Best Ever Interview with Larry Bertlemann

LarryBertlemann03.jpg

Larry Bertlemann, aka "The Rubberman" opened the door. The legendary Hawaiian taught us that no limits exist beyond our imagination. And while he didn’t invent the shortboard, he certainly showed us how to ride it. No single surfer had a greater influence on the way people surf — from the best in the world (like Buttons) on down — than Larry Bertlemann. Simply the Best Ever.

GJ Editor Skip Snead caught up with Larry while he was working on some new surfboard designs in California recently and here's how the conversation went….

Ghetto Juice: What brought you to California this summer?
Larry Bertlemann: Yeah, just kicking it, doing a little bit of work. Working with this new line of "green" blanks, and they're really cool boards. The blanks are unreal. That way I can give back to the ocean and to my kids and my kid's kids …instead of killing it.

GJ: Did you ever imagine as a kid you'd have such longevity in the sport of surfing? What was it like being a kid?
LB: All I was doing was surf, period (laughs). All I was worried about was how long until I could get back in the water, then everything would be fine.

GJ: What's different now?
LB: Well the waves haven't changed that much, they're always consistent. Just more boards in the water. It's kind of nice now, because when I was young, there were less people but it was all guys out. Now there's girls and guys out there. And some of the girls are a hell of a lot better than the guys. They've come a long ways. That's unreal.

GJ: Pro surfing in general has come a long way, huh?
LB: No, the judging has come a long way. They finally caught up to where I was (laughs). After all these years, now they're getting judged.

GJ: What's it like for you when you think back to your early days, blowing people away with your surfing and stuff. Where did that all come from? Where did you draw the inspiration from?
LB: A lot of it came from the people on earth, saying I couldn't do it, that it was "impossible." Every time someone said something was impossible to do, I made it possible.

GJ: What were some of your best memories from being on the world tour in the 70s?
LB: Just seeing all the guys on tour surfing all over the world, all the different places. And the different crowds. I was so glad that I could surf for myself. It didn't matter whether I won or lost, as long as I was out there blowing people's minds it was amazing. Whether I was judged or not, it didn't matter.

GJ: Was it tough to travel the world back then? How did you finance it all?
LB: It was really kind of simple: I got sponsored by the airlines. Shoots, when I first started surfing, I think the first contest I won I won a can of Spam and a can of sardines. There was no money, but at least I could eat (laughs). But I loved it. I just had to figure out how to get paid (more laughs). I made up this thing called "explosion contracts" where I went up to different companies and told them they didn't have to pay me anything. I said, "I'll put stickers on my board and you don't have to pay me anything until I get published in a magazine or newspaper or on TV." But they didn't know that in fifteen minutes I could make 60 grand, because you can't buy covers of magazines. And I'd get four or five stickers … that was so easy. It was unreal.

GJ: Do you remember the first time you scored the cover of a magazine?
LB: Yeah, I think I was in seventh grade. I'd just won the Boys division of a contest in Waikiki. I was playing around on a Gordon and Smith Twinfin out at Kaisers and that month I got a cover. I was like, damn, this is cool, I'm going to try and keep this thing going.

GJ: You won the US Champs in the early 70s, but when did you win your first pro contest?
LB: Well back then it was hard to tell the pros from the amateurs, it was a really thin line. I think it was maybe a Smirnoff, something that wasn't really that big. I think I won a couple hundred bucks or something. That was lot of money back then. (Laughs).

GJ: Were you blown away that you won money doing something that just came naturally to you?
LB: Yeah! But I was already thinking that if I kept my act together, showing people where surfing could go, it would go there. I did everything as professionally as I could. Especially when I got to know the airlines. Hawaiian Airlines, Southwest, United. I traveled first class all over the place. It was pretty cool.

GJ: What was your childhood like? How did you get into surfing?
LB: I got into surfing when I was 11 and a half years old when I came from the Big Island. My mom and dad got divorced. I've got four sisters and my mom was working three jobs to take care of us. I was walking down the beach at Waikiki, going, ho, what are those guys doing out there? They were riding waves. So I rented a board for about an hour and I never brought it back. They had to chase me out the water. I still remember the first wave I ever caught, feeling the water moving across the board. After that, nothing else mattered.

GJ: What about school?
LB: (Laughs). I didn't really go to school that much because school just got in the way of my education (more laughs). I told my teachers, "Why should I stay in school?" They said, "Well, you've gotta go to school to keep your grades up so you can graduate and get a good job, and you can earn money." I asked my counselor, "This is your job right?" He goes,"Yeah." I said, "Do you get paid well?" He goes, "Yeah." I said, "How much money do you got in the bank?" He said, "$500 bucks!" and I go, "Okay, cool." And I pulled out five grand. I said, "You see this? I made this! Why should I stay in school and work for minimum wage at McDonalds when I can make this kind of money right now?" I told him I wasn't gonna be some kid who sits in school, reads a book and learns from the book. I'm gonna be the one who writes the book.

GJ: You were a strong minded person back then….
LB: Even still today. I've always said, anything is possible, and it's still my motto today.

GJ: What do you think of the kids out there surfing today?
LB: I love the kids. I tell them, don't ever change. Whatever you do, don't change. Keep doing whatever you're doing. Now days, you can get really gnarly contracts. Back in day you couldn't. Now days it's a sport. And I think it was in 2012, I went to Australia and got the Lifetime Achievement Award. And I go, this is how surfing's supposed to be, man. We had to wear suits and everything, black tie event. This is where it was supposed to be when I was surfing. It finally caught up.

GJ: Your generation made something out of nothing, though.
LB: Yep, from nothing. Just from the pure love of surfing.

GJ: Who were some of the guys you enjoyed surfing against back in the day?
LB: All the guys older than I was. They were my idols back then. Guys like Terry Fitzgerald, Ian Cairns, Shaun …The Duke was my best contest I think. That was in 1974. I was like, I actually won this thing? Am I that good or just lucky? But I was just having fun. And I still think today, the best guy surfing is the one having the most fun. It's true.

GJ: Can you recall a favorite day you had back when you were a kid, that if you had a time machine you'd go back to and relive?
LB: Probably in the 70s. I remember one day, early summer, for some reason the waves were about six feet all the way around the island—north, east, west, south, and I drove around and surfed every side, in one day, just to see if I could do it. And there were waves all the way around the freakin' island. It was unreal.

GJ: Do you sometimes reflect on how lucky you were to live the life you've lived?
LB: All the time (laughs). I'm blessed to do the things I've done. I didn't know how I was going to do it, but I was determined to do it. I didn't know how I was going to get money. Didn't know how to get sponsored. Everything I've done I've done because I dreamed it first. Once I could see it in my dreams, I could do it in real life.


Posted by: Ghetto JuiceGhetto Juice at: 17 Sep 2014 02:08




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Larry Bertlemann, aka "The Rubberman" opened the door. The legendary Hawaiian taught us that no limits exist beyond our imagination. And while he didn’t invent the shortboard, he certainly showed us how to ride it. No single surfer had a greater influence on the way people surf — from the best in the world (like Buttons) on down — than Larry Bertlemann. Simply the Best Ever.

GJ Editor Skip Snead caught up with Larry while he was working on some new surfboard designs in California recently and here's how the conversation went….

Ghetto Juice: What brought you to California this summer?
Larry Bertlemann: Yeah, just kicking it, doing a little bit of work. Working with this new line of "green" blanks, and they're really cool boards. The blanks are unreal. That way I can give back to the ocean and to my kids and my kid's kids …instead of killing it.

GJ: Did you ever imagine as a kid you'd have such longevity in the sport of surfing? What was it like being a kid?
LB: All I was doing was surf, period (laughs). All I was worried about was how long until I could get back in the water, then everything would be fine.

GJ: What's different now?
LB: Well the waves haven't changed that much, they're always consistent. Just more boards in the water. It's kind of nice now, because when I was young, there were less people but it was all guys out. Now there's girls and guys out there. And some of the girls are a hell of a lot better than the guys. They've come a long ways. That's unreal.

GJ: Pro surfing in general has come a long way, huh?
LB: No, the judging has come a long way. They finally caught up to where I was (laughs). After all these years, now they're getting judged.

GJ: What's it like for you when you think back to your early days, blowing people away with your surfing and stuff. Where did that all come from? Where did you draw the inspiration from?
LB: A lot of it came from the people on earth, saying I couldn't do it, that it was "impossible." Every time someone said something was impossible to do, I made it possible.

GJ: What were some of your best memories from being on the world tour in the 70s?
LB: Just seeing all the guys on tour surfing all over the world, all the different places. And the different crowds. I was so glad that I could surf for myself. It didn't matter whether I won or lost, as long as I was out there blowing people's minds it was amazing. Whether I was judged or not, it didn't matter.

GJ: Was it tough to travel the world back then? How did you finance it all?
LB: It was really kind of simple: I got sponsored by the airlines. Shoots, when I first started surfing, I think the first contest I won I won a can of Spam and a can of sardines. There was no money, but at least I could eat (laughs). But I loved it. I just had to figure out how to get paid (more laughs). I made up this thing called "explosion contracts" where I went up to different companies and told them they didn't have to pay me anything. I said, "I'll put stickers on my board and you don't have to pay me anything until I get published in a magazine or newspaper or on TV." But they didn't know that in fifteen minutes I could make 60 grand, because you can't buy covers of magazines. And I'd get four or five stickers … that was so easy. It was unreal.

GJ: Do you remember the first time you scored the cover of a magazine?
LB: Yeah, I think I was in seventh grade. I'd just won the Boys division of a contest in Waikiki. I was playing around on a Gordon and Smith Twinfin out at Kaisers and that month I got a cover. I was like, damn, this is cool, I'm going to try and keep this thing going.

GJ: You won the US Champs in the early 70s, but when did you win your first pro contest?
LB: Well back then it was hard to tell the pros from the amateurs, it was a really thin line. I think it was maybe a Smirnoff, something that wasn't really that big. I think I won a couple hundred bucks or something. That was lot of money back then. (Laughs).

GJ: Were you blown away that you won money doing something that just came naturally to you?
LB: Yeah! But I was already thinking that if I kept my act together, showing people where surfing could go, it would go there. I did everything as professionally as I could. Especially when I got to know the airlines. Hawaiian Airlines, Southwest, United. I traveled first class all over the place. It was pretty cool.

GJ: What was your childhood like? How did you get into surfing?
LB: I got into surfing when I was 11 and a half years old when I came from the Big Island. My mom and dad got divorced. I've got four sisters and my mom was working three jobs to take care of us. I was walking down the beach at Waikiki, going, ho, what are those guys doing out there? They were riding waves. So I rented a board for about an hour and I never brought it back. They had to chase me out the water. I still remember the first wave I ever caught, feeling the water moving across the board. After that, nothing else mattered.

GJ: What about school?
LB: (Laughs). I didn't really go to school that much because school just got in the way of my education (more laughs). I told my teachers, "Why should I stay in school?" They said, "Well, you've gotta go to school to keep your grades up so you can graduate and get a good job, and you can earn money." I asked my counselor, "This is your job right?" He goes,"Yeah." I said, "Do you get paid well?" He goes, "Yeah." I said, "How much money do you got in the bank?" He said, "$500 bucks!" and I go, "Okay, cool." And I pulled out five grand. I said, "You see this? I made this! Why should I stay in school and work for minimum wage at McDonalds when I can make this kind of money right now?" I told him I wasn't gonna be some kid who sits in school, reads a book and learns from the book. I'm gonna be the one who writes the book.

GJ: You were a strong minded person back then….
LB: Even still today. I've always said, anything is possible, and it's still my motto today.

GJ: What do you think of the kids out there surfing today?
LB: I love the kids. I tell them, don't ever change. Whatever you do, don't change. Keep doing whatever you're doing. Now days, you can get really gnarly contracts. Back in day you couldn't. Now days it's a sport. And I think it was in 2012, I went to Australia and got the Lifetime Achievement Award. And I go, this is how surfing's supposed to be, man. We had to wear suits and everything, black tie event. This is where it was supposed to be when I was surfing. It finally caught up.

GJ: Your generation made something out of nothing, though.
LB: Yep, from nothing. Just from the pure love of surfing.

GJ: Who were some of the guys you enjoyed surfing against back in the day?
LB: All the guys older than I was. They were my idols back then. Guys like Terry Fitzgerald, Ian Cairns, Shaun …The Duke was my best contest I think. That was in 1974. I was like, I actually won this thing? Am I that good or just lucky? But I was just having fun. And I still think today, the best guy surfing is the one having the most fun. It's true.

GJ: Can you recall a favorite day you had back when you were a kid, that if you had a time machine you'd go back to and relive?
LB: Probably in the 70s. I remember one day, early summer, for some reason the waves were about six feet all the way around the island—north, east, west, south, and I drove around and surfed every side, in one day, just to see if I could do it. And there were waves all the way around the freakin' island. It was unreal.

GJ: Do you sometimes reflect on how lucky you were to live the life you've lived?
LB: All the time (laughs). I'm blessed to do the things I've done. I didn't know how I was going to do it, but I was determined to do it. I didn't know how I was going to get money. Didn't know how to get sponsored. Everything I've done I've done because I dreamed it first. Once I could see it in my dreams, I could do it in real life.

Image LarryBertlemann03.jpg