following article on Merv Larson, the father of the American
Waveski, was taken from the May 1970 issue of Surfer Magazine
published by John Severson. Interestingly, the author did not
(AND WITH ALL HIS RIBS INTACT)
Someone must be chosen to carry on the species, to approach
the future fearlessly and without reluctance. Someone who epitomizes
the best of the Old World, yet can handle the challenges of
the New. Some One to wait out the centuries after Cataclysm,
frozen in SURFER’s time capsule, only to step out in some
far-off, windy eon, shake off the shackles of slumber, and start
out anew, carving up the new wilderness/ And who is better equipped
to carry on the banner of surfing into time immemorial than
Merv Larson? Who?
and gentlemen...in our audience tonight we have a man you all
have heard about...a truly great American...a credit to his
community...let’s have a big hand four special guest tonight...stand
up and take a bow, Superman.”
can see for yourself when Rincon’s breaking good, or Secos
and Huntington when they’re on. He works out through the
lineup on his butt, sitting on a foam cushion, buckled into
his seat belt, working a double-ended paddle, with his feet
stuck out in front of him and fastened into stirrups of his
surf ski. If you paddle up to him and ask him what kind of a
board that is, chances are he won’t answer you. Not because
he’s uptight. Because he doesn’t hear you. For within
the plastic shell of his helmet, Joe Cocker is wailing through
“Hitchcock Railway.” And when he’s listening
to “Hitchcock Railway,” Merv Larson ain’t
pickin’ up nothin’ else.
Larson is a lifeguard. He’s been doing it for fifteen
years, since he was fourteen. He likes it. Spends his life in
his Ford Vanette, a large mobile unit that he has outfitted
to suit the needs of himself and his German Shepard, Dingo.
At present, Merv is stationed at the Leo Carillo State Beach
Ranger Office, right where Mulholland hits the Coast Highway
near Secos. He has attained the ranking of Lifeguard Supervisor.
Larson is no less amazed than you are that you haven’t
heard of him. “I’ve been doing these things on the
surf ski for four years, and all of the sudden everybody is
beginning to notice.” These things? What Merv Larson does
on his surf ski is as visually exciting, maybe even more so,
than what Greenough is doing on his kneeboard, or the top conventional
surfers on their surfboards. You might say that Nat Young and
Jock Sutherland probe the outer limits of performance on their
feet. Greenough does it on his knees. And Merv Larson? He does
it on his ass.
to take anything away from it either, because for high-performance
wave riding, nothing can quite top the ass as a good place to
sit while riding a surf ski. In fact, says Merv, “In three
years, I’ve never had to swim. Some people are afraid
of these things because you’re strapped in, but the effect
of a wipeout is a lot less than it would be on a surfboard.”
says Merv, “is wetter than surfing; once you’re
on a wave you become a lot more involved. Actually it’s
a cross between mat riding, belly boarding and surfing. The
only thing the ski can’t do as effectively as any of these
is to change directions as quickly in some instances.”
Still, the ski (at least as operated by Mr. Larson) can make
turns of sufficient intensity to boggle your mind.
the aid of a double-ended paddle, Merv can get into waves early,
gain extra acceleration with the aid of the paddle, and come
into his bottom turn with more G’s working than anybody
else in the water. The ski is finless, so turning becomes a
matter of masterful use of the paddle combined with clean edge
control. Merv’s ski is all edge in the rear and it works.
The closest thing to Merv bottom turning is Reno Abellira on
his best day: low, deep and with ruler-straight water flow off
the bottom of the board because of the high speed/high G combination.
ski then draws a line straight out of the pocket to the shoulder.
Here Larson throws paddle and edge back into action, brings
the ski screaming back around (shades of Nat) and charges back
at the tube, banks of the underside of the lip (Billy Hamilton?)
, comes over with the crashing tube (much like Greenough), then
drives out from under the white water, even when the wave seems
impossibly far ahead of him, picking up speed in the flat out
in front of the turbulence, (ala Joey Cabell) which brings him
back up into the pocket (Jock Sutherland). And all without exaggeration,
dear reader (is it any wonder Merv Larson is the sole passenger
about SURFER’s Time Capsule???) Without exaggeration.
thing that’s going to eventually make it for skis, “
Larson says, “will be the man-made wave. Then this’ll
turn into more of an acrobatic act. You see, all these things
that I’m doing were invented three or four years ago:
tumble turns, one-eight turns, Eskimo rolls.” Eskimo rolls?
(Could have sworn that was Eskimo Pies...)
Eskimo roll is one of the amazing things that Merv Larson does
in very critical wave-riding situations: “It’s done
at the top of the wave so that speed is minimized and my sinuses
don’t get filled with water. It’s not actually riding
inside the tube; it’s letting the wave roll you over.”
The result is freaky: Merv jamming off the bottom, blasting
the lip (Brad McCaul), the lip comes over, Merv goes upside
down, the tube collapses, squirts and spits Merv out the end.
Conventional board riders tear out their hair. All quite simple.
surf skiing started with the Australians, but they never thought
of the seat belt bit, so they were always getting blasted off
their skis and seldom made it out as far as the lineup. The
seat belt was Merv’s idea, and is now used on all California
surf skis. As far as we know, Australians are still getting
blasted off theirs.
of the hang-ups with surf skis is that paddling back out to
the lineup is super fast. This causes trouble with prototype
artisans: “Five skis would fill Rincon on a good day,”
Merv laments. “It’s hard for ski riders to exist
where there is a heavy surfing population. If a skier isn’t
careful, he rides too much and guys get hostile. You have to
hold yourself back and let the surfers ride their share of waves.”
is also very concerned about preserving his amateur standing
as a waterman. He shuns commercialism, professionalism, and
all other dank corners of sell-out in order to maintain his
amateur standing so he can compete in the Olympics in the K1
and K4 Kayak Flat Water competitions. The Olympics is as important
to him as anything in life.
Merv Larson considers his own greatest contributions to the
Twentieth Century Living to be his sound system. The one that
makes it impossible for you to get his attention in the water.
He carries a small waterproof pack with a super-quality transistor
radio encased, runs a plastic tube into each ear pocket of the
helmet with special ear insertion mechanism, and the rest of
the world is replaced by Joe Cocker in his finest hours.
the music,” says Merv, “is so fine. Like last week
at Rincon. It was small; there was a heavy crowd, and a lot
of people were unhappy. But I had my music on, and it was running
right, and everything else was separate from me. I even got
hit twice with the other guys’ boards and didn’t
mind. The secret is to eliminate all outside sound. It’s
not just enough to have the music. You have to have only the
music. Then everything is fine. Except when you roll a wave
and the sound turns into a static fuzz while you’re under
water. Then it’s back onto music when you come up.”
is especially exciting about Merv Larson is that he is a man
alone in a world of tension, strife, conflict and chaos. What
is especially exciting is that he has created his own place
in that world, both within himself and within his environment.
In fact, he has produced his own environment. One in which he
can operate free from hassles. One in which his independence
is the most important thing. That’s why, when you see
him at Rincon on a good day, flowing with it all, you shouldn’t
get uptight if he doesn’t respond to you. You are simply
not part of his environment. You are not part of his life until
he wants you to be. What better man to survive the perils of
the Time Capsule? The perils of life in a New World.
Merv Larson still lives in the Ventura area with his wife. He
works for the Harbor Patrol and still surfs regularly at Rincon,
California Street and elsewhere. Presently, Merv is not building
waveskis but he says, “just because I’m not building
skis doesn’t mean I’m not thinking up new ideas
for them.” When asked if he will ever build skis again
his reply was, “Oh yeah.”