Images by Aaron Van Bokhoven and 1970s photos courtesy the Lost and Found collection
“All you had to do was put the pictures in front of them. Because now they’re in their 50s or 60s and you’re this guy who’s holding their past, from their 20s, when like, they think they’re gods, you know? They didn’t even know any better. They didn’t know any better, they didn’t make money. They were just living the life.” – Doug Walker, creator of surf documentary Lost and Found.
The 1970s photos featured with these three living legends were discovered by California native and lifelong surfer Doug Walker at a flea market in Pasadena, California – 30,000 black and white negatives packed away in manila folders in three file boxes.
Recognizing a treasure trove from his childhood era, he bought them all, learned that they were lost carbon copies from Surfing magazine dating from the ’70s through the ’90s, and toted them around California and out to Hawai‘i to track down as many people as he could who knew what the pictures meant.
The results can be found in his documentary, Lost and Found. These are the photos and lives as defined by the surfers.
1971: 23 years old, watching an amateur competition at Sunset Beach. Here, Sutherland was freshly returned from the Army. He had been ranked number one in Surfer magazine’s Surfer Poll right after he had enlisted in the U.S. Army and returned to North Shore to compete two years later.
2012: 64 years old, standing in front of Pipeline. Sutherland held the title of “Mr. Pipeline” throughout the ’70s, a name bestowed upon the break’s most progressive waveriders and also held by Gerry Lopez and Jamie O’Brien. He has been a roofer for 40 years, has two grown sons, and lives on the North Shore. Jocko’s, named after Sutherland himself, and Pipeline remain some of his favorite breaks.
On returning from the Army:
“Seeing the photos was a lot of bringing back the old memories. Like, I am 23 years old here,” says Sutherland, his finger on the photo while sitting at a picnic table at Pipeline. “I’d guess I’m thinking, somebody’s taking a picture of me and maybe I look kind of like a geek because my hair was dark,” he says, referring to his lack of surf-bleached hair due to his recent stint in the Army. “And the way my eyes look, I probably had a beer or two.”
On his style:
“My style wasn’t a smooth flowing style, so to speak, and people wouldn’t call it awkward but they would call it unique. … Surfing will take out of your style any real awkwardness pretty quickly because of the way the wave works. Because I learned to switch feet when I was younger, sometimes I would be halfway into deciding, Should I switch feet for this one or should I go backside or grab the rail? So sometimes there would be a moment of – not doubt – but a moment of a noncommittal feeling, caught in the middle of something.”
On the Surfer Poll:
“So in 1969, John Severson was filming us as part of this movie Pacific Vibrations … I think he wanted to pave the way for the selection of me as number one guy. I was supposed to be this so-called star of his movie like six months before the Surfer magazine poll was going to come out. Unfortunately for him, maybe, and for me, I didn’t know that he had an ulterior motive in bringing out the movie,” he says. Severson, the founder of Surfer, intended to build up to naming Sutherland top surfer in the world. “By the time the movie came out, I had already joined the Army. And so I’m in basic training and one of the company commanders comes down the street with a magazine with me on the cover, number one Surfer Poll, and the commander goes, ‘Is this you?’ And I said, ‘Yes, that’s me,’ knowing I was a marked man from then on. … They picked on my a little more thinking I was trying to escape something. I just wanted to do something honorable in my community.”
1979: 24 years old, free-surfing Backyards at Sunset Beach. This was in the midst of Bertlemann’s pro career, during which he landed a record nine magazine covers between 1974 and 1984. The board he’s on was one he shaped and made the logo for – his Olympic rings represent breaks on five different continents.
2012: 57 years old, standing at Sunset Beach with Backyards in the background. Today, Bertlemann is “shaping boards and signing autographs” to get by, having taken on racing cars and martial arts before dropping off the map in the late ’90s. He has three children, seven grandchildren, and splits time between Town and North Shore. The combination of a pinched nerve in his vertebrae and an aneurism paralyzed the right side of his body in 2000, and only recently has he been able to body surf again.
On bottom turns:
“I could tell you, honestly, I haven’t seen anybody that can do a bottom turn like that yet,” says Bertlemann, looking at the shot while sitting in the sand at Sunset Beach. “That’s going so fast. That board is an 8-foot 8-inch pintail that I had. But to make a turn that hard that low, you have to be going so fast. I mean, I forgot about this actually.”
“I was third in the world in ’72. That was pretty cool. At 16, 17, I was third in the world. I didn’t know what the hell we were doing. They had a contest at Pacific Beach in California. I remember it very well because we had four hotel rooms, and we just trashed them all.”
“I was hoping that surfing would be in a whole other dimension by now. I mean, from when I first started surfing to when I left, surfing changed leaps and bounds. Everybody was doing these real long, drawn out turns, really slow style of surfing. Then I took all those lines, those figure-eight lines, and put them all into the pocket. That’s when I started flying. They said, ‘Flying is impossible,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, yeah right.’ If it wasn’t for skateboarding, I don’t think I would have flown. Because to do this maneuver, the aerial, it’s sort of backwards from surfing because you’re putting all your power on the bottom part and the turn, and by the time you get to the top you lost all of your power. If you try turning at the top part of the wave, you fly higher, but the board will get away from your feet. So what you gotta do is suck your legs in and let centrifugal force carry it across. And that’s how I figured it out, through skating.”
1976: 16 years old, free-surfing at Off the Wall. This is Buttons’ first photo in a surf magazine, when he was still just running away from home and living on the beach on North Shore to surf.
2012: 54 years old at Off the Wall. He runs Buttons Surf School and gives back to the community via surf lessons for disabled children whenever he can. He has eight children, nine grandchildren and lives with his wife in Wailua. He still surfs everything from Off the Wall to Backdoor to Waimea Bay – especially when there are 20-foot swells.
On running away from home:
“Listen, when I was a kid, there was nothing here,” he says while walking down the narrow path to Off the Wall. “This path was here, there were three houses, old-school style. So when I was a kid, and I would run away from home, I’d come right here to this beach. Sometimes I’d go to Chun’s Reef. I had a tent, I had a hibachi. All my aunts and uncles would report back to my mom, ‘Oh yeah he’s OK.’ When the waves would get big, 20 foot, they would wash away all my camping stuff. It was amazing, growing up in Hawai‘i, brah.”
On coming full circle:
“There’s an organization called Access Surf. I been taking people with quadriplegia, paraplegia, and autism kids surfing every first Saturday of the month for the last five years. I’m like the guru. I can take anyone surfing and get them up on a wave. For me, also, as being a recovering drug addict, I’m not embarrassed to say anything, it is what it is, you know. So today, for me, life is good. I got that 1-year-old girl and that 5-year-old son, and so it’s like full circle of life, you know? My life has gone around, and now today I give it to the kids that I think I can help and to give back to my kids, you know.”