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Surfing Walk of Fame honors sport’s greats

At a young age, it was clear Brett Simpson was an athlete with rare talent.

Sure, Simpson excelled at traditional ball sports, and as the son of NFL great Bill Simpson, it was expected he would follow in his father’s footsteps. But there was something special about surfing that lured him to the ocean.

“I was intrigued by how difficult surfing is,” Simpson said. “I was playing a lot of ball sports. It was going well, but I ended up falling in love with surfing.”



Simpson — a two-time US Open of Surfing winner who helped coach Team USA to a gold medal at the sport’s debut in the Olympics last year — was honored as this year’s Surfing Walk of Fame “Surf Champion.” It’s a major accolade for Huntington Beach’s hometown hero who has made waves in the elite competitive circuit and beyond.

Simpson now has his own granite stone on Main Street in front of Jack’s Surfboards, along with several more Surfing Walk of Fame inductees acknowledged during an event on Thursday, Aug. 4.

During the annual induction ceremony, Lance Carson was recognized as “Surfing Pioneer,” music band Honk earned the “Surf Culture” award, and Australian Jodie Cooper was honored as “Woman of the Year.” The “Local Hero” distinction went to Bruce Gabrielson, and Al Hunt earned an honor roll award.

Now in its 29th year, the Surfing Walk of Fame is a special part of Huntington Beach’s surf culture.

Mayor Barbara Delgleize quoted 11-time world champion Kelly Slater, who has his own spot in the Surfing Walk of Fame: “Surfing, it’s like the mafia. Once you’re in, you cannot get out,” she recounted Slater once saying. “It’s kind of like this installation today. You’re in the Walk of Fame, and there’s no getting out.”

Peter “PT” Townend, surfing’s first world champion, introduced fellow Australian Hunt, who for decades has worked behind the scenes as “the sport’s most prolific statistician and number cruncher,” a pamphlet at the event described.

Hunt started out as a judge and later became the go-to person to tabulate and count the points to crown world champions through the years.

Hunt marveled at how he’s seen Huntington Beach change over the 50 years coming to the surf town, where he’s seen the “good, bad, and ugly.”

“But now look at the place. It’s amazing,” he said.

Surf legend and Orange County Register columnist Corky Carroll introduced Honk, recalling watching the band when it was first starting out, playing gigs in Laguna Beach.

Its popularity skyrocketed when hired by MacGillivray-Freeman Films to do the soundtrack for the surf film “Five Summer Stories” in 1972.

“After that, they just blew up,” Carroll said. “Their history, surf culture, and music culture — they are the A-team for Orange County musicians, and they still are today.”

Musician Steve Wood, speaking on behalf of the band, talked about how “stoked” they all were for the award. Wood grew up in Newport Beach, riding waves all day at 36th Street and hanging out at surf shops.

“Everything was about surfing,” he said. “Eventually, I got into music and found my second passion. … We happened to stumble into this thing.”

The sport was about capturing the spirit of the time, including the changes in surfing as it moved from the more traditional longboarding to shortboarding, he said.

“We just made the music that moved us,” said Wood.

Cooper sent in a video from Australia, where she’s on a “bucket list” two-month road trip, sending her appreciation for the award.

“I’ve always had a really soft spot for Huntington Beach,” she said.

Townend noted Cooper won her first major event in Huntington Beach in the ’80s at the OP Pro. She went on to show her prowess in big, barreling Hawaiian waves well into the ’90s.

“She was very outspoken about how she didn’t want to be the best female, just the best surfer,” Townend said.

“Surfing Pioneer” Carson, one of the early progressive surfers in the ’50s, was not only a stylish surfer but went on to craft surfboards — which he still does to this day.

“Local Hero” Gabrielson has been a fixture in the surf town since the ’60s. He learned surfboard shaping skills from Dale Velzy, a South Bay icon and was later elected president of the Huntington Beach Surfing Association.

Gabrielson was also the founder of Edison High School’s surf club and went on to found and coach the Huntington Beach High School Surf team, the first U.S. high school to formally recognize surfing as a varsity sport. He was the co-founder, coach, and captain of the California State University Long Beach Surf Club.

Simpson was last to take the stage Thursday, talking about how he was drawn to the sport because of its individualistic nature — but now understands it’s more of a team sport.

“Looking back, you have to have such a big support crew around you. It’s pretty much your team,” said Simpson, who thanked everyone from his family, coaches, and fellow surfers who pushed him along the way. “I feel like this day is more for everyone who supported me, too. … It’s not necessarily just personal. It’s a community thing.”

Source: Orange County Register

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