Opinion: Laguna waterman Briggs ‘Corky’ Smith dies at 88  

Roger Butow.

By Roger Butow

Late in the evening on Sunday, Jan. 21, Briggs Christian (Corky) Morris-Smith exhaled his last breath as his son Kurt read to him in bed from a collection of Native American “Great Spirit Prayers.”

Fitting, considering the resonance with Corky’s Native American spiritual beliefs and his empathy for all indigenous cultures. 

I read his master’s thesis, which primarily focused on the Gabrieleños and Juaneños people. These Tongva tribes mutually agreed that Aliso Creek would be their boundary line. He left behind boxes of Native American artifacts that he’d collected. Per his will, the artifacts will be donated to local Native American-controlled archivists. 

He was one too, an actual “totem” figure at Oak Street, wearing that perennial Native American headband. 

Corky Smith ready to surf in 1956. Photo courtesy of the Smith family.

Corky left a huge gaping hole in the hearts of Laguna Beach’s unique cultural community, but he also left a heritage of great, wonderful memories to savor within our beach tribe. 

Yes, there’ll be the Hawaiian ritual paddle out at Brooks Street, his ashes spread at the epic, peak swell “mondo” third reef per his wishes. His ashes will join quite a few others who transitioned before him.  

Yes, a separate memorial service will be held. There’ll be a lot of “talk story” at both, opportunities to share remembrances in grief, Hawaiian style. 

Corky’s family and friends are still organizing and scheduling both events, but look for announcements online plus mainstream media.  

I’m working closely with the love of his life, Linda, and son, Kurt. We’ve additionally constellated a loosely knit ad hoc to coordinate related activities.  

And yes, those modern “Moondoggie” bongos called social media are drumming, spreading the sacred word that a legendary “kahuna” has died.  

Google Brooks Street Surfing Classic or drop in at Jason (Watto) Watson’s Laguna Surf & Sport for the latest 411. I’m sure some blogs are also beginning to light up as I write.  

Deepest gratitude to Laguna native Brian (Live Fit—Live Well) Wisely for dropping into the ad hoc lineup. He was not just Corky’s close friend and confidant but a physical therapy trainer at The Well, Brian’s North Laguna location.  

I’ve known Brian and his wife, Nadine, for about 30 years. He’d be a good, reliable source for updates, too.  

I’ve tried to decipher Corky’s handwriting for decades, and for those who knew him personally, that stylized printing bordered on hieroglyphics. 

His BFF and painting business bruh, Spider Wills, probably created it to confuse the rest of us or maybe just for fun, as they were often comedic down at Playground HQ, Oak Street Beach.  

Come to think of it, a quirky collection of humanity that’s quite typical of So Cal coastal towns. 

Back in 1972, when I moved here, I met Corky, Big John Parlette, who, together with Spider and Ron Sizemore, basically held court at Oak, yet inexplicably, none ever seemed to work.  

You’d get a nod, a “Howzit?” and someone was usually making a run to Oak Street Smoothie Bar (where Laguna Surf & Sport is now) or side door, take out at La Paz (now Wahoo’s) for “da kind Mexi-grindage.”  

Our common diet was sprout sandwiches, fresh squeezed fruit juices, protein shakes and fish tacos, every surfer’s four basic food groups. 

Of interest to readers might be a very insightful interview written by Matt Coker of OC Weekly back in 1999. In the early days of the Clean Water Now! Coalition (now just Clean Water Now), there are some quotes from Tex (Victoria Skimboards) Haines and yours truly. 

He provided Coker with some details about his life that even locals might not be aware of, from his eco-activism to his personal relationships. 

He was quite aware of his failing health, but typical meticulous dude that he was, he organized a lot of the paperwork for his Ohana to assist us after his death.  

Among the files, Kurt found his father’s self-written epitaph and sent it to me, perhaps written just prior to his demise?  

“Born bi-polar; Poet; Surfer; Veteran; Football Player; Martial Artist; Painter of Houses; Archeologist; Father of Two Good Sons; Part-Time Human Being.” 

Aloha and much mahalos Corky, thanks for letting me share the road with you, my life was so much richer for it. 

Roger “Gonzo” Bütow is a prolific, often transgressive journalist and a 52-year resident of Laguna Beach. He’s co-founder and executive director of the unincorporated association known as Clean Water Now.  

A retired general contractor, since 2010, he’s been a professional land use and regulatory compliance consultant, plus provided environmental and construction advisory services.  

His contact information can be found at www.clean-water-now.org.





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  1. A Surfer’s Prayer To St. Christopher:

    St. Christopher, Big Kahuna patron saint of surfers, protect me in the water from take-off to the beach. Carry this surfer on your broad shoulders as I spiritually commune through surfing. I come to this beach in search of peace and tranquility. Guide us on our surfing safaris to the awesome, tubular corduroy waves, overhead yes, but nothing too gnarly, k? Please give me the patience to wait for the right wave, the strength to paddle it, and the ability to ride it. Help me to eventually hang ten, or at least five; for I am in my own way, of the faith. Deliver me from wipe outs, unpleasant ho-daddies and gremmies, and please keep my trunks on securely. Let me through surfing follow the way of the Lord Ocean and come away stoked in spirit. Amen.


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