5 Summer Stories Insight -
The True Story Behind the 1971 US Surfboard Championships
Bruce "Snake" Gabrielson
Updated July - 2017
Having watched the way the controversy surrounding the finals of the 1971 US Surfboard Championships is described in the film 5 Summer Stories, I've decided to set the record, and history for that matter, straight on what actually took place while there are still some of us around who lived it.
The producers of the movie did not tell the whole story about the controversy, perhaps because they didn't really know what happened or perhaps it would have detracted from the point of view they presented in the film. The film indicates that Corkey Carroll received an unfair decision at the contest, which is likely true. I didn't even know the whole story until recently. I've spoken to Corky many times over the years but since this was a sore subject, we really didn't get into the details.
Here is what took place and who did what, as well as the background surrounding it from both my perspective as the contest director and also what happened from Corky's perspective.
In 1970, the United States Surfing Association (USSA) was faced with a number of complaints and problems associated with competitions during those years. As is still a fairly common occurrence, contests were often plagued by very small and inconsistent surf, particularly late in the afternoon when the wind came up and blew into trash what little surf there was for the finals. Another serious problem was the emergence of the shortboard. We didn't have separate competition classes back then, so in super mushy or small surf, longboards were often the only board that could catch waves consistently. Finally, competitions themselves were limited by short time periods for final heats making catching waves more important in finishing high in a heat then the actual ability of the competitor.
Under these conditions, a new problem arose related to wave interference and wave hopping. Wave interferences takes place when a surfer on the inside is cut off by another surfer dropping in from the outside, and wave hopping takes place when a surfer sitting outside paddles around the inside surfer so as to prevent that surfer from getting the wave. I'm sure every shortboard surfer knows exactly what that means, particularly when there is a longboarder sitting outside of you on an inconsistent day.
Because of all the complaints at contests, the USSA, under the leadership of Dr. Robert Scott, resolved to create a set of contest rules that would reduce the effect of combined shortboard and longboard heats as well as set guidelines for how to control interference problems. I should point out that prior to that time there really wasn't a printed rulebook for contest available.
Kevin Summeral was the WSA President at the time and I was both the District 5 (Orange County) WSA Director and the Director of the US Championships in Huntington Beach. Dr. Scott put me in charge of the new USSA Rules Committee, a committee that included USSA Officers, WSA Officers and competition directors from various WSA Districts. We had many discussions and votes during development of this first rule set.
At the end of the 1970 competition year, first the committee and then the USSA voted on and passed a formal set of rules that included two significant components:
The second rule was the most critical in that it addressed both inconsistent surf problems and the surfer who won by catching more waves, not just surfing ability. This also countered the actions by a surfer tried to prevent other heat members from catching any waves through wave hopping. The idea was that a competitor could paddle around from the outside on a longboard the entire heat but he/she couldn't win by just getting a full count of waves. We hoped it would put the emphasis back on surfing ability rather then paddling ability.
This rule was used extensively the entire 1971 competition season in district contests, particularly in District 5, but wasn't needed at any 4A events simply because they were always scheduled and held in reasonable surf. However, a big production event like the US Championships had a set schedule that couldn't be adjusted for wave conditions and it was a prime candidate for the rulebook's application.
Now for what happened at the contest. We had another judging rule that stated a surfer could only score on 5 waves of their best 7 waves during their heat. Any additional waves caught would automatically be counted as one of the scoring waves. As you can guess, when the heat should have ended, only Corkey had the maximum number of 7 waves, but the other surfers did not meet the minimum wave count. Therefore, after checking with the judges and according to the rules, the time limit was extended for the other surfers. The horn did not sound to end the heat, no red flag was put up, and no announcement ending the heat was made. Corky rightfully returned to the beach after the regular time, but for some reason was told by the beach coordinator, Kevin Summeral, that he could paddle out during the heat extension and catch more waves without a penalty. Keving told him that the heat wasn't over and he could catch an unlimited number of waves. Kevin was not authorized to tell Corky this. Since the surf was small, Corky paddled out and only stood up on a smallwave as he came in to the beach at the end of the heat. It should not have been scored but unknown to me it was because he already had his maximum wave count. During the short extended time period, three of the other heat members, there were 6 in the heat, caught enough waves to be scored.
When Corkey paddled back in he went to Kevin first, who had absolutely no input into the extension decision and the number of waves to be scored. I saw the argument on the beach from the judging stand and went down to investigate. By the time I arrived there was a media frenzy going on and it was difficult to get information on what happened. I remember quite well all the cameras in our faces and the hugh number of media and other concerned folks that completely surrounded us on the beach. It's interesting that there is quite a bit of footage in the movie between Corkey and Kevin, and direct individual interviews with both, but only a brief moment of my conversation with Corkey.
The only information I had at that point was there was a problem with extending the heat and this would be protested. Basically what I told Corkey on the beach was that I didn't make the rules and we were following an established rule to the letter. I did not know about his discussion with Kevin.
Corky made his protest to Norm Worthy, HB Director of Parks and Recreation. Our HB contest representative was Jim Way, HB Director of Beaches. I do not believe Norm gave the full information to Jim as he did not mention it. The protest committee consisted of the head judge, myself, Kevin Summeral, and Jim Way. It was my direct call to extent the heat and the rules were followed. The protest was aired but with no other information brought to our attention it was. We felt there was plenty of discussion, and there was, about the rule before it was established, and at the contest site was certainly not the time to bring it up again. However, had we known the circumstances with Corky's directions, we likely could have ruled that anything after he initially came in would not be counted. As it was, we left the judges no other choice but to follow their rules and count his small last wave. This would have allowed Corky to win the contest.
As for Corky, I am now satisfied that the whole story can be told told. Since I had no input over the final results and since the statement by Kevin was not brought up during the protest discussion, I can see now after all these years that it really should have been looked at more closely.
The heat extension rule remained in effect and was used in contests at least as long as I was a WSA director.