Damien Hobgood wants to know-where is Jeff Crawford?
“I still like big waves.”-Jeff Crawford
If one person could be pinpointed as leading the early charge of East Coasters breaking new ground in the world of surfing, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone more worthy of that title than Floridian Jeff Crawford.
Jeff is a living legend, to say the least. He’s the goofy-footer responsible for putting the East Coast (namely Sebastian Inlet, Florida) on the international surfing map. Crawford basically paved the way for other notable Floridian rippers such as Pat Mulhern, Charlie Kuhn, Matt Kechele, Todd Holland, The Hobgood twins, the Lopez brothers, and of course, the one and only Kelly Slater. Born into an air force family in the early 1950s in Melbourne Beach, Florida, Jeff spent his formative years living on random air bases in Virginia, Maryland, Oklahoma, Japan, and Hawai’i. His family finally settled near the pristine beaches off Central Florida, where he’d learn to love and respect the ocean. One hot summer, Jeff worked hard mowing lawns to buy his first surfboard.
The arrival of the 70s would mark the beginning of Jeff’s illustrious trek on the competitive surf scene. After scoring up a whole string of local and regional victories, Jeff qualified and placed second overall in the ’72 U.S. Championships. A short time after the contest, he was cordially invited to compete in one of Hawai’i’s most prestigious contests at the time, the Duke Classic.
After arriving in the Aloha State and finally getting settled in, Jeff found that things weren’t going to be easy for him as the “anti-East Coaster” sentiment in Hawai’i was never more prevalent than it was back then. Still, he would persevere and get his-a well-deserved third-place finish at Sunset Beach. “Staying alive food-wise was harder. Fear was not a problem,” says Jeff, pondering his first Hawai’ian experiences 32 years later.
In the summer of 1973, Jeff continued his streak and became the first East Coaster to grace the cover of a major surf publication-an amazing Warren Bolster tube shot taken at Big Rock in La Jolla, California. (Five years later, Jeff scored the cover again, this time at Pipeline. The shot was noted as one of the most tech surf images of its time.) People were starting to take notice of this relatively unknown badass from back East.
The Banzai Pipeline on the North Shore of O’ahu is where Jeff would collide with destiny. His seemingly nonchalant approach to riding the giant caverns at Pipe was uncanny. Crawford was slaying dragons with the best of them-unheard of at the time for a Right Coaster. Jeff was even quoted once then as saying, “Pipe’s just a big Sebastian left.” That remarkable self-assuredness under extreme pressure found him making the final cut of the 1974 Pipe Masters.
After dethroning the king of Pipeline himself, Mr. Gerry Lopez (Gerry was poised to win his third Pipe title in a row), and taking out Rory Russell, Jeff would become the East Coast’s first and only Pipeline Master, a hero-status title that stood strong until 1992, when a young and determined Floridian Kelly Slater blitzed through the competition to win his first Pipe Masters. But how many people can actually say they took out Gerry Lopez to win the Pipe Masters crown-in their first contest at Pipe? Not many. In fact, no one but Jeff can claim that.
Magazines soon touted Jeff Crawford as “the first great surfer to emerge from the East Coast.” His competitive ferocity wasn’t just reserved for the magnificent waves of the North Shore; the man was basically one of the first all-around rippers of the day who could shralp waves from two to twenty feet. “I learned from Barry (Kanaiaupuni), (Jeff) Hakman, and (Gerry) Lopez-all power surfers. To me, that’s surfing,” says Jeff giving a nod to his early influences.In 1976, the inaugural year of organized professional surfing, Jeff became the first mainlander to make the top sixteen of the IPS (International PProfessional Surfing, a fledging pro circuit that would eventually morph into the ASP pro tour). He took out Wayne “Rabbit” Bartholomew (now executive director of the ASP) to win the first ISP-rated contest on the East Coast-the infamous Florida Pro at Sebastian Inlet. Jeff would go on to finish twelfth overall in the final 1978 IPS ratings.
Spending the rest of the mid 70s in Hawai’i, he returned home often to compete at Sebastian and other new pro events happening on the East Coast at the time. Jeff eventually made his way back to Florida and started several surf shops in Brevard County, including Crawford’s Surf and Wear, Inlet Surf Shop, and he also owned Indian Harbor Beach Skate Park in 1977 where “Tony Alva used to come out from California to hang out and skate.”
After leaving it all behind for an extended surf trip to Bali, South Africa, and god knows where else, Jeff traveled the globe in search of waves until he came back to Florida for good and married his sweetheart Karen in 1982. He started his domestic life as a devoted family man, supplementing his income by investing in the stock market. They lived in a modest house near Sebastian Inlet and had two children, Marina and Adam, over the following years.
Twenty years of living in the same place would take its toll on Jeff. In need of a drastic change of environment, he moved his family to the North Shore of O’ahu in early 2002-he bought a house right on Rocky Point. “I’m not done with Florida, I’ve just had a good steady dose of it,” comments Jeff when asked if he’ll ever return to the Sunshine State.
These days, the 52 year old is still charging Third Reef Pipe with the best of them and has been recently experimenting with outer reef tow-in surfing at a big-wave spot called Illusions. Jeff’s vast surf knowledge has transferred over into his fifteen-year-old son, Adam, as he has been making a name for himself among the new pack of young Hawai’ian rippers like Mason Ho and the Florence brothers.
When asked if he’ll ever stop charging big waves, Jeff’s response summed everything up quite nicely: “I surfed with Peter Cole the other day, and he’s like twenty years older than me-there ain’t no reason to quit.”-Aaron Schmidt
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