By OCinSite | September 13, 2011 7:00 AM
By Dan Arritt and Sharael Kolberg
The waves off Newport’s coast are known for harboring surf talent, but sometimes that talent turns into a dream job and commercial success outside of the water. From a local surfboard manufacturer to a famous Bay Area tattoo artist, these men can trace their history back to NB, where the legends began.
Some have settled into retirement, while others are in the prime of their professional careers. In many ways, they parlayed their experience at surf spots such as 22nd Street, the Santa Ana River Jetties and Newport Point into lucrative careers. Here’s a look at some of the early pioneers and where their love of surfing has taken them in the decades since.
The Soul Surfer
Although John Peck learned to surf growing up on Oahu, becoming immortalized among the locals for his big-wave skills, he quickly established himself as a fixture along the Orange County coast after moving to Corona del Mar at age 20, upon his dad’s retirement from the military in 1964.
His accolades include having starred in the surf flick Walk on the Wild Side, appearing on the cover of Surfer magazine in 1963, and winning contests across the Pacific, including placing fourth in the Makaha International Surfing Championships Jr. Men’s Division at age 15. “I’ve been gifted with a lot of beautiful experiences,” he says, “but I’m not someone to look up to. I just wanted to live free and wild in nature and enjoy God’s creation.”
He claims to have been the first pro surfer and in 1965 was sponsored by Tom Morey, inventor of the boogie board. Peck soon designed a board for Morey-Pope Surfboards called the Penetrator, which was unique in that it performed well at high speeds but also offered nose-riding capabilities. He was paid $800 a month by Tom Morey and Carl Pope to promote the board.
He now sports long hair and a dark beard and lives a spiritual life of meditation and abstract theories. “God put me here to be of service to my mom and help her as she gets older,” he says. “I don’t live here for selfish reasons.”
Peck splits his time between Kauai and Costa Mesa and still makes it out to his favorite Newport surf spots. He continues to sport an exceptionally clean surfing style, and gets in the water on a near-daily basis to “connect with Earth and the human race.”
The Old Guy
If you’ve ever noticed a T-shirt or bumper sticker that reads “Old Guys Rule,” then you’re at least partially familiar with the influence the early Newport Beach surf scene had on Don Craig.
Craig grew up in Hermosa Beach, where he learned to surf under the guidance of his father Doug, who made his own boards and was president of the San Onofre Surfing Club. They spent their weekends wandering up and down the Southern California coast in search of the best waves, often settling in Newport Beach.
In 1966, after high school, he moved to Newport Beach and was welcomed into the surf crowd by friends Herb Torrens and George Weaver. “They were hot young kids in town and introduced me to everyone and I was instantly in with the ‘in’ crowd,” Craig says.
Craig soon began competing for well-known manufacturers Bing Copeland, Dewey Weber and Hap Jacob. On land, he built a name for himself as well, becoming the first sales representative for Quiksilver and introducing the Rip Curl brand to the U.S. market.
As Craig and his friends grew older, they further admired the insight and experience of Doug Craig and his inner circle, whether it was taking their advice on locating the best surf breaks or where to invest their money. In 2003, Craig had a bumper sticker made that read “Old Guys Rule” with a surfboard sticking through the slogan, in recognition of his dad and his dad’s friends, Ross McAdam and Fred Caserio. “They counseled us on marriage, careers and where to sit in the lineup,” he says. “We called them ‘the Three Wisemen.’ ”
Shortly afterward, the bumper sticker was spotted by a local retailer, who ordered dozens more. They quickly sold out. Craig then made his first T-shirt with the emblem and 12 months later had sold $500,000 worth of merchandise. Today, “Old Guys Rule” features dozens of variations tailored toward golfers, bicyclists, fishermen and a number of other activities. “Out of the gate, the stickers were a hit,” Craig says. “Then I thought, ‘Not all dads surf.’ So, I came up with a lot of other designs.”
The slogan can be found on hats, shoes and other types of apparel. Craig licenses the brand, which is then sold online and in stores through approximately 1,400 retailers in four countries. As for his surfing ability, Craig still paddles out regularly near his San Clemente home and is known to hold his own against surfers 40 years younger.
Few have earned as much respect within the Newport Beach surfing community as Mike Estrada, and even less have maintained their reputation and competitive edge from one generation to another.
Estrada, a Newport Beach native, began surfing at age 9 along with his brother Dave and half-brother Seth Elmer. “We loved surfing and got good at it and people were willing to sponsor us,” Estrada says.
He was at the forefront of the sport’s heyday during the 1980s, winning titles at the National Scholastic Surfing Association and Amateur Athletic Union levels. By age 20 he went pro and was sponsored by Quiksilver and Rip Curl. “Competing is a lot of work and takes determination,” he says. “As a professional surfer, you get to travel and enjoy surf spots around the world, but it is a rigorous, competitive schedule. You gotta surf because you love it first of all.”
A tall, lanky goofy-footer, Estrada was featured in surfing magazines and traveled the globe as a team rider for McCoy and Wave Tools, carving up waves at some of the most beautiful and treacherous locations in the world.
Estrada quickly began experimenting with surfboard design, starting with a 5-foot, 5-inch twin fin and reshaping it into a 4-foot, 11-inch single fin in his 9th grade plastics class at Costa Mesa High. “After that, I was hooked,” he recalls. He began manufacturing boards for a few friends, then turned the hobby into a full-time occupation.
At age 23, he opened his first shop in Costa Mesa in 1990, relying on the craftsmanship he gleaned from the likes of Lance and Richie Collins, Ben Aipa, Bill Cilia and Sean Magyar (Mike’s cousin). “I was picky about my boards and was fascinated with dissecting them,” Estrada says. “Once I started down the road of making my own boards and then taking them out and riding them, that was it.”
He quickly became known for his quality work, becoming the West Coast licensee for Hawaiian-based Town & Country Surfboards. Today, his label, Estrats Board Co., is a thriving local business.
Although he currently resides in Fountain Valley, he still visits his favorite Newport Beach breaks on a regular basis. Thanks to a healthy dose of Pilates, a strict diet, and routine surf sessions, Mike still holds his own in competitive heats. In April of this year, he won the Masters division of the 12th annual Newport Harbor High School Newport Surf Classic.
Don Ed Hardy
Don Ed Hardy grew up in Corona del Mar in the 1950s. When he wasn’t hitting the waves at the Corona del Mar jetty, he was exploring the art of tattooing, which eventually led to his multimillion-dollar business, Ed Hardy Tattoo Clothing.
“Newport Beach was a different world in my early years,” Hardy says. “As I became a teenager, a growing awareness of the ultra-conservative and monocultural suffocation of the Newport area motivated me to move to a more culturally and intellectually diverse environment. However, surfing and living near the ocean has remained a lifelong priority.”
He left SoCal in 1963 to attend the San Francisco Art Institute, where he pursued a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. Afterward, Hardy declined the opportunity to attend Yale’s graduate program to pursue tattooing. “I’d reconnected with my childhood passion for tattooing as an art form, and left academia,” he says.
He went on to study body art design in Japan and then forged a career inscribing images on torsos, canvases and giant scrolls. Japanese traditional tattooing was his main inspiration for the decision to take up tattooing. In 1973 he spent six months in Japan as the first non-Asian working with a traditional tattoo master. “Japanese art and culture was a big influence since early childhood,” he says, “My father moved to Tokyo and sent back many things from that exotic land.”
A love of surfing also influenced his art and design. “Being so linked to the ocean helps,” he says. “And the Asian art traditions depicting water and waves have been a lifelong inspiration.”
He became a talented lithographer, painter and etcher, and his images appear on T-shirts, motorcycles and even an energy drink that’s sold under the Ed Hardy brand. Now 66, Don is retired from tattooing and lives in San Francisco where he and his son manage his shop, Tattoo City. In May of last year, he sold 50 percent interest in the Ed Hardy brand, worth approximately $17 million.
Robert “Wingnut” Weaver
Robert “Wingnut” Weaver, a Newport Beach native, didn’t take up surfing until he was 17. He learned to catch waves at Blackie’s in Newport Beach in 1983 when a new neighbor, John Snelgrove, moved in and offered to teach him the way of the waves, transforming Weaver from a body boarder into a surfer. “At that time, Newport Pier was not crowded,” Weaver says. “There was not a lot of longboarding going on, just a bunch of old guys out there catching waves, usually less than a dozen most mornings. Now there are 50-60 people.”
The “old guys” that mentored him included surfers Mike Marshall, Pete Nickertz, Mike Kilfoy, Larry Miller and Ken Sanford. When Weaver wasn’t in class at Newport Harbor High School or waiting tables at Ruby’s on the pier, he would be in the water trying to learn how to master the drop-knee turn from Sanford or master the nose ride from Don Craig.
He eventually competed in longboard events in the late 1980s and early ’90s, while attending the University of California, Santa Cruz, where he graduated with a degree in economics and marketing in 1991, after some time off in Hawaii for two years. He continued competing after college, but realized he’d eventually have to look beyond competitive surfing to earn a living. “At that point, as a longboarder, there was no real way to make money surfing competitively,” Weaver recalls.
His big break came in early 1992, at age 26, when he received a call from legendary surf filmmaker Bruce Brown, who offered him a role in Endless Summer II. The exposure allowed him to gain attention from sponsors without having to maintain a high ranking in competitive circles. Weaver, who will turn 45 this summer, also parlayed his newfound celebrity into a surf-guide business, in which he takes clients to various surf spots around the world and lets them mix and mingle with the big wigs of the sport.
Life wasn’t completely carefree, however. In 1997, at age 32, shortly after the birth of his son Cameron, Weaver was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The disease sidelined him initially, but he has since gained control of the effects and has been symptom-free for 10 years, due in part to Vitamin D, which luckily can be absorbed during a sunny day at the beach. He currently spends his time hitting the waves with his 14-year-old son near their home in Santa Cruz, and managing Santa Cruz Surfboards.