Show­case: Jim Metyko

Texas-born surf pho­tog­ra­pher Jim Metyko was the un­likely doc­u­menter of one of the most piv­otal pe­ri­ods of pro­fes­sional surf­ing his­tory

Surfer - - Contents - Words by ASHTYN DOU­GLAS

How Texas-born surf pho­tog­ra­pher Jim Metyko cap­tured the rise of Tom Cur­ren and Al Mer­rick amid one of the most piv­otal pe­ri­ods of pro­fes­sional surf­ing his­tory

List of Works

98 Tom Cur­ren, Chan­nel Is­lands fac­tory in Santa Bar­bara, 1981

99 Al Mer­rick, Davey Smith, and Matt Ge­orge, Rin­con, 1980

100 (Left) Al Mer­rick, Chan­nel Is­lands fac­tory, 1980

100 (Right) Tom Cur­ren, Oil Piers, 1981

100 (Bot­tom) Tom Cur­ren, Cen­tral Coast, 1981

101 Tom Cur­ren, world ti­tle party at Mi­ra­mar Beach Re­sort, 1985

102 (Top) Davey Smith, Santa Clara River Mouth, 1983

102 (Bot­tom) Davey Smith, south swell se­cret spot, 1982

103 (Top) Shaun Tom­son, Rin­con, 1983

103 (Bot­tom) Shaun and Paul Tom­son, Mal­ibu Pro, 1982

104 (Top) Kim Mearig, Santa Clara River Mouth, 1982

104 (Bot­tom) Dana Mc­corkle, Matt Mon­dragon, Gabriel Novoa, Tim Smal­ley, Josh Klein, Rin­con, 1983 105 (Top) Al Mer­rick, Santa Bar­bara Wharf, 1982

106 Tom Cur­ren, Santa Clara River Mouth, 1983

106 (Bot­tom) Tom Cur­ren, Al Mer­rick’s back­yard party, 1983

107 Tom Cur­ren, Emma Wood, 1982 If you were to hop in a time ma­chine and travel to Santa Bar­bara in 1979, you’d find a surf cul­ture on the brink of sweep­ing change. Pro surf­ing was still in its in­fancy, the thruster was about 3 years away from be­ing un­veiled and a small-time board­maker named Al Mer­rick and a 15-year-old up­start named Tom Cur­ren were about to be­come two of the most in­flu­en­tial peo­ple surf­ing has ever seen.

This is the world that 20-year-old pho­tog­ra­pher Jim Metyko stum­bled into when he moved to South­ern Cal­i­for­nia in ’79. Born in Hous­ton, Texas, Metyko was raised on a steady diet of Gulf Coast wind swell and spent his free time por­ing over surf mag­a­zines.

“Grow­ing up in a very surf-de­prived area, surf mag­a­zines were ev­ery­thing,” says Metyko, now 58. “So mov­ing out to Cal­i­for­nia was a way for me to be a part of all that. I went out there with the di­rect in­tent of be­ing a pho­tog­ra­pher for SURFER mag­a­zine. But with that said, I just lucked into a phe­nom­e­nal sit­u­a­tion.”

Shortly after ar­riv­ing in Santa Bar­bara, Metyko walked into the Chan­nel Is­lands shop on He­lena Av­enue to buy a mag­a­zine and a bar of wax, and by the end of the trans­ac­tion had al­ready be­come friends with the store man­ager, Kim Rober­ston, who was also a Texas na­tive.

“He sort of be­came my con­duit to Al and the rest of the Chan­nel Is­lands team at that point,” says Metyko. It didn’t take long for Metyko to work his way into Mer­rick’s shap­ing bay to doc­u­ment the board builder’s early days mow­ing foam and try­ing to grow his fledg­ling busi­ness.

“At that time, Chan­nel Is­lands wasn’t what it is to­day,” says Metyko. “I still have a CI brochure from be­fore I moved out there and it was all 7'2" pin­tails with three stringers. But Chan­nel Is­lands was the pro­gres­sive brand of that area and it was on the brink of be­com­ing a world pow­er­house.”

In the late ‘70s, Mer­rick was start­ing to gain the at­ten­tion of the surf world after shap­ing boards for 1977 World Cham­pion Shaun Thom­son and be­gan at­tract­ing a cadre of tal­ented team riders, work­ing with aerial pi­o­neer Davey Smith, fu­ture pro Willy Mor­ris, and, of course, the quiet style-mas­ter-in-the-mak­ing, Tom Cur­ren. Metyko, al­ways tot­ing a cam­era, put him­self right in the mix.

Metyko met Cur­ren on the beach one day and it didn’t take long for him to re­al­ize that there was some­thing spe­cial about his new photo sub­ject. “Every­one knew he was go­ing to be the next big star,” says Metyko. “There hadn’t re­ally been a Cal­i­for­nian on that level since the ‘We’re Tops Now’ ar­ti­cle [as­sert­ing that Aus­tralia had be­come the cen­ter of surf pro­gres­sion, from a 1967 is­sue of SURFER] by John Witzig. I un­der­stood that Tommy was go­ing to put Cal­i­for­nia back on the world stage. Not just that he was go­ing to be a surf star for Cal­i­for­nia, but he was go­ing to dom­i­nate the world.”

Metyko ad­mits that, in ad­di­tion to Cur­ren’s inim­itable tal­ent, part of what drew peo­ple to him at that time was his enig­matic per­son­al­ity. “He knew what was com­ing to him and he didn’t have to worry about run­ning down the mag­a­zines,” says Metyko. “That trait is what made him so great. I re­mem­ber one time he told me to meet up at this spe­cific spot north of Santa Bar­bara. So I showed up there at 6 in the morn­ing to per­fect waves but no sign of Tommy. I waited for an hour and left. Then I hear later that he’s killing it at Ham­monds, 5 min­utes from my house. You’d just have to live with that part of Tommy. He just kind of did what he wanted.”

For four years, Metyko watched the sym­bi­otic re­la­tion­ship be­tween Cur­ren and Mer­rick take hold. “They were feed­ing off each other,” says Metyko. “Tom was grow­ing and Al was grow­ing. Even though the lime­light is al­ways fo­cused on the hottest surfer in the world, this fame de­vel­oped for Al as the shaper.

Metyko con­tin­ued to doc­u­ment Cur­ren, Mer­rick, and the rest of the CI team through­out the early ‘80s—a time of tremen­dous tran­si­tion for them all—be­fore head­ing back to Texas to take care of his ill fa­ther. In that brief pe­riod, Metyko amassed a col­lec­tion of pho­tos that pro­vide a unique win­dow into a time and place when the surf in­dus­try as we know it was still tak­ing root, and some of surf­ing’s great­est leg­ends were born.

“When you look back in surf his­tory, you tend to think, ‘Oh, I wish I was on the North Shore when they had the first Pipe Masters, or I wish I could have seen the Duke In­vi­ta­tional or some other im­por­tant mo­ment in surf­ing,” says Metyko, who con­tin­ued doc­u­ment­ing surf cul­ture even after he left Cal­i­for­nia. “But then I start think­ing to my­self, ‘Hey, I was there dur­ing an iconic time.’ If I’d been there too much later I would’ve missed that spark that kind of ig­nited all at once. But I was there at the right time.”

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