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The Great Tabelini
media courtesy of Mike Tabeling
by Mike Tabeling
posted 2004-03-15

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I have to admit that the title belongs to me. This was a pet name I gave Mike back in the early 70's when he showed up at the cliffs with Bolster and the Newbreak boys. It was a time when he showed us the light on what it was to be a traveling surfer living the lifestyle many of us only dreamed about. I remember best being at Hanley's house with about a dozen of the Cliffs surf dogs talking story and listening to Mike's every word. Here was a real bona-fide high caliber surfer that was articulating to us one-to-one about that days waves, his travels, the boards we were presenting and everything else in surfing during that era. Tabeling was pretty hot at the time Weber Team, East Coast champ, contest hottie, magazines.

Photo courtesy of Mike Tabeling
Photo courtesy of Mike Tabeling

Years later when Mike showed up at the Curl looking for rubber he very humbly and nonchalantly not only remembered me but also gave me a video of his years of travel. This was a video that pretty much picked up after he left San Diego and was still being filmed right into the new millennium. What a score on my part. I showed this video to anyone who would watch it with me and the consensus was always the same. Incredible action, great surfing without leashes on timeless equipment, and the always-wondered question, why did he give up the pro gig at the height of his career. Well, here you go.

-- Ken McKnight

I was nine when I first tried surfing and it ended up being a very demoralizing undertaking. I was solidly trounced by my father's eleven-foot balsa board at Barber's Point and decided right then and there that I didn't like it. A large part of that was because I nearly drowned in Lake Apopka, Florida when I was five and found this "surfing thing" that my dad was doing to be a very similar experience. Waves scared me. Why would any sane people place themselves in a situation where they could drown?

Photo courtesy of Mike Tabeling
Photo courtesy of Mike Tabeling

It wasn't until my family moved to Florida that I really got hooked on the ocean. I started skimboarding, bodyboarding, and quickly bought my first surfboard, a custom Hobie in 1963. It cost $120 and had color on two sides with pinstripes. There weren't many surfers back then, probably less than half a dozen in south Cocoa Beach and we usually surfed together.

We built a wood surf hut at 15th street, made bonfires in a pit, and even burned the occasional tire or two for an intense blast of heat during our frigid winter days. Jim Byrd was one of the crew at that time, and he would drive his car over the first sand dune and onto the hard-packed Cocoa Beach sand. We'd take turns at being towed behind it at speeds of up to 20 miles per hour standing up on a rope-towed piece of plywood. We did it in the sand, not the water, a stupid version of waterskiing. Of course there were a few semi-serious injuries before we quit doing it altogether but there was great fun and laughs while it lasted. Everything we did revolved around surfing, and the beach.

I entered my first surfing contest that year and placed second in the novice division. From that time forward I was hooked on riding waves and entered every event I could. It wasn't like it is today though with competitions every few weeks. There were only two contests back then in the sixties, The Labor Day Festival and the Easter event. These were great showcases of the times around our area because it was a chance to see hot surfers from around the state like Flea Shaw, the Roland brothers, Larry Minard and Bruce Clelland. Sure we had our own stars to look up to in Cocoa Beach like Claude Codgen, Bruce Valluzzi and Gary Propper but surfing with all those other guys expanded my perspective.

Photo courtesy of Mike Tabeling
Photo courtesy of Mike Tabeling

Things were happening fast. I was doing pretty well and because of Dick Catri I got a chance to go to Peru and compete against their best and I became the first East Coast surfer to win a contest overseas. On my second trip there that year I ended up nightclubbing with one of my personal heroes, Greg Noll. I was a na´ve fifteen year old and didn't have a clue of what a true California party animal was capable of. Greg fixed that for me. He'd already been drinking most of the afternoon by the time we hooked up and was in rare form.

At the club he urinated on one of the hostesses and was chased out of the nightclub by two men beating on him with fifteen inch dried bull's penises; the Peruvian version of a nightstick. The group piled into a taxi with me in the front and Greg riding shotgun. Four other young surfers squeezed into the back. Greg was laughing and boasting about the scene we'd just made when the taxi stopped at a red light. He rolled down his window and said a few choice English words to a gentleman standing at the intersection waiting to cross. At first the man tried ignoring him, but if you know Greg that's an impossibility, especially if he wants your attention. The guy then stared at Da Bull eye-to-eye but didn't know that you don't do that unless you want the horns. Greg took offense and spat a big wet gooey glob in his direction. The next thing I knew I was staring down the barrel of a handgun pointed directly at Greg and I. The guys in back hit the floorboard. I froze. The history of surfing could have changed right then and there with a simple squeeze from a nervous trigger finger. Luckily that's not what happened and the taxi sped away uneventfully.

Photo courtesy of Mike Tabeling
Photo courtesy of Mike Tabeling

The following year I was sponsored by Dewey Weber, which turned out to be the pivotal point in my surfing career. Dewey was flying me back and forth to California, testing surfboard design shapes, and entering more contests. I don't know how but I was the point leader on both the East and West Coasts at the same time and was beating my idols like Dru Harrison and Mike Purpus.

Being from Florida usually meant competing in surf contests in small waves and you had to be aggressive. Growing up riding lots of crappy small waves does have its advantages though, and I learned a trick or two that no one from California was doing on a regular basis. I used this program to my advantage to win the Laguna Masters, which was the first West Coast contest won by an East Coaster. That maneuver was the nose turn; something I'd seen Tony Van Den Heuvel do in Peru. I'd take off going left and run to the nose but instead of trying to hold the left slide I'd stall my board and break the tail free. Then I'd use the loss of speed to turn my board right without leaving the hang-five position and would end up going right. I pulled off three of them, two in the finals.

Photo courtesy of Mike Tabeling Photo courtesy of Mike Tabeling Photo courtesy of Mike Tabeling


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