From an early age, it was clear that Brett Simpson was an athlete of rare talent.
Sure, Simpson excelled at traditional ball sports, and as the son of NFL great Bill Simpson, it was expected that he would follow in his father’s footsteps. But there was something special about surfing that drew him to the sea.
“I was fascinated by how difficult surfing is,” Simpson said. “I played a lot of ball games. It went well but in the end I fell in love with surfing.”
Simpson – a two-time US Open of Surfing champion who helped coaching team USA to a gold medal in the sport’s debut at the Olympics last year – was honored as the “Surf Champion” of this year’s Surfing Walk of Fame. It’s a huge honor for the Huntington Beach hometown hero who has been making waves on the elite competitive scene and beyond.
Simpson now has his own granite stone on Main Street in front of Jack’s Surfboards, along with several other Surfing Walk of Fame inductees who were recognized during an event on Thursday, August 4th.
During the annual induction ceremony, Lance Carson was recognized as a ‘Surfing Pioneer’, music band Honk received the ‘Surf Culture’ award and Australian Jodie Cooper was honored with ‘Woman of the Year’. The Local Hero award went to Bruce Gabrielson, and Al Hunt received an honorary award.
In its 29th year, the Surfing Walk of Fame is a special part of Huntington Beach’s surfing culture.
Mayor Barbara Delgleize quoted 11-time world champion Kelly Slater, who has his own place on the Surfing Walk of Fame: “Surfing is like the mafia. Once you’re in, you can’t get out,” she once told Slater. “It’s a bit like this installation today. You’re on the Walk of Fame and there’s no getting off.”
Peter “PT” Townend, the first world surfing champion, introduced fellow Australian Hunt, who has spent decades working behind the scenes as “the sport’s most prolific statistician and numbers cruncher”, as described in a brochure for the event.
Hunt started out as a judge and later became the first person to tabulate and count the points to crown world champions over the years.
Hunt marveled at how he’s seen Huntington Beach change in the 50 years since he came to the surf town, where he’s seen the “good, bad, and ugly.”
“But now look at the place. It’s amazing,” he said.
Surfing legend and Orange County Register columnist Corky Carroll introduced Honk and recalled watching the band when they first started playing gigs in Laguna Beach.
His popularity skyrocketed when he was hired by MacGillivray-Freeman Films to do the soundtrack for the surf film Five Summer Stories in 1972.
“They just exploded after that,” Carroll said. “Their history, surf culture and music culture – they are and still are the A-Team of Orange County musicians.”
Musician Steve Wood, speaking on behalf of the band, spoke about how “thrilled” they all were about the award. Wood grew up in Newport Beach, rode waves on 36th Street all day and hung out at surf shops.
“It was all about surfing,” he said. “At some point I got into music and found my second passion. … We happened upon this thing.”
The sport has been about capturing the zeitgeist, including changes in surfing as it transitioned from more traditional longboarding to shortboarding, he said.
“We just made the music that moved us,” Wood said.
Cooper sent in a video from Australia, where she’s been on a two-month bucket list, expressing her appreciation for the award.
“I’ve always had a soft spot for Huntington Beach,” she said.
Townend noted that Cooper won her first major event in Huntington Beach in the ’80s at the OP Pro. She continued to show off her skills in big, crashing Hawaiian waves well into the ’90s.
“She was very open about not wanting to be the best woman, just the best surfer,” Townend said.
“Surfing Pioneer” Carson, one of the early progressive surfers in the 50’s, was not only a stylish surfer but also made surfboards – which he still does today.
“Local Hero” Gabrielson has been a fixture in surf town since the ’60s. He learned surfboard shaping skills from South Bay icon Dale Velzy and was later elected president of the Huntington Beach Surfing Association.
Gabrielson was also the founder of the Edison High School Surf Club and later founded and coached the Huntington Beach High School Surf Team, the first high school in the United States to officially recognize surfing as a college sport. He was a co-founder, coach, and captain of California State University’s Long Beach Surf Club.
Simpson last took the stage on Thursday and spoke about how he was drawn to the sport because of its individualistic nature – but now understands it’s more of a team sport.
“Looking back you have to have such a big support crew around you. It’s pretty much your team,” said Simpson, who thanked all of his family, coaches and fellow surfers who have pushed him along the way. “I feel like this day is also more for everyone who has supported me. … It’s not necessarily just personal. It’s a community thing.”