The Cleanest Line


Photo: Juan Luis De Heeckeren
Mike Pietsch finds a perfect line on a macking day in Hawaiʻi. Photo: Juan Luis De Heeckeren

The Cleanest Line

By Chris Malloy   |   Jun 27, 2016 June 27, 2016

We are now third and fourth generation surfers. We have the confidence to leave the stereotypes behind. We have become a tribe that has the ability to be the scroungiest dirtbags one day and then return to the urban environment as activists for change the next.

Two time periods epitomize the style and sensibility of what we are working to create in the coming years. The first is the late ‘50s, the second, the late ‘60s. These two periods also show how surfing and climbing share the same roots and, even more importantly, the same spirit.

By the late ‘50s, it seemed that America had gone from the “land of the free” to the land of the “nine-to-five.” Nothing was seen as valid unless it turned a profit or provided security. Largely unaware of each other, two different groups happily gave up everything modern America had to offer in hopes of a new frontier. Cut from the same cloth, these two strong, intelligent and resourceful crews diverged from the working class to forge parallel existences.

In June 1957, a small team of ragtag climbers, led by Royal Robbins, made the first ascent of Half Dome’s vertical northwest face, a feat that was then thought impossible. In November 1957, a crew of surfers led by Greg Noll and Pat Curren paddled into the first waves ever successfully ridden at Waimea Bay. The separate tribes, largely unknown to each other, lived similar lives: They were dead broke, building and inventing their own gear as they went along.

Photo: Tom Frost

Yosemite climbing pioneer Yvon Chouinard organizing pitons at the Cyclops Eye bivy on the first ascent of the North America Wall on El Capitan. End of pitch 19, fall 1964. Photo: Tom Frost

By the late ‘60s, surfing and climbing became subcultures of their own. Accordingly, pop culture caught on and capitalized on them, de-authenticating the products through superfluous designs and mass production. Two activities that had been pursued for individual enlightenment and expression were downgraded into mere sport. Meanwhile, a counterculture revolution was taking hold, infusing the admirable principles of social activism and environmental awareness. But once again, pop culture dropped in and society was left confused and empty-handed. And although the seeds for environmental consciousness and activism were sown, many of the original icons and individuals were figuratively and literally left homeless. The real watermen and climbers went running for cover. Some found shelter in uninhabited farmhouses and Quonset huts along the coasts of California, Australia and Hawai‘i, others in ranches and campsites near prime climbing locations like the Tetons and Yosemite.

In 1968-69, in the buildings that Patagonia occupies here in Ventura, California, two dirtbags of epic proportion crossed paths. Yvon Chouinard, one of America’s best climbers, and Bob McTavish, one of Australia’s best surfers, came here to forge pitons and surfboards virtually side by side. Still living lives wholly committed to the experience, they lived hand to mouth on the same beach, building equipment that would prove to change their respective disciplines forever. When asked separately about their quests to push the experience to new levels, they both gave the exact same response: “I’m after the cleanest line on the steepest part of the face.”

This story first appeared in the 2006 Patagonia Surf catalog.

Editor’s note: Back in 2007, when a few of us at Patagonia were kicking around the idea of launching a company blog, we knew the name would be important. We wanted something that conveyed the idea of storytelling, our design philosophy and the ethos of our tribe. After much deliberation, we drew upon the title of the story you just read by Chris Malloy: The Cleanest Line. Now, nine years and more than 1,700 stories later, we’re relaunching our company blog with a fresh design that looks just as good on your phone as it does on your tablet and computer. None of this would have been possible without your support. Thank you for continuing to take this journey with us.  

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