Stab Magazine | The Surf World Mourns A Fallen Brother
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The Surf World Mourns A Fallen Brother

A legend of ’70s and ’80s California, and fixture in the industry for thirty years, Willy Morris leaves behind a colorful and beloved legacy. 

news // Apr 12, 2018
Words by stab
Reading Time: 3 minutes

The surfing world lost a larger-than-life personality and a dear friend to many this week, with the death of ’70s and ’80s California standout, and longtime industry figure, Willy Morris. 

A champion of the San Fernando Valley, Willy came up through the ranks of Val Surf in the 1970s and ‘80s.

A big, powerful surfer, even from an early age, Willy won a national title in 1981.

He would grow to be one of Tom Curren’s early and fiercest rivals. He stared in the “Performer” series of surf films and would come to be a pivotal player in the evolution of Channel Islands and Quiksilver.

More than his resume, Morris was the kind of guy that seemed to always have a smile on his face and good in his heart. A joker, prankster, and above all, a dedicated and passionate surfer and fisherman, he lived a true surfer’s life to the end. After retiring from competitive surfing, Willy served as a well-loved sales rep for brands like Quik, O’Neill, and most recently, Salty Crew.

His sudden loss stunned lifelong friends and cohorts—a testament to just how many lives he touched.

“I really loved this guy and looked up to him from a young age,” posted Kelly Slater on Instagram. “He was  [Tom Curren] biggest rival as a teenager. Tom’s dad even named his dog after Willy. He worked at Quiksilver forever, and was an incredible fisherman and friend. Sorry not to take another island run with you, my friend.”

The outpouring of love and appreciation from all corners of the surfing universe was immediate and profound, as news of his death spread around the world.

“I was just with him last week at a trade show,” wrote Santa Cruz’s Ken Collins. “He was always a loving jolly guy. Back in the ’80s he walked into Arrow Surf Shop and was selling Echo Beach, right then I knew I wanted to be a Sales Rep for a surf company. Willy was such a Rock Star and at the same time a really nice guy always showing love to all of us new guys in the game. Love you Big Willy!”

“Love you Willy. I will always remember you as one of the true GEMS. I feel a chuckle come up when I think of you, big guy,” said Tom Carroll.

 “I’ve known Willy for more than 35 years. We started at QS as reps for Tom Holbrook and ended working together at Salty Crew,” recalled longtime surf industry player Tom Ruiz, who’s now a partner and the Sales Director at Salty Crew. “He was a brother in the truest sense. We laughed with each other, we fought with each other, we surfed with each other, we drank with each other, we fished with each other, we rousted each other endlessly and played pranks on each other.”

 “From drawing genitals on his forehead to him putting dog poop under my car door handle to him putting a dead fish in my board bags in Tavi. You could never beat Willy at it and the list is long. And if he had something on you that would push your button he would use it,” continues Ruiz. “I’ll never forget the trip to San Clemente Island with Willy, Tom and Taylor. It was about 30 years ago, it was F’n BIG! Will yelled me into a few and one particular wave I haired out on and straighten off and missed maybe the best barrel of my life. One regret that will last a life time. Unfortunately for me Willy was on the inside and witnessed the whole thing. Willy reminded me of my bad choice all the way up till last week!”


The cause of death has not been confirmed at this time. By all accounts he left this world unexpectedly. He leaves behind two daughters and a world of friends.

 As for Morris, he was on the water to the very end. His last post was of a beautiful fish, hook in mouth.

“Nice trip this AM down the coast… Thank you Pacific,” he wrote.

 Back to the sea he goes.

 

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