VIA – SANTA CRUZ SENTINEL
12-year-old Tommy Hickenbottom poses with his surfboard in 1959 when he was a 6th grader at Bay View Elementary. (Vareen Hickenbottom/Contributed )
Gretchen Wegrich, Stoked and Broke: Surf community rallies behind surfing icon
Every surfer knows the feeling of riding a wave in to the beach and realizing it’s not time to quit just yet. Of turning and pushing the board back out through the waves, tasting saltwater and paddling hard in anticipation of the next set. Of wanting just a few more and knowing that there are still waves somewhere out there, waiting to be ridden.
Thomas “Hicko” Hickenbottom, a Santa Cruz surfing legend, knows the feeling. An original member of the O’Neill surf team, Hicko’s 30-year professional surf career took him up and down the California coast with some of the greatest names in Santa Cruz surfing history. Hickenbottom is also the author of two books about Santa Cruz surfing.
Today, the 65-year-old former professional surfer, surf writer and two-tour Vietnam medic is choosing to undergo alternative treatment for the head and throat cancer he has been aggressively fighting since 2007. Although the cancer has metastasized to his lungs, Hickenbottom experienced significant improvement after just three weeks at the Century Wellness Clinic in Reno, Nev., with oncologist Dr. James Forsythe.
The Santa Cruz surf community is rallying behind one of their own in hopes of raising money to cover the cost of Hickenbottom’s alternative cancer treatment with a benefit event that includes dinner, live music, a raffle, and a silent and live auction, on July 21 from 5 to 10 p.m. at a private residence on the Westside of Santa Cruz.
“Tom was one of my mentors,”
said Kim Stoner of the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum Preservation Society, who is three years younger than Hickenbottom. “He was the guy I wanted to surf like.”
Stoner expects the fundraiser to be a historic gathering of the entire Santa Cruz surfing tribe, the likes of which the community has not seen since a 1986 fete at the Coconut Grove.
“Tom’s family, friends, the surfing community and writing community have banded together in support to create a benefit for his medical care,” Stoner said.
She then added reflectively, “We’re on this planet for a short period of time. We’ve got to make the most of it.”
SITTING ON TOP OF THE WORLD
When Hickenbottom started surfing, surfers went bare-legged in icy winter waters, wearing nothing but baggies and a stiff wetsuit jacket.
“I was one of the first local surfers to be asked to join the O’Neill team in the 60s when it first formed,” Hickenbottom said. “Also on the team were Tom Hoye, Dick Keating, Joel Woods, Gene Hall and Pat O’Neill. At that time, we were rated as the top NorCal surfers.”
Competing locally and up and down the California coast, the O’Neill team members were treated like rockstars.
“It was such an honor to be involved with all those great surfers on the same team,” Hickenbottom said.
Hickenbottom’s life was completely centered around surfing and his tight-knit crew of surfing buddies. Their territory ranged from Cowell Beach to Mitchell’s Cove.
“As the sport became more popular and The Lane and Cowell’s became more crowded, Mitchell’s was a reclusive spot for me,” Hickenbottom said.
A truly surf-stoked individual, Hickenbottom dedicated himself to surfing Mitchell’s Cove, catching it on every good swell from 1964 to ’66. He was one of the first local surfers to regularly paddle out north of The Lane.
“We ruled Mitchell’s and had so many incredible sessions, it was truly like a surf heaven on Earth,” Hickenbottom said of the days spent catching wave after wave at Mitchell’s with a few of his closest surfing buddies — guys like Denny Moung, Billy and Adrian Jones, Carsten Johnsen, and Gray and Kenny Lamb.
Even though Hickenbottom was sponsored by O’Neill, which at that time also made surfboards, he remained loyal to his first surfboard shaper, Renny Yater.
“I got my first board, an 8-foot-8 with a ¾-inch redwood stringer, two layers of 10-ounce fiberglass and a foam fin from Yater in 1959, the very first year he started making boards,” Hickenbottom said.
Hickenbottom remembers how he got that first surfboard like it was yesterday.
“My local mentor, Don Snyder, and I drove down to Santa Barbara to pick up a few boards for the Santa Cruz crew,” he said.
But when Snyder and the 12-year-old Hickenbottom arrived at Yater’s shop, they were greeted with a note, scribbled with the words: “We’re at Rincon.”
They grabbed the fresh boards and drove to Rincon, which featured 4- to 7-foot waves and was practically empty.
The lineup consisted of Renny Yater, Kemp Aaberg and Bob Cooper. Don Snyder wasted no time in paddling out to join them.
“I sat on my new board [on the] inside and snagged smaller waves as I watched the California masters ride in from around the point,” Hickenbottom recalls. “That trip changed my life forever.”
Hickenbottom’s surf career was interrupted when he was drafted for the Vietnam War. He served two tours of duty as a medic before returning to Santa Cruz and immersing himself in the surfing world that he loved.
“The Santa Cruz surfing community has turned out big-time to help me raise money for my ongoing cancer treatments,” said Hickenbottom, noting that Doug Haut, Ward Coffey and Bob Pearson have all donated boards to the fundraiser, while Jack and Pat O’Neill have also given their support to the event.
Fellow surfers and close friends have come together to spearhead committees for the benefit, while many members of the Santa Cruz Surfing Club Preservation Society and the Longboard Union are also on board.
“I am so humbled and thankful for all their support,” Hickenbottom said. “The Santa Cruz surfing community always stands behind their own.”
A friend of Hickenbottom’s since high school, Barbara Gerry said the outpouring of support for the benefit has been amazing to witness.
“It’s Tom’s enthusiasm, his inclusiveness; he wants to fold everyone in,” Gerry said. “That’s his nature, to be friendly to everyone, inclusive, loving. He has a love of life, a passion for life and for the people that he knows and loves. He’s just got a huge, huge heart.”
Gerry has orchestrated a Facebook campaign, which has raised more than $18,000 for Hickenbottom’s cancer treatment.
Friends agree, Tom Hickenbottom is worth every penny raised at the upcoming benefit.
“I think one of the great stories about Tommy Hickenbottom is…”
For more go here:
If you have a product or service that is a good fit for our surf community, we have opportunities for you to sponsor this blog! Download our media kit now!