Surf Community Loses An Icon: Jeff “Midget” Smith Passes At 56

By Chris Drummy

Jeffrey “Midget” Smith, Legendary Shaper, ASP Judge, Local Surfing Icon, Father and Grandpa passed away on Saturday, August 23, 2008 at the young age of 56. Midget spent his last remaining days surrounded by his loving family, dogs and close friends in the comfort of his home in San Clemente. Midget’s 22 year battle with cancer has sadly come to an end.  Midget touched the lives of many in and out of the water during his incredible life. The surfing world has lost a great role model.
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 70’s and 80’s. 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 and 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 and 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’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 has also served as head judge for the ASP North America, Bud Tour, ASP World Longboard Tour, X Games, and National Surf League.
Midget grew up surfing Beach Road and San Clemente Pier in his early days. In his later years he enjoyed surfing out at Middles and 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 and the sport of surfing will be greatly missed by many but never forgotten.
Details on the location, date, and 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 wsasurf.org.

Some of the previous words were contributed by the SPN and OCR interview.

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