Senior Editor

The Inertia

Mike Tabeling was a legend. For a while, back in the ’70s, he was the best surfer in the world, at least according to some. After a battle with cancer, he died a few nights ago with his wife at his bedside. The East Coast surfing legend was 65-year-old.

Tabeling was one of the guys who put East Coast surfing on the map. The lanky regular-footer began surfing in the early 60s, and quickly became a standout on the circuit. Then, in 1967, he was crowned champion at the Laguna Masters in Redondo Beach, CA, making him the first from the East Coast to win a contest in the west.

Although he never liked competing all that much, he excelled at it, racking up a laundry list of accolades. In 1970, Tabeling scored a place in the quintessential surf film of the time, Pacific Vibrations, and the next year was featured on the cover of Surfer Magazine. In the early 70s, he hit the road with Bruce Valluzzi, a talented, reckless surfer/writer who lived his life to the absolute fullest. The pair traveled the globe looking for waves and trouble, finding both in Africa, Europe, and Australia.


After a few years, Tabeling returned to the East Coast for just long enough to open Creative Shaping.  Then, eight years later, he built a house looking over Jeffrey’s Bay in South Africa. He lived and surfed there for the next ten years, spending his days doing things that everyone should, but few actually do. Tabeling lived for excitement. In 1996, he was inducted into the East Coast Surfing Legends Hall of Fame.

Last year, though, Mike Tabeling was diagnosed with an aggressive type of renal cell cancer. After he tried different treatments for a few months, the cancer metastasized into his chest and lymph nodes. Doctors gave him a year to live, if he wasn’t on any treatment. Tabeling made his choice. “The chemo drugs they gave me were stealing any form of quality of life that I had left,” he said on Facebook. Then he and his devoted wife Nancy hit the road again. They drove through the deep South, onto the Grand Canyon and into Baja, Mexico.

Mike lived his life how it should be lived. He did things that he loved. He loved his wife. And if his passion for living can be summed up in one sentence, it should be one of the final things he wrote after deciding for stop chemo:


I’ll have more pleasurable, happier days with my loving Nancy,” he wrote. “I can’t put a price tag on that… Let’s stay out! I think I see one more set on the horizon!!!”


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