Greg Noll, Big Wave Legend and Surfing Icon, Has Passed Away

Greg Noll, Big Wave Legend and Surfing Icon, Has Passed Away

According to a Facebook post from his son Jed Noll, surfing icon Greg Noll has passed away today at 84.

“It is with a heavy heart the Noll family announces the death of our patriarch, Greg Noll,” reads the post. “Greg died of natural causes on Monday June 28th 2021, at the age of 84. We invite all of our friends and family to celebrate his life by sharing this post and your stories, pictures and experiences through your preferred platform. Aloha. The Noll Family.”

Noll was a legend, to say the least.

Born in San Diego before moving to Manhattan Beach with his family, he was at the forefront of big wave surfing in the 1950s and was among the first crew of mainland surfers to join local Hawaiians in riding the North Shore. He was one of the first to charge big Waimea Bay in 1957 at a time when surfers used little more than boardshorts to paddle into monstrous waves, where crashes caused death-defying swims without any sort of flotation as leashes and special life preservers for big surf were still years away from development.

“They broke the taboo,” said Randy Rarick in the Stacy Peralta film, Riding Giants.“They went out and did it. Once it was done, it opened up a flood gate.”

It could be argued that no one went harder than Noll, who’s giant drop to explosion at Makaha in 1969 has been described by some as the defining moment of his era, when surfers charged bigger than normal waves on simple equipment. After that fateful wave at Makaha, Noll left the sport he’d been 100 percent committed to for a commercial fishing gig in Crescent City, Calif. but eventually came back into the community with the revitalization of the longboard in the 1980s.

“I felt like I could focus on my kids and Laura and not be so obsessed with surfing big waves,” he once said about stepping away. “It became such an obsession that it was starting to screw other things in my life up.”


Noll was one of surfing’s ultimate characters, a legend of his own making who backed it up with giant wave exploits that made him a household name for years.  “Boorish but charismatic … A loveable blowhard, hustler, raconteur, and bullshitter,” reads his entry in the Encyclopedia of Surfing. “But not an outright fabricator. His big-wave cred, furthermore, extends from here to Valhalla. He led the opening charge at Waimea in 1957, and for the next 12 years rode anything that came his way, fearlessly. ‘I was overwhelmed by a feeling that there wasn’t a wave that God could produce that I couldn’t ride,’ he said. ‘It was sort of a blind, stupid feeling, but I had all the goddamn confidence of a rhinoceros.’”

Noll’s name and likeness had long adorned his own surfboards, skateboards, and clothing including his signature striped boardshorts – a living made off a life well lived. He laid the groundwork for generations of surfers to come after him.

( Joe Carberry, Senior editor, The Inertia )

Back to blog