Gordie Duane dies at 80; surfboard maker

Pioneering surfboard maker Gordie Duane was helping to transform Huntington Beach into a surfing capital when he received the city’s first ticket — for surfing illegally.

The surfboard shop he opened at the foot of the town’s pier in 1956 also served as a hangout for local kids who skipped school to catch waves. Huntington Beach took aim at the behavior by banning surfing after 10 a.m., then made a statement by singling out Duane as the first official scofflaw, he later recalled.

“Back in 1956, they didn’t want surfing in this town. Man, that was a bad element,” Duane told The Times in 1997, the year he was inducted into the Huntington Beach Surfing Walk of Fame.

Duane, whose surfboards were prized for their craftsmanship and design, died July 27 of natural causes in Huntington Beach, said Jim Amormino, a spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. He was 80.


“He was sort of the Mr. Big of board making in Huntington Beach when Huntington was the board-making center of the world,” in the late 1950s and early 1960s, said Matt Warshaw, author of “The Encyclopedia of Surfing.”

When Duane opened Gordie Surfboards, dozens of other surfers were making and selling boards, but only his good friends Dale Velzy and Hobie Alter had similar storefront retail operations in Southern California, Warshaw said.

As balsa wood gave way to polyurethane foam-core surfboards, Duane was among the first manufacturers to strengthen them in 1958 by incorporating a thin strip of wood — called a stringer — down the center from nose to tail. The look endured.

“They’re still like that,” Duane told The Times in 1980. “I have a reputation for being a rebel, okee dokee, but history is still history. God, if I’d have patented that!”


The surfing community nicknamed him the Compton Cabinet Maker, a nod to his beginnings. Regarded as a talented surfboard shaper, he originally honed his skill with wood while working at his uncle’s cabinet shop.

“Gordie was a supreme craftsman and his shapes were better than most,” Steve Pezman, publisher of the Surfer’s Journal, wrote in a remembrance.

In the late 1950s, Duane was also known as the “King of the Abstracts” for dramatic designs that ran the length of the board, according to Pezman.

After a 1958 fire destroyed Duane’s shop, he reopened nearby on Pacific Coast Highway and remained in business until 1988.

“He truly helped turn Huntington Beach into ‘Surf City,’” said Tom Hamilton, who joined the local surfing scene in the 1960s. “He was one of the giants.”

Gordon Patrick Duane was born Feb. 2, 1931, in Los Angeles and learned to surf in his early 20s while serving in the Navy at Pearl Harbor.

He made his first surfboard out of surplus balsa wood from Navy rafts.

Upon leaving the military, he moved to Compton and started making commercial surfboards in his parents’ Lynwood garage.


As a surfer, he was a member of the Hole in the Wall Gang, a Huntington Beach group that was the hottest team in amateur surfing in 1977. At the time, members ranged in age from 23 to 54 and had won about 20 Western Surfing Assn. contests in a row.

“Our mean age is mean,” Duane, then 46, told The Times in 1977.

The “rowdy bunch” first surfed together in the 1950s and had reunited for a “last hurrah,” according to the article. The group’s godfather was Duane, whose surf shop doubled as team headquarters.

The Hole in the Wall Gang is scheduled to be inducted into the Surfing Walk of Fame on Thursday.

Duane’s survivors include a daughter.

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