Nowadays, capturing first-person barrel footage is an easy feat (well, if you know how to tuberide) thanks to modern technology. Documenting the inherent psychedelic qualities found under the lip is as simple as popping a GoPro in your mouth and pulling in. It wasn’t always that easy, of course, and surfing’s longtime resident mad scientist, George Greenough, went to exhaustive lengths to take us deep inside the tube with him a half a century ago.
As with most of Greenough’s inventions, his camera rig was something to behold. The homemade waterhousing and camera weighed nearly 30 pounds, and the unwieldy setup rested on Greenough’s shoulder as he threaded tubes on his spoon kneeboard—also homemade, and not the most buoyant surfcraft. For comparison’s sake, the latest GoPro weighs 0.26 pounds.
As the legend goes, Greenough’s camera once got tangled in kelp and began sinking. Knowing the treasure trove of barrel footage that was seared onto that reel of film—having been spat out of the barrels that it documented—Greenough fought to the brink of drowning to detangle his rig and get it back to the surface. Unfortunately, his heavy DIY gear didn’t come with an adhesive floatie.
Was it all worth it? Well, the footage Greenough produced was striking enough that Pink Floyd used to project it behind them when performing their 22-minute prog-rock jam, “Echoes.” In return, Greenough was given the rights to use “Echoes” as the soundtrack for the crescendo section of the 1973 film, “The Crystal Voyager.” 47 years later, the footage holds up—even in the tragically-low 240p seen above.
So next time you hit play on the latest first-person tube-shooting clip from Skeleton Bay, or West Oz for some vicarious barrel riding, remember that Greenough ripped through kelp to take us there first.
[Ed’s Note: This post was originally published in 2019 and written by surf writer Ben Waldron]
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