If you have any interest at all in waveski and/or kayak surfing, you are no doubt familiar with the name Mike Johnson. Yeah, he’s the guy who came up with the Mako designs as well as being very involved with Ocean Kayak’s Rrrapido and Infinity’s waveskis. You might even say he’s one of THE most important guys ever to get involved in paddle surfing in the US.
I had a chance to chat with Mike recently and had a great time learning about the very early days of waveski and kayak surfing from his first person perspective. Mike was also kind enough to share some vintage pics of him and Merv Larson from way back in the 60′s when waveskis first started showing up in SoCal lineups. So with all that said, I would like to share some facts and pictures from Mike as well as a brief Q&A.
Mike is 68 years old as of the writing of this article and has been surfing for over 50 years. He got his start paddle surfing in 1966 when he got out of the Navy. The first waveski he rode was one that Bill Bragg built in 1964 for Olympic flatwater kayaker Terry Lentz as an alternative training craft. Here’s some pics of Mike on that ski at Huntington Pier.
Following are pics from one day in 1969 that, in Mike’s words, was the very best day of surfing he ever had. Mike described the waves as easily double overhead plus and just long, peeling and very surfable point break rights. The paddle out was easy too and they surfed for over 4 hours. In other words, HEAVEN!! They even had a surfing contest that day and Merv Larson took first and Mike took second. Here’s some amazing pics from that day.
Mike was also kind enough to share some pics of him and Merv Larson from the same time period. He pointed out that Merv (with the white helmet in these photos) had rigged up a waterproof setup with a small transistor radio and earphones that went into his helmet and he surfed to music back then! Keep in mind folks, this was the late 60′s/ early 70′s so it show that Merv was a pioneer in more than one way! The following pics are Mike with the green shoe and red helmet and Merv with the white helmet and round-nosed ski.
I hope you all enjoy the photos as much as I did. Like I said, it was a real pleasure talking with Mike and I am grateful to him not only for the conversation and pictures he shared, but also for his huge contributions to the sport we all love so much!
To wrap it all up, here’s a little Q&A I did with Mike.
1. How long have you been paddle surfing?
Almost 43 years.
2. How did you get into it/who influenced you?
When I got into white water paddling, a friend said he surfed his kayak, so I taught myself.
3. You’ve designed some of the best of each so do you prefer waveskis or surf kayak and why?
Waveskis. Less equipment, if you miss a roll, you can get back on anywhere.
4. What’s your favorite break?
Rincon, followed by Steamer Lane, Swamiis, and San Onofre.
5. Talk a little about being an Olympian.
A WW friend asked me if I wanted to train and go to the Worlds in flatwater kayaking. We made the team, went to Denmark in’70. Raced for 6 years ending in Montreal 1976.
6. How has the sport progressed in your 40+ years of participating?
It started with modified WW boats. I made the first surf kayak in 1968. 13 designs currently, all based on my waveskis. The sport now has a life of it’s own.
7. What are your thoughts on fins vs. finless/triplaning hull design? Are there conditions you would rather have a finned ski?
I’ve always been finless (my paddle and hard edges do the same as fins). Three plane acts like tail rocker along the whole side of the craft preventing catching rails.
8. Talk about your paddle designs.
I have a very successful flat blade paddle that I have been making since 1972, designed specifically for surfing. Very light and popular.
9. You’ve worked with some of the pioneers in paddle surfing like Merv Larson, Ocean Kayak and Infinity. Talk about some of the highlights and challenges of working with each.
Merv: met him in ’67 bought my skis from him, designed kayaks with him. He was the main pioneer of waveskis up into the early 90′s.
Infinity: When I couldn’t get skis from Merv, I turned to Steve Boehne of Infinity Surfboards for my design skis and shaping my kayak prototypes Mako Skis & Kayaks.
Ocean Kayaks: for a short time I worked with them to design the Rrrapido based on my 9’6″ Mako Ski.
When it was time for Alexander to decide where he wanted to go to college he knew it had to have consistent nearby surf. Alexander Stubbs 19 year old National Junior Waveski Champion left his home town of Sudbury Massachusetts with all he would need for college crammed in, on and hanging from his jeep. Four waveskis, a surfboard, kayak, skim board, mountain bike and a pile of musky wetsuits which had surfed there last icy east coast session for a while. Alexander headed some 3074.71 miles across the country to U.C. Berkeley. This school was the perfect fit for Alexanderâ€™s major in Physics and Integrated Biology. The Berkeley campus is located in the heart of San Francisco. Alexander is looking forward to being able to go get his favorite meal Fes Enjan a Iranian Dish anytime he wants now that he is in the big city. Along with being a amazing Major International City it is also a beach town full of a hardcore mixture of always overhead beach breaks, tubing rock slabs and cobble stone points. With the first North Swells rolling in for the season Alexander has taken advantage of the waves in preparation for gunning for his Second National Waveski Title this year held at C-Street Ventura, CA Oct. 30 & 31st.
Alex is one of the very few representing waveski in the S.F. right now. I am sure heâ€™s not gone unnoticed as he can be seen often at his favorite spot Ocean Beach and he is starting to fit in with the pecking order with nasty crew at Fort Point directly under the Golden Gate Bridge. He says he rarely thinks anymore about how he is surfing in the heart of the Red Triangle (the epicenter of Great White Sharks in the Pacific Ocean, San Francisco Bay).
Although only wavesking three years now the National Champion has been in the water forever from underwater scuba photography to surfing. He has been really lucky to experience tons of new places while getting to live in so many cool areas like Chile, Australia, Seattle, La Jolla, Santa Barbara, Hawaii and Bradbury, Massachusetts.
When asked about his influences he was reluctant to say any because there are so many rippers but he said â€œRees Duncan for all around ,Mathieu Babarit, Dave Mitchell and Nikki Carstiens for smoothness and I like the airs that Tony Cherry and Luke Herman do.â€
With Alexanderâ€™s quiver of Island, Tsunami, Dekka and Nikki Carsteinsskiâ€™s he has definitely got a board for all the wide conditions that northern California can have to offer.
Some of Alexanderâ€™s 2008 Winter Plans are lots of school, exploring the S.F. spots as well as also looking forward to spending time in the Santa Cruz area and hopefully getting to charge with some of the local hard cores like Rusty Sage. In asking Alexander about if the rumors are true about him attempting Mavericks this year he said. â€œUm thatâ€™s top secretâ€.
Keep fighting the good fight Alex!
List of questions asked to Alex that had to be answered in less than 10 seconds.
Word / Answer
Motorcycle / Helmet
McDonalds / Blah
New Zealand / Silver Tree
Roll / Paddle
Epoxy / Delam
Airplane / Broken board
Earplugs / Docs
East Coast / some surf, Biggie
West Coast / Lots of Surf, TuPac
Indo / Insane
Kirra / Right
Wave machine / Fair Bits
*USWA Would like to thank both Alexander and fletcher for this contribution!* Read more…
Fletcher Burton aka 'Zorba the Waveskier' aka 'the best waveski talent in the US'
1. How long have you been waveskiing, and how did you get into it/who influenced you?
15years ago I waveskied when I was in high school on Maui . We would ride the old Shane skis in front of our house because the reef was too shallow to allow for a decent wave come through. We would also fish and dive off of them a lot but It wasn’t until 7 years later when I was approached by Roy Scafidi and Rod Michaels @ Santa Cruz Steamer Lane . At the time I was surf kayaking a bunch and had no interest in becoming a waveskier. It was really cool how it happened Rod Michaels had been talking with Roy on how he can help pump up the growth of the sport. Rod asked Roy to find a young paddler showing promise and that he wanted to sponsor him. Roy asked me if I would be interested which then lead to a exciting meeting with Rod Michaels and Roy Scaffidi. They sent me home with a sweet High Performace ski. I remember walking down the boardwalk @ Steamers with the feeling that wow this feels a whole lot more sexier than my Surf Kayak being carried under my arm. It wasn’t until this time that I put the 2 and 2 together that this was a similar craft to the old square reef scratched vessels my friends and I used to paddle in Hawaii . I road my first session on it @ St. Anns and never looked back. I have Rod Michaels to thank for the love I have found for waveskiing.
2. What’s your favorite aspect of waveski surfing?
Favorite aspect of wavesing is that we are different. I really love to ride a lot of different surf crafts and since waveski is drastically different to other board sports it feels cool to be expressing ourselves differently. You know we must really love this sport to continue to do it since we are subjected to the bad vibes of the other surfers. It basically comes down to human nature I think, people fear whats different.
3. Talk a little about your striding, how did you get started with it, etc.
Striding I think has been the most exciting thing for me in waveski because it no longer is just a waveski. It’s a everything craft you can waveski on it and you can stand up surf on it. It also really mellows down a angry group of boardies. I just started to do it when I was getting at a stale point in wavesking.
4. What’s your favorite US break?
International break? My Favorite Surf spot is in a unmentionable area of Central California and my favorite international break would be somewhere Imbituba, muita bom
5. For those who haven’t seen Gateway to Sorga, talk a little about the Mentawais trip in 07, and what it was like surfing with Mathieu, Caro, Rees and Khane Duncan, Malan, Xaver, etc.
Absolutly amazing these people are on a whole other level of waveski riding. I was telling someone if that trip was a contest I would have taken last place. Despite being some of the craziest surfers I have ever witness charging they were all a very cohesive group all very giving with their knowledge of waveski and life for that matter. I definitely feel like that trip made a life long friendship with the whole crew.
6. What board(s) are you riding and why do you like it/them? Do you have different boards for different conditions?
I think I have about 20 waveskis in my garage and those are made up of 6 different MFG of waveskis. Its really been a exciting time for me though ever since the Mentawaiis Gateway to Sorga trip because I have been riding a Wavemaster board that Rees Duncan gave to me. This is a really sweet board that challenges me and at the same time is allowing me to pull off
stuff I havent’ done before. This board I was given has some history. He won the NZ worlds and several Oz titles on this very board. The other MFG of boards I have are Dekka, Island , Tsunami, Gee & Shane. I think its important to try everything and see whats best for you.
Fletcher Burton getting air while waveski-striding
7. What else do you do for fun? Any other sports or hobbies? I think I read somewhere you were into reptiles (I have a bunch myself).
I also love to surf, photo and video, Trumpet, Guitar, Drums, Ukelele, Winch, hydrofoil, wake surf and pretty much anything else that has to do with water.
8. How about 3 tips to help newer waveskiers get better?
Make sure you have a big enough board so you don’t discourage yourself off the start. Try and watch as much footage of the other countries around the worlds riders. Develop relationships with other waveskiers around the world and ask a lot of questions but then figure out what works best for you.
9. How about 3 competition tips/strategies?
1. Have fun.
2. Treat each heat as its just another day wavesking .
3. Go Hard.
10. The future of the sport is with the younger set, as we all saw in Reunion . What single thing do you think might open the sport up to younger potential waveskiers here in the states?
Try and get footage and press releases into surfing publications and surf industries companies. Bring youngstas from other countries and show an expression session, get more sponsorship, get more striding boards out there so they can have the best of both worlds. Have your cake and eat it too.
11. What advice would you give to help all waveskiers promote our sport here in the States?
Keep it positive and be respectful. Learn your local surf community, what to do and don’t and how to fit in this community. LEARN & PRACTICE SURFERS LAW AT ALL TIMES
*** THE USWA would like to thank Billy for conducting this first Association Blog Interview! Many many thanks to Fletcher Burton for being our first subject (and an all-around asset to the sport in too many ways to mention here)! Mahalo!