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
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
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
CM: Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel? Chuck Smith the former mayor
RL: No, Chuck Smith the surfer who lives
CM: Favorite Carlsbad eatery?
RL: Fish House Vera Cruz
CM: No waves, wheel, engines, what are you
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
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.