photo by Jamie Ballenger
Mala Wharf, 2002

photo by Steve Wilkings,
Zuma Beach 1966

The Come Back Kid: Charlie Quesnel

 photo by Steve Wilkings
Pipeline, 1968
photo by Warren Bolster
Cloudbreak, June 2000
photo by Leroy Grannis
Pipeline, 1968
    The roller-coaster of life definitely has its ups and downs, and Charlie Quesnel has been to the extremes of both.  A living example of soul surviving, this is a true life Cinderella story at its best.  I’ve known “the flea” for almost 40 years now, and have seen the whole show up close and personal.  This character, after all he has been through, is an inspiration to all.  Although some of the episodes are in the haze, most of what I do remember isn’t fit to print anyway.  We all know that growing up together is a mixture of experiences, of lessons learned, of mistakes and of pure fun.  We filled our cup with all, to put it lightly.  Just thinking about the stories (I can’t retell here) makes me laugh a lot.  Be that as it may, what I can relate is food for thought for those who have been in the same boat as ourselves (self abuse) and survived.

photo by Leroy Grannis
Laguna contest, Hermosa Beach, 1965
    From the beginning, Charlie and his partner Steve Schlickenmeyer, were the stand-out goofy foots from our area (South Bay), in our age group. I say this grudgingly because we were in rival surf clubs at the time. We surfed against each other in contests, went on “surf” trips to Tijuana and points south inCQ @ the waterfall - 1967 Mexico, and magically wound up on Maui. In the late ‘60’s, there was actually surf all the time. There was a whole contingent of us on Maui then, and Charlie and Slick literally took over Paukakalo as their backyard. I still haven’t seen anyone shred like they did back then.
        Even today, “the flea” can mix it up with kids half his age, and usually come out on top.  Though he took a few years off, he’s back on top of his game, and still rips. Anyone who knows Charlie is both astounded and proud of the way he’s bounced back; it’s a ‘wouldn’t believe it unless I saw it’kind of thing.
        Charlie was born in Manhattan Beach, California, on September 16, 1949, and moved to Hermosa Beach in 1960.  “After moving to Hermosa and buying my first new surfboard from Bing Copeland, I washooked for life.”
As a teenager, I hung out as much as possible at Bing’s shop, listening and learning about the building and designing of a surfboard. While working for Bing during the late 1960’s as a glasser, I learned to shape from some of the best at the time: Dick Brewer, Donald Takayama, & Dan Bendiksen. The Pipeliner, the DT Model, the David Nuuhiwa Noserider, and Lightweight were trademark designs of these shapers, and boards I knew well.
photo by Leroy Grannis Hermosa Beach, 1965

photo by Steve Wilkings
San Clemente contest,October 1966

“In 1962, Bing asked me if I would like to do ads for his business in the surf mags, and in return he would keep me supplied with boards.  By 1965, I had become an established member in the U.S.S.A., regularly competing in the Triple A division of what was then the pros bracket (as surfing was only amateur rated then).  Soon after I was sponsored by Dive 'N Surf Wetsuits , Kanvis by Katin, and Laguna Swimwear.”


Dru Harrison, Steve Schlickenmeyer and Charlie
in a Kanvis by Katin ad
(photo by Tom Normand), Hermosa Beach, 1965


Bing ad reprinted from Surfer magazine
1964 photo by Duke Boyd
               “During this time, I began traveling in the contest circuit, and in 1967 spent nearly the whole summer traveling from Maine to the Florida Keys. Followed the East coast circuit with David Nuuhiwa and Steve Schlickenmeyer as part of the Bing team. My first trip to Hawaii was in the summer of 1964 on the south shore of Oahu, spending my summer days paddling out at Queens and ending up at Ala Moana Bowl each afternoon.  Some of my friends were the sons of George Downing, Reno Abillera, Roy Espinda, Wayne Hirata and Harry Sonoda.  My surf idols and close friends were Donald Takayama, Tommy Lee, Butch Van Artsdalen and David Nuuhiwa.


Charlie, Steve, & Chris Schlickenmeyer (sitting)
in a Dive 'N Surf ad, 1966


                                                                          Charter member, circa 1964
               “David Nuuhiwa was my idol and somebody I aspired to surf like, because of his cat-like ability on the nose, his fluidness and finesse, and the uncanny ability to hang on the nose forever while making it look so easy.  For many years, David, Slick and myself were somewhat inseparable.  We traveled together, surfed together, and were the core of the Bing Surf Team. We competed against each other regularly in contests.  The competition never divided us, but rather strengthened our friendship because of our mutual love for the sport itself.

By 1966, I was spending each Christmas vacation in Hawaii, competing in the Makaha Championships and the Duke Classic at Sunset Beach.  In June of 1967, I began spending Spring and Summer months working at Bing's as a glasser, then the Fall and Winter months in Hawaii, surfing the North shore.
        “I later moved to Maui where I remember surfing many uncrowded, spectacular and pristine days at Honolua Bay.  At the end of winter 1970, I moved back to Hermosa and opened my own shop with Slick and, for the next two years, produced Charlie Q Surfboards.  I appeared in some surf flicks by Walt Phillips, Hal Jepsen’s Fluid Journey, Cosmic Children, and John Severson’s Pacific Vibrations.”

 

photos reprinted from June, 1970 "Surfing" magazine

 

photo by Warren Bolster
Cloudbreak, June 2000
Ahhhh, the roller coaster of life approaches a downward spiral.  Charlie relates, “By 1973 my drug experimentation efforts had made a turn for the worse, and I began to have regular ‘run-ins’ with the law enforcement.  Ultimately, my addiction to drugs removed me far from beyond my love of surfing.”  In 1992, C.Q. hits rock bottom, with a 45 year sentence.  “A direct result of my using; it was a blessing in disguise and saved my life as well.  The system was tired of me and was going to remove me from society for a while.  But in January of 1993, I had a simple (spiritual) but enlightening experience that turned my life around at that point:  The strongest desire not to use anymore, and that I could no longer keep doing what I was doing.  If I ever wanted to ‘see the light of day’ again, I would have to change something: everything.  The irony of my situation then was the fact that being locked up could actually have a great benefit: finding freedom from my self-made prison, and a new way of life!  For the next couple of years, I became immersed and involved with a 12-step program while in prison.  Key words here ":perseverance and patience.”


photo by Leroy Grannis
Sunset, Dec. 1967
    Now, I’ve known Charlie almost all my life and, since a good attitude usually brings about good changes, get a load of this:

        “On July 26, 1995, when I least expected it on a channel 4 KITV newscast here in Hawaii, newscaster Paula Akana had announced that one of my cases had been overturned by the State Supreme Court that day. Within 6 months, I walked out the gates.  I had been doing the right things for my well-being and peace of mind; participating in my own recovery process and my Higher Power had showed me that it was time to move on with my life."

photo by Steve Wilkings
Pipeline, Jan. 1968

“In December 1997, I was discharged from my parole and the whole 45 year sentence thing was gone.  Incredible freedom, as I had been on parole or probation since I was 18.”
        All in all, I’d say that this takes the cake in the roller coaster of life theory.  On the lighter side, I thought I’d ask C.Q. about a memorable surf session: “I remember one time when there must have been at least a dozen of us standing on the beach at Windmills(on Maui) in the middle of winter during a Kona storm, perfectly off-shore winds and 12-15 foot barrels with nobody out.  I stood there watching almost every set that came through doing this 'spit' out of each wave that passed, and was able to finally convince two guys to paddle out with me: Billy Ray James and Les Potts (funny how Potts is always around on the big days!). We had to take turns on the waves so that the others would have somewhere to line up from.  It was the most awesome, powerful and perfect surf that day I can remember."


photo by Neal Norris

Honolua Bay, Dec. 1969


photo by Neal Norris Honolua Bay, Dec. 1969

photo by Steve Wilkings
Pipeline, Jan. 1968
“I remember in the winter of 1965 while staying on the Northshore of Oahu, there was a huge NW swell happening and Waimea Bay was at least 18 ft. I had stood on the beach there, thinking for the first time that I might be able to handle that stuff. And my favorites were out there that morning:  Joey Cabell, Pat Curren, George Downing, Ricky Grigg, and a friend of mine named Steve Ball.  He was a very good big wave rider at the time.  He had told me, before paddling out, that if I was going out there, to keep one thing in mind:  Before I can get over any fears I might have (which at that point were overwhelming to me!), to simply take a wipe-out on my first wave!  After that, anything else that would happen that morning would be a piece of cake. And guess what happened:  I was held at the top of the lip of this monstrous set wave, and then over I went!  Steve was certainly right.  It had removed any and all fears from me at that moment!  All I wanted to do was save my life! From then on that morning, after surviving this horrendous wipe-out, I could do no wrong on the face of those booming waves. It was certainly a memorable day for me!  Sometimes today, because of my new-found lease on life and my great love for surfing, I begin to think how awesome it would be to have those kinds of experiences again. I also know better: I am no longer the kid I
used to be. But it sure is wonderful to keep those thoughts in my heart and mind. It’s what keeps me young today!"
CQ at work in the ECET lab at MCC
Often times I think about how expensive it is to live in Hawaii today, and the 'price we pay to live in paradise.'  But then I think about the kind of life I have been given and how much is due in part because I live in Hawaii. I wouldn’t give that up for anything!  I couldn’t think of living anywhere else, even with our economic and environmental problems.  If anything, maybe I can make a difference by doing my part to help ensure that we have a safe and healthy environment for our children."

photo by Neal Norris
Honolua Bay, Dec. 1969
For the kids today: try to follow your heart wherever possible.  We are all born with this innate ability to do the right thing, to know right from wrong, if we follow what the God in our heart tells us.  This inter-dependence, though, tends to get removed or in the way of our lives as we get older, or peer pressure is too great.  Seeking relief in the form of drugs or any other addiction is not the answer!  Talk to someone before things get too tough or out of control.  Keep close to your family and friends.  Don’t hold in those things that are tearing us up inside; speaking up when necessary.  Unhealthy relationships and unhealthy attitudes are a dangerous place to be.  Be responsible and accountable for your actions.  A good education is a key that opens many, many doors in our lives.  Try to incorporate a spiritual thought into any action taken or idea given. Make amends right away when harm has been done in some way to another human being, whether deliberate or not. Find a healthy passion in life, whether it be in sport or in art, and seek to be your best at it! Always try to find some humor in the face of rough times, seek happiness not sorrow, and live each day at a time."


photo by Steve Wilkings
Pipeline, 1968


Ole Longboard Classic contest, Sept. '97, 6th place
Today, with nearly 15 years drug-free (as well as tobacco-free), a loving, caring, and beautiful wife of more than 10 years, and a great job, life is good for me!  I'm a Finished Products Manager at Honsador Lumber, and also the General manager for Maui Pacific Solar, Inc., a solar water heating and solar electric installation company, working with a fantastic, supportive and energetic group of people.  In May, 1999 I graduated from Maui Community College with an Associates Science degree in Computer Electronics, an education program I began while incarcerated at Halawa prison on Oahu.  My partner in life, my wife Sharon, is also my best friend!  But best of all is my revived first love: surfing!  I get in the waves as much as possible, and my passion for it is even greater than before.  I had removed myself from one of the best things happening in my life and what was so much a part of it.  Today, I enjoy surfing for the pure and healthy sport that it is.  And the mental and physical therapy that goes along with it."

Graduation day, May 16, 1999
    “Right now I have four boards, all of which were designed by a very close friend of mine and great shaper, Jimmy Lewis.  Years ago, when Jimmy was first starting out in the surfboard industry, working in a little shop in what used to be the old cannery in Lahaina, I had helped guide him with his glassing and shaping techniques.  He has not forgotten, and today, sponsors me with those boards: a 9’0” noserider, a 7'6" gun, a 7’4” mini-tanker , and a 7’0” short board."


Jimmy Lewis, 7'4" gun

CQ_Longboard_03.jpg (50218 bytes)
Jimmy Lewis, 9'0" Noserider

photo by Steve Wilkings, Pipeline, 1968

“I have lived and worked on Maui for nearly 30 years and probably surfed every spot on this island, with the exception of Jaws.  Some of my favorite spots during the winter are:  Paukukalo, the Lane and middles at Hookipa, as well as Honolua Bay.  Although today, the Bay is much more crowded than when I surfed it during the 60’s and 70’s.   In the summertime, La Perouse, Dumps, Maalaea, and the Lahaina Breakwall are some favorite spots but there's nothing that compares to the perfection of a 6-8' Mala Wharf wall!"

Honolua Bay, Maui

“I hope that when I’m 80 years old I still have the ability to paddle out and enjoy a few good waves with the boys.  That’s what really keeps me young at heart and healthy in the mind and soul.  And the physical exercise of it doesn’t hurt either!”


photo by Neal Norris
Honolua Bay, Dec. 1969
        From Bing’s “wonder boy”, to a state “vacation”, Charlie has experienced in one lifetime the highs and lows more intense than the average human being.  Jimi Hendrix wrote: “Are You Experienced?”  Ha!  C.Q. is.  What’s so great about this is he will good naturedly pass on freely these lessons learned and experience gained for those who might benefit from what he’s gone through. Charlie exemplifies overcoming adversity. Another charter member of the been-there, done-that club; he’s a real example of what clean living can do to reconstruct one’s life.  Of anybody I know, Charlie Quesnel gets the big time 'atta-boy' award - he earned it!

photo by Warren Bolster
Cloudbreak, June 2000

CQ at Ulu's, June 1st '06Uluwatu
June 2006

CQ @ Ulu's, June '06Uluwatu
June 2006


Charlie with wife Sharon
January (left) & November (right), 1999

Charlie & Bing @ Duke's on the Beach in Waikiki, July '05

Chattin' with the Governor in Waikiki, Sept. '05

Charlie & Bing @ the biennial surf auction
at the NBC in Honolulu, July '05

Send any questions or comments for Charlie Q. to:
charlieq@hawaii.rr.com