John Kelly, a hard core surfer and iconic waterman, gave back as much as he received from his years of surfing, and in so many ways, was far ahead of his time.
In 1937, frustrated with the inability of the big redwood plank boards to cut across a wave, he narrowed the tail with an ax and created the first prototypical big wave gun. This gave the board maneuverability and directional stability, and overcame the “slide ass” problem common with the big wide boards then. The result was a new design called the “Hot Curl,” a development credited as the start of big-wave surfing. In 1947, Kelly was one of the first surfers to ride Makaha, the site in Hawaii on Oahu of some of big-wave surfing’s most influential moments.
Later, Kelly’s hydroplane surfboard, patented in 1963, combined the speed of a longboard and the maneuverability of a shortboard in its slightly raised tail section.
In 1961, Kelly founded the seminal environmental organization Save Our Surf, which has opposed environmental threats to Hawaii’s coastal zone, blocked over 30 proposed developments, and preserved over 140 Hawaiian surf breaks.
In 1965, John Kelly authored the classic Surf and Sea, which covered nearly every aspect of surfing and was decades ahead of its time in comprehensive perspective. Inventor, activist, humanitarian, artist, and teacher—John Kelly was all of those, but above it all, a surfer.