Buzzy Trent, 77, big-wave master dies
By Rod Ohira
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Rod Ohira
Buzzy Trent was a fearless adventurer who fought bulls in Tijuana and boxed before gaining fame as one of the legendary pioneers of big-wave surfing.
"Buzzy took on challenges that stimulated his adrenaline in sports that most would be hesitant to take on, primarily surfing and hang-gliding," said friend George Downing, himself a renowned waterman. "When he was asked to take on a challenge, his answer was when, not where."
Goodwin Murray "Buzzy" Trent Jr. died Sept. 26 at Hale Ho Aloha nursing home in Pacific Heights. He was 77.
A California native, Trent gained international note in 1953 when the late Scoop Suzuki photographed him with Woody Brown and Downing riding a 20-foot winter wave at Makaha in the first widely published photos of big-wave surfing.
Peter Cole of Sunset Beach said Trent, his lifelong friend from grammar school in Santa Monica, Calif., was an exceptional athlete who could run 100 yards in 10 seconds in high school. Trent was an all-state football player whose career was cut short at the University of Southern California by a leg injury suffered in practice, Cole said.
Trent, one of the top young surfers in California, sailed to Hawai'i on a catamaran in 1953 after hearing about big-wave surfing at Makaha from a friend, Walter Hoffman.
"Buzzy loved to surf Point Break Makaha," Downing said. "He enjoyed sliding across these long breaking waves and considered Jan. 12, 1958, as one of the greatest surfing days of his life."
Downing described the winter waves that day as perfect. "It was gigantic, 25 to 40 feet," he recalled. "At the end of the day, Buzzy said to me, 'My life is now complete.' "
Trent and Downing were in a class by themselves, the first big-wave masters of Makaha, said author and former surfing champion Richard "Ricky" Grigg.
"George had the ocean knowledge, he was the general, and Buzzy had the guts to lead the charge," said Grigg, a University of Hawai'i professor of oceanography. "Together, they formed a great team that conquered big waves."
Grigg said Trent was known for his power and high trim and had the willpower, stamina and true grit to take wipeouts head on.
Five-time tow-in surfing champion Garrett McNamara said of Trent: "He was among the pioneers who did it with no leash and giant boards. They did it for the love of it and challenge. Hats off to them."
Despite his tough-guy appearance and private nature, Cole and other friends often saw another side of Trent.
"He was a model physical specimen and also an entertaining individual with a lot of charisma," Cole said. "I remember once we were in lineup (waiting for waves) at Laniakea, and he starts telling stories. We're all listening and not moving. He keeps talking while moving away and this wave comes in. He gets the wave, and we all get caught inside."
Grigg said Trent took up hang- gliding while it was still a relatively new activity. Wearing only shorts, Trent once hiked up the slopes in Wai'anae to hang-glide and was blown several thousand feet high. "He almost froze to death," Grigg said.
Trent was a big part of his life, Grigg said.
At age 11 while surfing with Trent at Santa Monica, Grigg was speared by his surfboard.
"It split my spleen in half and he rushed me to the hospital," Grigg recalled. "He saved my life.
"I've been his mascot for a long time, and he was like a surrogate father to me," Grigg added. "He had the most influence of anyone on my life. He always used to tell me, 'If you're out surfing, take risks, but calculate it first and then go for it.' "
Goodwin Murray Trent Jr. was born in San Diego and raised in Santa Monica. His grandfather, John Parkinson, was a Los Angeles architect who designed several of the city's historical landmarks, among them the Los Angeles Coliseum, City Hall and University of Southern California campus.
Trent is survived by his second wife, Gladis; daughter Anna and son Ivan Trent; and seven grandchildren.
Private services have been held and his ashes scattered at sea.
Correction: Surfing legend Goodwin Murray "Buzzy" Trent Jr. died Sept. 26. Among his survivors is his son, Ivan Trent. An incorrect date and incomplete name were used in a previous version of this story.
Reach Rod Ohira at email@example.com.