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Cancer claims life of SoCal surfer, shaper, contest judge
August 26, 2008
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Iconic shaper and contest judge, Jeff "Midget" Smith succumbed to his second bout with cancer on Saturday, August 23rd. In the days since his death, message boards worldwide were flooded with great stories and anecdotes, sympathies and kind words. If such an outpouring is any sort of evidence as to the legacy he leaves and the type of person he was, he will surely be missed.
A year ago, in August of 2007, Smith was informed the cancer he had beaten back more than 22 years ago had returned, attacking his adrenal glands, liver, lungs and other major organs. Despite immediate chemotherapy, the cancer metastasized at a much more rapid rate than was expected.
"Midget was determined to not let cancer dictate his way of life and way of being," said Sean Haggar, Smith's son-in-law. "He was dedicated to his customers' needs to the end, by continuing to custom shape boards for individuals and retailers alike. Midget judged his final contest on June 2nd in Baja. He told us that he officially retired, which I know was extremely difficult for him. Midget has never been one to quit anything, so to hear him say that he will no longer be judging was a total shock.

"He was in and out of the hospital many times this past year. It's been a terrible roller coaster ride for Midget and our family. He spent his last two weeks at home, surrounded with the love and friendship of those who were closest to him."

There are few people who have affected multiple facets of surfing as seamlessly and as well as Midget Smith. As a contest judge and shaper, the former competitive surfer seemed fixed on driving performance to higher levels. On a local level, Smith was a legend. Exalted as a hometown hero in San Clemente, he was central to the region's storied, high-performance standard. In the '70s and '80s, Smith pulsed a progressive surge that sprang out of local lineups. As a shaper, Smith cut his teeth at Hobie Surf Shop, leveraging the experience to start his own label where he crafted boards for a headlining cast of surf-uberstars. And as a contest judge he was nothing more and nothing less than what he needed to be -- fair.

It's a loss felt on multiple fronts of Southern California's surf scene. Smith is survived by his daughter Sarah, his life-partner of over 20 years Mary Lou Drummy and her four kids, as well as three grandchildren.

Chris Drummy, part of Smith's extended family, has been nice enough to share the eulogy he wrote in remembrance of Smith. It goes without saying that Surfline extends its deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Jeff "Midget" Smith during this difficult time. Please leave your comments below Drummy's eulogy.
Midget's work as a judge is respected worldwide, and in his hometown of San Clemente he has long been revered as a surfing legend and mentor to many.
--Chris Drummy

For those of you who didn't know Midget Smith, he played a major part in the San Clemente progressive surfing movement. Midget was one of the heavy hitters that frequented the Pier back in the '70s & '80s. He had been shaping for over 30 years and for many of today's top pros along the way: Andy Irons, Occy, Luke Egan, Martin Potter, Dane Kealoha, Ben Bourgeois, Shane Beschen, Danny Fuller, Jesse Merle Jones, Homer Henard, Jim Hogan, Kieran Horn, Omar Etch, Keoni Cuccia, Adam Virs, Aamion Goodwin, Chris and Pat Drummy, Maureen Drummy- Haggar, Sean Haggar, Travis Mellem & the late Jason Bogle are just a few of Midget's list of pro custom shapes.

Mark Occhilupo's win at the OP Indo Boat Challenge & Shane Beschen's win at the WQS at Lowers were two defining moments that highlighted Midget's love for shaping and surfing as they both rode to victory on Midget's boards. Midget has also served as head judge for the ASP North America, Bud Tour, ASP World Longboard Tour, X Games, and National Surf League.

Midget's work as a judge is respected worldwide, and in his hometown of San Clemente he has long been revered as a surfing legend and mentor to many. Midget grew up surfing Beach Road & San Clemente Pier in his early days. In his later years he enjoyed surfing out at Middles & Church.

With the San Clemente reefs and beaches as his training ground, the diminutive natural-footer quickly advanced and began a competitive career. And it was during these competitions that the "Midget" moniker came about. "When I was competing, there was another kid named Jeff Smith, so I started going by 'Midget'," Smith said.

At a time when modern surfing was in its infancy, Smith was privy to one of the most important eras within the sport: the shortboard revolution. The advent of Alby Falzon's immortal Morning of the Earth film had surfers around the globe chopping their longboards down in favor of the smaller, more maneuverable shortboards, and overnight, board length shrank from 10 feet to five.

This uprising provided the perfect opportunity for Smith to delve into board making. The enterprising youngster's first shaping experience involved going out to the backyard, stripping the fiberglass off of his longboard and whittling it down to the new standard--and this was just the beginning.

Upon graduating from San Clemente High School in 1969, Midget went to work at Hobie Surf Shop in Dana Point. It was there, under the tutelage of renowned board maker Terry Martin, that Smith developed his skills as a shaper. Following a brief stint with Natural Design Surfboards, Smith started the Midget Smith Surfboards label in 1972 and quickly cultivated a reputation for crafting some of the best boards in California.

In 1978, Midget Smith opened his own shop in San Clemente. At the time, amidst the growing number of accolades Smith was collecting as a surfer and shaper, a third passion came along. "I was competing and I used to complain about the judging all the time," Smith said. "Finally I went, 'Why am I complaining?' I didn't even know what those guys were going through, so I figured I'd try it out. And I had a blast; I loved it."
Since his first judging experience at 24 years old, Smith has judged for the Western Surfing Association (WSA), the International Surfing Association (ISA), the elite Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) and has served as head judge for the National Scholastic Surfing Association (NSSA).

The amount of love and support the community of San Clemente and the surf industry gave to Midget over the years has been overwhelming and touched both Midget and his family very deeply. Our family would like to express our sincerest gratitude to all who supported Midget throughout his battle.

Midget Smith's love for his friends, family & the sport of surfing will be greatly missed by many but never forgotten.

Details on the location, date, & time for the celebration of his life will be determined over the next couple days. We look forward to celebrating Midget's amazing life with all who attend.

Information will be posted on

*This in from Dave Prodan: Midget Smith surfboards label will continue on, with shapers who have been mentoring with him the past few years continuing to build boards under his label, using his templates and designs.
Comments: (97)    Add Your Comment
Todd Gryzwana 09/05/2008 08:27 PM
Words cannot express the feelings -a great man in every aspect,Midget molded my surfing future with his epic shapes in da late 70s/early 80s.I remeber Midget rip at the pier like no other/switch foot off-da-lips,cuttys ect....A man with a heart of gold!Godbless.
Byron Yagual De la Rosa 09/05/2008 02:38 PM
I work with Midget in WJSG 2005, Hb,Cal. in the podium #2, excellent professional and head judge,good bye my friend.....RIP, Guayaquil, Ecuador, South America
Glen Elliott - Aust 09/04/2008 03:00 PM
I have had the absolute pleasure to know Midget through judging ASP and ISA events over the last 10 years or so and in those short experiences working and socialising with him he showed me how a true gentlemen conducts himself with honesty and integrity. I also have a background in the surfboard industry and know how far reaching his designs and craftmanship have sculptured our sport in those early days and into future. His legacy will endure....My sincere condolences to Mary lou and the family.
Mike Beschen 09/03/2008 11:07 PM
I considered Midget to always be a pleasant & very good person . Our prayers & condolences to his Family especially Mary Lou. He will live on in all who knew him. May the Peace of Christ Be With You!!
Chad Honeycutt 09/03/2008 07:55 AM
I can see his smile and hear him laughing like he always did.....He could warm a room with that grin!!! My thoughts and prayers are with you Mary Lou. I miss you so much Midget.
TODD FARRAND 09/02/2008 09:59 AM
Thanks to Betsy Maxwell, I got this word about Midget. He worked at Natural Design where I had my first custom board built - $110.00 Times have changed and another Waterman surfs the skies forever!
Pete Herrera 08/31/2008 02:39 PM
Miget Smith, What a great man! He treated everyone the same. When my son was small he took the time and let him hang out in the shaping room as he shaped his board. It was a very big deal for my son & I. We will miss him & are thoughts are with the families.
Danny Wojnar 08/31/2008 09:34 AM
I will miss a true friend I had when I was growing up, Midget was always there for me when I needed his advice and his friendship. Midget always took care of my needs when it came to surfing, but mostly my needs as a friend. Midget was one of those friends you will never forget, he will always be in my heart and in my memories
David Rolfe 08/30/2008 01:25 PM
After a morning surfing some closed out bumpy waves in the late 70`s, I ended up down at the San Clemente pier and had the priveledge of watching Midget surf the same closed out bumpy surf. He was riding a small twin fin board, absoluting shredding the same surf that I felt was the reason for my lack of fun in the morning. Midget showed me that a good surfer could ride not only the most perfect waves, but could make the must of junk surf. Thanks for the lesson in life and for all you shared!
Jim Hogan 08/30/2008 10:15 AM
I first met Midget 36yrs ago, and is was Midget that I got my very first board. For the years that followd flowing from single fin boards,twins,4 fins and tri fins.I was lucky to be albe to ride all his shapes. Midget had brought many pro guys thru this town when I was a kid. Lopez R.Russel Dane Bertleman Buttons, M. Lydell and many many more In 1972 while surfing the S.C. pier, I saw Midget do the first 360 I ever saw He changed the direction of surfing,with his shapes and to marylou
ronald Meistrell / bud surf tour boss 08/29/2008 09:34 PM
Surfers of the world. I have known Midget Smith and Mary Lou Drummy for over 20 years and in those years, they have dedicated their lives to surfing. They have received love and respect from those they come in contact with and weather they are surfing, raisings families, shaping boards or judging a surf contest, they do it with a such passion. They get my vote for the life time achievement award! To the Smith and Drummy families, My deepest sympothy. Midget My Friend, you will be missed.
Greg Bell 08/29/2008 11:37 AM
RIP old friend. The surfing world is a better place today because Midget helped nurture it's growth for so many yrs. He touched lives throughout his life and all of us who knew him are better for it. My friends and I were always in awe of him and amazed at his unequaled talents back in the 60's and 70's. When the insane swells would roll through SC, few would venture and only one would rip, it was Midget Smith! Your legend will live on through us left behind. Godspeed my friend.
mike stidham 08/28/2008 01:21 PM
"the fairest judge around" may you rest in peace midget...
Bob McWhorter 08/28/2008 08:20 AM
My deepest sympathy goes out to Mary Lou and family. Midget brought so much appiness to so many people. We all carry with us thoughts and feelings of those we have known. The ripple effect from Midget's joy and enthusiasm lives on.
Jeannette Schumacher Prince 08/28/2008 07:08 AM
I'm sorry to say that I didn't have the opportunity to get to know Midget that well but I do know he was a fine man. Thank you Midget for sharing the passion you carried in your heart for the sport of surfing. My thoughts and love to you Marylou and Maureen and to both families.
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