George Greenough: Surfing’s Mad Scientist

George Greenough

Greetings, Shredderz! Today we’ve got an awesome feature on George Greenough, excerpted from John Grissim’s 1982 book “Pure Stoke.” This is easily one of the best surfing profiles / interviews I have ever read. Over the years I had heard so much about Greenough, but mostly second hand; Grissim’s profile is largely built around an in-person visit with Greenough, and the interview quotes alone are worth the price of admission. Grissim paints a portrait of Greenough as a complete waterman, someone who sails from California to Australia with pit stops to surf empty Tahitian lineups, catches a twelve foot tiger shark just for fun, and redefines high performance surfing on his famous self designed spoons, just to quote a handful of anecdotes. And while we all know that Greenough is one of the most interesting people in surfing history, it turns out Grissim is a talented writer who captures George Greenough’s essential spirit with generosity and admiration. Trust me: you need to read this post.

Below I have transcribed the entire “Surfing’s Mad Scientist” chapter from Grissim’s “Pure Stoke.” I haven’t spoken to Grissim or George Greenough, and I hesitate to public publish something that doesn’t belong to me. That said, there is no way to read this piece without purchasing “Pure Stoke”, which is out of print and expensive, and I believe this profile is an essential part of surfing history. It’s too good not to share. (Similarly, see here for an amazing Dick Brewer profile written by Derek Hynd, which I transcribed from a 1990 issue of Surfer Magazine.) I hope you enjoy it half as much as I did.

Surfing’s Mad Scientist

Word and photos by John Grissim

Excerpt from “Pure Stoke”, published in 1982

George Greenough
Greenough with one of his famous spoon designs. Photo by John Grissim

The sun lies low in Rincon’s evening sky, saturating the view from the beach with a glare that all but obscures the surfers in the water. Conditions are typical for this classic California break: three- to four-foot sets, a slight onshore, and textured peeling rights made to order for the resident longboard specialists. Their leisurely cakewalk style contrasts markedly with the disco turns of the shortboard hotties. Yet aside from these differences the sun’s glare prevents the spectators ashore from further identifying who’s who in the line-up — with one notable exception. Out near the Indicator a kneeboarder takes off on an off-size five footer, streaks to the bottom, and disappears in the trough. Two seconds later he reappars high on a long wall, tracking much faster than anything out there, then abruptly drives for the bottom as a section pitches out. In the flat well, away from the white water, the figure leans sharply into a turn, sweeps around the section, accelerating high onto a feathering wall that grows a translucent green in the setting sun. Nearing the lip, he jams hard against the face, shifts to the outside rail, and carves a huge arc, slicing thirty feet off the top of the wave, sending skyward a rainbow rooster tail of spray.

The track on the wave and its rooster tail flourish are the signature of George Greenough, one of the world’s premier watermen, wave explorers, and, in the eyes of many, surfing’s mad scientist. To this latter distinction George might take exception. More likely, he would ignore it since how others regard him is very low on his list of concerns. He’s not mad, of course, nor is he much given to science, at least its fastidious, academic side. Yet to see him in his workshop, barefooted and wearing a sweat shirt, faded Levis, staring intently at the disemboweled movement of a war surplus camera, while surrounded by an enormous range of clutter in the form of machine tools, electrical gadgetry, spare parts, and assorted potentially useful junk gathered over a decade of eclectic browsing; to see his chiseled visage surmounted by a straight, thatched roof of blond neck-length hair that has the perennial appearance of having been trimmed with garden shears; to listen ot him excitedly discuss two new inventions while he tinkers with another beneath a bare 200-watt bulb, one can easily understand from whence the mad scientist reputation springs.

Not coincidentally George is one of the best and most respected surfers in the world; this despite the fact that he is low profile to the point of being elusive, has never entered a surfing contest, is never seen at big-time, crowded public surf spots like Pipeline, and doesn’t ride surfboards. He doesn’t cultivate mystique; rather, he’s simply not interested in anything that distracts him form a pursuit of the direct experience of water and waves. At the same time he is a heavyweight who is on the free list of companies producing graphite, skateboards, aerospace-age foam, flippers, and God knows what else. The O’Neill wetsuit folks up in Santa Cruz love him not only because his endorsement of the O’Neill line is worth plenty but because, I suspect, George’s go-it-alone, tinkerer, sailor, nonmaterialist lifestyle appeals to Jack O’Neill’s sensibilities. George is not a member of Team O’Neill. He is his own team, sui generis, and, as one may gather, eccentric in interesting ways.

Greenough’s stellar status in the surfing world derives from his pioneer experimentation with the dynamics of boards, fins, and foils, the results of which went a long way in advancing the development of modern surfboard design. His understanding — and early preference for — kneeboarding led him to design and build his own surfcraft, known as spoons. These short, lightweight, dished-out kneeboards with their flexible bottom configurations and high-aspect fins enable George to crank out awesome performances on the most powerful waves. His ability, which puts him in the ranks of the ten all-time great surfers, is ideally suited to his interest in in-the-water film work and led to his making The Innermost Limits of Pure Fun. That film, and specifically the end section titled “The Coming of the Dawn”, provided viewers with the first look at wave riding from a surfer’s in-the-tube perspective. In the early 70s, George came up with even more spectacular footage for a segment titled “Echoes” which concluded Crystal Voyager, a documentary about him made by Aussie filmmakers Albert Falzon and David Elfick. In addition to these achievements George also built his own fiberglass 37-foot ketch with a Greenough designed and fabricated centerboard keel; equipped it with an efficient homemade wind generator; and sailed to Australia, enroute spending nearly a year surfing unpopulated breaks in Tahitian waters. In and around these activities, Greenough has probably surfed more, sailed further, and caught more fish (including huge sharks) than anyone else in surf-dom. He is a walking whole-ocean catalog, a do-it-yourself master, a total waterman, a fish out of water, and an amiable loner.

To visit George is to be pulled into a world one doesn’t find elsewhere. There is a sense of immediacy, of intensity in everything that occupies his attention — and it’s all threshold stuff. Take design, for example:

“One of the problems I think professional surfers have is they don’t seem to know a whole lot about board design. I see mismatches of boards and fins that to me are pretty obvious and I can see it in the person’s surfing. I mean they’re all good boards but the surfers will feel shortcomings and not be sure how to correct them. The fin may be a little too big or the foil not quite right. Like one year at the Coke contest I looked at the board used by Mark Warren, who’s a good friend. I told him it looked like he didn’t have a very good fin on the board and described what the board did wrong in the water. The foil wasn’t right. And he said, ‘Yeah, it does exactly that.’ See, it’s like setting up a race car. You can have it understeer or oversteer or be neutral. If a board understeers a bit, it’ll tend to run too low on the wave. If it oversteers, it’ll tend to climb up the wave. There’s a lot to it, like the positioning of the fin. I can notice plus or minus an eighth of an inch in the placement of the fin in the finbox of my spoons. A quarter of an inch is definitely noticeable.”

George’s discourse on design — an eighth of an inch, for God’s sake — was delivered at the kitchen table of his parents’ home in the woodsy wealthy foothills of Santa Barbara. The house is traditional Spanish two-story white stucco topped with a red tile roof and an inner courtyard. The two Mercedes parked in an adjacent garage fit nicely with the picture of low-key affluence; however, George’s own transportation is more likely to be a used Highway Patrol car picked up at an auction. Similarly, he lives in a comparatively spartan housekeeper’s quarters next to the kitchen and a perpetually cluttered workshop, both of which are his home when he’s not living abroad in his boat or on his coastal ranch in Australia’s New South Wales. While it is likely George has always had access to money, one gets the impression that he has earned his own, paid his own way, and lived a simple life devoid of chrome-plated possessions and installment-plan acquisitions. One sense, too, that Greenough’s adult persona, and his passion for the surfer and the sea, had fully developed before he’d reached his twenties; that a clear-eyed focus on objectives left him unscathed by the insecurities and vicissitudes of youth. By his own admission he was never a scholar, yet his high school shop teacher doubtless noticed in him a certain genius for resource, the same that today enables him to turn a turkey roaster into a curing oven for graphite foils or get a 35mm movie camera into the tube.

For a while after high school he made a decent living as a lobster fisherman, working a string of pots along the Santa Barbara boast — and surfing the breaks of the once uncrowded Hollister Ranch. Then in 1965, acting on tales of the perfect breaks of Australia’s semitropical Queensland, Greenough flew to Brisbane. One can imagine what baffled airport customs officials thought of this blond, barefooted (George is always barefooted) twenty four year old wearing a flasher trench coat, the inner lining of which contained several tiers of pockets carrying cameras and lenses. Two weeks later George had met Bob McTavish and was blowing minds with spectacular rides at Noosa Head — and imparting fresh ideas on board design that led to the shortboard revolution chronicled earlier in these pages.

“As for the spoon,” George recalls, “The board I had then was a four-eleven as compared to the six footers the kneeboards there were riding. But then, even today virtually nobody rides a spoon. They’re too much hassle to make. None of the surf shops will make them. They’re hard to paddle. They float about as well as a swim fin. Lose your spoon and it takes about ten seconds for its six ounces of positive buoyancy to bring it to the surface. And you need at least a four-foot wave to get it going.”

Australia became a second home for Greenough, who returned for several months each year thereafter to surf and refine his in-the-water camera techniques. By 1966 he had developed a flexible hull for his spoons. By 1970 he had perfected the high-aspect, laminar-flow fin, a development which made him literally the fastest man in the water. The key lay in constructing a fin which could harness the wave’s energy without generating drag-inducing turbulence along the trailing edge fo the fin as it moved through the water. George explains:

“Laminar flow basically is over a very narrow range. Water only goes back an inch and a quarter or so over a fin before breaking into turbulent flow. So the fin must be very narrow. Look at any high-performance fish and you’ll see my fin is basically the same — it’s the same plan and foil shape as a large tuna. And tuna are the Ferrari of fishes. Look at any of the high-performance fish such as marlin, swordfish, and tuna, and you’ll notice their tail is very narrow and quite high. With that kind of fin by the time the turbulence shows up in the water the fin has already left it behind. Hence no turbulence to affect performance.”

George spent thousands of hours experimenting. Often he would tie a screwdriver and several prototype fins to a surf matt which he would anchor to the kelp outside the surf break, enabling him to make quick fin changes during a session. The objective, naturally, was the enhancement of pure stoke:

“I was reaching for the feeling of speed, especially the high speed turn. I really get a rush off that. There’s nothing I like better than just flattening it, just putting your foot to the floor and leaving it there. Sometimes I don’t cut back until I’m fifty feet ahead of the curl. I may penetrate fifteen feet behind the white water, then I’ll come off a really hard, carving bottom turn. Friends of mine who are contest surfers will say, ‘God, that was a forty-foot-diameter cutback at a really high rate of speed. How would that do in a contest?’ And I’d answer, ‘Probably shitty.’ Because you could do maybe three shorter turns in the same time, which is what he judges look for. Then, too, to make that turn you’d have to double your speed.”

How does it feel to be on a spoon and to take the drop on a huge face and to pull into a cavernous tube?

“You can’t describe it,” George replies. “You’d have to look at some of the footage.”

That footage is the extraordinary film George shot in Australia during the late 60s for his Innermost Limits of Pure Fun, a surfing feature that he exhibited himself on the circuit. The final nine minutes (“The Coming of the Dawn”) consists solely of slow motion, over-the-shoulder views of Greenough’s tube rides that boggled theater audiences on three continents.

In 1971, Greenough shot another sequence of rides, this time using a high-speed 16mm camera mounted on specially designed brackets on front of his spoon. The parameters of the situation were ridiculously far-fetched, outrageous in fact: the board was less than five feet long, weighed under five pounds; the camera weighed a whopping twenty-three pounds; and the wave he tackled was a big, clean cranking classic Aussie monster:

“It was the biggest day of the year and I was the only one out. I couldn’t judge the size from outside but I know you could have stood up inside the tube and put your hands over your head and you wouldn’t come near to touching the top. It was big, extremely large inside. You don’t get many waves like that in your life. It was just one of those luckout days when Mother Nature smiles. I ran three minutes worth of film on that particular wave, turning the camera on only when it looked like I was gonna get tubed. The great thing was the camera went through the tube as if it were on a dolly. No distractions or jerks. The only maneuvers were when I shifted position slightly in relation to the energy inside.”

George was not surprised when the camera showed how much time slows down inside: “With Innermost Limits, I’d look at the film counter after a tube ride and say, ‘Shit, that tube seemed a lot longer than that,’ and that was with a camera running three times faster than normal. It’s true that in surfing the faster you go the more everything slows down. With ‘Echoes’ I used cameras that shot up to 300 frames per second so audiences could begin to see the wave as I saw it. Even so there were surfers who thought the tubes in Innermost were shot at normal speed even though the footage was seven or eight times slower.”

George Greenough
Alby Fazon filming George Greenough for Crystal Voyager. Photo by David Elfick

The results were spectacular; a 23-minute sequence called “Echoes” (after a sound track of the same name from a Pink Floyd album) that carries the viewer beyond the level of hoot and into a sublime realm that is spiritual as well as ecstatic. One slow-motion tube ride alone lasts a total of 55 seconds. “Echoes” was a natural end-piece to the feature documentary about Greenough that Aussie filmmakers Alby Falzon and David Elfick shot in 1972. Believing that their film Crystal Voyager had potential beyond the 16mm surfing movie circuit, the pair had several prints enlarged to 35mm and arranged for distribution in Australia, England, and several venues on the Continent. Debuting in the winter months of 1974 at the Odeon Theatre in London’s West End, Crystal Voyager became an instant cult hit which in a matter of weeks broke the theater’s previous box office record. The film’s essential attraction, aside from Echoes, seemed to be its sensual atmosphere of blue California water, waves, and sunshine, and the Endless Summer audience personified by surfer-nomad Greenough and his home built ketch Early Morning Light. That feeling, which was a tonic to Londoners seeking vicarious escape from a dreary winter, compensated for one of the film’s shortcomings — the absence of George actually speaking on camera.

The reason for that omission is that during production George flat out refused on-camera, sound-synch interviews. Alby and David, who were already committed to the film, were obliged to make do with voice-overs from taped conversations. Greenough’s demur may have been due merely to shyness; however, the filmmakers, sensing disaster if they pushed the issue, found themselves indulging in a gentle deceit: they never directly acknowledged in front of George that they were making a documentary about George, while for his part George always spoke of “this documentary we’re making.” This odd (and amusing) minuet, which I observed during a visit to Santa Barbara during the filming, suggested a clue to Greenough’s character: he limits access to his life rather more carefully, and subtlely, than would first appear. Thus, while he will talk your ears off about surfing, fishing, and all things cinematic, there is something in his demeanor that discourages any deeper questions about his personal life. Accordingly, when I visited him for a profile interview, I was careful to say I wanted to talk mostly about board design (which in fact we did). My host not only obliged, but threw in dinner, wine, and some great sea movies.

Crystal Voyager enjoyed modest success as a film, helping launch David Elfick on a path which has led him to become one of Australia’s most creative and successful film producers. Similarly, Alby Falzon continued his excellent work in film documentaries, commercials, and graphic design projects, while George sold the commercial rights to the footage from” Echoes”, receiving enough money to buy a ranch in northern New South Wales. The properly, of course, was close to the ocean, a place from which George rarely wanders. Chronic wave fever again:

“A while ago in Australia, David asked me to work on one of his feature films which took me about a hundred miles inland. After five days I was climbing up the walls. It was too far from the water. Then a few months ago Alby called and invited me to film a documentary with him in India. It would be two weeks work at two thousand dollars a week. I thanked him but turned the offer down. I said I couldn’t handle it — too far away from the surf — I mean I can go without surf for a few days. Like yesterday I had a surf and so today I can get on with other projects, like this camera. I can start at eight and work until five without thinking of surf.”

Alby Falzon, ever the world traveler, once called Geoge from Tel Aviv with a lucrative offer to help engineer the light and sound system for a plush new night club whose owner was a friend of his.

“Where are you calling from?” George asked.

“Israel,” Alby replied.

“Where’s Israel?”

The caller described a location at the east end of the Mediterranean.

“Has it got any surf?” George asked.

“No, nothing regular to speak of,” came the reply.

“Well, then I don’t want to go,” George answered.

Falzon, to be sure, understood completely, having promised himself a month’s surfing in Bali at the conclusion of his work in Israel.

Greenough’s seeming ignorance of geography should not be taken at face value for he successfully navigated his ketch across the Pacific using a plastic sextant with lousy optics. When the balky lens system prevented him from seeing the horizon after dusk, he simply removed the scope from the sextant and sighted with the naked eye.

“You’d rotate the mirror to bring a star down to the horizon where you’d match it up with the other eye that was looking to the horizon. A navy friend said that was impossible but it worked. After we cracked the stars, I could go out at two in the morning, hit three stars, bang, bang, bang, and go below and, bang, get a perfect fix every time, even with low overcast.”

When I ask George if there were any scary moments during the eighteen-month trip to Australia, the reply was a simple no. The same native ingenuity pertains to his occasional forays off the Australian coast to harvest the sea, yet in these instances getting scared comes with the territory. He loves telling stories of what he calls “big hookups.”

“A few months back in Australia I needed some fertilizer for the four fruit trees I was going to plant on the ranch. I said to an English friend, ‘Let’s get a big shark and bury it.’ If you want to feel a big rush there’s nothing like going out a few miles in an eleven-and-a-half-foot wooden skiff with a small outboard motor and getting a big hookup. By this I don’t mean to treat sharks lightly. In fact they’re nothing to screw around with. So early one Sunday morning we went out about four and a half miles, dropped anchor, and baited a large hook with a ten-pound kingfish. Anything big that bleeds will do for shark bait. The hook was attached to ten feet of one-sixteenth-inch wire cable leader connected to two-hundred-and-fifty-pound test monofilament line. We had a big spool of five hundred yards of the stuff. After we put out the line we sat back and waited.

“Less than an hour later the spool suddenly started going Reeeeee as something very big took the bait. The adrenaline really started pumping. We quickly pulled up the anchor and for the next hour and a half this huge battle took place. After paying out several hundred yards of line we let the shark tow our boat all over the lot until it got pretty tired. At that point I pulled the boat up to it as it swam along slowly until we were right over it. Then I slowly began raising it to the surface.

“The water was very came and as it came into view my friend said, ‘Gee it looks like about eight feet long,’ thinking the shark was only about ten feet down. It was closer to thirty feet down and I said, ‘It’s a lot bi-i-gger than th-a-at!’ It was a huge tiger shark, a good twelve feet long and really big around the middle. And it kept getting bigger as we pulled it up.

“Finally I had the wire leader in my hands and I told my friend to get the power head ready. Mine is a pole, about six feet long with a twelve-gauge shotgun load on the end that fires when you push it against the target–very effective for serious fish. By now, the shark is two feet under the boat with its head even with the bow and its tail sticking out well behind the stern and my friend is starting to really freak out. And I’m saying ‘Okay, you gotta be very careful to get it with the power head directly between the eyes. Otherwise the shark will go berserk. Hit it wrong and it’ll really thrash around, break the line, and even capsize the boat. It’ll go into a frenzy.’ That’s true, too. I’ve had a lot of battles out there and probably taken ten or fifteen sharks this size, so it’s no novelty thing.

“Well, by this time my friend just couldn’t do it. So I just grabbed the power head from him and went BANG — just put the fish away. Afterwards we put it on a drop line about two hundred yards behind the boat and towed it at trolling speed. We got back around three in the afternoon and paid out the spool line while we took the boat in through the surf. Once on the beach I started reeling in the line which attracted a crowd of tourists. Now the shark was technically dead but it was still thrashing around as we pulled it into the surf. They’re really hard to kill so it was probably only 50 percent dead. As soon as its shadow appeared through the breaking waves, every swimmer for a mile in either direction ran out of the water. We finally got it up on the beach with the help of six men pulling on a thick rope. It measured twelve feet, four inches long and six feet around the gut. I don’t know how much it weighed but after we cut out the jaws, we wound burying about two thirds of the carcass on the beach, using wheelbarrows and such.”

Not surprisingly, Greenough’s reputation as a shark catcher has attracted the interest of Australian network television executives who at this writing are considering sending a film team out to document his next epic hookup. Should the project come to pass, it will mark yet another instance where George appears almost effortlessly to come upon ways to underwrite his adventures. An important factor in his success would appear to be the sheer gusto of his commitment to ocean play, one that translates well to film.

Then, too, Greenough takes a secret pleasure in being able to go out in the most horrendous conditions at usually overcrowded breaks and thoroughly enjoy himself. Thus, for example, while California’s surfing population is indoors waiting out a torrential winter storm, Greenough will be outdoors ripping the waves apart in ways no one else dreamed of. Sometimes he’ll even take along a fellow test pilot such as his friend Paul Gross, a former editor of Surfer magazine and a recent convert to surfing with a spoon. George recalls one such encounter:

“Paul and I went out to Rincon during the middle of a raging southeast storm — pouring rain, onshore gale winds, and chop that Paul estimated was a foot high. Nobody was out. It was full-on animal conditions. Now, Paul was just learning to use his spoon and he didn’t want to start off on a really big wave. So he paddled out through a huge rip and picked off a pretty big eight footer and screamed down the face bouncing bang, bang, off cement-hard, one foot chop. Suddenly he hears this loud pop as the U-shaped front of his board cracks. On the next chop he hears this terrible tearing sound as the board begins to rip apart along the center toward him. On the next piece of chop there’s an explosion as the whole left-hand side of the board breaks off and flies away But he’s still riding the wave. At that point, the left rail dug into the water and rolled the board over, sending Paul into a full-on vertical death dive. He went into a horrible wipeout, was driven down, and smashed against the bottom before he finally clawed his way to the surface. The board was gone. Finally a jagged piece drifted to the surface. An hour later I found the rest on the beach. We did an autopsy on the board like they do on crashed airplanes and figured out that it wasn’t the fault of the graphite material. The board has disintegrated in flight because of a design flaw.”

For the record, several times during that same session George caught a wave “around the corner,” taking off on the other side of an outside peak as it was pitching out, screamed around the section to the normal take-off point, then worked the wave all the way to the seawall well inside the cove. Rincon veterans may surf there for years and never once pull that ride off. But then very few people would even think about going out in choppy surf. Not so Greenough, who rates wave textures like grades of sandpaper (the lower the number the rougher the grit): “I like a wave with a little bit of texture on it. And those ugly, bumpy, thirty-six grit days at Rincon will eliminate about 95 percent of the guys right away. On sixteen-grit days, Paul and I will be the only ones out.”

Does this indicate that he had made a breakthrough to some secret about surfing chop? George refused to say, but I sensed that if he had, he could rest secure, knowing that a state-of-the-art graphite spoon and a lot of experience were prerequisites for admission. Consider just once facet of that experience, the ability to increase speed on a wave. Greenough is less reticent here:

“It depends on the wave. With some waves the power is on the fall line. That is, a lot of it is high and aiming down. Other waves you work off the bottom, depending on a great deal on the location of rocks. If there’s a reef and a suck-out, you can jam against the out-to-sea moving suck and generate a lot of increased velocity. It’s like getting a puff of wind with a sailboat. Like I might pick off some energy that way and then ten feet down there’s a boulder the size of a TV set and it’s creating a shallow spot so that the water’s running over that bump faster than in the surrounding area. I’ll hit that shallow spot and my board will pick up 20 percent more speed. But there’s lots of variables. How fast you’re going into that bump, what’s your next target after that, is there a forty-foot section you’ve got to jump or are you going to gun it out into the flat. But I love to punch it. It’s like a Corvette with a four twenty-seven. I like to hit it in the guts and feel the thing jump, right in that suck-out. Right there. That’s where I like it.”

There is something about listening to George rattling off sea stories and sharing his knowledge of surf esoterica that satisfies more than his listener’s curiosity. For in being the person he is, and in living the life he has, George Greenough validates the true spirit of surfing. He gives surfing the dignity it deserves, one that so often has been denied the pastime by a condescending and short-sighted public. One can hear the land-locked and lubberly laughing derisively at the mere mention of “the stoked life” — and in truth the phrase does carry the ring of self-parody. But consider the richness of the life of one who sails and surf the virgin breaks of Tahiti, who travels the world over, and lives a full life of personal achievement and peace of mind. Greenough may not know where Israel is (Was he putting Alby on?) but he’s not to be dismissed as some kind of noble savage or merely the eccentric offspring of a wealth Santa Barbara family. Rather, he shares much in common with the subculture of visionary California surfers in the immediate post-World War II years, young men whose art was not manifested on paper or canvas, but instead on waves and in the way they lived their lives.

George’s singular lifestyle is characterized by movement from project to project, with an absorption and lack of self-awareness that is in some ways innocent but certainly refreshing in a world where sophistication is often little more than a patina of cynicism. Consider that in the months following my visit with him, Greenough completed work on sensational in-the-tube footage shots with a 35mm camera and a special lens that will allow distortion-free projection on a huge curved screen; he returned to Australia to begin building a pyramid-shaped home of his own design; and he discovered board sailing and has already launched into the design and construction of high-performance graphite hulls. He also turned forty at the end of 1981 — and looks ten years younger. Not bad for a mad scientist.

And if there’s a single strand of purpose that unifies George Greenough’s life, that provides an insight to his character, it resides in his love of the water and his need for a kind of majestic solitude:

“I tend to go where the most energy is,” he remarked as we were finishing supper. “I look for the spot with the most power and the least number of people. I don’t care about shape. And bumps aren’t going to worry me. See, my advantages are a vast amount of surfing experience, and not liking crowds from the very beginning — starting in 1960 — and consequently spending a great deal of time surfing on my own, and usually in Class-B spots. So I know a lot about working unusual waves, even Class-D waves, and having fun. That’s what it all is — I want to go out and have fun, not be seen on class-A waves.”

He paused a moment, then grinned. “If there’s a good twenty-five mile an hour wind roaring down the beach at Rincon tomorrow, I’ll be stoked.”

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