Mike Eaton was the go-to big gun surfboard shaper shaper

by Mike Purpus

Mike Eaton went with fellow shaper and Palos Verdes childhood friend Phil Becker to Hawaii’s North Shore in the mid ‘70s to make big wave boards for pro surfers like Palos Verdes native like Jeff Hackman and Peter “PT” Towend and his fellow Bronzed Aussies. I borrowed a few of their big wave guns for my heats in The Duke Kahanamoku Surfing Invitational, The Smirnoff Pro/Am Surfing Invitational and The Hang Ten Surfing Championships.

The Hang Ten Surfing Championships was different from the other surf contests. This was before surf leashes and the officials wanted the surfers to ride as many waves as possible at 12-foot Sunset Beach. Every surfer had a surfboard caddy in the channel with extra surfboards. I kept falling and used up all my surfboards in the first half of my heat. Bronzed Aussie Ian Cairns had two boards left. His caddy liked me so gave me one of Ian’s boards. It was a beautiful 8-foot  Mike Eaton gun. It was one of the fastest boards I had ever been on. I went screaming from the outside through the inside bowl. Ian was stuck on a beat up old board, giving me the stink eye. I couldn’t let him get too close or he would have taken back the board his caddy had given me.  I caught some great waves but Ian still beat me. 

Eaton had a lot of serious followers and started to make some really big guns for surfers riding North Shore’s outside phantom reefs. These outside reefs wouldn’t break unless it was 40-feet’ and broke a mile out.

In the mid-’70s a character named Jim “Wildman” Neece appeared on the North Shore, claiming to be one of the best big wave riders in the world. Neece got a $12,000 contract with an LA film company to shoot him riding a 40-foot wave off Hawaii’s Kaena Point. 

“Kaena Point was the next frontier in big wave surfing,” Matt Warshaw writes in his Encyclopedia of Surfing.

None of us knew anyone who had surfed it. Neece was going to be towed in by a waterski boat. This was before jetskis. He would wear a James Bond-style mini aqualung with five minutes of air hooked, strapped to his back. Eaton made him two, bright red, 12-foot-5 guns. He broke one of the Eaton guns practicing with the ski boat at Waimea Bay. He never made the paddleout at Kaena Point, but after that, all the North Shore’s best big wave surfers ordered 12-foot Mike Eaton guns.

Roger Erickson was one of them.

Erickson was a big thick haole from Playa del Rey who only surfed when it was over 20-feet’. He was my North Shore next door neighbor and would get mad if I said anything about him riding the outside reefs. He was worried about them getting crowded, despite being a mile out. If you saw Erickson out in the line-up, you caught one more wave and got out because you were in over your head. In January 1976, Erickson, Flippy Hoffman and Jeff Johnson rode Kaena Point together, on their 12-foot’ Mike Eaton guns. ER

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Written by: Mike Purpus

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