Before welcoming you all to the 9th episode of the third series of our podcast, I will ask to express my condolences to the Noll family for the loss of the legendary Greg Noll. I had the privilege to interview him for the second series of the show, he was truly a great person. RIP Greg!
Today with us is the legendary surf champion and musician Corky Carroll. We discussed with him about his amazing surf stories, music, future projects and much more!
You can find the episode on all major podcast platforms or read the transcribed version (please forgive us of spelling mistakes) here on our website.
TTOS: Aloha Mr. Carroll, welcome to the show, where are you today?
I’m great, I’m here in Mexico it’s 85 degrees and the water is 80 and the surf’s pretty good.
TTOS: It’s good to be in a place where you can surf and the weather is good, thanks a lot for being on the show with me today. First question, in your opinion, what is the most important thing in surfing?
Well, the most important thing for me, it’s just,…. surf is everything. Surfing for me for the last, you know, 65/66 years, it’s been everything from a sport, my profession, my livelihood, my blood, but for the most important thing, probably I would say that it’s so fun. It’s an outlet where you can go out and have a total release and just to have a good time and get everything else off your mind. At this time, in this world, it’s a good thing to be able to go out and have a release and get everything off your mind. Cause everything’s too crazy on the beach, better be in the water.
TTOS: What was your first surfboard when you first started surfing?
Well, the first surfboard I rode was a hundred-pound redwood log about 1955 you know, a friend of mine had in his backyard and the two of us kind of walked in and we sort of walked it out to the water cause we couldn’t pick it up and ride it. Other than that, my first surfboard was a solid balsa wood board. I got in 1957 and it weighed 47 pounds and I weighed 44, it outweighed me by three pounds. I couldn’t carry it, I had to do the same thing, I would pick up the tail and put it in the front and I’d pick up the nose and put in the front, I’d walk into the water and walk back up the beach to my house. It’s incredible thinking about today, you know, the surfboard revolution. When people are saying it’s a surfboard revolution, it was right. I’ve come a long way, now surfboards are small and light….
TTOS: Have you ever shaped your surfboards?
I shaped some, but I really didn’t like, I preferred to surf… pretty much what I started doing was working with different shapers that I trusted that would go in and tell them exactly what I wanted and I would stand there and we would talk our way through it. I really never developed the craft to be an expert shaper, like so many other ones.
You were talking about Joey Cabell, he’s one of the great surfers of all time, I totally respect him. He knew what he was doing. Shaping is art and you cannot just pretend and shape a board, maybe it’s works, but not really like if it was done by a proper shaper, without bias. The boards that I shaped they didn’t look all that nice…. When I wanted to get a board faster I would drop a case of beers to the shapers and the glassers and I would have got the board next day! That’s how we bribed the guys in the factory, getting our boards done fast in a way to bring in a case of beer and they’ll get our board done in two days…
TTOS: As a surfer, when you decided to be like a professional surfer, to run competitions…
When I first started doing well in the competitions, I was very young and I remember my dad, he was the president of an electrical company and he goes “What you thinking about doing for living?” . I wanted to surf and he goes “well, how are you going to do that?” . I said I didn’t know, but that I was going to be a pro surfer because they don’t have pro surfers.
A couple of years later Hobie put me on salary to do nothing other than surf, that kind of made me the first pro surfer, then I got endorsements from swimwear companies and other companies and, by the time I was 16, I was making as much money as my dad and, at that the time, it was quite of unusual thing. I still believe Hobie paid me to surf so that he could keep me out of the factory, he didn’t want me messing around with it, you know, pools with sharp instruments and stuff that I was going to hurt myself.
TTOS: What do you think was your defining moment of your career?
I don’t know, probably looking back at all the competitions and all that stuff, the one, I guess you call it achievement, that meant the most to me was winning the Surfer Magazine poll, being named the best surfer by your peers, that kind of meant more than winning most of the contest, it was fulfilling.
TTOS: People consider you a legendary surfer, do you consider yourself one?
Reach legendary status makes you feel old, I might qualify pretty quick, it starts getting harder you know, things hurt and ache and you get a little bit more picky. There was a time I would paddle out no matter what, blown out, raining, stormy, Yes, Let’s Go!.
TTOS: you know once I was talking with Greg Noll, about being a legendary surfer and he told me, “I don’t know if I consider myself a legend because at the end we were only a bunch of guys surfing Waimea at that time and we were just doing what we liked, maybe I am a legend, but I don’t consider myself one” It was an interesting point of view, right?
Well, I love Greg Noll, he’s got a great sense of humor, he was around at a really great time in the evolution of surfing when you could surf big waves with just a handful of guys out. I remember surfing Pipeline in the early days by myself and just wishing somebody else would come out. If we get a good ride, somebody will come out….
TTOS: A part of the Surfer Magazine pool recognition, what was your best achievement?
I was US overall champion five times, I won the world big wave championship and the world small wave championship….. I don’t know…..I won a bunch of stuff, so long ago, I don’t remember all of them, there were too many. I believe that winning the big wave championship in Peru was memorable and you know, it all kind of blends together, it was just all part of the life for me at that time. Being in a surf contest and going surfing every day and traveling around to different surf spots, visiting the surf shops that sold the boards as I was representing Hobie at that time. It was a good life, I’m not complaining. I had a good time and surfing really great to me. 73 is still surf every dayand still get a free board.
TTOS: During your career as a professional surfer you met a lot of personalities of the world of surf, was there one meeting, one person that was particularly meaningful for you?
There was a couple, probably the two most important would have been Mike Doyle and Mickey Munoz because when I was real young, they were driving me around to the surf contest and kind of look out after me and take me on trips. They had a lot of influence on me growing up. Both of them were amazing, great guys, super good people, very super good sense of humor and hanging out with those guys for me when I was really young was great, because they kept me laughing, they kept me surfing and they kept me out of trouble. I was kind of a loud mouth obnoxious brat, I could have easily gotten all kinds of trouble, but they kind of toned me down and started going off and they just slap and go “shut up, man”. I always kind of gravitate towards people with senses of humor or people that like to laugh or have a positive attitude rather than real serious negative people are kind of a downer for me. I like to have a good time and laugh. I think, probably, I was born again and didn’t go for surfing I would definitely be in stand-up comedy. I also really like music, I try to tell a lot of jokes in between my songs and stuff. Sometimes it works, if you don’t throw it out there, you don’t know. you gotta be brave enough to risk it, put yourself out there and the risk of being humiliated in front of thousands of people, it’s part of the journey.
TTOS: How do you usually write the lyrics of your songs?
I don’t have exactly a set formula, but generally I’ll get an idea for a song, you know, a theme and then, I’ll kind of think about it for a while. Once I get a line going, I can sit down and kind of map out the song, write words and put music to it. Usually it takes a little bit of refining and they’ll have a song. One day I was driving down to the beach and this big chicken standing on the side of the road, kind of like sticking its head out and kind of starting to walk out and walk back, I taught…. this chicken is trying to commit suicide, the idea came into my head and the title of the song was “suicide chicken”, this song actually stuck in my head for about 15 years before I actually finally wrote it.
I kept thinking, I had the basic thing, Suicide Chicken, but it took a while for me to actually sit down and write the words to that. I’ve recently written one song , a friend of mine who loves animals, had rescued a dog from the dog shelter and she said “ he was at row dog on death row dog”…. there’s a song in that! It’s this new song called “death row dog”.
TTOS: People should behave when they are around you, because everything they say could be transformed into a song….
Right! Nothing’s safe.
TTOS: It is interesting, because today so many song-writers are writing for something that could please people and this, in a certain way, destroys the creativity of songwriting.
I kind of write songs to feel good to me now, I feel good when I plan one of my performances… you don’t get a lot of romantic ballads out of me, you know, I’m more the kind of type of “Suicide Chicken” and “Death row Dog”…. that kind of thing.
TTOS: What was the key learning as a surfer and as a musician?
If you’re doing what you like, you’re going to do a lot better and enjoy your life better than if you’re doing something you don’t like. I’ve tried to pattern my life doing stuff I like to do, and not a whole lot of stuff that I didn’t like to do.
I had a few jobs that I didn’t like to do, but I didn’t stick with them long because I was just in the process of getting back to doing what I wanted to do. I’ve surfed, I’ve played music. I was a tennis pro for a while, I skied, I do music. I write for the newspaper in California for the last 28 years, I’m a columnist and written some books. I have a new book “not done yet”, it came out not too long ago, this available on Amazon or from bluemangosurf.com our surf company. And so I did a lot of TV commercials and that was always fine and pay good, it didn’t get stuck in too many things I didn’t really want to do.
The newest album is called “Blue Mango” and it’s available on Darla records. You can get a drink. Barley records are on Amazon, either way or Spotify or apple music or wherever you get your music…it’s there. I can play guitar and bass and, keyboards and some violin, I play electric violin….
TTOS: You’re talking about writing a book, so far you wrote 4 books right?
Yes, last one just about the beginning of 2020, it’s called “Not done yet”, it’s basically an autobiography, which starts that day that I started surfing in the day that I stopped writing at about November of less 2019. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to call it, but a friend of mine goes “what are you going to call it?” I go, I don’t know, it’s not done yet and he goes “not done yet, that’s a perfect title because you’re not done yet”.
TTOS: And all the books were talking about surfing, or you talk about different things.
The first surf book was called “Surf Dog Days and Beach and Nights” it wasn’t really an autobiography, but it was, it was a whole bunch of stories that, that I wrote about different surfers and my experiences and more. The next two books were called “Pier Pressure” they were collections of articles, I’d done for the newspaper columns that I’ve written both of those.
TTOS: What are your future projects?
We live here in Mexico and we have a perfect point break out in front of the house and we bring people to stay with us on it, like a week long surf package. You can book in with all your food, all your drinks, your surfboards… I’ll coach them if they want. And you know, when we can take from one to six people at a time, and it’s sort of an upscale surf adventure for somebody that wants to be totally taken care of, and then after, do anything, get off the plane, we take care of you, you know, feed, you drink, you surf, you stick it back on the plane, hopefully the better you were before.
I’m still working on music. I play dinner concerts here in Mexico because when they will start letting us do that again, and I’m working on the next album for Darla records, writing new songs…. Death Row Dog…
And then I write for the newspaper the orange county register in California and I have a new surf company called Blue Mango Surf that I started with a friend of mine, Joel Salzman, and we make boards and standup paddleboards and t-shirts and hats, it’s kind of a grassroots surf company, all the boards that are handmade in Hermosa beach, California. I pretty much surf every day, I go out for one wave, even if my back, isn’t really good and I’ve had some heart issues. I have this one way of a day deal, I paddle out, I get away if I ride it the beach and I’m pretty good unless I eat it, then I have to paddle out and catch another wave until I can actually get one on my way to the beach.
Sometimes I sneak in a second one, if I’m feeling really good. And I just trying to keep surfing….
TTOS: We’re going to finish our interview with a short Q/A session, please answer the first thing that comes up to your mind…..
The best surfboard that you ever ridden…
The best surfboard is the surfboard I’m riding right now, it’s like everything evolves…
I remember had a board, I think it was in 1969, that Mike Hanson shaped for me, I rode it at Pipeline a lot, and there’s probably the best surf picture ever taken of me as a big bottom turn of pipeline.
I also remember my first twin fin and quad, I call it “the blue board of happiness” it’s a seven/11.
TTOS: Who your favorite shaper?
Well, Jose Baraona is shaping all my boards right now, he’s a great shaper, he shaped for Jacobs,Becker and everybody else. Through the years, my favorite shapers were Terry Martin, Mickey Hanson, Mark Martinson,….Phil Edwards was a great surf shaper too.
TTOS: Personal question, your favorite song….
You know, it would hard to pin down one song, but I can tell you my favorite musicians I’m real fan of the Rolling Stones and I’m also a real fan of the band Honk. Okay. Is the group that did this soundtrack for five summer stories and they’re a great band. They all went off to do, you know, big things and you know, after Honk kind of disbanded, Steve Wood as a producer for Sony music, he has Grammys from working on the IMAX movies was staying and George Harrison and they’re all great musicians, they get together every year for a reunion concert. I like to go to those cause Hank is one of my favorite bands and the stones. I like Jackson Brown. I like the Eagles.
TTOS: What’s your favorite surf spot?
Well, my favorite surf spots right in front of our house…. point break I got in the morning. I’m really lucky. I’ve got this like beautiful wife, you know, like cooks really good and takes care of me .
TTOS: Who’s your favorite surfer nowadays?
Would it be hard not to say Kelly Slayer, because he’s just the best, you know what, he’s still surfing. I John, John Florence is amazing…..Dane Reynolds and of course Kai Lenny! OMG!
Mike Doyle was a great waterman, that kind of influenced me….
TTOS: The last question is a bit unusual, I want to know your best relationship advice….
A happy wife is a happy life!