But, "some people believe more in Blake than they do in God," says Matt Warshaw
How precious is Tom Blake? Let’s count the ways. First guy to put a fin on a board. Invented water housings for cameras. Wrote beautifully about the sport. First guy to really live as a surfer.
In the words of the writer Drew Kampion, “Blake altered everything. He almost single-handedly transformed surfing from a primitive Polynesian curiosity into a 20th century lifestyle.”
Maybe it’s time we learned a little more. Given my own paucity on the subject, I began an email-stream with the Encylopedia of Surfing, himself, Mr Matt Warshaw.
BeachGrit: Tom Blake is a precious ruby from the jewellery box of surfing culture, and I want to talk more about that in a moment. But first . . . the man had such a great ass! Am I allowed to say that? I believe Michelangelo would’ve been hard-pressed to’ve sculpted such perfection!
Matt Warshaw: Okay.
So . . .
I heard Tom Blake was our first and greatest gay surfer. True?
Gary Lynch, Blake’s biographer, says No.
Maybe Lynch swore to keep the secret.
Maybe you’re getting off in a huge way on putting “gay” in the same sentence as “Tom Blake.”
Is there any modern interest in Tom? Movie, books, that kinda thing?
Not that I’m aware of. He’s a hard guy to get a feel for. Such a horrible childhood. Born in Wisconsin, mom died when he was a baby, he got kicked around like a football from relative to relative. Something happened back there that Blake mentioned but never talked about it detail, some “fall from grace,” whatever that means. The big flu epidemic shut down his high school so he never graduated. After that he rode the rails for a couple years, landed in Los Angeles when he was I think 19, became a swimming champion, and finally ended up on the beach where he learned to surf. It’s an amazing story, just up to that point, before Blake even gets to all the stuff he’s famous for, the hollow surfboard and inventing the fin and all that—going from freezing winters on Lake Superior to sunny afternoons on the beach Santa Monica. But Blake himself is such a strange, isolated person. In a way, I don’t know if could actually carry his own story. You admire him, respect him, cheer for him, but never feel warm toward him. He’s just too shut off, too unknowable. That’s how I feel, anyway.
“Even deep water supports a rebel, if he has the will and the ability to swim.” I love Blake for that quote alone. And the other one, “Surfing puts you in the greatest church of all, the open sea and the open sky.”
What happened to him?
Why should we care about him? What’s his legacy?
He pushed the sport along on just about every level. Board design, photography — he was great with a camera — writing. Great fashion sense, great style. He was among the first, maybe the first, to go all-in on what I guess we have to call the surfing lifestyle. Surfing took him in, it was his great comfort, and he built a life around it. I wouldn’t say surfing healed Blake. He was too damaged. But surfing, the ocean, I think made him the best possible version of himself. “Even deep water supports a rebel, if he has the will and the ability to swim.” I love Blake for that quote alone. And the other one, “Surfing puts you in the greatest church of all, the open sea and the open sky.” There are people out there who believe in Blake more than they believe in God.