Mike Purpus

Pipeline: A new generation of Luhrsens Breaks in at the Breakwater

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Michael Luhrsen with sons Angelo and Luca at the Redondo Breakwater.

Brothers James, Jude, Joey, George, and Mike Luhrsen have patrolled the line-up at the Redondo Beach Breakwater for over 20 years. I call them the Breakwater Hui.

“I don’t care what you call us,” Mike Luhrsen said. “We are a family that surfs the Breakwater with pride.”

The Breakwater locals go back before wetsuits to the ‘60s with Greg Noll, Mike Doyle, Tim Kelly, Henry Ford and Sonny Vardeman, to name a few.

When I first rode the Breakwater in ‘64 the locals thought I was a gremmie and wouldn’t let me sit in the line-up. Hap Jacobs was the only surfer who talked to me. He showed me where to paddle out next to the rocks and how to wait for a break in the sets to thread the needle to the outside. He told me never to jump off the rocks.

“If you can’t make it out you shouldn’t be out there,” he’d say. Of course Hap was giving me free surfboards and didn’t want me to ruin one jumping off the rocks.

Angelo Luhrsen at the Breakwater during the year’s biggest swell, on Jan. 6. Photo by Brent Broza (BrozaPhoto.com)

I sat outside by myself next at the end of the rocks, catching 8-foot walls. I figured that I would earn my spot by taking off behind them. But I would have to straighten out when the locals dropped into the bowl.

During the epic ‘69 swell I got the top spot in the line-up. Greg and Tye Page, Gary Haraguchi, Ronnie Williamson, Brad Cummings, Bill Perkinson, Mark Johnson, Mike Pace and Bobby Warchola were sitting around me on crowd control. Bobby, Mark and Mike had a fit when I started wearing a leash. They said if I wore one everyone else would too. It would stay crowded all day.

I told them I came out here to push the surfing envelope and shouldn’t be punished for it. I said, “If they wanted to cut down on the crowd by 80 percent we should all go to a City Council meeting together, citing how dangerous it is to jump off the Breakwater in large surf and ask the council to prohibit it.

Bobby, Mark and Mike freaked saying, “We can’t do that. That’s how we get out.” They began carrying knives in their booties, cutting the leash of anyone who that dropped in on them.

Mike Luhrsen told me that the Breakwater inexperienced surfers endangering other surfers as well as themselves.

Michael Luhrsen. Photo by Charlie Scholz (smugmug.com/chazscholz)

“I’ve seen them running down the rocks with their leash already fastened, stuck around a barnacle covered rock trying to jump in with a 10- foot wave coming,” he said.

Mike and his brothers James, Jude, Joey and George Luhrsen look like your typical Hawaiian mix of dark nationalities that grew up on the mean streets of West Shore’s Waianae, maybe on the same block as Sunny Garcia. In reality, they are from Carson and now live in Palos Verdes.

Fifty-year-old Mike told me, “Sunny stayed with us on that last big Breakwater swell (on January 6). He is the Power Dude of pro surfing, taking the basics to another level with his deep carves on his 6-foot-3. After his first session he said the waves warranted his 6-foot-6. He tore big Breakwater up like it was a 4-foot day at Rocky Point.”

Mike started surfing with his brothers in ‘70 at 9 years old at Redondo’s Sapphire Street shore break on a Weber Pig. In ‘79 he was surfing in all the Western Surfing Association Contests, winning his first one at Huntington Beach.

I remember seeing the Luhrsens surfing every time I went to work bartending at the Redondo Pier’s Castagnola’s, even on windy days. Mike would be ripping the rights off Cattleman’s and his brothers were fighting over the lefts off Tony’s in the middle of the Horseshoe Pier. I always knew it was the Luhrsens because they were wearing bright lime green and yellow wetsuits instead of the traditional black.

Mike said, “We wore those yellow and green wetsuits because of you and your boys Mike Benevediz, Chris Barela, Terry Stevens and Dan Purpus in your bright orange wetsuits. We wanted to stand out like you guys. Now Body Glove makes the custom bright orange wetsuits you see us wearing at the Breakwater.”

Mike’s sons, Palos Verdes High School junior Luca, 17, and his older brother Angelo, 18, a Santa Monica Community College student, are squeezing their way into the Breakwater line-up with their radical deep carves, which give them the speed to go high off the top on the inside sets.

Luca, 5-foot-10 and Angelo 6-foot-2 both started surfing when they were eight-years-old at Redondo’s Burnout. Both became South Bay Surf League Rookies of the Year. Luca rides a 5-10 and a 6-8 when it’s big, shaped by ET’s Pat Ryan. Angelo rides a 5-7, a 5-10 and 6-8 made by JS-Aussie. Angelo won the last Ratopia Surf Contest.

Two years ago the Luhrsen family rented one of the biggest RV’s they could find and surfed every spot from Oregon down to the tip of Baja, Mexico. The family makes countless trips to Hawaii, which gives them the big wave edge.

Luca Luhrsen. (smugmug.com/chazscholz)

Luca likes Dane Reynolds because you don’t know what he will do next.

Angelo said, “Kelly Slater is the best because he is the perfect contest surfer.”

Luca thought it was all over on the last big Breakwater swell when he got pitched over the falls on the first wave of a huge set.

“I was held under until the next two waves went by with my surfboard looking like my tombstone on the surface. I thought I was going to black out,” he said.

Angelo waited too long to jump off the rocks on the same swell and landed on dry barnacles. The next wave broke his board in half crushing him in between the large boulders.

Mike and his brothers James, Jude, Joey and George have started Black Belt Surfing. In the ‘70s in Rio de Janeiro, it was the jiu-jitsu guys against the surfers. They hated each other and would fight everywhere until the Gracie family, which had the largest jiu-jitsu academy, started surfing. All of a sudden the jiu-jitsu guys wanted to learn to surf and the surfers studied martial arts to help balance their surfing.

The Luhrsen family is working with Ultimate Fighting “King of the Cage” champion Brian Ortega and the Block House Gym on a similar program.

Mike said, “Our program is more suited to help the surfer learn jiu-jitsu and incorporate the moves into their surfing style.”

Whenever a big North swell is bouncing off the rocks sending a hollow bowl racing down the line you will find Mike and the rest of the Luhrsen family sitting the furthest out waiting for the wave of the day. The Redondo Breakwater has been breaking the same as long as I can remember with only the locals and pecking order changing over the years. ER


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