With his feet planted firmly on his board but his soul in the clouds, Tom Curren destroyed all in his path to resurrect American surfing from a deep slumber and send a hatchet chop through the spine of that era's Aussie domination.
On his road to his two world championships, Curren's clashes with young, upstart Mark Occhilupo became legendary. To this day, any surfer form the 80's will remember these shattering moments that were plastered across magazine pages and immortalized in videos.
Competitive greatness was not Curren's swansong. Instead, he fashioned a path that would lay the groundwork for many of today's pro careers. He grabbed his guitar and embarked on boat trips to unsurfed wonderlands and let Sonny Miller film them and package them as The Search series, a beautifully filmed journey spiced with jazz and rock tunes(some of which were performed by Curren himself). Tom Curren carved the hop and pop contest routine of the 80's into a stylish journey of talent and class.
Born July 3, 1964 in Santa Barbara, California, Tom Curren first “surfed” at 2, but really began riding waves at 6. His quiet demeanor and reclusive nature hid an insatiable competitive drive. Some would later recall a far less polished style, yet Curren’s early surfing made him the NSSA star. At 14, he began a 4-year attack on the amateur ranks, winning the boys’ division of US Championships in 1978 and 1979 and the juniors’ title in 1980He won the men’s division of the World Championships in. He was the first American to take the world contest since Rolf Aurness back in 1970. A year prior he finished 2nd to Shaun Tomson at the Katin Pro-am before winning the event a year later.
At age 17, Curren had developed a smooth, point breaks style that shined in all conditions. He turned pro after signing with OP and Rip Curl for a reported $40,000 a year. He won the Stubbies Pro and finished 19th in the world. The following year he placed 8th and then 4th the next until finally in 1985, Curren won 5 of the 21 events to take the world title.
The next year at 21 years old, Curren took his second world title (winning 5 of the first 10 events). But competitively he had seemingly peaked. He finished 15th in 1988 and then pulled out gradually from contest surfing altogether by the end of 1989.
In 1990, Tom Curren roared back to competition, laying claim to the first event of the year at the Coldwater Classic to make a red hot Gary Elkerton look shaky and rusty in comparison. He surfed through the trials of every event that year to convincingly win a third world title. A year later, that new competitive fire would again burn out but not before he handily won the 1992 Wyland Galleries Pro in meaty Haleiwa to garner the Hawaiian credibility that had eluded him thus far. There was one problem, he surfed the contest with no logos on his board. Although Curren would later explain that it was due to simple absent-mindedness, his longtime sponsor saw it as defiance and quickly dropped him. After seeing Occy’s meteoric comeback in 1998, Curren attempted another run for the title but found that surfing had changed, by degrees of course, but changed regardless. Fin slides and aerials were no longer the exception but the rule, and the relentless pace of the World Qualifying Series was no place for his mellow genius and eventually gave up the chase. Later interviews would reveal substance abuse issues resulting in a new found grasp on Christianity and a new ease with his place in surfing history.