078: Herbie Fletcher/Dynasty

Herbie at work, April 2019. Photo: Tozer

“You can’t go back. You can’t live in the past. At least, not in California.”.

The word legend is bandied around too easily these days. Not least by me. But really, no other word is big enough to capture Herbie Fletcher’s personality, or what he represents to surf culture. As Jamie Brisick puts it, “In rock and roll we’ve got Iggy Pop and Mick Jagger. In surfing we’ve got Herbie Fletcher.”

Herbie by Tozer

So what makes Herbie Fletcher such a titan of surf culture? There’s the surfing, of course. Herbie is one of our great stylists, consistently blowing minds over six decades of enduring mastery.

Then there’s his endless relevance. Hawaii in the 60s. Longboarding in the 70s. Astrodeck in the 80s. Wave Warriors in the 90s. Pioneering tow surfing. Whatever the decade, Herbie has taken risks and been at the cutting edge of every key development in surf history, often literally years ahead of the curve.

Herbie by Tozer

There’s also the fact that Herbie is patriarch of THE quintessential board riding dynasty. Father to Christian and Nathan. Grandfather to Greyson. Husband to Dibi, herself a scion of the great Hoffman family, and surf royalty in her own right.

A lifetime captured under one roof. Photo: Tozer

He’s also a renowned artist who works in every conceivable medium, counting Julian Schnabel as a friend and, at the time of our visit, prepping for a forthcoming exhibition at the Gagosian. NBD, right?

Herbie by Tozer

Like I say – only the word legend will suffice. It was a great privilege to spend the afternoon with Herbie, watching him work and recording this conversation. Sit back, and enjoy a lifetime of tales from a true icon.

All photos by Owen Tozer.

If you only have five minutes…

Listen to this section - Herbie on his early years in Hawaii.

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Show Notes

  • Herbie’s home.
  • The beginnings of Astrodeck in ‘76.
  • Surfing starts for Herbie aged 9 in 1958: “I was tuned enough at the right age”.
  • Running away to Hawaii aged 16.
  • Buying his first surfboard: $27 Velzy and Jacobs Balsa Wood Surfboard.
  • Playing with resin, dings and flames for the first time.
  • His teenage obsession with surfing.
  • Meeting his future wife Dibi when he moved to Hawaii.
  • Binging on old surf movies before reading the magazines.
  • Phil Edwards in the ‘The Endless Summer’.
  • Later learning from Phil Edwards: “if you had the power, it had the juice”.
  • Surfing the North Shore in its less-discovered days.
  • Buying Dewey Weber’s cadillac for $100, and subsequently driving down a hill without brakes.
  • The start of the Psychedelic era: “That’s where the LSD helped out: you could visualise things you couldn’t see before”.
  • Living in a surfer community, with ages ranging from 4  – 90.
  • The Mini Gun surfboard.
  • Pioneering the surfboard tow-in.
  • Signing up to 1967 drafts.
  • Finally bringing the jet ski in 1981 to Hawaii – riding with the sail boarders in outside reefs.
  • Conducting his first big wave tow-in session with Martin Potter.
  • Towing means you “can catch waves that you can’t catch”.
  • How towing has improved water safety.
  • Introducing the life vest.
  • Meeting Dibi when looking for his surfboard at Makaha in 1965.
  • Dibi’s sister Joyce, ’65 and ’66 world surf champion.
  • On creating their family surf dynasty.
  • Dibi’s surfer father Walter Hoffman.
  • “I’m more of a nose rider”.
  • The Thrill is Back’ campaign: bringing back the longboard to California.
  • When the boards began to get smaller.
  • “If you’re not catching waves, you’re not surfing”.
  • The surf cycle trends.
  • The change from paraffin wax for on boards.
  • “Performance starts with traction”.
  • The birth of Astrodeck – testing with his kids.
  • “I saw skateboarding in the water”.
  • Skate maneuvers and surfing.
  • Skating first before her surfed.
  • Making ‘Wave Warriors’ movie.
  • Art within the family.
  • His grandson Greyson having the artist’s hand.
  • Herbie learning from artist Julian Schnabel.
  • Dibi making ‘The Fletcher Family’ book.
  • The art projects Herbie is working on now.
  • The materials he likes to work with in his art.
  • “I’m a collector of all kinds of things: I see art in it”.
  • His artistic influences.
  • Resurrecting old sites.
  • “I like to have things come off a little bit”.
  • Surfers he loves watching today.
  • “You can tell a good surfer if they don’t want to get out of the water… and there’s no surf”.
  • Nathan Fletcher big wave riding.
  • Shane Dorian at Jaws.
  • Helping out at Mavericks.
  • “I’m the water patrol”.
  • “I’ll still be surfing when I’m 100… it’s not too far away”.