idea of a new society of surfers seriously – or else what will I say if some day Helen asks me, “Daddy, why didn’t you do something?”

But was there really a problem?  Did surfing need a wakeup call?

Day one. Photo: Glenn Hening

Day one. Photo: Glenn Hening

“The surf magazines? I’d rather read Time or Newsweek,” said the Impala. With my wife’s grudging permission, I took a much-needed vacation in March from my computer business to visit an old El Salvador comrade-in-arms, Doug Haigh, living on Kauai. With my best man Victor Torres riding shotgun, we rented a Chevy Malibu station wagon at the Lihue airport and began three weeks of surfing anywhere and everywhere. We were welcomed from Majors to Tunnels, including the longest and most challenging reef break I’ve ever ridden: Hanalei Bay. It was an all-time surf trip, with some added perspectives thanks to that night in the Canyon and the birth of my baby daughter.

For two months, I had been canvassing friends up and down the California coast as to their take on modern surfing. To a man, they were not stoked for all the same reasons that had fueled our “Soul Survivors” brainstorm session. Now I wanted to get the opinion of someone who had surfed waves beyond the comprehension of most surfers. I wanted to talk to a living legend known as the Impala, a surfer second only to Joey Cabell as the best ever at Hanalei.

I put out the word, and one day I got a call from Jimmy Lucas. We met down at the pier, and for about 45 minutes he told me of the winter of 1969 and all his years racing through Waimea-size tunnels that peeled for half a mile. Then I asked him for his opinions on modern surfing, and it wasn’t a pleasant subject. Here was one of the best surfers in history telling me that he had no interest in being a part of surfing’s new trends of competition and commercialism. Of course, living on Kauai, he didn’t need to — he had a personal version of surfing that most surfers could only dream of. In the early 1970s, at the dawn of the shortboard era, he was “described as the most naturally talented surfer in the world – fearless at places like Haleiwa and Sunset Beach on the North Shore. ‘You never heard of Jimmy Lucas because he’s not where they’re taking pictures and he’s not endorsing anybody’s surfboard’.” To me, he represented surfing at its very best, and as we talked, I realized that even my visions for surfing’s future had been somewhat limited. So when I said goodbye to Jimmy Lucas, I knew that when I got back to California something had to be done.

 Want to find out what happened next? Tune in this coming Sunday, June 29,  for Part 3: In the Shadow of the Torch – Brainstorming at the Olympics. And catch up on the series below.

Dawn Patrol: Creating Surfrider In The Summer of ’84


Only the best. We promise.


Join our community of contributors.