Surfing Bids Farewell To An Industry Icon & Forebear Of Christian And Nathan Fletcher  - Stab Mag

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Ever wonder where Christian and Nathan Fletcher's lust for surfing came from? Photo: Encyclopedia of Surfing.

Surfing Bids Farewell To An Industry Icon & Forebear Of Christian And Nathan Fletcher 

Rest in Power, Walter Hoffman.

news // Jul 10, 2024
Words by Stab
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Today the surfing world said goodbye to a man whose influence and impact on the surfing world can’t be overstated — Walter Hoffman, a big wave pioneer, board builder, and one of the culture’s true original patriarchs, of a family that in a very real way created the blueprint for the surf industry you see today. 

A World War I veteran, Walter’s father Rube cut his teeth before the war in New York’s garment district, and later started Hoffman California Fabrics in Los Angeles in 1924. 

Born in 1931, Walter and his older brother Phillip “Flippy” Hoffman began exploring the coast of California, looking for waves from Malibu to San Clemente in the 1940s.

“San Onofre was the big deal then,” he told Jamie Brisick. “There were a lot of surfers there.” 

Walter joined the Navy, planning to go into the “Underwater Demolition Team.” 

“I was going to go into UDT [Underwater Demolition Team] out of San Diego, then there were some places open at the Supply Center at Pearl Harbor. I went, ‘Shit, that’s where I’m going. I can go surfing and everything.’ So it was a great deal. I went surfing all the time. And I got out and I stayed there for a couple years.”

Stationed in Pearl Harbor throughout World War II, a teen-aged Walter still found plenty of time to get comfortable at Hawaii’s original big wave destination, Makaha, and after the war, learned how to shape surfboards from the balsa wood salvaged from excess military lifeboats after the war had ended in 1945. 

“When there was no surf we’d go diving. And we worked from five till eleven, or whenever we got done. I lived in Waikiki in the summertime and Makaha in the wintertime. It was great. We rode big waves. I wrote a letter and sent some pictures to the guys here in California, my brother and Buzzy Trent and a bunch of guys. And then they all started going over there. That was the first influx of guys really coming from the mainland. In those days it wasn’t getting tubed and all that. We’d catch big waves, and we’d all take off together, we didn’t care. And you swam to shore a lot—there were no leashes.”

After opening the Hawaiian floodgates to California’s early pioneers, Flippy and Walter returned home to take over the family business, but brought with them all of the cultural capital they’d gathered in the islands, with a heavy focus on Polynesian patterns and “aloha” prints. 

My father had a textile business,” Walter explained, “but mostly in those days it was yarn-dyed cottons and solid-colored goods. To go to Hawaii I had to sell prints, so I was one of the first guys to go to Hawaii to sell prints from the mainland.”

Over the ensuing decades, Hoffman California Fabrics would help to launch the first “surf brands”, supplying them fabrics and prints and financial support. On the side, Walter and Flippy would help shape the hard goods side of the surf industry, through their relationships with a young Hobie Alter and Gordon “Grubby” Clark, along with early “surf media” icons like Surfer Magazine founder John Severson and The Endless Summer’s Bruce Brown. 

But Walter’s biggest impact might have come through the birth of his daughters. Joyce Hoffman would become the first female world champion, while Dibbi would go on to become one of surfing’s greatest matriarchs. Together with her husband Herbie, Dibi helped revolutionize surf media with the Wave Warriors series — the first VHS surf videos — as well as Astrodeck, the world’s first (and longest-running) surfboard traction company.

Walter’s grandchildren (Dibi and Herbie’s kids), Christian and Nathan Fletcher, went on to push the boundaries of what is possible on a surfboard, both above the lip and in the heaviest, scariest waves on earth. 

With Walter’s passing we lose one of surfing’s true originals, and mark the end of one of the most impactful and important surfing lives ever lived. 

When asked what he’d learned from his decades as a surfer, Walter might have nailed the whole spirit of this subculture of ours better than anyone: Enjoy the water; enjoy the freedom.

Head here or here for terrific interviews with Walter. Rest in Power. 


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