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SURF COUNTY, USA : THE LONG RIDERS : Some change from business suits into wet suits. Others practically live in the water. All find exceptional challenges and rewards in their search for the perfect wave.

July 27, 1990|DAVID REYES

WHITEY HARRISON

LEGENDARY SURFER, 77

With his signature palm hat atop his head and a large surfboard cradled under an arm, Lorrin (Whitey) Harrison has become such a familiar sight at San Onofre State Beach that he's called "Mr. San Onofre."

This living legend from San Juan Capistrano started surfing in the 1920s. By the 1930s, Harrison and his friend, Preston Peterson, used to reign supreme over surfing contests held at San Onofre. Then in the early 1930s, he made his first trip to Hawaii and survived the crushing waves of the North Shore.

"One of the biggest waves I ever got on was at least 35 feet," Harrison said recently. "But I got sucked off the back of it. It was at Avalanche," a Hawaiian break, he said.

"I remember surfing (Hawaii's) Sunset Beach and Haleiwa in 1935. There was no one else out," Harrison added.

While in Hawaii, Harrison said he met and surfed with fellow surfing pioneer Tom Blake and a young Hawaiian named Duke Kahanamoku, who would later help foster surfing in Hawaii and California.

Today, Harrison walks slower, and his vision is hampered because of a deep-sea diving accident. He scoffs at his large surfboards, which he personally shapes. "I like a board that's more narrow. But I'm getting older, and I like a little more stability."

He still surfs two or three times a week, dives for black abalone and paddles in canoe races.

If a good swell is running, Harrison's blue pickup is probably just around the bend.

"He always likes to come down to the beach when the surf is up," said Harrison's wife, Cecelia.

"He's my hero," said Dorian Paskowitz, the 69-year-old patriarch of the surfing Paskowitz clan. "I truthfully believe that Lorrin can go out right now and ride a 15-foot wave. He's the only one in our age group who can probably do it."

Where can you usually find him in the water?

"Oh, he's always the one who is farthest out," his wife said.

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