At a young age, it was clear that Brett Simpson was an athlete of rare talent.
Of course, Simpson excelled at traditional ball sports, and as the son of NFL great Bill Simpson, he was expected to follow in his father’s footsteps. But there was something special about surfing that drew him to the ocean.
“I was intrigued by how difficult the surf was,” Simpson said. “I practiced a lot of ball sports. It was going well, but I ended up falling in love with surfing.
Simpson – a two-time US Open of Surfing winner who helped Team USA win a gold medal in the sport‘s Olympic debut last year – has been honored as a ‘Champion of Surfing’ of this year’s Surfing Walk of Fame. It’s a major accolade for the local Huntington Beach hero who has made waves in the elite competitive circuit and beyond.
Simpson now has his own granite rock on Main Street in front of Jack’s Surfboards, along with several other Surfing Walk of Fame inductees recognized at an event on Thursday, August 4.
At the annual induction ceremony, Lance Carson was recognized as “Surfing Pioneer”, the music group Honk won the “Surf Culture” award and Australian Jodie Cooper was honored as “Woman of the Year”. . The “Local Hero” accolade went to Bruce Gabrielson, and Al Hunt received an honorary award.
Now in its 29th year, the Surfing Walk of Fame is an integral part of Huntington Beach’s surf culture.
Mayor Barbara Delgleize quoted 11-time world champion Kelly Slater, who has her own place on the Surfing Walk of Fame: “Surfing is like the mafia. Once you’re inside, you can’t get out,” she once said. “It’s a bit like this facility today. You’re on the Walk of Fame, and there’s no getting out.
Peter ‘PT’ Townend, surfing’s first world champion, introduced fellow Australian Hunt, who for decades worked behind the scenes as ‘the sport’s most prolific statistician and number cruncher’, describes a brochure during of the event.
Hunt started as a judge and later became the go-to person for compiling and tallying points to crown world champions over the years.
Hunt marveled at how he saw Huntington Beach change over the next 50 years in the surf town, where he saw the “good, the bad and the ugly”.
“But now look at the place. It’s amazing,” he said.
Surfing legend and Orange County Register columnist Corky Carroll introduced Honk, recalling seeing the band in its early days playing gigs in Laguna Beach.
His popularity skyrocketed when he was hired by MacGillivray-Freeman Films to do the soundtrack for the surf movie “Five Summer Stories” in 1972.
“After that, they just exploded,” Carroll said. “Their history, their surfing culture and their music culture – they are the A-team musicians of Orange County, and they still are today.”
Musician Steve Wood, speaking on behalf of the band, explained how “delighted” they were all with the award. Wood grew up in Newport Beach, riding waves all day at 36th Street and hanging out in surf shops.
“It was all about surfing,” he said. “Eventually I got into music and found my second passion. … We stumbled across this thing.
The sport aimed to capture the spirit of the times, including the changes in surfing as it moved 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 on a two-month “to-do list” road trip, sending him her appreciation for the award.
“I’ve always had a thing for Huntington Beach,” she said.
Townend noted that Cooper won his first major event in Huntington Beach in the ’80s at the OP Pro. She then showed her prowess in the big Hawaiian waves well into the 90s.
“She was very candid about the fact that she didn’t want to be the best woman, just the best surfer,” Townend said.
“Surfing Pioneer” Carson, one of the first progressive surfers of the 1950s, was not only a stylish surfer, but continued to build surfboards – which he still does to this day.
“Local Hero” Gabrielson has been a fixture in surf town since the ’60s. He learned surfboard shaping techniques from South Bay icon Dale Velzy and was later elected president of 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 American high school to officially recognize surfing as a varsity sport. He was a co-founder, coach and captain of California State University’s Long Beach Surf Club.
Simpson was the last to take the stage on Thursday, talking 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 must have had such a great support team around you. It’s pretty much your team,” said Simpson, who credited his entire family, coaches and fellow surfers who pushed him along the way. “I feel like this day is more for everyone who’s been supporting me as well. … It’s not necessarily just personal. It’s a community thing.”