Women's surfing is on fire. Today's girls don't hold back. They are pulling in deep and going for broke on and above the lip. If you've ever seen Carissa Moore surf live, you know that there are very few surfers on this planet that can out surf her (that includes guys). The girls are putting themselves into situations that 20 years ago would have been thought impossible. But it's not as some say that this generation just stood up and declared an end to their second class citizen status and started charging and grabbing their piece of the pie. Oh no, it has been a painful incremental inching towards legitimacy against one of sport's most male dominant hierarchies. You say "What?" Surfing ain't chauvinistic. Surfers are just a bunch of mellow all-accepting dudes. However, you might be wont to notice that women have had a tough time in the lineup (still do) because of male dominant attitudes and behaviors. Women have been charging for decades, but they very rarely had sponsors willing to offer them a free ride to the world's best waves. Women had to wager their savings and safety to make sure they made it to the next contest or the next great spot.
Male surfers have never really fit the media stereotype of the chill near-do-well without a care in the world. Put a surfer in the lineup when the swell is pumping, and you will see a greedy savage whose lust for satisfaction is unrivaled. Women surfers who were often alone in the midst of the frenzy had an impossible time getting waves. But incredible surfers like Marge Calhoun, Sharon Webber, Rell Sun, Frieda Zamba, Lisa Anderson, Layne Beachley, and now Steph Gilmore and Carissa Moore have continued the charge. I have left off countless non-competitors who have been ripping lineups amid objections from bullies who drop in and take waves incessantly. Today, girls arrive in force and populate the lineup like a battalion of soldiers. They inhabit fashion magazines and shred distant, exotic waves. But they don't do this in a vacuum. Instead, they ride waves on the shoulders of the women who have come before them. For every Lakey Peterson (Check out my interview with Lakey parts one and two) and Alana Blanchard, there were hundreds of women who paddled out every day for the love of riding waves regardless of how they were treated in the lineup. And for that, ladies, you should be thanked.
"When asked precisely how many surfboards his company sells, he demurred. 'The more boards you sell, the less cool you are. The more success you attain, the more people don't like you. It's just surfers, man!'" That quote concludes a great article in Bloomberg Businessweek and speaks volumes about our day to day existence. Do tennis players ruminate on the purity of their sport under the leaning slab of capitalism? Doubt it. And I know that baseball fans have all but accepted the marketing of every minutia of their beloved "past time." Not a sport but a past time. That's what it was. Not an industry but a past time, a lifestyle, a culture. Baseball was once a group of young maniacs stoked on the exhilaration of competition and the purity of comradery. Sound familiar? If not, read about the young surfers who explored the North Shore back in the 50's and 60's. We've come a long way in quantity, but we haven't gained much in quality. Have we sullied our lifestyle for convenience? Sure, but now we have heats on demand and surf camps and wave cams. I ain't gonna lie. It's nice. I get more sleep and ride more waves than ever, but it all feels dirty.
The article tells how Dane Reynolds pulled a blank out of the trash, smashed the tail with a rock, and now it's making up 15% of Channel Islands' sales. Sounds like a fairy tale, and if you've watched Reynolds surf, you'd swear he's magic. He's like a hipster Harry Potter who harkens back to a time when surfers let the wave lead the way. Watching his imperfect art, I laugh aloud like when I hear the White Stripes live or read a great "Far Side" cartoon, but how much of this is manipulation? Who cares? You shout. This is progress! You say. Surfboards are better than ever and surfing is at its most exciting. But the article illuminates the reality behind the most popular brands of surf gear and how they have built this behemoth on the backs of surfers and shapers who see very little of the pie, if any...the tail wagging the dog, he writes. But we bought in to this whole deal and I doubt very seriously that we will be breaking this cage any time soon. It's like wherever you tread into this "surfing versus capitalism" issue, you step on a double edged sword and fall down a slippery slope. Maybe it's time to quite complaining and admit that surfing now belongs to the world. It is an industry and like all great sports industries, the essence will forever be found in that glimmer in the eyes of the young, those girls and boys who stumble upon this great life with no understanding of what it has become. They find soon enough that if you just go surfing, everything is all right.
<p>That said, the rise of the Fred Rubble has insured the era of signature model will remain as new surfers take to the waves on these stock equipment. However, full disclosure, I rode a Rubble, and it ripped.
Why is it called surf music? Music and surfing are inseparable. Their kinship goes back to the ukulele no doubt as Hawaiians recomposed amidst post-olo board sessions (picture Eddie and Clyde Aikau chillin' around a fire after a Waimea session, ukulele and some cold ones in hand) , but the term "surf music" waxed electric a generation later as Californian beach culture exploded. 1960's acts like Duane Eddy and The Ventures developed the instrumental rhythms that would stoke legions of surfers. The sound was honed to perfection by Dick Dale and exploded in beautiful absurdity via The Surfaris' "Wipeout." While the genre faded as the 70's approached, surfers still turned to music as fuel and therapy. But as the years went on, the sounds of such giants as the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Lynard Skynard, and the Stones showed how difficult surf music was becoming to categorize, but the power to amp was always the secret ingredient.
Reportedly, Rabbit looked to David Bowie for tunes to get tubed by while Tom Curren looked back to the Who to inspire his swooping cutbacks.
The 80's saw the rise of the modern surf flick and bands featured in movies like "Son of the Last Surf Movie," "The Performers," and "Mad Wax" became synonymous with pre-surf stoke sessions. The Hoodoo Gurus, Gangagang, the Talking Heads, the Untouchables can conjure vivid images of entire movie segments with a single chord or verse. At the same time, traveling surfers had gravitated to Bob Marley who defined the parameters of reggae and consequently created a genre that could probably be most closely associated with the term "surf music."
Surfers in the nineties were pushing surfing to radical heights and thus needed more musical energy. Surf movies exploded with frenetic soul from Jane's Addiction, Nirvana, and Sublime (and if memory serves even Limp Bizkit and the Offspring). Tom Curren provided his own soundtrack to "The Search" and single-handedly put a guitar in the hand of every pro surfer for the next decade, inspiring the likes of today's surf music purveyors like Jack Johnson, Donavon Frankenreiter, and Timmy Curran. While the Beach Boys weren't known for their full on surf skills, today's biggest surf rock artists are also top-notch wave riders themselves.
What does that mean? Did surfing influence them to create something great or are surfers just so narrow minded we only support our own kind? The big question is what's next?
Undoubtedly, I missed about a million great bands that have stoked you out. So share your favorites with the world and include them in the "comments" below.
Just read Surfline's Power rankings and although I have always dug Nick Carroll (essential surf journalist and brother of Tom), I am just having a hard time seeing Adriano De Souza at the top of the heap even after his win at Bells. To be clear, this is not some nationalistic fear that the Brazilians are taking over, and my beloved home country may be losing its grip on the upper regions of the tour. I mean no matter how much we would like to think otherwise, Slater's time will inevitably end. A back injury in your 40's is never good. But with De Souza, it's more about the style factor. No matter how efficient and precise his surfing is, it always comes off over-calculated, mechanical, and stiff when juxtaposed against the likes of Florence, Smith, and Parkinson. It is true that professional surf judging is forbidden from using the subjective factor or "style" in its evaluation of each wave, so it makes sense that a focused, competitive machine like De Souza will succeed, but to win the title, I would like to believe that it will take that phantom essence as well. You know, that something beautiful that haunts the movements of great surfers, and even though De Souza gets it done every time on every wave, his three or four turns don't move me like one of Florence's weird mid-face stalls or Reynolds' strange full-standing bottom turns in the pit. De Souza has it all planned out: multiple turns and varied maneuvers on long waves. He maximizes points but not the wonder of surfing's infinite possibilities. Even in the confines of competition, judges recognize the X factor that makes a turn great or timing perfect or a barrel epic. Style (which comes in many forms) is a dirty word when trying to force an imperfect natural phenomenon into a square hole, but secretly, stealthily, furtively; it must be taken into consideration. Mr. Carroll I just don't see it even though he is heading into his home turf with so much momentum. I think that heavy pressure will be his downfall.
Even though Steph Gilmore told CNN that surfers don't talk slang anymore, I got to thinking about how the surfing lexicon (the language we use) has changed. Hodads have given way to kooks and Barnies, and the green room has become a shack. Cut-backs and slashes are now hacks and gaffs. But as you read the the latest mags, you probably noticed the oft used term "punt" as to mean to launch an air. Why choose a football term to describe a maneuver that is so obviously not related to football? Let's look at the difference between today's aerial tricks as opposed to the days of yore.
To start, today's airs are higher, longer, and full of variations only dreamed of in the 80's and even the 90's. Much like a punted ball, today's aeronautical explorer lifts with a sudden pop of freedom and soars effortlessly over the lip and lands with a sudden grab of the fins. It's all very punt-like if you think about it. Surfers are gifted with a talent for slanging and creating vivid images with words. Terms like "re-entry", "floater", and "snap" pack both visual and sonic juice.
In the recent Quiksilver contest, there was also lots of "foam climbing" which it seems is very different from a floater (although the concept is the same) in its visual presentation. In a foam climb, surfers come from behind the whitewater and glide up and over it to gain a better position for the next section. However, a floater is a move in which a surfer glides his surfboard across the foamy or hollow section. In essence, a foam climb is vertical and a floater is horizontal, so we see the surfing language expand with expanding performance levels and equipment. Tow board anyone?
Now, what do we do with stalefish, indie grabs, the Superman, shrink wraps, and a rodeo flip? The surf language is ever changing and always fresh, and I for one would not like to see surfers lose their lingo. It's part of the culture.
Every once in a while, there is a super gnarly photo of a surfer's shredded knee or hamburger face that goes viral. Just Google Keala Kennely's smashing meet up with a Tahitian reef. I won't link to it just to be sure I don't gross anyone out who wasn't looking to get grossed out. However, surfing injuries have increased 50% over the last decade. Pundits point to the astounding array of new aerial maneuvers and tail whips that permeate progressive surfing. But I must say nay. Instead, I have a bad feeling that the increase has more to do with an insane explosion in the surfing populous than anything else. Crowds? Uhg! That thought is wretched. Sure, I understand that surf lessons (like the ones here on this site) that help new surfers learn more quickly are leading to more people in the lineup, but I also believe that most of these folks would have learned anyway (and probably would have gotten in more danger without some skills) and the growth of surf schools has provided surf instructors and business owners some surf-related career options.
It's not the 50's anymore. Surfing went mainstream a loooong time ago. Besides, most kids and adults attending camps and taking lessons probably will never challenge you for a wave at your local spot or bump you off a flight to Hawaii. The bottom line is that the ocean is crowded and getting smaller everyday. Will surfing ever become uncool again and leave its practice to its truest disciples? Who knows? But somewhere, a wave is breaking over a reef that has never been ridden or wrapping into a bay with nary a footprint on the beach. That ideal of the perfect unridden wave is what drives the spirit of surfing itself.
But I digress. More people are getting hurt surfing because there are more people surfing. So strap on your helmet, air tank, and shoes; and go surfing.
The surf world forever marvels at the future of our sport. Board materials and fin configurations are quickly cataloged as "old" the minute something new is unveiled. Surfers who inhabited the excitement of eminent greatness are shuffled back to haunt their home breaks as soon as the media decides they aren't worth the video time or magazine space. Sure, all sports have this problem, but surfing does very little to honor its forefathers (and mothers) save for precious few memorial contests here and there while small contingents of youngsters jump around in beaver tails waving their single fins like a 70's cover band plays "Stairway to Heaven" almost as a joke.
Nothing has really changed. Martin Potter was John Florence before John was, and it's great to see Pottz commentating at the Quiksilver Pro, but entire generations of athletes, craftsmen, and innovators have come and gone with barely a blip on the historical radar screen. Heck, Gerry Lopez was Martin Potter before Potter was. And nobody will ever know if they don't look. But sometimes, something comes along that reminds us of the days when surfing wasn't just older, but more special. It was a time that Fred Hemmings calls the "Golden Age" of surfing. It was a time when surfing had yet to permeate the culture or even leave the few miles of Waikiki Beach that created it in the first place (although Tahitians and Peruvians say otherwise). The lineup was empty and the surfers rode boards crafted straight from local trees. It almost seems like fiction.
A.R. Gurrey was lucky enough to be a surfer and photographer in Waikiki during that time and documented it in an interesting way through a hand-crafted photo book called the Surf Riders of Hawaii. It's considered the first book dedicated to surfing, making Gurrey the little known "father of surf photography." Check out the video discussing the Surf Riders of Hawaii. You can see the insane images that were pasted right into the pages. For me, it's the photos that mean the most. They capture Hawaiians (namely Duke Kahanomoku) riding these virgin waves under the shadow of Diamond Head before the sport was a sport. I wonder if those guys realized how lucky they were to have this experience. It will never happen again, and this book dating back to 1911 captures a moment that has been long buried under epoxy and air reverses. Long live surfing!
Kelly Slater at 41 years of age won the 2013 Quiksilver pro in pumping Kirra against the reigning world champ who just so happens to be a local at said right point. But the Floridian didn't just catch a lucky break or barely squeak by Joel Parkinson. He soundly answered two excellent rides with two "excellenter" rides. He didn't surf like a last gasp from a forgotten era but rather a stealthy, agile, and confident keeper of the flame. Along the way, Slater put Dane, Kolohe, Fanning, and Parko all in a strangle hold with a savvy mix of old school power, new school theatrics, and some good old fashion tactical "strategery". The waves got good and everyone was ripping, but Slater just plain out surfed them all. It was a great event with Michel Bourez breaking through into the semi- final out with Spartan power and Tahitian style. Even if the the Super Heat lacked in its super-ness as Dane Reynolds never really got started, Jordy ripped one measly wave to pieces, while 70's super hero turned underground ambassador Rabbit Bartholomew grabbed the only legitimate wave in the heat with a throaty barrel and rail carve. Oh but the waves! They lit up for the main event. The semi-finals and the final were epic. Big, long tubes and open walls that played the part of canvas for the artistic rendering of the world's best surfers. The pro season has begun and those who follow it are for some fun. Let's hope John John heals up and Reynolds makes the most of his next wildcard.
Snapper Rocks has yet to deliver for the maiden event of the 2013 ASP World Tour, and really neither have the surfers. It looks like most competitors are being cautious, even those who are traditionally the least traditional. That said, there are a few universal truths that have arisen from this event so far.
Brazilians are here in a big way.
However, none (except Gabby Medina) appear to possess that "it" factor that really makes a ride ignite for the judges. There is something choppy, a lack of flow in their approach. It's more math than poetry. It's easy to say that it's due to the closeout beach conditions in Brazil, but that's not accurate. Brazil is much better (at least more consistent) than the East Coast U.S. and yet the Hobgoods look smooth and powerful in all conditions. If any of the new crop of Brazilians are going to stay in the top ranks, they will need to elongate their turns, soften their edges, and look at the wave as a whole rather than as a bunch of punch points.
Dane is the best surfer in the world?
It seems that the top surfers agree that Dane is the best. Or at least, he is so adored that saying he's the best makes you look good. Plus, it makes you look even better when you beat him. Just ask Slater and Parko. Look, Dane's style is butter and his power is gravy, but up against John Florence in waves of consequence and his star falls fast. In a game of tactics with Slater, he falls short. And at Snapper Rocks, he'll have a hard time beating Parko. Great or greatest? Put me down for great.
Slater is not dead yet.
Over 40 and he is surfing chest high wind slop better than anyone. He beat Dane (best) and Andino (youngest) with very little trouble. I doubt he'll quit until he blows a knee or slips a disc. Until then, the title is not safe.
Sebass aint no joke.
Sebastian Zietz is looking strong. Even though he lost out to Julian Wilson in the 3rd round, the earlier heats showed a relaxed and mature performance. Kauai Boy to the bone, he looks to be channeling Andy Irons by smoothly linking and varying his maneuvers. No two turns are alike, and judges eat that up. Mix that with loads of power and commitment, and no doubt this will be a good year for him.
The losers' round is pretty boring.
The epic battle between Kai Otton and Glen Hall in some the contest's worst conditions barely registered as a discernible altercation. I think I lost consciousness at one point.
As winter turns to spring and spring to summer, surfers are spending more and more time in the sun. For most folks, a good slathering of sunscreen and a Lycra shirt will suffice make for hours of free surfing or any kind of wave riding really, but for others, the sun poses other issues beyond the skin: specifically, a surfing related disease called a pterygium. This is an eye condition that I, myself, have dealt with for years, but not until I wrote a piece about these annoying, red, progressive growths did I find how many others are affected and looking for help. Surfers are especially prone to this disease because although genetics is an important factor in their formation; exposure to wind, saltwater, and sun are the catalysts that spark its growth.
Although science has offered very little in the way of alleviating (much less curing) the effects of pterygia on the body and psyche, wearing protective surf sunglasses while in the water help keep them from getting worse. It's easy to wear eye protection while you wait for a wave, but the problem is that wave and water power makes keeping glasses on while you surf almost impossible, and the fogging and glare of standard eye wear can be distracting when applied to the art of surfing. So I embarked on a mission to review some of today's newest surf sun glasses made especially for use in the water and among the chaos of the impact zone. I found that most of these glasses offer what surfers need in the lineup, but each model offers a different nuance for the discerning surfer to consider. If given the choice, none of us would choose to wear anything out in the water, but whether you are looking for style or function (or both), there looks to be a pair of glasses out there for you.