Larry Bertlemann

Can you tell me a bit about your first surf if you remember it?
Oh, hell I remember my first wave. I moved from the Big Island when I was 11 years old, 11 1/2 years old. I was walking down the beach in Waikiki, and I saw white water outside and I saw these guys riding waves, and I said, "Hell". So, I rented a board for an hour, and I never came in the whole day. They had to bail out there to drag me back in. I remember catching a wave, standing up doing spinners, backwards, forwards. I had such a great time, I never wanted to stop. After that I was hooked.

When did you get your first surfboard?
About a month later I found one in the bushes. It was a 9’6” long board. I rode it for about a month and it broke. I was all sad, so I took the nose part of the board and I was going to shave it down and patch up the broken part, and put fins on the bottom.

While I was doing that, this Japanese guy comes walking by and he goes, "What are you doing?" I told him "My boards broken and I'm just going to surf on the front half." He goes, "You know what you're doing?" I said "Not really, I'm just trying to put the fins on." After a while, this is about six months later when I started traveling around the world, I realized this guy was Donald Takayama, and he was the guy that taught me how to put the fins on.

Is there one wave that stands out?
That first wave.

What is it that you love about surfing?
I'd never surfed before so that feeling is like the best feeling you could ever have. No matter how many waves I catch or how many things I do, it always goes back to that first wave. It's like your first girlfriend, my first love.

Was there anyone that you looked up to and admired when you were a child?
Growing up surfing, yeah, there was a few people that I looked up to. Greg Wilson, Jimmy Lucas from Kauai, and Liko Boy Ho'okano from Kauai too. Those guys are just freaking unreal. Even today I still remember today, I thought, shit, I've got to surf like them, man.

Other than first hack of a surfboard that broke, when did you really start to shape boards?
Shaping boards came when I was about... See, my school was about five blocks away from my house. I stayed right in Ala Moana, on the way to school there was the surf shop called, Surfboards Hawaii, they were shaping over there. I stopped there every single day all day long until they changed me to surfboard research and Sparky was shaping over there. And I stayed there all day, boxed in, learned from them.

Then after that, I started doing it on my own. When I lived on First Avenue, I was demo shaping for Greg Noll and Craig Sugihara was a glasser. He's the one that owned Town and Country. I was surfing for them, and then Craig said, "Hey, let's get out of here man, start our own shop, from the proceeds of Town and Country."

Are you currently shaping boards still?
Yeah. I'm my own machine.

You've traveled a fair bit. Is there any particular places that you've traveled to that stand out and that you particularly like surfing?
Actually I surfed this one break, it's 950 miles northwest of Hawaii. There's an atoll called Maro Reef and it's as big as Maui, but it's underwater. The only way you can get there is by boat. I'm the only surfer till today I think that's who ever surfed out there. They stopped fishing guys from going out there. It's a reserve now, so you can't get out there supposedly. The waves are just freaking unreal. There's nobody around for miles, and miles, and miles, and no land either.

So what my friends are doing we catch the sharks at night, and we throw them on the onshore side so the rest of the sharks stay on that side and I surf the off shore side. You've got to keep feeding them, man.

Tell me about your education.
I'm an eighth grade graduate. I started surfing at 11 1/2 years old, at 12 I started going around the world, within six months.

How did you skip from being at school to be going around the world within six months?
Well the photographers found me and they decided to take me all over the place, so I said "Hell yeah, I'll go." Then I went back to school. I went to the Board Institute of Surfing.

Did you go down the competition route, or would you say you're more of a free surfer type?
I won everything that I entered at least once, the juniors boys, juniors mans, all that stuff.

Did you shape all that time as well, or did the shaping really take off afterwards?
I made most of my boards. But, there wasn't any money in surfing when I first started. I remember the first contest, I won a can of spam and a can of sardines. At least I could eat. I started getting all the major sponsors like I got the airlines, Kauai Airlines, United Airlines, and I got Toyota cars. I brought them all into surfing. All I wanted to do was surf. I didn't want to do anything else. I had to convince the rest of the world to pay me to just go out on the water and go surfing, and it worked. And skateboarding too. I surfed during the day and I skateboarded at night.

You've even got a skateboard maneuver named after you?
Yeah, I made it into the Smithsonian Institute for surfing and skating in Washington, D.C. They only put dead people and dead animals in there. I hope I'm not next.

Do you get out in the water much these days?
Well, I was paralyzed in 2000, at least I'm not in a wheelchair, I'm moving around and get back in, body-surfing and stuff like that. I'm slowing getting back into surfing.

Does the shaping keep you busy?
Yeah, doing a lot of things. There's a whole bunch of stuff going on right now. I've got tons of stuff in Australia too.

What do you enjoy doing most of the moment, work wise?
Work wise, can’t beat shaping, but, I'm doing a lot of graphic art stuff now.

I'm shooting stuff on Facebook and stuff like that. I've always done graphics on surfboards all my life, but now then now it's a whole bunch of other stuff. I'm doing logos for a film company from Scotland, and doing design work in Australia.

Are there any particular shapers or surfers that you're taking notice of these days?
Well the young kids are coming up right now. John-John Florence I think is really, really hot, as far as Hawaii goes. Last year I saw some pretty good surfers in Australia.

Where can we find you online?



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Posted by: Troy Roennfeldt, on April 22, 2013
Categories: Interviews