The Legacy of George Greenough

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Wave-riding innovator George Greenough was born in 1941 in Montecito, California. Montecito is located just south of Santa Barbara and a bit north of Rincon, the world-class right point break. He was raised in a wealthy railroad family and is a relative of well-known American sculptor Horatio Greenough, who lived from 1805 to 1852.

George started out as a stand-up surfer in the mid-‘50s, but soon became more interested in kneeboarding and mat surfing – partly because he wanted to be closer to the water. His unique perspectives led Greenough to develop as a cinematographer, taking viewers deeper into the tube than ever before.

While I have yet to meet George Greenough, I have been fortunate enough to become friends with one of his childhood buddies, John Eichert. John has known George since grammar school and has told me many stories of adventures the two of them shared. Eichert, a Santa Barbara area surfboard shaper and boat builder in the late ’50s and through the ‘60s, was a trusted sounding board for many of Greenough’s kneeboard and fin designs. I thank John for sharing fascinating tales about Greenough, including some interesting backstory on the famous clip of George in the tube at the very beginning of the movie, The Endless Summer.

Greenough began making balsa kneeboards in high school, and soon thereafter started designing fins (patterned after the tail fins of tuna) and shooting film. At the age of about 23, George began visiting Australia regularly, where he befriended guys like Bob McTavish and Nat Young. Both Young and McTavish noted Greenough’s style on his spooned-out kneeboards, impressed by the radical turns and high performance cutbacks he was able to perform. Young was using a Greenough-designed fin when he won the ’66 World Surfing Championships, and George’s kneeboard designs led McTavish to develop the first vee-bottom surfboards in 1967…regarded by some as the beginning of the shortboard revolution. As a 15 year-old teenager in 1968, I remember trying to shape a vee-bottom with my brother in my parents’ garage; somehow it just didn’t come out right. It seemed like something new was coming out every day during that time.

That same year, 1968, Greenough began working on what would be his only full-length surf movie, called The Innermost Limits of Pure Fun. Introduced in 1969 and using a heavy, shoulder-mounted camera, George shot from vantage points never seen before. George also contributed to a few other notable surf movies, including Big Wednesday and Rip Girls.

The creative, innovative and influential George Greenough lives in Australia.

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