When brothers Bruce and Steve Wall paddled out at any of the premiere spots on the South Shore during the mid to late 80s, every grom out there knew one thing: No more set waves for me. They were great guys in the parking lot, but in the lineup they were all business. To this day, I'm not sure if I've ever been in the water with better paddlers. They also happened to rip better than pretty much anyone out there. Lucky for us groms, Bruce moved to San Diego and we only had one Wall brother with which to contend, but that was sort of like saying you only had to box one Spinks brother.
At fifty-eight, Steve still has a commanding presence in the water and he does so in the nicest way possible, but it's not like he's kindly giving waves out there. No, he takes what's his, fair and square. The fact of the matter is that the guy paddles like a machine. He's in better shape than most guys in their 30's (me included). He's always Johnny-on-the-spot for the biggest and best set waves. His swooping fade-back bottom turn is nothing short of iconic around the South Shore. I can't tell you how many times he used the maneuver back in the day to stuff me or a friend. He did it so gracefully that it was impossible not to respect and admire him for it from the whitewater. Steve also has a great top turn, but more impressive is his deep love and respect for the ocean.
Steve and his brother Bruce grew up in Hingham, MA. Their father Wes was a doctor specializing in physical medicine rehabilitation. He was also an avid outdoorsman who took his sons on numerous camping and fishing trips throughout New England. In 1965, he bought Steve's older brother a 9'8” Greg Noll at Diver's Den in Weymouth. That weekend, the family drove to Horseneck Beach. Steve borrowed his brother's Greg Noll and it was love at first glide. Shortly after, his father bought Steve a 9'6 Hansen and for the rest of the summer would drop him off at Nantasket Beach every morning on his way to work. Steve's mother would pick him up in the afternoon, but during those hours in between a thirteen year-old Steve would become immersed in the vibrant Nantasket surf scene of the late 1960's.
There were three major surf shops in Nantasket back in those days—the Hobie, Challenger, and Webber shops. Steve wandered his way into Roger Crawford's locally renowned Hobie shop. By 15, he was on the Hobie team and already one of the best surfers on the South Shore. Roger would pile Steve and other young surfers into his Dodge Power Wagon and take them on trips all over New England, even as far down as Virginia Beach. Riding his Hobie Mini, Steve was a top performer in ESA events, regularly qualifying for the ESA finals. Rumor has it he once beat Mike Hynson due to the Endless Summer star's tripping on acid during the heat. When I asked Steve about this, he just shrugged and with a modest smile said, “Ask Roger. I don't remember anything.”
Steve has always been an extremely affable person. He loves talking waves. He loves talking board design. This made him a valuable asset in the surf-thriving 60's. Joe Crossen of Challenger East recognized this in Steve and at 16 offered him the deal of any South Shore surfer's lifetime. He paid Steve twenty dollars a week to ride for Challenger. Mind you, this was back in 1968. Gas cost .33 cents per gallon and burgers .25 cents. In today's market, that's the near equivalent of $130 per week. Can you imagine anyone in New England, teen or adult, getting paid $500 a month to surf? Not in their wildest and wettest dreams.
There were lots of people losing their way in the late 60's but Steve always found a balance. He did learn how to sign his mother's name and would excuse himself from school whenever the waves were good. He always managed to earn high grades and would spend a year at U Mass-Amherst where he would earn dean's list freshman year. That summer, however, Steve decided that Western Massachusetts wasn't for him.
“I decided to leave in good standing,” Steve jokes, “before it was too late. I had to get myself to the coast.”
In 1971, Steve took a year off and went to Biarritz with fellow surfer Bill Graham. They met Cape Cod surfer/shaper Mike Losordo there. To this day, Steve claims the trip as one of his favorites due to both the cultural offerings of France and its formidable waves. Upon returning, Steve began riding for Losordo's then Losordo and Wirick label. Steve attests that he was done with contests by then. He didn't like missing good waves at premiere spots just so he could compete in lesser quality beach break. While he appreciated and enjoyed the boards he had received from both Hobie and Challenger, Steve was suddenly reaping the benefits of riding custom-made equipment. Losordo eventually developed into his Hawaiian Moon brand and Steve has ridden nothing else since.
Steve returned to college only this time opting for something closer to the coast. While at URI, he met boat builder Peter Olson. Along with some other friends, they decided to build their very own catamarans. They cut and milled their own oak, cedar, and spruce for the project. Building three boats at once, Peter's was the first finished. Steve met his eventual wife Peggy during the process. Within a year or two of meeting, he and Peggy started flat-water canoe racing together and today run a successful woodworking business out of a newly built workshop on their quaint sliver of paradise in Pembroke. The catamaran is under wraps aside the house.
In 1980, Steve discovered another way to enjoy the ocean while at the same time pushing himself against its forces. A good friend and master rower, Ed McCabe introduced Steve to the sport via the Hull Lifesaving Association. Always up for a contest, Steve began entering races with Ed and others in fiberglass gunning dories. Similar to his days of surf competition, Steve traveled all over the Northeast performing well and winning events.
“I've always enjoyed competition,” he says. “You meet so many interesting people and got to see so many unique boats. There was always something new to see and learn and you're always traveling to places you'd otherwise never get to visit.”
It's that mentality that exemplifies Steve's truly unique blend of competitiveness and grace. He seems to do everything for the right reason and it all stems from his love of the ocean. Whether it be catching a few hundred pounds of cod out of a canoe or dropping into a triple overhead bomb, Steve is the consummate New England waterman. Ten years ago, my friend Mike Walsh was a few miles out pulling lobster traps when he motored upon Steve out having himself a row. It wasn't summer and the waters weren't dead calm. Steve gave Mike a nonchalant wave and shouted something about there being decent waves in a few days. When Mike told me about the encounter a few days later, we put it down on the long list of daring ocean feats Steve has pulled to blow our minds, most of which I can't really share due to Steve's modesty and his not wanting people to know just how crazy he might be, but I will betray my word to him for just one more example of his fierce abilities. He and his wife once rowed from Marshfield to the Boston lighthouse in the middle of January. Sorry, Steve, the world has to know how ballsy you are.
Steve is a monster, but he's a poised and classy monster, sort of like the X-Men hero Beast played by Kelsey Grammer. He's never scared anyone except for maybe the Atlantic itself. I've never met anyone who respects the ocean more and fears it less.