Joe Surf: 'Snake' a local surfing legend

March 21, 2012|By Joe Haakenson

I walked into the wrestling room at Huntington Beach High last week and was immediately introduced to him by the Surfside USA Wrestling Club president Jim McLaughlin.

"Joe, I'd like you to meet someone," Jim said. "This is Bruce."

Bruce was going to come in and help out coaching the kids at the club, having been a wrestler himself back in the day. Made sense. Then he handed me his business card.

"Bruce 'Snake' Gabrielson, Wave Trek Surfboards."

Turns out ol' Snake is a bit of a surfing legend as well, but for more than what he did in the water off Huntington back in the 1960s and '70s. If not for Snake, the National Scholastic Surfing Assn. (NSSA) might not exist today.


Snake, 66, was the founder and first surf coach at Huntington Beach High, the first high school in the nation to formally recognize surfing as a varsity sport.

He was the founder of the Orange Coast Surfing League, the first official high school surfing league in the U.S. as recognized by CIF. That league was the foundation for the creation of the NSSA.

He was the first president of the Huntington Beach Surfing Assn., a post he held from 1967-77.

The list of "firsts" attributed to Snake is as long as the 9-foot-1 Steve Walden Magic Model longboard he rides today.

His vision for surfing back then was much grander than simply getting high school programs started. Snake said his mentor was H.B. legend Chuck Linnen, and the two started the surfing program at Long Beach State when they were students there.

After Snake finished school, he started thinking big.

"I had it in my mind to get surfing into the Olympics," Snake said. "And one of the primary building blocks for that is getting it into school competition. So I thought, well, let's get the schools promoting it and eventually it'll work its way in (to the Olympics).

"At the time I was both the president of the Huntington Beach Surfing Assn. and the District 5 Director of the Western Surfing Assn., so it was easy for me to organize everybody and get the high school leagues going."

While the high school programs are thriving now through the NSSA, the Olympic dream has hit a few snags. He said he wrote the actual application for the United States Surfing Federation, which was submitted to the Olympic Committee to make it a sport, but progress has been slow because of the bureaucratic process.

"And they'd have to drop a sport to pick up a sport — that is going to be a killer," Snake said.

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