Surfing Legend Greg ‘Da Bull’ Noll, 84, Passed Away at his Home in California Yesterday

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Surfing legend Greg “Da Bull” Noll passed away peacefully yesterday. He was 84.

According to an Instagram post from his son’s surf company, Noll Surfboards, Greg died of natural causes.

Noll was one of the first and one of the greatest big-wave riders. His Greg Noll surfboards, some of the first to be made from balsa wood, making them more maneuverable and much lighter, transformed the surf industry.

He also appeared in a number of surfing documentaries.

In 1964, Noll became the first person to ride a wave at Oahu’s Third Reef Pipeline. At Hawaii’s Makaha Beach in 1969, legend has it he rode the biggest wave anybody had ever caught.

The wave I caught at Outside Pipeline that day walled up twenty-five-feet high about half a mile in front of me. It broke to the left, so I was riding with my back to the wave, goofyfoot, and it was a god-awful uneasy feeling. Instead of getting smaller as I rode it, the sonofabitch grew on me. It got bigger and bigger, and I started going faster and faster, until I was absolutely locked into it. I felt like I was on a spaceship racing into a void. At first, I could hear my board chattering across the face of the wave in a constant rhythm. As my speed increased, the chattering noise became less frequent. Suddenly there was no noise. For about fifteen or twenty feet, I was airborne. Then I literally was blown off my board.

— Greg Noll, Da Bull: life over the edge

Greg Noll (February 11, 1937 – June 28, 2021), nicknamed “Da Bull” by Phil Edwards in reference to his physique and way of “charging” down the face of a wave, was an American pioneer of big wave surfing and was also acknowledged as a prominent longboard shaper. Noll was a member of a U.S. lifeguard team that introduced malibu boards to Australia around the time of the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games. Noll also produced a “legendary” series of 5 Search for Surf movies.

Noll was born Greg Lawhead in San Diego, California, on February 11, 1937. He subsequently adopted the surname of his stepfather, Ash. At the age of 3, Noll moved with his family to Manhattan Beach, California. He began surfing at the age of 11 in the South Bay, he was a member of Manhattan Beach Surf Club where he learned board shaping from Dale Velzy. Noll was a member of the Los Angeles County Lifeguards and competed in paddleboarding. Noll developed his big wave surfing in Palos Verdes at breaks like Lunada Bay. He moved to Hawaii in 1954, where he finished high school, and lived and surfed at Makaha.

Noll became known for his exploits in large Hawaiian surf on the North Shore of Oahu. In November 1957, he surfed Waimea Bay in 25–30 ft surf; at the time, this was thought to be impossible, even by the local Hawaiians. He was the first surfer to ride a wave breaking on the outside reef at Banzai Pipeline in November 1964.

Noll was readily identified in film footage while surfing by his now iconic black and white horizontally striped “jailhouse” boardshorts. It was later at Makaha, in December 1969, that he rode what many at the time believed to be the largest wave ever surfed. After that wave and the ensuing wipeout during the course of that spectacular ride down the face of a massive dark wall of water, his surfing tapered off and he closed his Hermosa Beach shop in the early 1970s. He later moved to Northern California and first worked as a commercial fisherman, before becoming a sport fishing guide.

The surfing exploits of Noll and other big wave legends were chronicled in the 2004 documentary Riding Giants. He also provided his perspective on Hawaiian big wave surfing on the commentary track for DVD, along with Laird Hamilton and Jeff Clark.

Having shaped surfboards since his youth, and having founded his own surfboard business in the 1950s which reached a high level of commercial success, Noll changed to two decades of commercial fishing. The resurgence of longboards brought him back to resume shaping and organize events. He lived in Hiouchi, California with his wife and started a business called “Noll Surfboards” that shaped re-creations of some of the historic boards from the sport of surfing.

Noll was married to Laurie until his death. Together, they had four children: Ashlyne, Jed, Tate, and Rhyn.

Noll resided in Crescent City, California, during his later years. He died on June 28, 2021, at the age of 84.

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