5 Summer Stories Insight -
The True Story Behind the 1972 US Surfboard Championships
Bruce "Snake" Gabrielson
June - 2003
Having watched the way the controversy surrounding the finals of the 1972 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. 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 somehow received an unfair decision at the contest. This is simply not true. Here is what took place and who did what, as well as the background surrounding it.
In 1971, the United States Surfing Association (USSA) was faced with a number of complaints and problems associated with competitions. 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 1971 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 1972 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. As you can guess, when the heat should have ended, only Corkey had the minimum number of waves. Therefore, according to the rules, the time limit was extended. The horn did not sound to end the heat, no red flag was put up, and no announcement ending the heat was made. Unfortunately, Corkey decided to paddle in, but was told by the Beach Coordinator that day, Kevin Summeral that the heat wasn't over and he could still get more waves. Since the surf was small, he paddles out but I don't remember how many additional waves he caught. However, in 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 decision, then came to me as Contest Director to submit a protest. 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. Basically what I told Corkey was that I didn't make the rules and we were following an established rule to the letter.
It was my direct call to extent the heat and the rules were followed. The protest was aired but denied based on that simple fact. 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.
The rule was not challenged by anyone else and remained in effect and was used in contests at least as long as I was a WSA director.