“Waves can’t be the god of the sport; if they were, we’d all live in Hawaii. It has to be getting out in it that counts – surfing because you love to surf, and getting pumped full of life and whip and snap.”
Phil Edwards, also known as “The Guayule Kid” was born in 1938, in Long Beach, California; the year that the Church of England acknowledged the theory of evolution, Benny Goodman introduced jazz at Carnegie Hall, and heavyweight boxer, Joe Lewis, KO’s Nathan Mann in 3 for the title.
Nine years down the road, Edwards and family relocated to Oceanside, California, where the seed of surfing took root in his psyche and blossomed in the physical. Taken aback by the sight of Oceanside’s surfing lifeguards, Phil recounts that “the sight of them set me on fire…, I went home and came back, dragging my paddleboard in a staggering, waving tail through the sand, my pride and joy, and I wrestled it into the water, [paddled out to the waves, turned and caught one,] jumped up… and rode the board all the way in to the beach…. In the next few minutes a surfer was made, not born…. Don’t miss understand, I was not yet a surfer. I fought and swam, I paddled, fell down, drowned a little, tipped over, got thrown off, drowned a little more, paddled and worked for another two years before I ever caught another wave.”
By the age of 15, Phil was on his way when introduced to Killer Dana, a graduate level wave, now drowned under the somber granitic rocks and still waters of Dana Point Harbor. Chaperoned by Jim “Burrhead” Dever, the young Edwards delivered a Master’s thesis on wave riding that has forever changed how a wave could be ridden. Burrhead and Phil took off on a looming wave together, and when his mentor yelled, “head for the green!” as was custom on such a dangerous wave, Edwards reversed course, cutback towards the curl, then filled his board around and ran to the nose, attacking the wave where those before him ran for safety. A new standard for surfing had been set.
It is well documented that Phil had a love/hate relationship with surfing competitions. He entered a few but never won one, and it didn’t matter one bit. The trophy-chasers won, but it was the unquantifiable areas of his style that couldn’t be scored: his timing, transitions, and gestures that set him apart. When it came to contest surfing Edwards had two theories: first the stylist. One who “concentrates primarily on maintaining control at all times – with good form. This naturally limits maneuverability and tricks…, but looks smoother. The stylist he states,” [sees] a wave [as] simply a beautiful expression of nature and respected as reason enough to participate.” On the other hand, there’s the “get the job done” contestant; trophy chasers and performers. These “surfers do many things on a board and are willing to lose some control and composure and even take an occasional spill.” The wave is incidental. “A gym or a track field would serve the same purpose.”
In December, 1961, Hawaii’s Bonzai Pipeline was deemed too dangerous to ride. The cavernous wave roared out of deep water, rose to the heights of skyscrapers and broke over flesh-shredding coral and lava rock, in very shallow water. While on a causal afternoon surf check, Phil and surf film maker Bruce Brown, of Endless Summer fame, stood alone on the beach at the Pipeline. Could this wave be ridden? Phil determined that the time was now. He believed it was possible to ride the Pipeline. As he waxed his board, Bruce ran to the car for his camera. On his return, he found Phil already entering the water. While Phil positioned himself, Bruce setup. Sighting his wave, Phil spun his board shoreward, arms digging gaping holes in the ocean’s surface, in order to catch the approaching thing. Standing, Phil plummeted down the concave face, turned at the bottom as the wave through its guillotine-like lip over his head. Entombed and racing the cascading swell for daylight, Phil emerged to the relative safety of the wave’s shoulder, rode directly to the beach; mission accomplished, and Bruce had the historical ride on film.
Edwards’ surfing skill, contribution to the sport, knowledge of the sea, and public persona won him the inaugural, 1964 Surfer magazine reader’s poll. Phil was different, wrote one journalist. His surfing was elegant and improvisational, smooth and fast. It appears as though he was having a conversation with the wave. Phil Edwards surfed into history bring an endless stream of surf riders along with him. For his part in surfing, he will be forever enshrined in surfing history.