Lewis “Hoppy” Swarts was born in 1916 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the son of an oilman. His family soon moved to Redondo Beach, California. It was in nearby Hermosa Beach that a 14-year-old Swarts discovered surfing.
In 1934, Swarts joined the Palos Verdes Surfing Club with lifelong friend and surf photographer Leroy Grannis. These were the early days of surfing on the U.S. mainland, when waveriders had something of a wild reputation — many beach towns were leery of the new sport and banned it outright. But clubs like Palos Verdes, and people like Swarts, began to give surfing a level of sportsmanship and legitimacy. By 1938, Swarts was placing well in contests, including the Pacific Coast Surf Riding Championships, and appearing in publications including John “Doc” Ball’s seminal 1946 California Surfriders photobook, National Geographic, and Popular Mechanics.
But when the 1960s surf boom rocked California, coastal communities up and down the coast continued to institute surf bans. That was when Swarts helped found — and became the first president of — the United States Surfing Association (USSA). For four years, the USSA worked as a political action group, fighting surfing restrictions on both the West and East coasts. “Hoppy Swarts,” the Los Angeles Times wrote in 1988, “was the man who tamed surfing.”
In 1965, the USSA changed course toward surf contests, using a competition format and judging system devised primarily by Swarts. At the end of 1967, the USSA split into regional — East Coast and West Coast — groups, with Swarts serving as president of the Western Surfing Association. In 1979, he drafted documents that became the framework for the United States Surfing Federation, an umbrella group for American amateur surfing. He also mentored Cecil Lear and Rudy Huber as they developed the Eastern Surfing Association. “I can state without reservation that the Eastern Surfing Association, in fact East Coast surfing, would not be what it has become today without the leadership and guidance provided to Rudy and I by Hoppy,” Lear, also co-founder of the East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame, said of Swarts.
Swarts was inducted into the International Surfing Magazine Hall of Fame in 1966, and, in 2020, was the recipient of the first-ever East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame Cecil Lear President’s Award. He passed away in 1988 as a result of a stroke, while on the way to a Western Surfing Association contest in Santa Cruz. He was 71 years old.