Greg Noll is an absolute legend. He is one of the first few hard-charging big-wave surfers in history. Greg pioneered the North Shore of Oahu back in the early ’60s. He is known as Da Bull for his hard-charging personality and stature.
Greg came down to Tavarua with Rusty and we got along really well. He is such a brute of a man. Greg recently had his knee replaced, so he couldn’t surf, but he absolutely loves to fish—which he did all day, every day.
I hung out with him and his girlfriend, Laura, for a week, and he was nonstop comedy the whole time. I was so lucky to get to sit and listen to all of his stories about the early days.
Greg grew up around Hermosa Beach, California. He said he got ahold of a surfboard when he was 13, but couldn’t carry it to the beach from his house every day because it was too heavy, so he kept it under the pier. When he got old enough, he and the other crazy watermen he surfed with moved to Hawaii, where they lived in huts on the beach, hunted for food, and surfed every day. They were the first surfers ever to explore and ride the North Shore.
Greg told me that the only thing he feared in the whole world was Buffalo Keaulana. Buffalo was the gnarliest Hawaiian Greg had ever seen. He said that the first time Buffalo looked at him, he thought that Buffalo was going to kill him!
Greg said he and his crew gathered all of their money together and bought as much beer as they could. They then gave every bottle to Buffalo as a gesture of peace. Greg said that after that, Buffalo became one of his best friends—a friendship that has lasted their entire lives. Buffalo, Greg, and a handful of others started surfing the true big-wave spots on the North Shore shortly after—waves that are still held in the highest big-wave surfing regard, such as Waimea, Sunset, and Pipeline.
During that week hanging with Greg on Tavarua, I learned so much about surfing, history, and life. He told story after story, and every one of them was classic. Looking forward to visiting them in the Pacific Northwest one of these days.
Greg and his son Jed have been shaping the most beautiful surfboards on the planet lately. They are all wood, carved out of trees that they find and harvest themselves. All the work that goes into the boards is incredible—full-on wall hangers.
I would like to thank Rusty, who is a legend himself, for inviting Greg and Laura to Tavarua so we could all learn a thing or two about being a man.
Greg wrote a really good book about the art of the surfboard, complete with history and loaded with photographs from the beginning of surfing to the present day. The book is high-quality coffee-table style, with glossy pages and a hard cover. I highly recommend it. Link
Photos: Rusty, me, and Greg (top). Greg and one of my best friends, boatman Saxon Boucher (bottom).