By Corky Carroll
There have been zillions of excellent surfers that have come out of the La Jolla area over the years, but none greater than the infamous "Black Butch." I am talking about Butch Van Artsdalen, original member of the WindanSea Surf Club and the original "Mr. Pipeline," a moniker he was bestowed for his amazing surfing in the first years that people started surfing the extremely dangerous Banzai Pipeline, on the North Shore of the island of Oahu in the Hawaiian Islands.
Butch was the main man surfing at WindanSea back in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He was a fearless waterman and one of the most talented surfers of his era. He had a little bit of success surfing on the West Coast completion circuit and was also a strong paddleboard racer. Along with a crew of hard-charging San Diego surfers, which included Loren Swan, Dave Willingham and Mike Hynson, Butch went to the North Shore to ride the big ones.
The first guys to surf Pipeline were Phil Edwards, Swan, Willingham and Hynson. It was more a testing to see if it could be done. Nobody was out there to extend the limits of "performance" surfing. That is until Butch paddled out. Holy moly mama, it was a whole new ballgame. He drew from his years of surfing the big, thick peaks out at WindanSea and other La Jolla reef breaks and just out and out charged it. Almost every surfing movie to come out during the years 1962 and '63 featured the incredible performances of Butch Van Artsdalen at Pipeline. He set the bar. He was Mr. Pipeline. It wasn't until Gerry Lopez came along a full decade later that the crown was passed along. And to this day, there have only been two to hold that title: Butch and Gerry.
Butch loved Hawaii and the surfing lifestyle of the North Shore. He became a lifeguard at Waimea Bay, probably one of the most dangerous lifeguard jobs on the planet. He was also a heavy party animal. He could surf with the best of them and drink with the worst of them. Hence the other moniker, Black Butch.
I loved him during the day and avoided him at all costs after dark. He could be the best guy you ever met and then one of the scariest. He wasn't afraid of any wave nor any person. He would drop on a 30-foot close-out wave in the morning and punch a 300-pound Samoan in the mouth in the evening. I am not saying he didn't pay the price for both of those either; he did. He didn't make every wave and didn't get up real fast from many of the fights. But he loved it and came back for more day after day.
Eventually, that lifestyle ended his visit to Earth at way too young an age. But he left his mark on the surfing world in a big way and is one of the true surfing legends. Whenever I pull up to check out the surf at WindanSea, the first thing I think about is seeing Butch fading right and pulling off a huge bottom turn right into the bowl going left.
Five-time U.S. and three-time international surfing champion Corky Carroll writes occasional columns on surfing and beach culture in our region. He's currently offering adventure trips to surf with him at his home near Zihuatanejo, Mexico. E-mail him at