Joe Surf: 'The ride still continues' for Chuck Linnen

Legendary surfer Jack Haley taught him how to shoot the pier. In turn, he taught Corky Carroll to shoot the pier.

You might call it surfing's version of "pay it forward," but for Huntington Beach's Chuck Linnen, it was simply a way of life.

Linnen will be inducted into the Surfers' Hall of Fame at 10 a.m. Friday, when his handprints and footprints will be set in cement in front of Huntington Surf & Sport on the corner of Main Street and Pacific Coast Highway in Huntington Beach.

Linnen is one of four inductees this year, joining George Downing, Taylor Knox and Simon Anderson, an honor Linnen said is a tribute to his predecessors, who were the forefathers of surfing.

Truth be told, Linnen, 75, is one of surfing's forefathers himself. He was among the first Californians to venture to Hawaii and surf Oahu's North Shore. He was a finalist in the 1961 world championships in Makaha on Oahu and competed in a variety of surfing contests all over the world at a time when the sport's culture was only just beginning.

"My first time on a board was in Hawaii in 1941," Linnen said. "I was there when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Three months into the war, my brother and I are walking the beach at Waikiki. We find the remnants of life rafts and ship-wreckings and we manufacture two Piper boards and started Piper-boarding Waikiki Beach."

But surfing took its time reeling in Linnen. He moved to Huntington Beach in 1970 after growing up in Long Beach and graduating from St. Anthony High School in 1955, where he was a standout football and volleyball player.

When he was in the water, Linnen was more body surfer than surfer, until one day while in high school he was invited by some friends to go down to Huntington and surf.

"But I'm just a body surfer, and they were board surfing," Linnen recalled. "So then we go down to Oak Street in Laguna. I borrowed this board and went out in the water, about ankle-deep water. I did a standing island (when the surfer stands upright throughout the ride). I brought the board in and this girl walks up to me and says, 'Boy, that was a great standing island. Do you really surf?' No, I don't. 'Well, you better buy yourself a surfboard.'"

So he did.

In 1954, Linnen bought his first surfboard — a Hobie, of course. He surfed whenever he could. Even while in the Navy from 1957-60, while stationed at Los Alamitos, Linnen would surf on the weekends.

He learned from the legends, surfing with guys like Haley, Downing, Mike Doyle and Peter Van Dyke, brother of big wave surfing pioneer Fred Van Dyke. And it all paid off.

He went to Makaha on Oahu for the 1961 world championships and was among the top 10 going to the final day.

"It was Christmas Day and the waves were 25-30 feet," Linnen said. "ABC was there to film for 'Wide World of Sports,' but they weren't set up yet. So we had a vote, and four of us voted to surf, and I was one of them. But six voted against it.

"The next week, on Jan. 1, the waves went from 25 feet to 5 feet, and Midget Farrelly won it. He ripped and tore it up. But it was great. I still remember being interviewed on the beach by 'Wide World of Sports.'"

Linnen enjoyed the challenge of surfing in Hawaii and occasionally riding waves as big as 30 feet. Back home in Huntington, he found shooting the pier — surfing from one side of the pier, maneuvering through the pillars before coming out the other side—an equally admirable accomplishment, an attitude born at an early age.

"Back in '43, I was a choirboy and I had my first picnic at the pier," Linnen said. "I could see Frank Cirelli and the boys riding those 150-pound redwood boards. They were the first ones to shoot the pier. Those boys rode those big logs back in the '40s. You just angle the board in there.

"Jack Haley taught me how to shoot the pier. Then the great Corky Carroll comes out in the water, and I helped him cultivate his way of surfing the pier."

Though shooting the pier now is out of the question, Linnen still gets out in the water. It's been a while, though, as he was sidelined for years after undergoing two hip replacement surgeries.

"It's like my ship was in dry dock," Linnen said. "But you know what? I recommissioned it, and I'm back in the water."

Linnen, who has two children and five grandchildren with wife, Suzanne, was a teacher in Irvine for more than 30 years ("31 years and 40 days"), but retirement wasn't for him. So for the past 10 years, Linnen has been a substitute teacher for the Huntington Beach Union High School District.

He's credited for helping "shape surf culture," but Linnen prefers to broaden the scope.

"You cultivate moral ethics," Linnen said. "I was never into drugs, I characterized moral character and I was a gentleman. I'm a mentor. I help kids with progress in education and their surfing ability. I always give a handshake. If there was a disturbance, I'd help 'em out. It's what my mother and dad taught me.

"Culture is what you believe — spirit, mind and body."

Linnen will be out there at the U.S. Open of Surfing this week watching the new bloods in the sport, admiring them, knowing they have taken surfing to the next level.

"These surfers today are magnificent athletes," Linnen said. "The engineering of the board is incredible, and the ingenuity, that's what it's all about. It's at a stage where it's incredible to watch. But in the '40s, '50s and '60s, when we were surfing, we set the precedent for the surfers today. And everybody has blended it into what it is today."

Linnen is looking forward to Friday's induction, but by no means is this the culmination of his surfing career. That would mean it's over.

"It's been a great, great ride," he said, "and the ride still continues."

JOE HAAKENSON is an Orange County-based sports writer and editor. He may be reached at joe@juvecreative.com.

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
65°