Stab Magazine | Remembering A Mavericks' Pioneer And Santa Cruz Enforcer

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Remembering A Mavericks’ Pioneer And Santa Cruz Enforcer

The life and tales of Vince Collier.

news // Mar 6, 2018
Words by stab
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Over the weekend, Santa Cruz’s Vince Collier succumbed to a heart attack while on the road in mainland Mexico. He was 57 years old. 

For years Collier’s name was synonymous with the hierarchal Steamer Lane lineup and the heaviness that surrounded the Santa Cruz scene in the early ‘80s.

“He was king. Him and Richard Schmidt set the stage for Santa Cruz surfing. They were two totally different people, but in their own ways both really made Santa Cruz surfing what it is today,” tells Anthony Ruffo. Driving up Highway 1 north of Santa Cruz checking the surf with Adam Replogle, the two are recounting some of their favorite Vince stories.

“They were the yin and yang,” continues Ruffo. “Schmidt was graceful and methodical, Vince was raw power.”

Schmidt and Collier were among the earliest Santa Cruz surfers to earn an international reputation. They were also among the first to surf Maverick’s alongside Jeff Clark.

Three years older than Ruffo, Collier introduced him to Maverick’s for the first time.

Vince Collier BW

It wasn’t all 40-foot faces and heart chilling devil winds.


Tony Roberts

“He loads three boards, one for me, one for him, and one for this guy Jeff Clark, who we’re going to pick up,” tells Ruffo. “So, we get up to Jeff’s place and when we finally get to the beach it’s fogged in and we can’t see the lineup. ‘So, I guess we’re outta here,’ I say. But Vince isn’t having any of it.”

“The fog clears and we paddle out. It’s maybe 12-foot, just capping and rolling into the double-up,” continues Ruffo. “Vince breaks his board on the first wave—an eight-footer on the inside. So I was like, ‘Well, I guess we’re outta here now.’ But Vince says, ‘No, I’m going to sit in the channel and coach you into waves.’ And there he sat, taking waves on the head and barking at me. That’s the kind of guy he was, if you went surfing with him you were paddling out…or you weren’t going with him next time.”

“In the early days he was making all these guns for the guys at Maverick’s. Sometimes he’d use a grinder to shape them instead of a planer. He’d just grind them out,” remembers Adam. “He’d be in the backyard shaping these guns with a grinder, drinking whiskey. Just classic stuff. He made a 12-foot gun for himself once. It must have weighed 50 pounds. He made the groms carry it to the beach for him.”


A true Santa Cruz enforcer, and his dog.


Dane Peterson

Amongst his surfing brethren in Santa Cruz, Vince wore a lot of hats. He was a friend, a mentor, a confidant, an inspiration and a leader. He could also be a bit mercurial at times.

“He would channel guys,” laughs Replogle. “He’d wake up in the morning, and for whatever reason, all of a sudden one of his friends would be on his bad side. And he’d just go after them.”

“He’d chase them around for a year, yelling at them and harassing them, then all of a sudden one day everything would be cool,” laughs Ruffo. “He paddled out at Stockton once just because he saw me in the water and wanted to chase me out of the lineup.”

“He was a master of punching people’s fins out. If you broke rules he’d grab your board and just punch your fins out,” adds Replogle.

“He did it to me…because I sprayed him,” laughs Anthony. “He sprayed me first, so I sprayed him back. Then he punched my fins out. Later he told me he’d fix it. But the moral of the story was you didn’t spray Vince.”

DP CA16 6497

“He was one of the last greatest out-spoken personalities of big-wave surfing. He left his mark on Mavericks and beyond. He’ll be sorely missed,” said Frank Quirarte, a career Maverick’s photographer and WSL water safety agent.


Dane Peterson

For Vince, it was all about keeping the line. He was the apex predator and wanted it to stay that way.

“Once the younger guys like Flea and Skinny and those guys started really surfing Maverick’s well, that’s when he walked away from it. He didn’t want to fade away like so many guys do,” says Ruffo. “He didn’t want anyone surfing circles around him.”

“But he was good on shortboards and in small waves too,” adds Adam. “He’d ride those twin-fins and just rip. He did this tail slide—the Westside slide—that’s what he called it.”

Throughout his 57 years, Vince remained an enigmatic character. He had his network of close friends, but he was a lot of things to a lot of people.

“There are too many words to describe VC. Terrifying, compassionate, ruthless, kind, thick, nimble, psyched, gifted, pissed, confident, focused, loud, proud and misunderstood come to mind,” recalls photographer Tony Roberts, who documented Vince in the early years. “He was a mentor, uncle, brother and at times father for my friends and I. Richie [Schmidt] and Vince not only paved the way for all of us, we had a golden ticket. Everywhere in the world we went we were welcomed because of them. A true extrovert who took shit from no one and led by example, the king is truly and sadly missed.”

DP CA16 7079

A man and his log.


Dane Peterson

“I was just reading an email from someone that says Santa Cruz should be ashamed of Vince Collier,” tells Mav’s charger Zach Wormhoudt. “I wrote back, ‘Did you even meet VC once?’ He played the media as a dark character then ran with it. He was a passionate, loving, fun guy that cared about surfing, Santa Cruz, his friends and family. If a stranger bumped into him checking the waves they would tell you they just met a really nice local. Kind of sad that people like to talk so much shit, but then again, Vince would just laugh and say, ‘Yep, better stay out of my way.’”

Vince relished playing the role of enforcer, but there was also a lighter side.

“One day we’re up at Ano shooting with Chris Klopf. We’d brought a cooler of sandwiches and drinks down with us. Chris had been in the water shooting, he was wearing one of those old Super Suits with the gnarly metal zippers. He came in and we’d pretty much eaten all of the food, but there were some soggy sandwiches and half melted ice still in the cooler. Chris asked me to help him unzip his suit. Vince winked at me, so I unzipped Chris’s suit and in the blink of an eye Vince grabbed the cooled and dumped all the ice, water and soggy sandwiches down Chris’s suit and then zipped it back up again. I think they chased each other around the beach for a half hour. I was dying. Chris had these sandwiches stuck to his back.”

There’s a duet sung by Hank Williams Jr. and Waylon Jennings called “The Conversation” in which Waylon implores Hank to share some stories about his late daddy.

02620020 1


Dane Peterson


“He was a passionate, loving, fun guy that cared about surfing, Santa Cruz, his friends and family. If a stranger bumped into him checking the waves they would tell you they just met a really nice local. Kind of sad that people like to talk so much shit, but then again, Vince would just laugh and say, ‘Yep, better stay out of my way.’”


Dane Peterson

“We won’t talk about the habits just the music and the man,” sings Waylon.

Hank Williams, the drifting cowboy, was known to have his demons, but as Waylon notes, there was a lot more to the man than the rumors and bad press. The holds true for Vince.

“He was the king, no doubt about it,” says Dave “Nelly” Nelson. “He was the one that gave Flea and Barney their nicknames. He was out there in the early days at Mavericks. Him and Richard Schmidt, they paved the way for the future. For guys like Ruffo and Replogle, to Flea and Barney, and all the way down to the young kids today, he set it all in motion. He was a force of nature.”

Vince relished the role of alpha male, but he also relished the role of teacher. In the interviews for this piece he was often referred to as the “godfather.”

Yes, there was a dark side, but there was also a lot of light. Without Vince, the Santa Cruz surf scene just wouldn’t be the same. Guys like Flea, Barney, Skindog, Pete Mel and a handful of others wouldn’t have been introduced to Mavericks. The Lane wouldn’t still be such a hotbed for progression. Vince didn’t just open the door for all of them, he kicked it down.


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