The Top 20 Surfers in the World (Part two!)
What thread ties Dorian, Bede, Mick, Keala and Wilko together?
(Editor’s note: Do you remember, yesterday, when the writer Longtom announced the first five surfers in his Global Power Rankings, a list that includes the contest and non-contest surfer, guy and gal? Click to read.Here, part two, surfers ranked 14 to 10.)
14. Keala Kennelly
So, 2016, Year of Women’s Surfing. It wasn’t designated and far as I can see, absent a few remarks about Tyler Wright achieving prize money parity and a comment or two from Nick Carroll, it’s gone mostly unremarked. Seeds planted by Natasha Ziff in her backing of womens surfing have borne strange fruit, none more exotic or hard-core in the true sense than Keala Kennelly. The trend is both top down, with the prizemoney and new contests, and bottom up, with grass roots revolution in lineups world wide, particularly Australia and Hawaii. Girls are taking over. They’re not looking to a dead media fixated on old man tropes for inspiration. It’s big wave pioneers like Keala setting new limits. She didn’t win Jaws but opened the gambit and thus created history. Just like she has at Teahupoo.
13. Bede Durbidge
Thousands of words I’ve written on pro surfing and not one ever directed the way of Bede Durbidge. I found the White Fijian label trite and something about his stately three-quarter-speed power-surfing didn’t compel. Nothing trite about a comeback within a year from a smashed pelvis incurred by a vicious pile driving by a backless wedge into a lava spike. No shortcut available to circumvent the gruelling physical and psychological rehab. I have no idea whether Bede will be able to regain the looseness in the hinge to compete at the CT level again, which would make the injury a double tragedy because judges had decided his brand of power surfing was state of the art just before the injury. The triumph is in the return, not the results.
12. Matt Wilkinson
It was devastating to see Fred Pawle malign Wilko after his Snapper win by referring to him as a yobbo, and an ugly one at that. Even worse, when our own beloved Chas Smith compounded the error by repeating it. Wilko is no yobbo. He’s a much higher and rarer species: the working class fruit. He’s a good animal, in the words of DH Lawrence, who knew a thing or two about working class fruits, who runs true to his instincts. At his best. At his worst, he becomes awfully repetitious, a victim not an engineer of a machine that demands it. Wilko’s peak this year was not the back-to-back victories to open the season and leave clean air between himself and the peloton, nor even the vicious backlash he oversaw against the injustice of the Pawle libel. It was his back to back demolitions in perfect six-to-eight-foot Cloudbreak of John Florence. He resurrected the now discarded Tom Carroll line: a straight-line-drop-to-fade, square-bottom-turn-and-tube- snap under the axe. Going in slow, coming out fast.
11. Shane Dorian
When ever I see moving images of this stud side-slipping out of the lip of a forty-footer malignant with morning sickness and the light just over the mauka, or a fresh kill dripping blood over his camouflaged shoulders, or even with the unflattering hunch-back of a freshly inflated buoyancy wetsuit bobbing around insouciantly in a milky maelstrom I think of an interview Laird did with, what was it, Surfer’s Journal? Surfer? where he proclaimed the ascendancy of tow surfing and the absolute futility of trying to paddle in under your own steam into giant surf. It was sometime around the millenium wave if you’ll recall.
It was the end of history, tow surfing was the future and the now. Paddle-in was deady bones down in Davey Jones’ locker. The story of that reversal and the destruction of the machine by the human hand is the greatest story in surfing never told. Maybe the answer lies in some crumpled up draft of In God’s Hands now slowly rotting in landfill east of Burbank. Dorian changed the course of big wave surfing history. He gave it back it’s dignity and it’s purpose. Dorian = God. Allahu Akbar.
10. Mick Fanning
I surfed with Michael the other day. In really good overhead wedgey tubes. Great surf. It was awe inspiring. I observed him closely. He never fell. Once. He never flubbed a turn. Every part of his repertoire was on display. The fully torqued out top turn, the full-wrap-cutback-to-rebound, the high-speed-layback-fin-drift across the coping, the slight-hunchback pumping in the tube to make it from deep. I couldn’t discern any material difference between this free surf and a heat surfed at the highest level against the best in the world. It was awe inspiring, but not like seeing Niagra falls or some amazing natural event. It was awe inspiring like seeing some highly efficient technical Teutonic process. Like a Mercedes Benz factory pumping out new Mercs, each one perfect, each one repeatable, perfectly utilitarian. Mick Fanning is the zenith of professional surfing as expression of the surf-industrial complex.