Greenough exhibit in SB

Splashy exhibit

Genius sparked ‘shortboard revolution’

Maritime museum pays tribute to surfing innovator George Greenough




Somewhere out on the beaches of Broken Head in New South Wales, Australia, the “barefoot genius” is probably riding waves with dolphins or hunting sharks or perhaps tinkering with his camera in the pyramid he built at the edge of a nature preserve.

Although George Greenough – the brilliant and maddeningly eccentric surf innovator – left Montecito for good six years ago, his presence here is as fresh as a new footprint in the sand.

There are the old boards, the boats, the windsurfers and a small collection of friends who remain to this day his devoted disciples.

Starting this week and for the next seven months, the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum will display just a small collection of Mr. Greenough’s creations, which revolutionized surfing, windsurfing, kneeboarding and filmmaking.

Developed for the Huntington Beach International Surfing Museum, the exhibit includes original art and photographs inspired by Mr. Greenough, said curator Barry Haun.

“It’s long overdue,” Mr. Haun said. “George made so many contributions, from surfing to windsurfing to fin design to photography and filmmaking, even boat design. He’s really been influential in more ways than most people understand.”

Occasionally, people visit Mr. Greenough “asking a lot of questions about boards and stuff like that,” he said in a phone interview with the News-Press last year. However, the 62-year-old said he isn’t really interested in the past.

He had split his time between California and Australia for decades but left for good after his mother died in 1998. The crowds drove him away, in part, but already people are encroaching on his remote Australian home.

“There’s just too many people,” he said. “It the same at any good spots in the world.”


Mr. Greenough’s busy putting the final touches on a film called “Dolphin Glide.”

Eight years in the making, the movie was shot by Mr. Greenough in the clear water near his home.

He is working on either theatrical distribution or releasing it on DVD along with a documentary on the making of the film.

Mr. Greenough points out that he wasn’t working on the film nonstop all those years; he often had to wait for the right conditions. It might take a whole season to get just 10 minutes of usable film.

Friends say he has been in the water so much that the resident pod of dolphins knows him and actually crowds him when he’s in the water.

He made an underwater camera in the shape of a baby dolphin for the project.

“The film is basically from the point of view of a dolphin,” said Mr. Greenough, who shot dolphins surfing waves and in open water.

Alternating from stunning, sinuous motion of the creatures darting through green-blue ocean and almost abstract colors and shapes of breaking waves shot from underwater, the images in the film are reminiscent of Mr. Greenough’s groundbreaking water footage of the 1960s.

“Everybody whose seen it seems to like the film,” he said. “Basically, the films today have so much violence and stuff in them that it’s a pleasant experience to go see something like this.”

His explanation of the filmmaking process is filled with technical descriptions and details about the Mitchell-built camera.

As his friends tell it, conversations with Mr. Greenough tend to be one-sided and sometimes a bit hard to follow.

“George talks and you tend to just listen,” said Bob Duncan, owner of Wilderness Surfboards, which was started by Mr. Greenough and Mike Cundith.

Mr. Duncan, 57, has known Mr. Greenough since the late 1950s.

“There’s just a couple things he’s really interested in, and the other stuff he doesn’t want to talk about,” Mr. Duncan said.

When the conversation turns to something that doesn’t interest him or it appears the listener doesn’t understand what he is saying, Mr. Greenough gets very quiet.

Mr. Duncan described how in the 1970s, Mr. Greenough would bump into Pat Curren, father of former world surfing champion Tom Curren and a big wave surfboard maker, who used to live next to Wilderness Surfboards on South Aliso Street. Mr. Curren is infamous for being a man of very few words, and sometimes the interaction would be the two surf icons just sort of muttering a few words then standing silent, and then parting without another word.

“George has always been the same, though,” said Mr. Duncan. “He’s the rarest of guys.”

Looking at Mr. Greenough now and remembering him as a teenager in the late 1950s, Mr. Duncan said he even looks the same.

“I’ve known him since I was 10 or 12, and I remember back then he’d show up in the rattiest Levis you’d ever seen, he used like a fish twine or even a strand of pea kelp as a belt, no shoes and the same haircut for the last 45 years.”


A direct descendant of the early American sculptor Horatio Greenough and son of a wealthy railroad family, Mr. Greenough grew up in a 40-room mansion in Montecito. He didn’t like to wear shoes, and his parents never made him. They let him indulge in his interest in cars, fishing, boats, surfing and filmmaking.

Oddly enough, this man considered one of the most influential surfers of his generation stopped stand-up wave riding in the early 1960s and began kneeboarding.

The big boards at the time were too bulky. They weren’t fast enough and didn’t turn sharply enough. In 1962, Mr. Greenough shaped a 7-foot 8-inch board he dubbed “Baby.”

Although he didn’t surf it much, his friends including Australian Bob McTavish did, said Drew Kampion, a writer and former editor of Surfer in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and then Surfing from 1973 until 1982. That board and the outline of the fin he created, which was modeled from the tail fin of a tuna, became the essential ingredients for the development of shortboards, Mr. Kampion said.

It took time and the contributions of others for that all to brew. But once the new boards came on the scene within two years, the landscape of the sport had changed, Mr. Kampion said.

“Think about that for a minute,” he said. “That’s why we call it the shortboard revolution.”

And it started with this odd guy from Montecito.

But Mr. Greenough’s contribution to the sport went beyond the technical, Mr. Kampion said.

“I think George was hugely important relative to anything related to surfing,” he said. Mr. Greenough’s life itself was a metaphor for surfing, Mr. Kampion said. He was unconventional, took risks and lived for experience, he said.

When Mr. Greenough first traveled to Australia in 1964, he found a rich collection of uncrowded waves and a crew of surfers who seemed receptive to his unconventional ideas.

They were as interested in bucking the orthodoxy of surfing at that time as he was.

His reputation built over time.

Footage of Mr. Greenough kneeboarding a long, reeling wave breaking at the Santa Barbara Harbor mouth is in the opening sequence of Bruce Brown’s “Endless Summer” in 1966. He then appeared in a series of films that defined a generation: “The Hot Generation,” “Evolution” and “Fantastic Plastic Machine.”

Mr. Greenough’s own footage was used in films such as “Cosmic Children” and Alby Falzon’s “Morning of the Earth.”

By the late 1960s Mr. Greenough, who by then had already begun to shun the surf at Rincon because of the crowds, had taken on an aura of surf icon.

“He was this mysto genius guy,” said friend and fellow filmmaker Greg Hughlin.

When Mr. Greenough’s film “The Innermost Limits of Pure Fun” debuted at the Lobero, it was an event. The footage was accompanied by “The Farm,” a band that included surfer Denny Aeberg and brothers Dennis Dragon, later to play with the Surf Punks, and Daryl Dragon, the Captain in Captain & Tennille.

The movie included shots in which Mr. Greenough had rigged a camera on his shoulder and filmed riding inside a tube. Some of the images were almost abstract, created by using a strobe light to film the wake of his kneeboard while riding inside the tube at night.

He repeated those surreal images for a short film called “Echoes.”

Pink Floyd was reportedly so taken with his work that it allowed the use of one side of its album “Meddle” to score the film. The 23-minute short was tagged onto the end of a 1973 documentary about Mr. Greenough called “Crystal Voyager.”

“Take a look at that film,” Mr. Hughlin said. “I mean if you look at that, it is still better than anything shot since. It stands up as absolutely timeless.”

Mr. Hughlin has a copy. He used to have Mr. Greenough come down to his house, hang out and just watch it repeatedly, calling it “trancelike.”

The videocamera imitations of the water shots in the film do not even approach what Mr. Greenough did.

“It’s never been done since then, not at 200 frames per second off the back of a huge, empty wave,” Mr. Hughlin said. “You’ve got to remember, too, that there is nobody else in those shots. Nobody. You can’t find those kind of waves empty in California. It will never be like that again.”

Mr. Greenough, the instigator of the shortboard revolution who developed fins patterned after a tuna’s tail fin and built the first carbon-fiber masts for sailboards, doesn’t even consider himself as an inventor.

He wasn’t inventing but making what he used better.

“The stuff that was available wasn’t good enough for him,” said Mr. Hughlin. “So he made his stuff lighter, better and faster than anything else, and then he would just share it with anyone he knew.”

It was others who made millions off his designs.

“That’s one of the thing that is frustrating for his friends, I think,” said Mr. Hughlin. “George would make some sort of breakthrough and if you happened to call him on that day, he’d just tell you all about it. But George isn’t interested in all the stuff that you or I are interested in. He doesn’t care about getting credit or money.”

Mr. Greenough’s friend Charlie Coffee said the two were once in San Diego when someone ran up to gush over Mr. Greenough’s accomplishments.

"Afterwards we laughed a little, then George got real serious and said, ‘Well, I guess I’ve taken a lot of people with me in the tube over the years,’ " Mr. Coffee said.


What: “George Greenough, Beyond Surfing”

Where: Santa Barbara Maritime Museum, 113 Harbor Way

When: April through October, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Closed Wednesdays.

Admission: $5 adults; $3 seniors and students; and $1 children


• Brian Taylor’s “State of S,” a documentary about Mr. Greenough, will premier May 7 at the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum as part of the exhibit (

• George Greenough’s “Dolphin Glide”: To see a clip of the film, go to


A collection of windsurfing boards by George Greenough are on display starting this week at the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum.


George Greenough is shown on a surf mat with a camera mounted on his back.

Too bad im in Hawaii. Id like to see the accomplishments of a legend like George.

By the way, there are a few pictures online at the NewsPress site. They usually slide articles off behind a cost-wall in a week or so, but for the time being you can see images at