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Original Issue

Surfer Phil Edwards tells how to ride a curl, cure complexes and lock in on life

Phil Edwards is 28 years old, blond and barrel-chested. He lives in southern California with Heidi, his 97-pound Hawaiian born wife, in a house overlooking Dana Point and some of the finest surf in North America. This is good, because Phil Edwards is the finest surfer anywhere around. In a soon-to-be-published book called, You Should Have Been Here an Hour Ago (Harper & Row, New York, $6.95), Edwards and SPORTS ILLUSTRATED Associate Editor Bob Ottum tell about it.

Edwards' surfing career began one day in his 10th summer, when he dragged a paddle-board into the water, stroked out beyond the surf and somehow caught a wave. With all the water gods of classical mythology watching over him, he rode it to shore. "I was," he writes, "plugged in for the next 18 years. Which is right up until this moment."

During the late 1940s, surf boarding was pretty much a simple, uncomplicated affair. You caught a wave, stood up, rode it in until you found the shore, stopped, and that was it. But slowly Edwards and other innovators found there was more to the game. One day, quite by accident, he rode into the curl of a wave, and modern "hot dog" surfing was born.

After conquering the best surf on America's West Coast, Edwards moved on to the Banzai Pipeline, the big surf that curls off the northwest edge of Oahu, in Hawaii, in perfect 15-foot waves that present the surfer with a million prickly problems—most of them jagged razor-sharp spires of coral that sit not more than five feet below the surface of the water. After seeing this surf for the first time, Edwards wrote, "I paddled out into it and looked down into a sort of blue-green coral horror.... I kept looking down into it and thinking, 'Oh, God, and I've got to do it, too.' "

He not only did it, but he tells about it in words that are almost existential, an attitude he frequently falls into in relation to his sport, e.g., his Second Law of Surfing:

"I'll tell you what neat is: The force of a monster wave can pin you right down to the bottom. You lie there on your back—spread-eagled and heavy and helpless—and if you look up you can see those spinning fingers of turbulence reaching down to get you. They scoop you up inside of them and you roll yourself up into a ball and for a few seconds you are spinning around crazily in a world that is neither land nor sea nor air. The hell with psychiatry and its cracked-leather couches. This is real back to the womb stuff; this is how you get locked in on life, and this is the kick that can cure you of your complexes."