Frolic with obscure dog breeds! Surf with violent intent! Maybe sip on beer!
For six years, from August 2006 until mid-2012, Dane Reynolds was regarded, universally, as the best surfer in the world.
“He’s the face of a new era,” Kelly Slater told Interview magazine in 2008. “He thinks outside of the box and has a unique approach where he sees the wave differently.”
John John Florence holds that title now, of course.
But rather than forget his contribution to the romance of surfing, BeachGrit has gazetted Monday, February 23, as International Dane Reynolds Day.
And what better way to celebrate than to eat up his opinion and ideas. This interview was recorded by the photographer Morgan Maassen over two sittings two years ago. It first appeared in Stab magazine, while I was still editor, under the title Ballad of the Hip Surf God.
Okay, tape rolling. First I want to…
DANE: Oh my god, my dogs are sickos! That’s fucked-up. Boogie!
(Pam and Boogie appear to be 69’ing)
Are they consummating?
DANE: Boogie, that’s your sister!
Cute! We just flew down to Mex for these photos. Something I wanna know is, what’s the pressure like to perform for cameras?
D: Well, a problem I was having in Salina Cruz these past trips was that I was trying to compare myself to myself two years ago when I went down there for that Lost Interest trip. I was getting in my own head and trying to make sure I was surfing better than I was two years ago. And I was mind-fucking myself and putting too much pressure on myself and, in turn, not going forward and replicating what I had done or something. I over-think shit sometimes… a lot.
Do you hold that surfing you did in Salina Cruz two years ago as the golden standard?
DANE: No, it wasn’t the golden standard but it’s what happened two years ago and I definitely don’t want to… I want to be getting better, but I shouldn’t be worried about accomplishing the same thing. I should be worried about doing different shit.
How much importance do you attach to website, Marine Layer?
DANE: Everything that’s in the media is someone else’s representation of you and how they perceive whatever you say. When I did that interview with Kelly for What Youth, I realised how much you shape somebody else’s words when you interview someone. Because if we printed it verbatim, it’s just a mess of shit so you try to get the big idea of what they’re trying to say and put it in their words. That was eye-opening to see how people fuck-up interviews so bad. Marine Layer is no-bullshit. It’s not skewed by all the filters of magazines and sponsorship and shit like that. It’s just the footage that I like with the music that I like, and I feel like it’s been pretty important for me.
Do you think that it paved the way for other surfers having blogs with their own filmers? Those kids are very in-charge of their stuff…
DANE: I think so, yeah. Definitely when it first started. Dion had already been doing dion.tv for a while but then when I started Marine Layer it seemed like everyone hired a filmer and started a blog. I’m sure Marine Layer doesn’t get the amount of views it could if GrindTV or Transworld or Stab posted it, but I like the idea of a cult following. People that get it and dig that style of stuff want to go there to check it out rather than putting it in everyone’s face. I can’t say it’s that successful but I do get a lot of people that say they dig it. But then, people say they dig everything when they see you.
With Slow Dance finally finished, would you say that it’s more yours or Craig’s voice that comes through in the actual filmic part of it?
DANE: That’s interesting because I had a huge influence in it, but I wanted it to be all Craig’s voice. I just wanted to help him along and make it rad. I wanted to make something he was psyched on… but I think in the process of creating it, Craig wasn’t very outspoken. I know that deep down inside he had strong opinions. He isn’t very outspoken until it gets to a snapping point. So Slow Dance ended up being more my vision than I anticipated going into it.
Dustin Miller (filmer-editor and collaborator on marinelayerproductions) was suppose to direct Slow Dance, but you took the reigns instead…
D: Yeah. Dustin has a family and lots of other jobs so he couldn’t be around all the time, and nothing was happening with the film, so I had to get really involved. I got really consumed with it. I felt that I was the only one that was going to dedicate everything to it so it ended up being a big undertaking. I don’t know if all films are that confusing but it was so confusing. I felt like I was working on a Rubik’s cube for the past year.
How do you feel about surf culture in general right now?
DANE: I want to be positive and have hope, but a lot of shit I see bugs me.
Do you think commercialisation has been a big problem?
D: I’m probably the problem. Seriously, I’m a big part of the problem because when I quit doing the contest thing I feel like a lot of kids were like oh, okay, we can make it being a freesurfer, we just have to look cool and put out webclips. So now there’s a group of kids that look hip and act cool and don’t even seem to be into surfing… looking cool is rad and all but it seems phoney when you are trying way harder to accomplish that than surfing good. And now all the brands have their token “lifestyle guy” or whatever…
Fifty years ago surfers were just poor dudes. Surfing was unmarketable. There wasn’t single person outside of beach culture that would buy surfing product. But now, everyone’s a marketing vehicle to sell product to as many people as possible. That’s why Red Bull sponsors surfers, that’s why Target has all these action sports…
DANE: Do you really think its profitable for Red Bull to sponsor surfers?
DANE: You do? I don’t really understand the direct link. Is it just getting the logo seen more and more? Just because Mick Fanning has a Red Bull logo on his board doesn’t make me want to drink Red Bull…. although I do like Red Bull, but I cant drink it anymore. Caffeine gives me anxiety.
I think in the sense that in motocross or snowboarding you have these huge stadium venues with Red Bull logos plastered everywhere and the best riders wearing Red Bull stuff. Everyones going to be drinking Red Bull or everyone in the club is going to order Red Bull-vodka, whereas in surfing, it’s so small and premature that they are preemptively sponsoring people. As in, they are sponsoring Mick so Monster doesn’t sponsor Mick…
How does that directly reflect the selling of a toxic, addictive drink?
It’s just name brand recognition. Growing up, my absolute favourite skater was Chad Muska and he could have worn a hat with umbrellas and I would have bought it because I thought he was so cool. So I think its safe to say most of the kids that look up to you and Kelly go for that brand recognition too.
DANE: When I was a kid, pro surfers seemed so distant, so unattainable, but with Facebook and Instagram everyone feels like they know everybody, like everybody’s friends and pro athletes aren’t “icons” anymore.
And surf movies? Media?
DANE: You know, I was thinking about this on the way back from Mexico. How in the Taylor Steele days, he would come out with one movie every two years. And you were expected to have a good part in it. But now, if I don’t come out with a good section every month, people trip out. That’s so gnarly. It’s crazy. When I was competing it was more simple. You know that if you make the quarter-finals of an event, you feel validated in your professional life. And your video parts don’t have to be gnarly cause everyone sees you surf at every event. It seems like it was a lot easier than coming out with a good video part every month. Video parts are fucking hard.
Why are videos harder?
DANE: Because you can’t repeat your surfing over and over like you can in a heat. You can do the same shit every single heat and just kill it. And if you do the same shit every webisode, people lose interest really quick.
Do you think if someone puts out a really good performance surfing clip, is it more valid than someone who puts out a really cool alternative clip, maybe comparing Noa’s clip in the Telos to Dion’s clip in the wave pool?
DANE: I’ve always been about aesthetic, something that generally looks or feels good, or has a good vibe to it, but I’m pretty sick of shit that looks cool but has no substance. There seems to be a lot of that going around. A good video should have both.
With the paradigm shift in rail game to air game, what do you think performance surfing is right now? Is it moving up above the lip, is it still having a well-rounded bag of tricks? And would you say Gabriel Medina is good at performance surfing?
DANE: Yes, obviously, he’s amazing at it. It’s great, he’s really rad. But, for me, it’s like, you can’t define why you like the way someone surfs. It’s like you can’t say I like that Mariah Carey song because of its tempo or that speed, it’s just a sensation or a feeling. It’s cheesy to say, but surfing is art. Once you get to a certain level of surfing, it’s your art. So it’s undeniable to say Gabriel Medina is amazing at progressive surfing but it also doesn’t really resonate with me. Then again, goofyfooters never resonated with me. I just cant relate to them…
Who do you think is the pinnacle of performance surfing right now?
DANE: Definitely John John. Fuck yeah. He’s the sickest. Just the fact that he does what he does and still surfs 20-foot waves and shit, its sick. I don’t know, this performance term is killing me.
What’s a better term for it?
DANE: Just surfing, that’s where surfing has gone, that’s the basic level of surfing.
Guys that only surf big waves, can you bunch them in with regular performance surfers on the same level as you or, as I see it, living on a different planet?
DANE: It’s a different planet. I don’t see it as the same sport or art or whatever you want to call it. It’s not even the same. It’s like bullfighting as opposed to petting puppies (laughs).
Big-wave surfing is so linear.
DANE: …what, linear, like…
The progression in big-wave surfing is linear in the sense that it has so few variables, essentially just the height of the wave. Whereas, with performance surfing Gabriel Medina can do a backflip on a one-ft wave with such precision that it’s groundbreaking. Throw in a bigger wave, stronger wind, and the ground-breaking factor compounds even more rapidly.
DANE: Yeah, totally, they’re both groundbreaking in their own right. But big-wave surfing’s not relatable to me. It’s like playing chicken. It’s all about courage and I’m sure there is probably lot of technique involved but it seems so… you get what’s handed to you from nature and if you’re man enough to take it then you do or die…
Has big-wave surfing ever appealed to you?
DANE: I like challenging myself, pushing myself, but… no. As far as being one of those guys that are going places for giant death swells, fuck that. That’s why I said progressive surfing is relative to yourself. For me, going out in eight-to-10-foot Pipeline is a personal win. I’m too scared of dying to go surf 30-foot waves.
It is a spooky thing, huh.
DANE: I don’t know how they handle that.
Sion (Milosky, who died surfing Mavs in 2011) was like the John John of big-wave surfing, so badass… then he just… died.
DANE: Done. Yeah its really crazy.
In your surfing, are there any manoeuvres that you love in particular?
DANE: I really like doing those laybacks. I like to get to the lip and push as hard as I can and seeing where it goes.
Do you ever try to create your own manouevres?
You don’t want to do the Ttruffle Flip (laughs)?
DANE: The Dane-Ger Flip (laughs)… no, I don’t know. I’ve thought about stuff in my head.
That seems like such a literal way to mark your ambitions and progression. When Kerr did the Kerrupt or when Gabriel made the backflip his own thing last winter or when Julian did the sushi roll it kinda became an easy way to make a milestone for yourself.…
DANE: I’ve thought of things in my head that I think will be functional for a wave, then I’ve tried and it doesn’t work, but it’s rad that Josh Kerr and Julian or whatever have been creative enough to do a manoeuvre that is entirely different than what’s been done.
So maybe removing the aspect of creating a trick to brand it as your own trick, have you ever thought…
DANE: …just the world “trick” sounds so dumb. I don’t even think of surfing as tricks, it’s just one motion. It’s not even worth talking about. How funny is it that? We are sitting here talking about surfing when (laughs)… it’s nothing. You stand up and you ride a wave.
It’s crazy to compare it to tennis.
DANE: I was talking to Craig the other day, we were just about to finish the movie, and I was thinking about how dumb surfing is and how we are all totally obsessed and addicted to going out into the ocean, being uncomfortable in some rubber suit, bobbing around and asking everybody in the water how many waves they have been catching lately. Then a wave comes along and you stop your conversation and you ride it and paddle back out and talk about it. And because Craig and I do tricks we are better than other guys. We get paid for it and make a living off of it. So here we are talking about surfing.
It’s so frickin’ retarded we are sitting here talking about catching a ripple of wind and riding it to the beach…
DANE: You want to know what’s ironic? I always have someone ask me for an autograph on the beach only to have them snake me in the lineup. It’s ironic to me because I’m paid to do whatever I do and people have supported me to do that but then they keep me from doing that at the same time. It’s the weirdest thing. Not that I expect any special treatment or anything, it’s just like, fuck, a lot of the time I trip out. In Mexico, I was tripping out how the entire time I was at the bottom of the pecking order.
I see so many people literally hassle you.
DANE: Oh all the time, every single day I get dropped in on. It’s super backward compared to other sports. Tom Curren should be able to paddle out at Rincon and get any wave he wants. But he doesn’t get a break from anyone. He grovels around on the inside like a grom while guys that look like they’ve been surfing for four months catch bombs. It’s unbelievable.
I think that surfing is such an equal playing field that truly anyone with any sort of mindset or perception or ability can be sitting right next to you.
DANE: Maybe the problem is that I surf waves that anybody can surf. Because at Pipeline, when someone goes out there and does something stupid, everyone’s, like, “Get the fuck out of here because you’re being dangerous.” I feel like people’s worst qualities come out in the line up too though. It’s like traffic, everybody gets angry.
It’s the complexity of the sport, the nature of a strange beast. What’s been the strangest thing to happen to you since you’ve been a surfer?
DANE: I wish I could think of something.
You’ve told me some pretty surreal stories.
DANE: Really? I’m spacing out right now. It’s funny when people ask me to hold their babies.
Do you think people hand you their babies hoping you will pass on a little magic?
DANE: No. I just think they want the photo for when they’re older. If I had a photo of Pottz holding me (laughs) when I was a kid, I would be psyched! So I get it, I understand it. I’d be really psyched.
Is it weird having a natural gift that you’ve honed so much and worked on your whole life and having people obsess over it and worship you?
DANE: I feel very fortunate. I obsess over surfing. I’ve gotten to where I am because, fuck, in high school I was obsessed with it and obsessed with improving. It got to the point where I burned out because it was stressful to be obsessed with something like that. But I don’t know what my goal was… it’s just something you get into like video games. There’s no reason to beat the game, you’re not going to get anything at the end. But, for some reason, surfing is what got me, it’s what I was obsessed with and the fact that it has given me anything back is pretty surprising. I’m glad I chose surfing over video games (laughs)… dunno if there’s many career options in that field.
Pro video gamers are sponsored by Red Bull…
DANE: … really?! Well, fuck, maybe I should have been a video gamer.
So, right now, apart from John John what surfers do you like to watch?
DANE: I keep saying John John… I trip out there aren’t more John Johns out there. It’s obviously difficult to do what he does but I don’t feel like there’s that many people that…
…have that magic?
DANE: He has the ability and the creativity, he utilises both at the same time. I feel like a lot of people get stuck trying to replicate everybody else’s thing. A lot of people have the talent, but I just don’t feel like people have been able to apply themselves properly or something…
I try to think of what other 27 year olds that are interesting to watch and the closest thing I could think of is Jordy or Julian and they are years younger and have nothing like Marine Layer…
DANE: Well, people are obsessed with the world tour. And I feel like a lot of really talented surfers have stunted their growth by being so driven to win contests. It’s good to be consistent, but it’s also good to experiment.
It’s such a valid way to rank surfing. But what you’re saying is that it homogenises some surfers’ talent?
DANE: …well… I don’t know. It’s possible.
Considering so many of your peers are on the tour and focusing on competing, do you draw more inspiration from the odd moment in the surf contest when the surf is amazing or surf movies in general now?
DANE: Inspiration? Definitely surf movies, like John John’s movie, Done. This is like a full-on John John fan-out! (laughs) It’s heavy. Fuck, no one else is doing that shit. I don’t know who else to talk about.
Everyone else is putting so much effort in the tour that their characters disappear…
DANE: “Done.” I’ll watch that over and over. And down in Salina Cruz, I was thinking over and over about Dusty Payne’s Lost Atlas section shot there and how it was so fucked-up. That’s still one of my favourite video parts ever. And I definitely get a lot of inspiration from that. I watch contests and I’m glued to the screen the whole time and I get why people are obsessed with it, but as far as Dusty’s part in Lost Atlas, I’ve watched it over and over again. Whereas with contests I’ll watch it once and then it’s done. I’m almost relieved its over so I can quit watching cause the heats are fucking long, like, all-day long.
So what’s it like with Kelly? You guys are obviously both the best surfers in the world right now but for such different reasons.
D: People have been saying that shit for years and I never believed it for one second…
What do you believe?
D: I don’t know. Want a beer?
Yeah, thanks. Do you have a rivalry or a tension between you?
DANE: I feel like there’s a rivalry but it’s not because of me. He makes me feel like that. When I see him he’ll shows me clips of himself and I know that he’s keeping check on not only me but where people are at, or what people are doing. I feel like he’s got the all-seeing eye of the universe of surfing.
It’s like he strives to be more undefeated than to be a surfer. He wants to know everything, see everything. No one can score more than him. No one can get better waves than him…
DANE: But then I feel like he’s even keeping tabs on everyone. Seriously, everyone! I don’t feel like that validates me, that Kelly feels competitive with me.
So you were on the tour for three, four years?
DANE: Three years full-time then in the last year I did a few events.
Is it weird being off the tour? We discussed earlier how the tour validates the majority of pro surfers as does the QS because it’s such a literal ranking system of surfing.
DANE: It’s just like concrete.
If someone’s fifth place in the world it’s undeniable that they are a really good surfer, but is it weird being off it and kinda floating in your own existence and defining who you are?
DANE: Yeah, shit’s gotten more complicated (laughs). I didn’t think it was going to be difficult, but it was a big change, definitely. Things were a lot more simple when I was competing. Belly would be, like, “Hey, we need you for this photo shoot next week” and I felt like I could say no to anything because I was like, fuck, I’m making quarter-finals at every event’ or whatever. But now all the lines are blurred and all of sudden it’s, like, wait is it my job to act cool at a photo shoot?’
Do you think you have done a good job at keeping the purity of your interest in surfing intact?
DANE: I’ve tried (laughs). But it gets complicated when you examine what is pure, you know. When I was a kid and surfing before school every morning my motivation was to try to be really good at it. I don’t think that’s ever changed, but you do find yourself surfing with goals in mind, like a really good video part or something, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I don’t even think surfing with a career in mind is a bad thing. But that does tarnish the fun, which is what surfing should be about …
Is it weird being interviewed by a photographer?
DANE: No. That’s what’s funny because when I interviewed Kelly I felt like it was cool to blend those barriers. I don’t feel like you have to be a journalist to have a unique take on things. You don’t have to be a photographer to be able to take a photo. You don’t have to be a pro surfer to be able to ride a wave. And I think it’s rad.
Any final statements?
DANE: No. I’ve said too much already.