The Adventures of Randy Laine By Wendy Hinman
Living off adrenaline and the elimination of the fear gene has put
Carlsbad extreme sportist Randy Laine in a class all his own.


Randy Laine was just born that way. Somehow in the make up of his brain or a gene on the string of his DNA, he couldn’t help himself. Laine has to go faster with more power. They say that you can detect his abnormality as early as a year old. Some call it the Type T personality. T for Thrill. It is an early addiction to adrenaline highs from risky behavior that defies common sense.

But was it really nature or nurture? Carlsbad in the ’60s and ’70s was nothing but possibilities for a teenager looking for fun. It was a small village shouldered by miles of chaparral hills, embraced by lagoons, with its face set towards the sea. And if its physical gifts were not enough, it had much to offer socially as well. Everybody knew everybody. And the powers that were knew that boys would be boys.

Laine’s teen years were his dream years. After a tiff with his Marine dad, he bought a one way ticket from the east coast, grabbed his surf board and returned to the land of his birth. He lived in a turquoise ’59 Chevy station wagon with a wooden peace sign as a rear window. He worked at the Hungry Hunter and the Captain’s Anchorage (where Vigilucci’s is now on Tamarack) by night, but by day it was ski, mx, surf. He would rise early and water ski at Agua Hedionda while the water was glassy. Then it was dirt biking in the Calavera hills for a couple of hours. The rest of the afternoon was for surfing, “to wash the dust off” and then back to work where “I’d eat everything in sight. I don’t think I had any body fat in those days,” Laine said. It was all for the rush.

The late ’60s and early ’70s were formative years in the history of some extreme sports. Influenced by European enthusiasm, motocross was coming into its own and Carlsbad was home to one of the premiere tracks in the U.S. Surfing had been around a long time, but was transitioning from a soul-surfing aesthetic to a professional sport. And Southern Californian, Clayton Jacobson, invented the Jet Ski. He sold the idea to Kawasaki who did a lot of their early testing at Agua Hedionda. For a kid looking for an adrenaline high, Laine’s one way ticket landed him in a time and place vortex of opportunity.

Lots of kids were riding dirt bikes back then, but Leonard Mellgren was a master. His dad raced drag bikes and motocross. Leonard followed in his footsteps and became one of the best riders in So Cal. Mellgren was Laine’s teacher. He would perfect Laine’s technique on long afternoons in the Hills. Or Laine would study his moves on police chases.

Mellgren and Laine would roar through Hosp grove, the Tamarack Beach parking lot or on the sand at St. Malo’s. Inevitably someone would call the police, which is what they wanted and the chase began. Nothing like red lights in the rearview to increase your speed and adrenaline high. “Len had fifteen moving violations before he had his driver’s license,” Laine said. They got away more than they got caught. “Train trestles are good for eluding the police.” Laine tells chase stories like some people tell fishing stories. Once they did “creek beds all the way to Vista.” Laine’s favorite “Started at Oceanside Harbor and involved four agencies.” (Harbor Police, CHP, OPD and SD Sheriffs). Laine surmised, “You’d go to jail for twenty years now.” (For my favorite story, if you see Laine at Vinaka’s or Hennessey’s ask him about trying to rail slide the 250 foot spillway of a dam in Houston). Laine competed in motocross but had to lay his bike down early because the number of broken bones he could brag about was growing. “Dr. (Richard) Stang told me, ‘You need to stop doing anything with wheels on it.’”

What Laine went pro in was surfing; it had softer landings. Carlsbad Pipelines owner, Witt Rowlett, described Laine as having “A progressive east coast style.” Offshore owner Barbie Baron said, “The east coast had smaller waves so you have to make the most of it. I don’t know if it was because he was so tall with a lower center of gravity, but he would crouch down more than the rest of us so he maneuvered the board differently.” He got noticed. He was ranked 38th in the world once. That’s pretty good considering that rankings at the time were far from exact science.

Back then surf sponsorships were not quite what they are now. “My sponsors could only get me to three world events,” Laine said. That’s not enough if you’re gunning for a world ranking. “Mike Purpose called me and said, ‘Hey, wanna make some fast money?’” Then he told him Playgirl was looking for models. Laine thought the cash would get him to some more competitions. “I was just hoping my mother didn’t find out. She did. Everybody did. It was the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever done.”

Aside from the Playgirl fame, Baron said, “He was the first guy with a leash.” Laine said, “I saw Pat O’Neill (yes, that O’Neill) up in Santa Cruz around ’69-70 with one.” He used identical materials to make his own. “It was made with surgical tubing and a leather wrist strap attached to the nose of the board with a suction cup.” The reception to this new idea was chilly. Rowlett said surfers then “didn’t like change.” Laine concurred, “I caught hell for it in the line up.” But Rowlett said it didn’t take too long for guys to notice, “Hey, he didn’t have to chase his board.”

It was that willingness to improvise on what he was doing that led Laine into what he does now. He brought to any sport a raw athleticism and an engineer’s scrutiny. Water skiing at Foxy’s—the speed zone of Agua Hedionda—and watching Kawasaki’s prototype jet skis, Laine saw his future. “I got the taste of speed from riding motorcycles.” He thirsted for the power of bigger waves when he surfed. The Jet Ski was a promising combination of the two for Laine’s large appetite.

Local Kawasaki Jet Ski jockeys were all riding the morning glass or bouncing on the afternoon wind, but Laine said, “I only wanted to ride it in the surf.” So he would bunny hop all the obstacles between he and the sea until he came out of the lagoon at the Tamarack jetty.

He had to play by himself for awhile, but Laine said, “I knew in 1972 that it (jet skiing) would affect the sport of surfing.” Purists were struggling to accept Tom Morey’s Boogie Board around this time, so anything with an engine was going to be hard to take. Ten years before Laird Hamilton would be known for it, Laine “Took a rope and a squirrelly 440 and towed my brother Wes into waves. You’re having fun so you don’t think about it,” Laine said, “We didn’t have the foresight to film it.”

In the early ’80s Laine shipped his Jet Ski to Hawaii. “I’ve ridden all the outer reefs of Hawaii, Pipeline, Sunset, Avalanche.” He was one of the very few doing it so people would mostly point and laugh at the novelty. ”It’s against the law now.”

Like the leash, tow-in surfing met resistance. “You have surfers,” Laine sighed, “Who believe paddling out is the only way.” And one local echoed that, “I figure if you can’t paddle into a wave you weren’t meant to ride it.” Laine said, “The big wave guns were made to paddle into bigger surf, but they’re not maneuverable once in.” With a Jet Ski tow-in you can ride “a short board on a big wave.”

“Here’s where Laird (Hamilton) gets all full credit. He got the bright idea to take the foot straps off his windsurfer and put in on a surfboard.” Hawaiian lifeguards also at this time started using Jet Skis and sort of redesigned the Boogie Board into a rescue sled. The way in and the way out of monster surf had arrived.

Today, besides being “A Carlsbad slumlord,” Laine is a Jet Ski for hire. “Fortunately, I’ve always had jobs that allowed me to do the things I love.” (He has been a male model, a flight attendant and a sales rep for Oakley). Laine explained, “I’d rather dig ditches in Carlsbad than be a millionaire anywhere else.” He tows surfers into the maw of a restive ocean at places like Cortez Banks and Todos Santos. He carts around movie cameras (he’s on the credits of quite a few flicks) and still photographs and works safety at surf events. Imagine Mr. Deathdefy working the safety crew! Isn’t that like the FBI hiring Frank Abagnale to work in the fraud division? Laine once was taking renowned surf photographer Aaron Chang into 60-70 foot waves when they saw a couple guys trying to paddle in. “They were getting annihilated.” Laine and Chang became instant lifeguards. “I’ve done more rescues,” Laine said, “While minding my own business than when I’m hired for it.”

“The explosive growth in tow-surfing has been a huge help to the PWC industry,” Laine observed. PWC means personal water craft since Jet Ski more literally means the stand-up vehicle while there are now all sorts of makes and models, most being the sit down version. Like the motorcycle, the environmental lobby has legislated PWC into narrow limits. That stalled sales growth.

Separating Jet Skiers from surf areas was as logical as separating surfers from swimmers as the numbers grew, but over aggressive environmental rules leaves Jet Skiing dead in a lot of waters. Just recently the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said they were thinking of banning PWCs in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. That threatens tow-in surfing at some legendary big wave meccas like Mavericks and Ghost Trees. That would in turn threaten the safety of the boys when they’re being boys on the big days. Balance is of course the answer. Hawaii has rules such as, no Jet Skis on small days, requiring certification and special permits for events.

Those special events keep Laine jumping the same surf he did before the rules were established. In the PWC world Laine is known alternately as “The mayor of watercraft” or “The father of freeriding.” Apart from tows and rescues, Laine rides the crest of Jet Skiing as extreme sport. He is the innovator of some outrageous maneuvers, but best known for the superman. Of which Laine said, “You either land it or you get free dental work.”

There is a very short list of people who are sponsored extreme sport professionals who also qualify for senior discounts. Recovering from a Jet Ski accident that broke his femur, Laine acknowledged, “It’s the first time I felt mortal.” The only other thing that gave him pause in a big wave was the birth of his daughter Michelle. Still, his next goal is to ride a 100 foot wave. But his mettle in the monster has allowed him to raise Michelle in Carlsbad. And Jet Skiing has taken him all over the world, but “When I come home I remember how incredible it is; it’s always summer in Carlsbad.”

Q&A with Randy Laine:

Carlsbad Magazine: In Randy Laine, the Movie, who plays you?
Randy Laine: Clint Eastwood [when he was 25 years old]

CM: You turn on your iPod and it’s the soundtrack of your life, who’s playing?
RL: Jimi Hendrix & Eric Burton

CM: At your funeral, who gives the eulogy and what do they say?
RL: Chuck Smith - RL loved his daughter Michelle more than anything and he always ‘went Big’ in the surf

Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel? Chuck Smith the former mayor of Westminster?
RL: No, Chuck Smith the surfer who lives on Garfield.

CM: Favorite Carlsbad eatery?
RL: Fish House Vera Cruz

CM: No waves, wheel, engines, what are you doing?
RL: I’m at 24 Hour ‘Fatness’ working out, home prepping the Skis or playing drums

CM: Who is the Carlsbadian who had the most positive influence on you?
RL: Leonard Mellgren

CM: Worst parenting day your folks had?
RL: At age 10, I did a Human-Pile-Driver in the surf shore break and cracked my neck C-4

CM: How many bones did you break in your career?
RL: Neck C-4 - Surfing, Lt. Clavicle - Motocross, Rt. Femur - Tow-Surfing, Rt. Foot - Tennis (I was really bad), Rt. Thumb - MX, Rt. Index Finger [twice] - MX, Rt. Little Finger [twice] - MX, Lt. Index Finger - Jet Ski, Lt. Little Finger - Snow Ski, Rt. Big Toe - Jet Skiing, Four molars [Teeth] - Jet Skiing (Superman of course), Torn ACL [Both Knees] - Snow Skiing, Hundreds of Stitches over the years. You know you’re having fun when you see blood!

CM: After you ride that 100 foot wave, what is your professional goal?
RL: Make a major motion picture.