The Hawaiian Library Association interviewed Dr. Bruce "Snake" Gabrielson about his on-line Surfing Library in January 2001. Below is the interview as it appeared in the Summer 2001 HLA Newsletter, Volume 43, number 2.


Dr. Bruce "Snake" Gabrielson

Dr. Bruce Gabrielson, affectionately known as Snake, has been surfing since the early sixties. An early day professional surfer, board manufacturer, and founder of the first US High School Surfing League, Snake is an ocean of information. Currently, Snake writes papers, lectures to various groups, and guides surfing researchers through his online Surfing Library-the first ever surfing website.

HLA: When did you create your Surfing Library?

Snake: I'm one of the early surfers and am interested in history. As a hobby, I've been helping students and surf researchers with various projects beginning around the 1970s. Many times over the years, a college student has wanted to investigate a subject similar to that someone else had worked on. When this happened I would usually dig out the papers, make copies, and send them along. It worked but was both expensive and time consuming.

A few years back, the number of requests from younger students had grown dramatically. I had a "real job" and simply couldn't keep up with requests. In 1993, while researching bandwidth limitations on the Internet I decided to create a surfing home page. This was the first surfing related web page on the Internet. I had the idea that if the most popular papers or my book went online, my work would be cut considerably, and I could then concentrate on helping primarily those with serious needs that hadn't previously been researched. Since the majority of requests are for historic information, I started adding links to sites with this type of information as well as archiving various papers online that I felt would benefit others. I'm still busy with many people all over the world, but the web site takes care of most simple inquiries.

HLA: How many people have visited your website?

Snake: I average about 1000 per week currently. I quit counting after the site reached 500,000 a few years back.

HLA: What types of people visit?

Snake: My guess is mostly students and those who love surfing. Movie producers doing documentaries or specials on surfing also use the site often. I've had several famous people in other walks of life drop me emails including politicians, movie stars, and famous singers. Britney Spears sent me a nice email once after visiting the site.

HLA: What do they use the site for?

Snake: The site was initially intended for kids. Most students use the site for ideas and background information related to papers they are preparing for school. There are also many folks who are trying to find out about surfers they once knew and can't find in other sources of information. I know just about everyone from the early surfing days, so have helped track down many friends through the Internet. Hawaiian Fred Hemmings liked the site and sent me a letter some time back about it.

HLA: How do you select the information you include in the Surfing Library?

Snake: Besides being a scientist and my other activities, I have teaching credentials and was once a teacher. I've read many more papers than show up on the site. For papers, I chose those well written and informative, tying not to include things that might be slanted too much towards one viewpoint. If another website has an interview or write-up on a surfing figure or legend from the history of surfing up until maybe 1980, I usually create a link to the site. I've tried to stay clear of current bios on surf stars as they are getting plenty of coverage on magazine sites. They don't really need additional links from me.

HLA: How often do you add new material to your site?

Snake: My Surfing Library site is updated about once a month or whenever I find something new to add. I also maintain a couple of other sites, one of which has a daily newsletter.

HLA: Do you have any Hawaii specific information that Hawaii's librarians may find useful?

Snake: Sure, most of the Hawaii specific information and links relate to Surfing's early history, including information on the Duke. These I consider the best source for typical students who are going to sit at their home computer and search about the sport's history. Judging by the emails I receive, one even today, I would bet many kids in Hawaii use my site as the first source they look at when researching information on the Duke.

HLA: Do you have any interesting stories related to the Surfing Library that Hawaii's librarians may find interesting or humorous?

Snake: In an interview I gave a couple of years back I mentioned about being bumped by a shark while surfing in Hawaii. A student from Hawaii read the interview and then wrote me trying to find out how dangerous surfing in Hawaii was from shark attacks. I spent a week researching sources all over the world about sharks and couldn't find much except about Australian and South African shark attacks. I finally called a surfing friend in the Hawaiian government and he got me to the right source. The student got all he needed and now I know all about sharks as well.

HLA: What libraries have the best surfing collections?

Snake: I've found a good source is the Huntington Beach main library downtown near the pier. I've also found considerable information on various museum and library links all over the world. I think the best sources of information on surfing are direct contact with the legends that are still around, including myself. I'm lucky I was surfing during the early formative years of the sport, and personally know most of those who made surfing history. Many of us have also been interviewed by various magazines and Internet sites, and the information provided goes a long way towards filling in the blanks on many areas of surfing history.

HLA: When conducting surfing research, do you find traditional libraries helpful or do you do most of your research on the Web?

Snake: This is an interesting question considering I just finished a major research effort. Often I simply call or write one of my friends for the information. However, I just finished preparing the after dinner talk for the upcoming David Nuuhiwa Guinness Noseride Record attempt. This talk is on the history of the sport and how the record attempt can be viewed in context of this history. I had to research books on the ancient history of the Sandwich Islands, the early missionaries, and the Hawaiian Royal family. I couldn't find much until a friend in Hawaii looked in a local library. Most of the information was available in traditional books in Hawaii libraries. I did find some useful information on the Internet, but I hope at some point more full text history resources are converted to web access.

HLA: Is there a topic in surfing literature that is missing? What book needs to be written?

Snake: There are a few places where books would be useful. Currently there are primarily two types of books available, those dealing with someone's personal account and those dealing with surf trips, travel, guides, or exotic sites. Surf movies are the same sort of accounts. There are a couple "how to" books including my own, but these are in the minority. I think text books, similar to what Malcolm Gault-Williams is trying to do on the Internet, would be very useful. A complete text book on all the great surfing spots in the world, a traditional text book on the history of surfing, a book on contests and how they are judged, and maybe a more complete text book on board making than what's available would generate plenty of interest. The availability of this type of resource becomes critical as surfing moves into the mainstream of classroom and curriculum development. We've already seen the need for this information in the college curriculum offered in UK and the classes offered at Ocracoke School in North Carolina.

HLA: What is particularly challenging about conducting surfing research? Any suggestions on how librarians can overcome these challenges?

Snake: Everyone sees the sport from a different perspective, including a different location. During the 60s and 70s there were surfers seriously into the contest venue, those who saw surfing as a way of dropping out of mainstream society, and then those who saw the life-style as a means to an end. Capturing the necessary information accurately has been a challenge with my historical studies. It's also interesting how many modern "experts" were considered mainstream during the early years of the sport in any one region of the world. I certainly never ran across some of those who seem to have opinions of everything. I think a good way to overcome challenges is to provide as much information as possible so no one will be limited to only a few resources. You might try having both an online Internet resource for a researcher to access as well as your traditional books to research.

HLA: What's your favorite surfing related book?

Snake: My own of course, The Complete Surfing Guide or Coaches (George Farquar Publishing, 1977). After that maybe Brian Lowden's Competitive Surfing A Dedicated Approach (Mouvement Publications, 1988), and then Greg Noll's DaBull - Life over the Edge (North Atlantic Books, 1992).

HLA: What is your educational background?

Snake: My BS/MS/PhD are in Electrical Engineering. I also have an MBA and a degree in computer science. I went to several schools, the primary schools were California State University Long Beach and Marymount University

HLA: Finally, how did you get the nickname Snake?

Snake: Basically, the surfers at the HB pier started calling me that after I started going out with my friend's girlfriend. The name stuck with me for a long time and I'm still called that by my close surfing crowd.