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#1718533 - 04/12/11 12:49 PM noll , makaha 69 "The Photo That Does Not Exist"
James -Bummer Jim-Devlin Offline
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#1718534 - 04/12/11 12:56 PM Re: noll , makaha 69 "The Photo That Does Not Exist" [Re: James -Bummer Jim-Devlin]
James -Bummer Jim-Devlin Offline
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myths make surfing more interesting. The mythology of surfing is part of the history of it in a way.


great quote
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#1718535 - 04/12/11 01:29 PM Re: noll , makaha 69 "The Photo That Does Not Exist" [Re: James -Bummer Jim-Devlin]
rowjimmytour Offline
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According to Alby Falzon, this photograph, captures Greg Noll's legendary "undocumented" wave. Photo: Alby Falzon

In December 1969, Greg Noll capped off a trail-blazing big wave career by riding the biggest wave ever ridden. Or did he?

Records were broken and legends forged at Makaha on December 4th, 1969. It is a more storied day than perhaps any other in big wave surf history. The greatest swell of the 20th century uprooted trees, trashed houses and hurled boats onto the Kam Highway. It annihilated the North Shore but lit up Makaha where Greg Noll bullrushed the wave of the day. The feat was later declared the biggest wave ever ridden, an unofficial record it maintained for over twenty years. No one knows exactly how big the mythical wave was because, as was reiterated recently in the documentary Riding Giants, not a single shot or frame of footage exists.

Nolls great Makaha wave is one of the most celebrated waves in American surf history, the interest in it heightened because it was never captured on film. Only thing is there were multiple cameras at Makaha in 1969. Tracks cofounder and surf filmmaker, Alby Falzon had several. Falzon hawk-eyed the action all day from an apartment overlooking the point. He watched the swell build, the first guys paddle out and the last guys get washed in. When he wasnt looking directly at the ocean, he was squinting through his 500mm lens or making adjustments to his 16mm film rig. Falzon shot rolls of film that day including, he maintains, a three shot sequence of Nolls famous wave.

Thats an interesting story all by itself but whats uncomfortably fascinating when you look at a real-life representation of the wave that has been comprehensively eulogised for forty one years now, you are forced to look again. Something is not right. It doesnt look that big.

***

Chance, fate or the gods were at work to accommodate Albert Falzon so cosily at the crossroads of surf history. Earlier in 69 he was filming for Bob Evans in South Africa and had become friends with a young Shaun Tomson. Shauns parents invited the Australian filmmaker to stay with them in Hawaii the following winter in an apartment so close to Makaha you could peg a rock from the balcony and hit the waves. Albie was happily ensconced at the digs (along with Australian surfer David Treloar), when the biggest swell in recorded history turned up. Suddenly, right outside his window, the best big wave surfers in the world were gathering for a session that would be discussed for decades.

The swell had peaked overnight on the North Shore, but it wasnt getting into Makaha in the morning, Albie recalls. We drove to the North Shore but there were roadblocks and police turning people around. It was mayhem, poop everywhere. The North Shore was completely wiped out. We drove past all the cars to the front of the roadblock and told the police we were an Australian news crew. They let us past and we drove down and saw the destruction and we saw Waimea Bay a total washing machine.

When we got back to Makaha there were lines starting to break out the back, Albie continues. It was only double overhead in the morning but it was building all the time. I set up my cameras on the balcony and alternated between the two throughout the day. The sets were coming through every 13 minutes. I remember that because Ernie [Thompson] was timing them. There were eight or nine waves in a set. And they just kept getting bigger and bigger as the morning went on.

According to Falzon, a dozen or more guys surfed that day including many of the established big wave surfers of the day. Most of the retrospective attention, however, is given to Nolls famous big wave. The Encyclopedia of Surfing describes it as a 35-footer and the largest wave ever ridden until then and for at least the next twenty years (ie until the tow era). In the documentary Riding Giants an illustrated depiction of the mythical wave is closer to 60 foot.

In Nolls biography Da Bull, Life Over the Edge, co-author Andrea Gabbard sums up the waves standing in (American) surf lore.

Those who were there that day at Makaha claim that Noll took off on the largest wave anyone has ever ridden. As it turned out the police roadblocks, the distance of the swell from shore and the presumed scarcity of rideable surf prevented this historic day from being preserved on film. Maybe its better that way, to leave it instead to surf legend, to be passed on from one generation to the next. One thing is certain: the size of the wave will not grow in the telling. Its already too big. And thats no bull.

A second image of Greg Noll's famous wave as captured by Alby Falzon. Photo: Alby Falzon

Its a sentiment that has been enthusiastically shared in numerous articles, books and films about the early days of big wave surfing. Which kind of makes Albie Falzon the fly in the ointment of surf history. Because he remembers the day differently. And he has the photos.

I watched the whole unfolding of that day all the surfers arriving and paddling out, right up until the last guys were washed in when it got really big. I was on my still camera when Greg took that wave. It was a big wave, but other waves were ridden that day around that size. Once it started jumping there wasnt any small waves. If you were going to catch something that day it was going to be a really big wave.

Gregs dropped down waves at Waimea that were bigger, says Falzon. And not only that but much heavier waves too. Makaha is a heavy wave, but its no where near as heavy as Waimea. Its more a wall; youre not dropping down into the bowl at the last second and freefalling out of the lip [like at Waimea]. You can actually set yourself up on it a bit more.

Ive got another shot which shows you the magnitude of the swell, Albie continues. When it peaked it was just ginormous. Two guys were still out there [after Greg had caught his wave and been washed in]. Im not sure who they were. They were riding these giant rhino-chasers and theres a shot of the first guy getting cleaned up and theres a shot of his board going over this wave as its lipping. Even by todays standards its a gigantic wave. The lip is bigger than the board. And its an 11-foot board. The difference between the photo of Greg on that wave and the clean up wave. Theres a real big difference.

And then theres the footage of this supposedly undocumented day. Albies 16mm film was released in the early 70s in the Bob Evans film, Splashdown. Although Falzon didnt film the famous wave (because he was shooting it) he suggests Ernie Tomson might have caught it with an 8mm camera. I email the 1977 World Champion, Shaun Tomson, and he responds. I have the wave on film, but Greg has asked me not to release it so I havent. Alby Falzon was also there and took a still shot of the wave before it hit the bowl so if hell give you the pic youve got a 41-year-old scoop, pal.

***

Greg Da Bull Nolls reputation as a big wave surfer is unassailable. His big wave exploits in the fifties and sixties are well known and unsurpassed. He led the charge to surf Waimea Bay, a terrifying, life-snuffing arena in which he would excel for well over a decade. In 1964 he made history by surfing enormous outer reef Pipeline. The John Severson photo of him standing on shore that day in his jailhouse trunks with a mountainous wave swallowing the horizon is one of the most iconic images in surf photography.

But it is also true that Noll had a reputation as a showman and a self-promoter. Former Surfer editor Sam George argues that this was part of his appeal and that surfing benefited as a result of his celebrity. Surfing needed him, George says in Riding Giants. When you look at those surfers [big wave surfers from that era] they were a stoic bunch. Greg Noll introduced flamboyance. He introduced colour.

Later in the film, George makes this observation about the Makaha wave. Even though it wasnt photographed. Even though people have since then asked how big was it really? it doesnt matter. In our imaginations it just was HUGE. Because on this classic day, the biggest swell ever seen, he essentially rode alone and he faced what came to him. And thats what every surfer does in their own life.

So does it matter? Is surf history more about getting the drama and sense of the occasion right than the specifics? Terry Fitzgeralds recent plea at a Bells Beach media function for the surf media to research the facts and tell the truth suggests that this is a contemporary issue. Its a criticism that has been echoed by new media commentators like Lewis Samuels (of postsurf.com infamy) who feels the surf world has insulated itself from criticism in a self-congratulatory bubble.

Harsh words. But if they sting, it might be because they orbit close to the truth.

Its worth noting that Falzon hasnt exactly been sitting on the photos. They ran in Surfing World in 1970 and as part of a Falzon retrospective in the one off Andrew Kidman edited magazine Litmus (1996). If you missed it in those publications, the photo that doesnt exist hangs in Torquays Surf World Museum for all the world to see (and measure). It sits next to a photo of Noll surfing what appears to be a bigger and considerably heavier wave at Waimea.

When I saw the Makaha photo in the Torquay museum last year I dragged the curator, Craig Baird, over for an explanation. This is cant be the famous Makaha wave, I told him, because no photos were taken of that wave. Baird seemed to understand and perhaps even enjoy my confusion. But I thought and in Riding Giants and in all those articles. He nodded kindly.

I sat on the story for a while, read Nolls biography and decided I like him immensely. Its not just his big wave feats or that he engenders so much respect from so many surfing greats. Its his emotional connection to the ocean and to riding waves that sings for me. For such a street-fighting, Waimea-charging hellman, Noll has a really romantic take on what it is to be a surfer. He describes Waimea as his gal and laments that as he gets older, she stays beautiful and young.

I approached Noll about the discrepancy, and he declined to comment.

Falzon says this wave occured after Noll caught his and was washed in at Makaha. According to the Noll's versions of events he was out there alone for 30 minutes or an hour waiting for that famous wave. Photo: Alby Falzon

You also get a real sense, reading Nolls book, that he belongs to a different era. Surfers rode boards that todays grommets wouldnt be able to carry let alone ride. Story-telling happened around a fire and involved culinary expressions like soup and hotdog. No one expected the tales to be taken as gospel down the track. Myths, rumors, and hyperbole added to the appeal of guys like Dora and Da Bull.

Theres a great quote by Ricky Grigg in the Noll book. The heart of the story about our years of surfing is the emotion we share. Its like old bullfighters getting together. Whats important is not how fast the bull is running; its how it feels when it misses you by an inch. Thats the story isnt it?

***

Randy Rarick was at Makaha that day too, and his account differs significantly from Falzons (and from his own original account which appeared in Surfing World in 1970). He recalls that only three people surfed that day and that Noll was the only one who caught waves. He estimates Nolls big wave to be around 20-25 feet (back in the day he called it easily 30 foot and there were at least six guys out). By the standard in those days was considered very big for paddle-in waves. You have to remember this was before tow-ins, and, other than what had been ridden at Waimea, this was considered the upper realm for its day.

Hes familiar with Albys photos but says they are of the smaller wave Noll caught that day. I sent the third photo of the sequence through to Randy, and he changed his mind and conceded that it is of the famous big wave. Perhaps sensing my next question Rarick offers this. As the years have passed, the essence of what he accomplished in 1969 have made that wave grow in size and stature. He later suggests the photos have been overlooked by surf mags because of their quality and because they dont look all that impressive.

Certainly, they are not as impressive as the illustrated depiction in Riding Giants. Or the Ken Auster painting that appears on the back of Nolls biography.

Riding Giants really gave me the shits when it came out, says Alby. The way they all talk up Gregs ride and push him further up the pedestal. And they say theres no footage of it. Im looking at it going: thats bullshit. Stacy Peralta expanded the myth. I emailed him the shots and said this is bullshit. He wrote back and said well maybe it wasnt his big wave. And I went, well, you werent there and I was. I stood there all day and watched every ride or filmed it. Thats the way they kind of cover it up Oh, no you didnt actually get his big wave. A few people have said that. And I go, yeah right (cracks up). Theres no need to be disrespectful to Greg. I think hes a great big wave rider but I just think the mythology I just think its bullshit if people trade on untruths.

I ring David Baddy Treloar to see what he makes of all this. Treloar was 18 when he shacked up with Falzon and the Tomsons at Makaha in 69. It was the first trip to Hawaii for Treloar, who would go on to feature in Falzons most famous film, Morning of the Earth. Treloar makes it clear how much respect he has for the surfers who pioneered the North Shore.

Those guys were like 65 lifeguards chiselled out of ***** stone. People dont realize those guys were serious watermen. They were like something out of muscle magazines. So those guys were fit and they were mad. There was no fat guys paddling out at Waimea for the first time Im telling ya.

When we get to the photos he has an interesting perspective. I know what youre saying, because Ive seen photos of Noll at Waimea that look bigger or of Pat Curren on some monsters from earlier in the 60s. But if Noll says its the biggest wave hes caught, well, you cant go, No it wasnt, Greg, you caught a bigger one at Waimea. That guys not talking himself up. You seen the footage of him surfing Third Reef Pipe that day? fark! fark! Its twenty foot Pipeline! So if Nolls saying thats the biggest wave Ive ever surfed then you go okay, Greg, thats good enough for me.

Its a fair point. Theres a difference between observing and participating when youre talking about 20 foot waves. Noll has never called it the biggest wave ever ridden. Only the biggest hes ever ridden a claim hes uniquely qualified to make. Besides, even without the embellishment factor, the unreliability of memory and the haze of time, wave heights are debatable.

But Treloars comment also demonstrates how difficult it is to be objective about a person you admire. And this is central to the recent debate in the media about wether surf writers are too close to their subjects to be objective. If photos of a milestone wave like this have been ignored for 41 years because they take the shine of a really great story it doesnt exactly instill confidence in the reader.

I ask Treloar what he makes of the Riding Giants version of history. Listen, it doesnt matter what bit of surf history youre talking about or whos writing it. Stuff gets said that just didnt happen. Surf writers only write in books what theyve read in others because there was no way they were there at the time. It pisses me right off.

For his part, Alby is just annoyed to keep hearing that his photos dont exist. Clearly they do. And he has no doubt why it happens. People bury it. I think they respect the Bull and want to keep the myth alive and let Greg have his 15 minutes of fame at Makaha. But even Alby concedes, myths make surfing more interesting. The mythology of surfing is part of the history of it in a way.
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#1718536 - 04/12/11 05:07 PM Re: noll , makaha 69 "The Photo That Does Not Exist" [Re: James -Bummer Jim-Devlin]
James -Bummer Jim-Devlin Offline
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#1718537 - 04/12/11 05:16 PM Re: noll , makaha 69 "The Photo That Does Not Exist" [Re: James -Bummer Jim-Devlin]
ifallalot Offline
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Last time I read this, it just interested me

This time I can come up with the following conclusion: Shaun Tomson is an asshole; a stink follows him wherever he goes
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#1718538 - 04/12/11 06:49 PM Re: noll , makaha 69 "The Photo That Does Not Exist" [Re: ifallalot]
LogHauler Offline
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I've seen "Riding Giants" several times. I've always felt that the entire movie was concocted as a way to put Laird up as the greatest ever. That great shot/film of him at Teahuopoo needed a movie... so they got together and did this "big wave rider" history flick that culminated in the crowning of Laird. There's a part where Noll himself admits that Hamilton is the best big wave rider ever. I don't know if he meant it or was coerced or if he even gives a crap.

One thing that I do know... the ballsiest guy in that movie was Jeff Clark. Or is his story being questioned as well????

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#1718539 - 04/12/11 06:51 PM Re: noll , makaha 69 "The Photo That Does Not Exist" [Re: LogHauler]
ifallalot Offline
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Laird has a giant *****
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#1718540 - 04/12/11 07:29 PM Re: noll , makaha 69 "The Photo That Does Not Exist" [Re: ifallalot]
Bonzer5Fin Offline
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Who cares? Greg Noll is legendary. Not a single one of us would ever have the balls to paddle that board out and take off on a wave half that size. Maybe PPK, but the rest of us, HA!
Pablo Picasso was never called an asshole, but Shaun Tompson was. For good reason.
Sam George, too.
And that other guy.
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#1718541 - 04/12/11 07:33 PM Re: noll , makaha 69 "The Photo That Does Not Exist" [Re: Bonzer5Fin]
CharmingSophisticate Offline
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Quote:

Who cares? Greg Noll is legendary.




There are plenty that have had more skill but none that have had more character.
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#1718542 - 04/12/11 07:38 PM Re: noll , makaha 69 "The Photo That Does Not Exist" [Re: CharmingSophisticate]
ifallalot Offline
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when I have unlimited money I will buy a Greg Noll shaped board from the 60s, preferably a Da Cat

If anyone has ever gone up to Crescent City make a point to go into the Noll family shop. You won't believe some of the boards in the rafters of that place
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#1718543 - 04/12/11 07:51 PM Re: noll , makaha 69 "The Photo That Does Not Exist" [Re: ifallalot]
Gnudz Offline
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Quote:

Last time I read this, it just interested me

This time I can come up with the following conclusion: Shaun Tomson is an asshole; a stink follows him wherever he goes




Why the hate towards Tomson? He claims to be holding back the footage out of deference to Noll. He and his family have always helped out traveling surfers, like when Eddie Aikau couldn't get lodgings in South Africa because of the color of his skin.

As for what these new/old pictures mean, I don't think they'll change much. If you look at the first shot, the wave looks to have a bigger section out in front of him and it extends beyond the frame. I agree with what Treloar said. If Noll says its the biggest wave he's ever ridden, who are we to argue?
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#1718544 - 04/12/11 07:55 PM Re: noll , makaha 69 "The Photo That Does Not Exist" [Re: Gnudz]
ifallalot Offline
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I've only heard bad about him before; that bit about helping Eddie Aikau is awesome, but honestly that's one of the ONLY good things I've ever heard about him. Ask the people who surf Rincon, he's the biggest drop-in snake in the water.

I see that he's holding out the footage in deference to the Nolls, but why the hell is he involved? That's what I'm talking about

But what do I know, I spend too much time on the erBB

Thanks for that info
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#1718545 - 04/12/11 08:25 PM Re: noll , makaha 69 "The Photo That Does Not Exist" [Re: ifallalot]
ElOgro Offline
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The article say's he's involved because the footage was shot by his father and he is now the owner of it.

All arguement about the biggest wave aside, Greg Noll is da man.
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#1718546 - 04/12/11 09:53 PM Re: noll , makaha 69 "The Photo That Does Not Exist" [Re: James -Bummer Jim-Devlin]
mauimatt Offline
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http://forum.surfermag.com/photopost/uploads/60085/new_IFS_build_326.jpg I dont ride longboards but I have a nice collection this is a unrestored 1958 Noll

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#1718547 - 04/12/11 09:54 PM Re: noll , makaha 69 "The Photo That Does Not Exist" [Re: mauimatt]
ifallalot Offline
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that board is awesome! it even has the "movie-man" lam



Edited by ifallalot (04/12/11 09:55 PM)
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