Part one in a four-part series!
Okay, so 2016 might have been a god-awful year but in our little pro surf world, it all ran to script. Legitimacy restored at the top end of the tour, continued ascendancy of women’s surfing, big waves etc.
Any critical eye trained on the WCT will see a moribund sport desperately in need of renewal. Renewal of format, of location. The whole narrative structure is looking tired: same old thing trotted out for thirty years. Too many dead heats, not enough peak performance. The format rewards conservatism and that’s exactly what we get dished up. Slater has been the exception to the rule for far too long and when he goes, that goes with it.
Since Rory abdicated hasn’t it been a hoot watching the surf writer step up? Establishing their bona fides: I’m a print journalist, I’ve got a blog, I know how to use a semi-colon. It’s grand, grand entertainment.
I feel I should establish my credentials. Surfer Mag, Surfers Journal, Surfline, Tracks, Surfing World, White Horses, Swellnet and a couple Euro ones I can’t remember.
But what if that’s all a pile of shit?
What if there is no superiority, real or imagined, of the published (surf) writer over the anonymous commenter? What if the anonymous commenter really is the highest and rarest form of the art? I believe it is, and in that spirit, I throw this take of the top 20 surfers in the world, right now, out there.
Not as any kind of definitive version but as kindling to the flame of the eternal commenter. Long may they reign.
20. Corey Colapinto
It’s a cruel but pertinent fact that California’s excessive continental shelf turns Pacific swells into surf as lugubrious and predictable as a 90’s sitcom, perfect for longboards or anything with inbuilt trim. Most surf spots between Point Conception and the border suck for shortboards, with the odd exception. Don’t shame yourself and and name the obvious counter-examples.
The reverse is true in Australia. Thus Corey Colapinto. Thus Joel Tudor. Thus Ryan Burch. Thus the shortboard revolution and everything progressive in surfing happening in Australia (even if at the hands of beatnik Californians harnessing the power of post-war blue-collar Australia and trust-fund America) then exported back to California. Current example: Dan Thomson and micro-planing hulls. Time and time again. History repeating.
Yet still this phony, internecine war between short and long, progressive and retro persists. Take Dane Reynolds out of the equation and Colapinto is the second most progressive surfer in California, hence America, after Ryan Burch. A progressive mid-lengther, if you’ll pardon the oxymoron, who takes the white man jazz of the shortboard revolution into a whole new dimension.
19. Derek Hynd
There’s a certain orthodoxy been developing on the Grit. It’s a justifiable reaction against forty years of surfing being represented as some kind of mystical communion with nature BS in the surf media. It downplays and even denigrates the lifer, the loner, the nomad, the dedicated few who pursue surfing to its ultimate ends.
Wild Bill Finnegan said a lot of assholes surf and some of them surf well. To which I would say, so fucking what. Hemingway was a bonafide cunt, Gauguin gave Tahitian wahines syphilis, Gautama Buddha walked out on a young family etc.
The implication that surfing should improve moral character or cure cancer is ludicrous. It’s just another glorious, non-essential thing humans do between birth and death to wrest meaning out of a random and hostile universe. Hence, what separates us from the animals, hence art.
Isn’t it true that in our tiny little lives of quiet desperation we find ourselves a gal and settle down, selling ourselves like cattle for a scrap of grass and a roof, horizons shrinking every year towards infirmity and death, stripped of all hope, incubating our hate with a secret shame which seeps out through the keyboard (magnificently at the Grit!).
Surfing has been co-opted by capitalism magnificently but if you kick out of the cradle to grave consumer track and go your own way, as Dekka Hynd has done, it’s still one of the most revolutionary trips going. A pure waste of time with no measureable output. Fins-free surfing might be the last act untouched and untouchable by the domesticated and homogenized herd. A necessary antidote against the psychic impoverishment of a technocratic society. If you’ll pardon a little more pseudo-philosophical dick-gazing: isn’t it true that in our tiny little lives of quiet desperation we find ourselves a gal and settle down, selling ourselves like cattle for a scrap of grass and a roof, horizons shrinking every year towards infirmity and death, stripped of all hope, incubating our hate with a secret shame which seeps out through the keyboard (magnificently at the Grit!).
Meanwhile, Mr Hynd soars towards an a-historical death high-lining at J-Bay like an albatross who never needs to touch land, brutal and singular as Ahab. Is he sinning against life for daring to indulge this obsession with an implacable grandeur? By structuring his life to follow the lightning flash?
I say, no!
Restless, relentless non-linear exile who evades the technological whip I salute you. You Soviets of the spirit who mock him can eat a bag of dicks.
Also, practically speaking, work is a cooked goose, no matter what moral puritans like Bill Finnegan say, so you better figure out something to do to pass the time. Surfer as throw-forward as posited by Alvin Toffler might be an idea whose time has come.
18. Bob Martinez
Why does Bob Martinez look better than Gabe Medina on a wave? Nothing controversial about that inquiry. The answer was supplied on the Grit this by wave savant Bradley Gerlach, author of the soon to be released tantric surf manual Wave Ki. Brad ID’d the great stylistic advantage of using the hips, but limited the observation to small wave surfing.
The observation extends into other realms and when we watch Bob M surf we can clearly see how devastatingly effective it is in medium sized surf as well, especially backhand surfing in good Point surf. The hips are the fulcrum around which the board is leveraged through the turn. Upper-body quiet, knees and ankles fluid.
The main thing I love about Bob’s surfing, and miss so much watching live, is that it is relatable to crib the parlance of Turpel. In my fantasy, idealised version of my own surfing, I’m trying to surf like Bobby, not say, Clay Marzo, whose surfing is utterly incomprehensible to me.
And you too.
17. Stu Kennedy
When you cross the border from Byron shire and get your passport stamped at the gates of the Republik of Lennox Head you are entering the finest surfing Nation on Earth. You remember the penultimate scene in Taxi Driver? Before Trav Bickle goes ham? Harvey Keitels pimp is slow-dancing with Jodie Foster’s prostitute. He leans in and whispers in her ear, “How much I need you. Come to me baby. When I’m close to you like this I feel so good. I only wish every man could know what it’s like to be loved by you. That every woman everywhere had a man who loves her like I love you”.
That’s an accurate depiction of the interior monologue of every surfer lucky enough to reside in the shadow of of Lennox Point. Sunbeams dance out of our hearts when we surf the Point. Henry Lawson, Walt Whitman, Ralph Emerson couldn’t conjure up such an earthly paradise for the working man and woman.
No doubt this excess in nature’s blessings can be dessicating. There is nothing here for people seeking knowledge, education or self-improvement. What it demands are clear-sighted souls, and that it contains in abundance. Its principal genius lies in the innovation to the surfboard, something seen when Kennedy unleashed the Dan Thomson designed Sci-Phi at Snapper.
The Point carves chunks from bodies from pre-adolescence, a natural violence which imbues the lineup. A 52-year-old dentist from Manhattan beach, an ageing alpha male, got his teeth knocked out the other day. I’m not condoning ultra-violence as a method of constraining the more excessive impulses that human beings bring to a lineup predisposed to order, just noting it works wonderfully well here.
Do you understand Lennox Head, where our local punk band is called Booze Hag and the chief ditty written by legendary glasser/sander Kenchy glories in the title Off My Head In Lennox Head (not available on Tunes)?
Good, then you understand Stu Kennedy. Top Ten after the Aussie leg.
16. Clay Marzo
Marzo is the maestro of the late-spin-under-the-lip-and-knife-into-the-tube, a prerequisite to deep tube-riding on shallow reefs. You’ll see that guy every shallow reef you surf, sitting deepest and making calm under violent upheaval.
Sure the forehand fin-ditch-to-disaster-one-foot-recovery gets a big old, but that is a strange inversion of the pro surfing game. He saves his full-blown power turns as special sauce. I’d rather watch him surf than some ball of squat muscle wanksnap their way to the beach any day of the year.
A gaping Marzo-sized conceptual hole in the field exists every year at Cloudbreak while he is alive.
15. Mason Ho
I was slow jumping on the Ho train, mostly because in this world hype reigns and so rarely justified. What got me hooked wasn’t any of the web clips but a live heat at Bells. He rode a bigger board. There was creativity, historical lineage in every line he drew across a lumpy Bell beach canvas. He bought shit surf to life in a way that no other tour surfer keyed in to standardised testing could.
Now the wave of the winter at Pipe with a classic hood ornament look back. One more compelling argument for renewal in a conservative Tour format and locations that specialise in quashing talent like Mason Ho’s. Imagine an Indonesian leg with Mason.