July 18, 1966
The voice is impossibly youthful, and when he speaks of "gnarly 50-foot faces" leaving him "stoked," 61-year-old Phil Edwards sounds as vital as he did at 28, when SI declared him the inspiration of an East Coast surfing boom. For most of the 1960s Edwards, a Californian, was unquestionably the world's best surfer. Blessed with a natural grace and steely control while riding a crest, he revolutionized the sport with his penchant for turning across the face of a wave—at the time a bold move rarely attempted. " Phil Edwards is a legend," says Evan Slater, managing editor of Surfer magazine.
It was the size of Edwards's body that helped establish his place on the waves. At 6'1" and 185 pounds, he had the build needed to maneuver the heavy wooden boards of surfing's formative days. In 1968, however, a shorter, lighter board that afforded a much easier ride than its unwieldy ancestor, became popular. Soon, any interested wearer of swim trunks and sunscreen could hang ten, and Edwards's singular style was special no more. "One day I'm traveling all over, having fun," he says. "The next day I couldn't give myself away."
With his surf-king days over, Edwards turned to Hobie Alter, a boyhood surfing buddy, who added Edwards to the design team of his surfboard company. Edwards's myriad projects included helping to create the Hobie Cat catamaran. "I had a ball," says Edwards, "and I learned that if you make your living with trends, things can change on you in an instant."
Ten years ago things changed again. The longboards of his youth returned to vogue, "and just like that, I was back on the map," he says. Edwards signed a clothing-endorsement deal and began shaping and selling his own line of longboards. "My eyes are going, and it hurts to stand all day," he says with a laugh, "but it's something I love, so it's easy."
Surfing is a different story. Edwards paid for his years of wipeouts in the O.R., undergoing two shoulder operations, a neck fusion, arthroscopic surgery on both knees and joint replacement in the big toe of his right foot. Between bike rides near the San Clemente, Calif., house he shares with his wife of 25 years, Mary, he often chats with Maile, 31, his daughter from a previous marriage, who lives and rides the waves in Hawaii. As for his own surfing days, Edwards shot his last curl four years ago. "The waves are way too crowded, which I really don't like," says Edwards wistfully. "All those waves used to be mine."