Source Documents
silk with van dyke : surfing the north shore, 1963

George Silk with Fred Van Dyke : Surf Riding in Hawaii and Pure Pleasure of Being Half Killed, 1963.

Time-Life Publishers, USA.

24 May 1963.
Life International
Time Life, (Melbourne).
Volume 34 Number 10
, 3 June 1963.

George Silk's article Riding the Wild Waves, with 15 colour photos and extensive captions, and his 2 page article with Fred Van Dyke, Pure Pleasure of Being Half Killed, were published in the US edition of Life magazine on 24 May 1963 and a week later in the International edition on 3 June 1963. 
Whereas the US
edition highlighted the space flight of Gordon Cooper, the International edition cover featured two surfers on an 18-footer at Sunset Beach, titled The Wildest Water Sport: Surf Riding in Hawaii.
The photograph appeared inside the US edition on pages 68-69.

Some of these photographs
, along with others by George Silk not used in the US edition, are online at:

The magazine is available online from google.books:

Born in New Zealand, Silk's career as a war photographer began in 1939 as a combat cameraman for the Australian government, covering action in the Middle East, North Africa and Greece.
Trapped with the famed Desert Rats at Tobruk in Libya, he was captured by German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel's forces but escaped 10 days later.
He began working for Life magazine in 1943,
serving as a staff photojournalist for the next 30 years.
Silk was named magazine photographer of the year four times by the National Press Photographers Association.

Five years later, Life published an article by Fred Van Dyke, with photographs by Dr. Don James and Leroy Grannis, in which his use of the phrase latent homosexuals caused some controversy on the North Shore at the time.
See: 1968 Fred Van Dyke : The Peril of the Surf.

Over the years, surfing featured in a number of the US and/or international editions of Life:
Surfing in California, 7 February 1938. California Surfing, 26 August 1940. Aquatic Adventure Down Under, 15 September 1958. Riding the Wild Waves, 24 May 1963.
Dick Dale, King of "Surfing Music", August 30, 1963. Skateboards, June 5, 1964. Joyce Hoffman-surfing champ, 14 October 1966. (Surfing Photos), 20 March 1967.
Murf the Surf, and jewel robbery, 21 April 1967. The Peril of the Surf, March? 1968. Big Surf- Surf pool in Arizona, 6 March 1970.

There is a selection of surfing photographs from the Life-Time archives online at:

Also see:

Page 56                                             Elite surfer's peril and ecstasy in Hawaii
Riding the Wild Waves

When waves kindled by some faraway storm reach the awesome height of 30 feet off Oahu's northern beaches most men gasp and stare.
But a very small, courageous band of surfers, mostly expatriates from California and Australia, get on their boards and risk their lives on the mountainous crests of foaming fury in a sport every bit as exhilarating - and nearly as dangerous - as skiing over Niagara on a barrel stave.

The men who ride the big ones in Hawaii actually ski down the shoulder of a wave away from the curl (at fold on opposite page).
[pages 58-59]
They call the first breathtaking schuss "taking the drop."
Their boards accelerate up to 35 mph so rapidly that they kick up wakes like speedboats.
And a merciless mauling awaits the unfortunate who doesn't complete his ride.
He is driven downward by the appalling maelstrom, tossed around, sucked back down and frequently, after fighting up for a desperate gulp of air, hammered down again by the next wave.
The astonishing photographs on these pages capture the peril and ecstasy of surfing's elite corps.
Its membership numbers less than 100, and three of them were killed riding the wild waves last year.

Photographed for LIFE by GEORGE SILK
Page 57

At Sunset Beach, with offshore breeze feathering foam
and rainbow hanging above him, surfer does a
right-hand slide on a thundering 15-footer.

Page 58  [Fold-Out Sequence]             

Explosion of Water for the Unwary    

The slightest miscue in timing can cause a dunking.

Here Rick Grigg gets on 20-footer too late
/right)and fails to pick up enough
speed to avoid its menacing crest (right).


Page 59

Page 60

Page 61          Free Falls, High Dives, Dangerous Dunkings

In wild surf with waves breaking irregularly, Rick Grigg bails out (left) at Banzai Beach.

He dives clear of board which becomes a menace when loose in the turbulence.
Grigg was not hit but had other trouble: "I almost drowned," he said.

Jose Angel of Hawaii has a perilous moment when

he is almost skewered by his board (right) after
free-falling down the face of a 22-foot wave.
Being hit by a board is the most common cause
of injury or death in big-wave surfing.

Joe Kaohi maneuvers desperately to cling to board.
At Banzai Beach waves curl so evenly that they leave an air space
called a "Banzai pipe" just under the crest.

Getting a ride in this tunnel is considered the ultimate in surfing thrills.


Pages 62-63   

Boring from Below

Before riding in on great waves men must sometimes first fight their way out through
 foaming barriers like the one above.
This surfer was repulsed twice before he finally gave up.
Best way through the huge combers is under them.

At right (below) Greg Noll shows the technique.
He lies on board in first picture, rolls over as wave approaches (center),
 then clutches board tightly and prepares to duck under it.


Pages 64-65

Burst of Speed to Catch a Ride
Once out beyond the booming rows of breakers, surfers enter an unreal world.
"It's clean and beautiful," one of them explains, "like you've never been there before."
They talk to the water as they prowl around searching for just the right wave.

The surfer at left, Preston Leavey, has finished his talking and is now paddling frantically to get on a wave and begin his ride.
The fierce exultation of the moment is magnified by the camera, which is bolted to the front of the board and has recorded the glitter of refracted light from flying spray and drops of water on the camera housing.

Until the late 1940s no one dared expose himself in this fashion to the great waves on Oahu's north shore.
Hawaii's ancient chieftains used to coast regally in on small waves before their admiring subjects on great loglike boards which weighed 160 pounds, but they dared not defy the big waves.
What changed this slow regal ride into today's death-defying sport was development of a lightweight, highly maneuverable board of balsa wood.
Two young surfers named Woody Brown and Dick Cross used the light boards to pioneer the big waves.
The body of Cross was never found after he disappeared into a ferocious 40-footer in 1943.

Page 66-67

Nick Beck of Honolulu gets up enough speed on his light board to become synchronized with a wave and assumes a balanced crouch.
At this point, while doing about 20 mph, he took his own picture by activating a camera on the front of his board with string wrapped around his left hand.

At the very top of the wave, where Beck now hovers, most big-wave surfers are assailed by grave apprehensions.
"Sometimes you want to stop," confesses Rick Grigg, "but there's a very forceful drive inside you that says, 'I've gone this far; I can't stop.'
If you hesitate for just a moment, if you don't maintain confidence, you'll lean back and get wiped out"-i.e., dumped into the boiling surf.

The take-off is the most critical part of big-wave riding.
"Once you hit the take-off and get the board trimmed and sliding," says Buzzy Trent, another expert surfer, "you

have the wave 90% conquered."
From there to the end of the ride it's sheer, breathless joy.
The path is diagonally away from the wave's foaming crest.
Contrary to general opinion no one ever rides a big wave straight in.
It just can't be done.

Tense Poise at the Peak

Pages 68-69

Out of This World
A pair of riders, cutting frothy furrows in the wall of a wild 18-footer, seem headed on a collision course at Sunset Beach.
At times like this they scream, "Let me in! Let me in!"
But rarely do they hear each other above the awful thunder behind them.
"You hear a sharp crack, and then you have the rumble of the soup rushing toward the beach," says Buzzy Trent in the lingo of the surfing fraternity.
"The crack comes from the hollow under the crest . . . when the wave collapses on itself the air trapped inside explodes outward like a rifle shot, or a crack of thunder."

Sometimes the uproar includes the crack of a board itself, for the forces unleashed when a big wave explodes can splinter a board or propel it skyward from the depths like a Polaris missile.

Most drownings occur when an upended surfer is knocked unconscious by his board.

"I would like to see a breakthrough in the development of a good safety helmet," says veteran Buzzy Trent.
But he admits that it might be hard to get the daredevil surfers to wear them.
"You see how these guys are.
I probably wouldn't wear one myself."

Pages 70-71: 1963 Buick Riviera by General Motors.                                                          Page 72: Pall Mall Cigarettes
Page 73                                                              Pure Pleasure of Being Half Killed

In an attempt to discover why these men are so possessed with this sport, why they participate with such intensity, I talked with one veteran, 33-year-old Honolulu school teacher Fred Van Dyke (below-right) who was born in San Francisco and came to the islands in 1955.

Surf and sun have burned his skin to a permanent bronze, and when he moves, his muscles ripple like a boxer's.
To keep fit, which he says is vital to survive in this sport, he swims a mile several times a week and runs a mile every other day on the beach.
To condition self for the fight with rip tides and undertow, he ties a piece of rope around his waist and anchors it to the side of a swimming pool.
Against this resistance, he swims a; hard as he can for 10 minutes.
To get used to underwater pressure 40 feet down, which can hit him after being dumped by a big wave, he skindives to that depth.

All this conditioning paid off one day six years ago while he was riding 25-foot waves at Haleiwa.
"A big one drove me down into complete darkness," he told me, shrugging his shoulders as if to shake off the memory.
"I struggled for the surface, but crashed into the coral bottom—I was swimming the wrong way.
I was so upset I threw up and then blacked out.
The next thing I knew, I was on the surface.
But as I gulped for air, another wave hit me.

If I hadn't succeeded in getting to the shoulder of the third wave, I'm sure I would have drowned. . . .
"Many of us ride to supplement something lacking in our lives," he said, leaning against a car in Haleiwa heaped with surfboards.


Page 74                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    SURFING CONTINUED
'The Joy Is To Feel That Nature Is Oblivious to Your Presence'

"We have the usual drive to succeed and a great need for recognition.
Many people channel this drive into making money, but not us.
I'd like to think we go surfing simply because we love it, but I'm sure the underlying reasons are concerned with this need for recognition.

"Most surfers wouldn't admit this if you asked them, but all of them will agree that they take more chances when people are watching from the beach.

"Ricky Grigg—who many think has been the No. 1 surfer for the last two years—is a good example.
If he quit tomorrow, he'd still be talked about 10 years from now.
But instead he drives and drives, constantly putting himself in survival situations (see pp. 59-61).

"I started surfing at school.
On Fridays a bunch of us would head for the surf at Santa Cruz or Ocean City and sleep in an old truck on the beach.
We became so involved, everything else was shut out of our lives. . . . Even if there wasn't any surf, we stayed till the last minute, hoping it would come up.

By the time I went to college in San Francisco, I'd already decided lesuire time was mor important to me than making money.
I decided to become a teacher.
I worked hard.
Some of my friends couldn't understand why I studied some weekends when the surf was up.
'Your'e a sucker,' they'd say as they took off for the beach.
Now, many of them work six long days a week, with only two weeks off for a vacation.
As a a teacher here [at Punahou, a private school], I have my afternoons and weekends, and a long vacation.

"Since coming to the islands my attitude has changed a great deal.
I was a fanatic about surfing when I arrived, but I've learned from the Hawaiians, who have a wonderful
When the surf's good, they surf; when its poor they sit on the beach and sing songs.

"Actually,  I still get carried when I hear the big surf is running.
If I'm teaching at the time, I find it hard to concentrate.
It is the greatest feeling in the world out there.
No one can touch you.
It's just you and the waves.
There's no pulling out, no stopping.
You've committed yourself and have to follow through or take the punishment of a bad wipe-out.
You know, you never can conquer the waves.
The joy is to become part of them, to feel that nature is oblivious to your presence.

This is a lot different from most sports.
When you're skiing, for instance, and you want to rest, stop and rest.
When you want a breath of air, you breathe.
Not in surfing.
The slightest mistake can bring tons of soup down your head.
Down there 20 or 30 feet, you can't rest or breathe.
You may be under only 15 or 20 seconds, but it's an eternity.

"Or you stand up too soon your board spins out from under you.
Off a steep wave you'll free-drop through the air maybe 15 or 20 feet, and you know that tons of water may be hurling that surf- board straight at your head.
It's the easiest way to get killed.

"Anyone  who  says he is not afraid is a liar," Van Dyke said, looking straight at me,
"Even while I'm standing on the beach checking out the waves, I feel insecure.
It's not until I've ridden a few and taken some wipe-outs that my confidence returns and I can enjoy myself.

"But on a perfect day at Waimea Bay, when the 20-footers are pouring in, you can just sit on your board and think about the beauty surrounding you.
It's awesome.
In the distance, the horizon lifts as the swells roll in.
The waves just gallop across the bay and colors flash as the sun shines through them.

"Probably the most beautiful time is at sunset.
Very often the wind dies completely, the water glasses off, and it's quiet except when another set of waves comes.
Your worries vanish.
Suddenly you can take a full breath and when you drop down the face of a perfect wave you're sure you know why you're here.
You're free!"

Life International
Time Life, Melbourne.
3 June 1963
Volume 34 Number 10
The Wildest Water Sport: Surf Riding in Hawaii.

(US edition)
24 May 1963.

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Geoff Cater (2018) : George Silk and Fred Van Dyke : Surfing the North Shore, 1963.