The ‘Babe Ruth’ of surfing visits Malibu

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Nat Young's book, "The Complete History of Surfing, From Water to Snow" chronicles the sport, from early Polynesians to the modern-day extension of surfing and snowboarding. Photo by Jeff Divine, courtesy of "The Complete History of Surfing, From Water to Snow," Gibbs Smith

Nat Young will sign copies of his newest book at Diesel, A Bookstore on Thursday.

By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times

One of surfing’s living legends will return to Malibu this week with sage words on the sport that is not a sport, but a lifestyle.

Nat Young will sign copies of his latest release, “The Complete History of Surfing: From Water to Snow” at Diesel, A Bookstore this Thursday.

“Nat Young is the Babe Ruth of surfing,” so declared John Mazza, one of Malibu’s surfing veterans. “He is a revolutionary who changed the direction of surfing history.”

Young is a four-time world surfing champion, starting with a win in San Diego in 1966, as well as taking multiple Australian titles on his home turf. He is credited with changing the face of surfing by adopting an aggressive short-boarding style in the ’60s, and bringing the sport to the attention of professional promoters.

Young first arrived on Malibu shores as a 15-year-old junior champion in 1962. Jefferson Wagner, proprietor of Zuma Jay’s Surf Shop, said, “When he showed up here in Malibu, he was unique. An anomaly. I wanted to be as good as him.”

Young downplays his notoriety.

“I just love that I’m 61 and still alive,” he said.

His memories of early sixties Malibu are vivid. “I am a charter member of the Malibu Surfing Association and remember my first winter here in ’62,” Young said. “Those were golden days with Mickey Doyle and Butch Linden. I have a deep love for this place.”

Young’s book is another in his publication history on the art of surfing, a new edition on the chronology of the sport, from early Polynesians to the modern-day extension of surfing, snowboarding.

He said his early foray into short boarding was a result of seeking a different ride.

“I didn’t want to ride the nose,” he said. “I wanted to be in the curl. You can’t do that on a long board.”

Young’s “power style” earned him the nickname “The Animal,” a sobriquet that has stuck with him throughout his pro surfing career and into “retirement,” when he started to write books about the philosophy of surfing.

“Surfing has changed,” he said. “What I’m trying to do with these books is preserve the intrinsic value and unique qualities of the tribe of surfers.

“When I first started, there were maybe only one hundred thousand surfers around the world. It’s a lot more popular and a lot more crowded now.”

One of Young’s books addresses the result of the increasingly crowded surf breaks, titled “Surf Rage,” which he wrote after being beaten up by an irate surfer eight years ago.

“The ocean teaches us that when you play in nature, there are constant surprises,” Young said. “So you learn to respect nature and others. This subculture of respect goes around religion, color, everything.”

That emphasis on respect led Young and several like-minded Malibuites to erect a large sign at Surfrider Beach, reminding surfers of safety protocols.

“We put it up on Nat’s birthday in November, 2006,” Wagner said. “Everyone applauded it. Even a patrolman who saw us putting it up thought it was a good idea.

“He took one look at us and said, ‘I guess you have permits to do this,'” Wagner continued. “We said, ‘No, but we’ll go get ’em.'”

The safety activists had to remove the sign (it’s now admonishing surfers up in Point Dume), but Young became a strong advocate for surfing safety and has used his own funds to erect signs elsewhere around the world.

“It’s a way to remind people to make room on the waves,” Young said. “You give respect to gain respect.”

Young’s latest book speaks of surfing’s deep culture in human history.

“Peruvians surfed on reed boats thousands of years ago and Polynesians were surfing since before Christ,” he said. “In Hawaii, it was a sport before the white man came.”

The surfing legend celebrates the sport’s evolution.

“Look, competition is a relevant part of surfing, but not its essence,” Young said. “The spirit is what’s important. The corporate world loves winners, of course, but do you think it’s a good idea for a sport to be the same all the time?”

His love for the simplicity of surfing fed Young’s foray into snowboarding. “There are no lines, no net, no ball,” he said.

A recent tumble while snowboarding, however, left him with a broken hip.

“I’ve got three big roofing screws holding me together,” he said. “But I’m going back to surf in Australia. When you’re alone with the sea and the sky, that’s what surfing’s all about.

Nat Young will meet and greet fans at Diesel, A Bookstore, 3890 Cross Creek Rd., Thursday, March 6, at 6 p.m. More information can be obtained by calling 310.456.9961.