The Greek philosopher Plato noted, “The natural function of the wing is to soar upwards…”
Hindus believe that wings symbolize freedom. In Pre-Columbian cultures, wings represented flight from one world to another.
Wings are the logo created and used by 75-year-old surfing legend and Claremont native, Harry “Skip” Frye.
Surfing logos are big business. If you want to be a cool dude, you have to have a cool board with a cool logo. Surfboards with the “Frye Wings” are among the most prized and valuable in the world.
The 1959 G&S trademark of Pacific Beach surf pioneers Larry Gordon and Floyd Smith is recognized as the first mass-marketed surfing logo. Skip remembers the excitement of creating his own logo while working as a young shaper at Gordon and Smith Surfboards.
“I got the idea for my wings from Duke Kahanamoku’s surfboard. Duke had carved a ‘v’ in his board and added wings,” said Frye. “I cut a wing out of cardboard and it became the template for the other wing.”
“I was really shy as a kid,” he disclosed. “I was hanging out with Mike Hynson who also shaped and surfed for Gordon and Smith. He was aggressive and wanted to be the best surfer. He’d search for the best surfers and we’d watch them to learn. Mike was one of the stars in Endless Summer (Bruce Brown’s seminal 1966 surf movie). Mike got his Hynson model in 1965 and I got mine in 1966. That’s when I made my logo.”
Skip offers praise for Gordon and Smith. “They were my mentors and my friends.”
His father, Harry Frye, Sr., served aboard the aircraft carrier, U.S.S. Enterprise, during WWII. It was the most decorated ship of the war. The senior Frye was a man of wings and the ocean, but he did not approve of surfing. In school, Skip was known by his middle name, Richard Frye, but he named his first surf shop, Harry’s. Even after achieving success, his relationship with his father remained tenuous. The pain lingers.
But there is a quiet spirituality to this aged surfer and success has not seduced him. Modestly he says, “God has blessed me with my craft and ability. I don’t get caught up in all that (fame); I downplay it.”
Skip is a kind and friendly man who has found inner peace.
He continued, “In 1994, I was in my fifties and was walking on a beach in France and realized it was important for me to be a good role model for surfing. I’m not perfect, but I try to be good to other people.”
Harold Reid, a friend since their days together at Pacific Beach Junior High School, described the essence of Skip Frye in an article from the San Diego Union-Tribune (March 15, 2005). “He’s like the glide of the pelican. He’s part of the wave and takes whatever the wave has to offer.”
Skip grinned and expressed admiration for the ungainly pelicans and their smooth, graceful flight over the waves. He respects the ocean and advocates to keep it clean and pollution free.
He is well aware of the dark side to surfing. He has friends whose life stories did not play out well. Fame, alcohol, marijuana and drugs got the best of them. He, himself, endured what he calls his “ghetto period” after hitting bottom following the breakup with his first wife.
Skip enjoys a tight partnership with his second wife, Donna, a environmental activist and former San Diego City Council member. During the 1980s, they helped each other overcome demons and now devote their lives to worthy causes.
The reclusive Frye isn’t a soft touch, because he knows that he is a soft touch.
When he sees homeless people holding signs, he mentally flips a coin in his head. Sometimes he gives them money; sometimes he doesn’t. “I know they may spend it on beer, but after I give it, I forget it. Jesus taught us to give to the poor.”
He’s been there…
Today, his face shows wear, but his sad countenance disappeared when he pointed with pride to a picture of “Team Oji” which hangs on the wall outside his shaping room.
“Oji means uncle in Japanese,” he explained. “I surf with two Japanese girls: Masa Rogers and Riiko Asone. They call us Team Oji. They treat me like an uncle and they’ve become like family.”
“I like the energy women bring to surfing. Men are so competitive. Women want to share the waves and have fun,” he said.
He added with deep conviction, “I’ve seen the ocean die when people get aggressive and selfish and want to fight. The waves just go away, but I’ve also seen them come back when the vibes are good.”
Skip also maintains a soft spot and tolerance for beginners. “I believe in hoot a kook.” (Translation: encourage new surfers when they make mistakes)
In his youth, Skip was a handsome kid with curly blond hair… the prototypical Southern California surfer. He won many tournaments, but there is little evidence of championships in his shop. He didn’t mention any of the following achievements during our interview. They were found online: The International Surfing Hall of Fame (1991), The International Surfboard Builders Hall of Fame (2006), The Huntington Beach Surfing Walk of Fame (2011), The Huntington Beach Surfer’s Hall of Fame (2013) and The Skateboard Hall of Fame (2016).
A visitor needs a bloodhound to find this mystic’s shop. There’s no sign outside promoting the Stradivarius of surfboards. His hours are a mystery… Skip doesn’t even know what they are.
His boards remain in high demand and he is highly selective about his customers. Skip knows that as soon as one of his board goes out the door, it immediately doubles, possibly triples, in price.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Frye Wings. He gave me a 50th anniversary decal. I’m going to be cool. I put it in the middle of the rear window of my car.
This kook says thanks and Aloha, Skip Frye.
(Addendum) Just as this November issue was going to press, I received a lengthy e-mail from my old friend and Mission Bay classmate, Floyd Smith. His esteem for Skip Frye can be summarized in a few lines from his message:
“Skip is the most beloved surfer in the world. He’s been surfing’s best ambassador for the past 50 years. Skip was G&S most prized employee…”