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"Times have changed, but the sport of surfing has kept its stoke. The Surfers' Hall of Fame is a way to keep our culture and the fun alive," Pai, left, told about 200 gathered outside his store. "We truly have the greatest sport in the world: surfing."
And with that, it was time for all of the inductees, and many of the surf royalty in the crowd, to tell tales. Here are some:
Big-wave legend Mike Parsons was up first. He took plenty of needling for his clean-cut looks and heard lots of respect for his quiet intensity and competitive drive. The kid who threw papers for the old Laguna Post and had his first paying job as an employee of Pai's morphed into a monster wave rider, earning a Billabong XXL title in 2001 for conquering a 66-foot wave and again for riding a 74-foot wave in January. In between, he towed-in his buddy and partner, Brad Gerlach to ride other monsters.
"That wave was so big, the photo couldn't capture the foot of it," emcee Dave Stanfield said of his January effort while Parsons dipped his feet, then his hands and finally wrote his name in the fresh terra cotta mix that would set as his Hall of Fame sidewalk tile. "Some say that wave was 80 feet."
"I remember ‘Snips' as a freckle-faced grom, when his determination outpaced his skills," Peter Townend said. "His hero was Tom Curren, and Tom Curren is a legend, but MP is still doing it, 20 years later."
"It's an amazing honor, and this is amazing company to share," Parsons, left, said.
Then Gerlach stepped forward to put his imprint in the fresh mix, and to hear legends recall his feats and follies. Co-emcee Shaun Tomson had one.
"BG has the honor of being the only man to compete in a Speedo," Tomson revealed.
Parsons explained the Gerlach phenomenon. "No matter what the waves are like, heavy or soft, Brad makes me laugh," Parsons said. "And wherever we go, 95 percent of the time, Brad is the best surfer in the water. He's an amazing talent."
Gerlach, left, recalled his moment of truth. As a teen, he and his father moved to Huntington from Encinitas, but he missed the NSSA cut and was woebegone. "I went to my Pops, and I told him, ‘I think I'm going to quit, and go back to school.' He thought, ‘Oh man, this MUST be serious.'" So father and son hit the beach, Pops drilling Gerlach, calling him in to critique his style.
"I was thinking, he's not a surfer, and he's my dad, what does he know? But he's been the biggest influence on my being relaxed in the water. Thanks so much, Pops."
Then Stanfield introduced Sean Collins, and his tale of growing from sailor to surfer to meteorologist to the king of surf forecasting for Surfline, in its many iterations. Along the way, Collins changed the way surfers go surfing.
"The mantra we used to have," Shaun Tomson said, "was ‘You never know ‘til you go.' Well, he upended that, and he changed the way we look at travel. A lot of people blame you for the crowds, Sean, but you allow us to maximize our time. You changed the way we do it."
Michael Tomson stepped forward with a bit of a testimonial. "Let me take you back to 1994. I was at my house in Hawaii, looking out on Sunset Beach. The phone rings. It's Sean. He calls and says, ‘Between noon and 12:10, you're going to see a 12-foot set.' I thought, this guy is sick. It's flat out there. But, at 12:08, the horizon changes, and a huge set comes in. He was spot on, and I was a believer."
Collins was humble, and firm. He signed his tile, ‘Follow your passion.' Looking at the other inductees, he told the crowd, "We're all a little rebellious, the names on these stones. If someone tells us we can't do something, we go do it."
Then it was on to Bartholomew. Stanfield listed his championships, his accomplishments, and summed it up: "He's a surfing rock star, and a genuine legend in sport."
It was time for his mates to tell why.
"In the film, Rabbit says, ‘I just wanted to change surfing, to be able to walk down the streets of Kirra and have respect,'" said Shaun Tomson, who produced "Bustin' down the Door," the documentary based on Bartholomew's story that was the buzz during the U.S. Open. "He gave surfing respect. He was an amazing, ferocious competitor. Bugs, we thank you for changing surfing."
Among all his mates from the free-ride generation, "Rabbit was the guy who had the most vision for pro surfing, and it's amazing that he's running the sport today" as president of the Association of Surfing Professionals, Peter Townend said. "The sport is so healthy, and it's all because of him."
"Well, thanks," Bartholomew said when the microphone finally found him. "Thanks for all the memories, and for getting me into so much trouble."
After recounting epic adventures, he closed by describing the perfect session.
"Just before I came over here, it was a one-week school holiday. I'd been looking forward to it for a long time, to go surfing with my sons, Jaggar and Keo. We went out to Snapper Rocks. It was the perfect swell: one-and-a-half feet. The boys could surf out the back."
The royalty moved upstairs to a reception hosted by Surfline for Collins and the other inductees. Aaron Pai was telling me how the event was all about giving back to the sport, lifting up the sport, when an earnest man caught his eye. It was Gerlach's father, Joe, who whispered in Pai's ear.
Pai sprung into action, and then so did Lee Wagoner and the other tradesmen who'd been mixing the Quickcrete, troweling it smooth and getting it set for the Hall of Fame hands, feet, and signatures.
Gerlach, it turned out, hadn't signed his name to his tile. Wagoner and crew set a new tile just to the left of Gerlach's foot- and hand-prints and someone wrote, "Brad Gerlach, inductee --->."