The first time Garth “the Worm” Wyckoff saw a skimboard, he thought: “What is that? I want one.”
Forty years later, the voice of Laguna Beach’s most prestigious skimboarding competition — a self-described “kid from Arkansas who sings reggae and skimboards” — will announce his last heat at this weekend’s 43rd annual Victoria World Championships.
Retiring from his annual gig at the famous competition, otherwise known as “the Vic,” will give Wyckoff more time to coach his son’s Pop Warner football games and hang with his coworkers at Laguna Surf and Sport.
“My cup runneth over,” Wyckoff said. “I’m just looking forward to watching [the competition] and having a cold beer.”
Wyckoff’s love affair with skimboarding started when he was 10, soon after he moved to Laguna Beach. He scuttled down to the beach every day to hit the waves with his friends, learning to stomp, shuvit and spin — all tricks in the waves.
“The beach was our playground,” he said.
Wyckoff’s early tries at surfing would later inform his skimboarding skills, as he learned to read the waves.
“You’re timing the incoming wave; you’re running as fast as you can; you’re jumping on a giant watermelon seed, that’s what they look like … and you’re hurling yourself into the incoming surf to do a maneuver off the face of the wave,” Wyckoff said. “If all goes right, it’s bliss. It’s like the best feeling in the world.”
Recognizing his talent, Victoria Skimboards sponsored the young Wyckoff, sending him to competitions on both coasts. As a 19-year-old competing at the East Coast Championships in Delaware, Wyckoff earned second place in the amateur division and returned to Laguna Beach with the verve to enter the professional leagues.
His rookie year, Wyckoff placed third and picked up the title for “best barrel” at the sport’s crowning competition: the Victoria World Championships in Laguna Beach.
From there, Wyckoff said with a swoosh of his hand like the curve of a wave, “It took off.”
During his career, he skimmed waves from Santa Cruz to San Clemente and along the East Coast, competing against a burgeoning bevy of skimmers from around the world.
Wyckoff’s ascent matched the sport’s. In the beginning, skimboarding only existed in pockets like Laguna Beach, and not many people were aware of the sport.
“We were just sort of the poor cousin [of surfing], said Tex Haines, one of the founders of Victoria Skimboards.
In the 1980s, though, people began to take notice. Victoria Skimboards expanded from an afternoon-only operation run by Haines and his co-founder Peter Prietto to the world-renowned hub for the sport. In 1987, Sports Illustrated featured skimboarder Tom Trager on its cover, bringing heightened interest and awareness to the sport.
Around the same time that his skimboarding career crested, Wyckoff discovered his knack for speaking behind a microphone. At the urging of his friends in raggae band Common Sense, he jumped on stage and began singing. For about five years, he accompanied the band on tours around the country — introducing the group, selling merchandise and hopping on the mic for his song, “Skankin’ with the Worm.”
A torn ACL took him out of the water for a season when he was 22, but Wyckoff couldn‘t stay away from “the Vic.” Instead of a skimboard, he picked up a microphone and began announcing the competition.
Within a year, he was back in the water with renewed vigor. He also continued announcing, finding his groove as a fast-talking play-by-play man who sprinkled in funny impersonations and anecdotes about the skimmers, their history and special techniques.
Cayla Henderson — a surfer, colleague of Wyckoff’s at Laguna Surf and Sport and daughter of the skimming legend Chris Henderson — remembered pulling up to “the Vic” as a child. She could hear “the Worm” commentating from the parking lot.
“I just knew it was ‘Worm’s’ voice and I was jumping out of my seat to be able to go hear him,” said Henderson, 21. “He drew people in from the street. When I was young, I was like, ‘Oh my god, if Wormy is commentating, it’s going to be so fun. I’m not going to mind sitting on the beach for hours watching my dad skim because I know Wormy is going to be making fun of everyone, so it’s going to be awesome.’”
When Wyckoff’s turn to compete came up, he would hand the mic off to someone else, skim the heat and then clamber back up the announcer’s scaffolding — still dripping wet and occasionally getting shocked by the microphone.
He loved it.
The announcing gig inspired him to pursue a dream of broadcast reporting. At age 30, he launched a busy freelancing career at area radio and television stations, eventually hosting his own weekly sports roundtable show and reporting from the sidelines at high school football games.
The Laguna Beach High School alumnus also embraced his artistic talents, painting skimboards and designing T-shirts for “the Vic.”
“All because of skimming,” Wyckoff said. “It really was the launching pad.”
At 34, Wyckoff reached a career peak — placing second behind the legend Bill Bryan in the 1994 Vic championships. He placed in the top six several times throughout his career before deciding to hang up his board at age 36, with a Martin Prietto Sportsmanship award in hand.
Since then, he’s returned every year to announce the competition, even running down to the beach one year to commentate hours before catching a flight.
“He’s our Vin Scully,” Haines said, referring to the iconic longtime sportscaster for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
After 27 years, Wyckoff said he’s ready to step down and let a younger announcer take over.
“I’ve been doing it so long,” Wyckoff said. “I just think it’s time to pass the torch.”
“You’re so much better than them though,” Henderson said.
“Well, that goes without saying,” chimed in Jason Watson, a co-owner of Laguna Surf and Sport.
Wyckoff’s last call — “Make some noise for these boys” — can be heard at Aliso Beach Park, 31131 Coast Hwy., during this weekend’s championships.
For more information about the competition, visit thevic.victoriaskimboards.com.