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Two weeks ago, and a day before a surfer was pulled dead out of the water in the same spot, the Superbrand team lit up a left that was, how do you want to call it…
Exhilarating? Transfixing? A little Namibia?
The Outer Banks, if you didn’t know, is a fabulous two-hundred mile stretch of sandpits between North Carolina and Virginia. Real famous as a shipwreck graveyard. The Wright Brothers got their bird in the air on the OBX too.
If you surf, it’s where you got to get shallow, sand-bottom tubes. At the end of September, the Superbrand team flew across the USA to Virginia to get some of it, waves powered by Hurricane Jose.
“Every single wave spat its guts out, sometimes more than once,” says Justin Cote, the slightly more robust and rugged of the famous Cote brothers from Encinitas.
Beschen, who was on the world tour between 1993 and 2005, had a bit of the Bobby Martinez’ about him – poisoned by the feeling he never got the deals or results he deserved and quit the tour a few years too early.
“I feel like a black person in South Africa 50 years ago, and all the judges are white,” said Shane in 1998.
What we may not appreciate about Shane, who is forty-five years old or one week older than Kelly Slater if you want perspective, is how lucid he is about technique and competitive performance. His two boys, Koda and Noah, are all products of a pappy who knows the game.
And, yesterday, when Beschen lip up Facebook with a note to the tour’s judges on how to score backhand surfing, well, it behooves a man to listen, don’t it?
“I have posted 4 photos starting with the highest degree of difficulty and working down to the lowest,” wrote Beschen. “Julian Wilson demonstrating an extreme throw tail where his entire board is out of the water and only the tip of his nose is touching. This is an ‘excellent’ backside maneuver with the highest degree of difficulty.
“The second photo, to the right of Julian, shows a backside throw tail in which half of the surfboard is out of the water. This is also an ‘excellent’ maneuver with a high degree of difficulty and should be the starting point in which a maneuver is deemed progressive.
“The third photo is called a backside release and as you can see there is very little if any of the tail out the back of the wave. This should be deemed a ‘good’ maneuver as the ‘degree of difficulty’ is much less than the first two photos.
“The fourth photo is a backside carve and although it could still be deemed a ‘good’ maneuver it is much less difficult than the first three photos.
“In conclusion. To further push the level and excitement of surfing within the WSL there should be a points cap on ‘good’ surfing. A combination of ‘good’ turns should never be rewarded an ‘excellent; score. If competitors know they can reach an excellent score with good surfing they will not take unnecessary risk.
“Solution. A cap of 7.5 – 8 points should be set on good surfing so competitors will push their performance to achieve excellent scores. An excellent score should have at least one excellent turn performed during the ride. In turn, the @wsl and all of the fans will enjoy more exciting performances from their favorite surfers. This can only be a positive for the @wsl and its loyal surf fans.
“Please leave your thoughts and keep them constructive.”
Jamie O'Brien's latest offering is perfect. Don't let the elitist fun police tell you otherwise.
The genius is not in how much Jamie O’Brien does in “Who is JOB 7.0″ but in how little. This is the work of an artist so sublimely confident that he doesn’t include a single shot simply to keep our attention. He reduces each scene to its essence, and leaves it on screen long enough for us to contemplate it, to inhabit it in our imaginations. Alone among online surf serials, “Who is JOB 7.0″ is not concerned with thrilling us, but with inspiring our awe.
The series creates its effects essentially out of visuals and music. It is meditative. It does not cater to us, but wants to inspire us, enlarge us. Bali surf boxing? Poopies’ rodeo? A barrel contest over eyebrows? The challenges are perfection. Simple, joyous perfection.
Only a few shows today are transcendent, and work upon our minds and imaginations like music or prayer or a vast belittling landscape. Most are about characters with a goal in mind, who obtain it after difficulties either comic or dramatic. But here we see genuine fun playing out. Genuine fun minus the strictures of Venice Beach and also Venice-adjacent.
“Who is JOB 7.0” is not about a goal but about a quest, a need. It does not hook its effects on specific plot points, nor does it ask us to identify with the elitist too-cool-for-school fun police. It says to us: We became men when we learned to think. Our minds have given us the tools to understand where we live and who we are. Now it is time to move on to the next step, to know that we live not on only land but among the waves, and that we are not flesh but intelligence.
I must admit that I am proud to see this 7.0 iteration. Proud beyond words for it was I, Chas Smith (back when I was a younger man named “Charlie”), who directed the original film “Who is JOB” some 7 years ago.
And nearly 7 years after it was made, it has not dated in any important detail, and although surfing maneuvers have become more versatile in the modern age, my work remains completely convincing — more convincing, perhaps, than more sophisticated maneuvers in later films, because it looks more plausible, more like documentary footage than like elements in a story.
“Who is JOB” is a classic in the genre, one of the better surfing films ever made and “Who is JOB 7.0” sets the bar for the people. For this is what we want, 1% be damned.
The reinvention of Jordy Smith has been one of the highlights of this year’s World Tour don’t you think? Not only his surfing but his shiny more comfortable personality. I look forward to his every interview with Rosie Hodge, their South African patois doing a beautiful gumboot in front of the step-and-repeat.
Seeing him choose a surfboard for Stab in the Dark was equally fine, the joy he took in both praising but also making fun. Did you catch all his underhanded pokes? Very funny. Very fun.
Stab went out of its way, just like the WSL, to mention Jordy’s weight over and over and over again (193 lbs) along with his height (6’3). I have never hugged Jordy and tried to lift him off the ground so cannot speak to his weight but I did walk right past him on the trail leading to Trestles (hereafter known as Ho Chi Minh in honor of the people) and have questions about his height.
He was coming down with two board caddies in tow. I was going up with my Louis Vuitton drivers covered in dirt but spirit buoyed by the scent of the people.
We passed and I looked down upon his Red Bull hat and thought, “If Jordy Smith only had wings then he would be as tall as me.”
I am 6’2.
Now, there are many many variables here of course. The Ho Chi Minh is not even and smooth, we were both walking and in different directions, he may have stepped into a divot right as we passed, the moment only lasted less than a second, my Tom Ford sunglasses were smudged.
But I think there is no way in hell that Jordy Smith is actually 6’3. I think he is falling into the very common trap of adding 2 inches to his height making him 6’1.
Is this a scandal? Only if you place any value on truth. Only if you care about honesty and hard work.
Tony Roberts is a 52-year-old surfer from Santa Cruz whose stated public goal is to be the best over-fifty surfer above the lip. Brad Gerlach, who is 50, is a former world number two (or one depending if you subscribe to Gerr’s belief that if you were, at some point on the tour ratings, number one you should own it).
He’s also got a point to prove. He lives for the betterment of his technique.
Two men. Same age. Same belief.
To wit, just because you’ve hit the autumn years don’t mean you have to stop improving. And it certainly doesn’t mean your wings are clipped.
Recently, Gerr flew to Costa Rica. He’d help Tony with turns; Tony’d help Gerr with his airs.
Tony told Gerr, “Don’t boost too early.”
Gerr told Tony. Get that ass real low. “Your butt needs to go down toward the Achilles tendon,” said Gerr. “Jordy surfs so good ‘cause his ass is on the ground!”
Tony grew up as a skater/surfer and was mentored between 12 and 16 by the early air pioneer Kevin Reed, who was in the news recently when he was arrested on suspicion on murdering another homeless man although he was quickly released.
Tony says he nailed his first real air in 1978.
“Surfers said I surfed like a skater. Skaters say I skated like a surfer,” says Tony, who moved to Central America 20 years ago. He divides his time between Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica.
See, Tony had a little epiphany when he hit thirty. He didn’t want a part of the American Dream. Didn’t want to throw the physical world away in pursuit of the material He wanted to surf and he wanted to hit new heights of performance even as he aged.
So he went vegetarian. Got into yoga.
And surfing in warm water?
“It was like taking off the ankle weights,” he says.
I ask, what do older guys struggle with most, air wise?
“The best guys at doing airs have surfed like that their entire lives. Not many guys my age were focussing on surfing above the lip when we were kids. It just wasn’t cool. We were called flying squirrels. If a surfer can stay in shape and surf every day into their fifties, they’re usually honing the same type of surfing they always did.”
Gerr knows the sound of that. He was totally into airs when he was fifteen but felt an insane pressure to work on his power. Sure Pottz was doin’ airs back then, but he won a world title with cutbacks and surfing at a self-confessed three-quarter pace. Gerr got back into airs in his late forties. He says the weirdest thing for older guys is moving your front foot in the air and sticking the landing.
“It’s a weird thing to land on the nose of your board,” he says. Tell an old guy to wax up the front third of his board and you’ll know how weird.
Which makes it sounds like if you didn’t grow up doin’ airs, don’t start. Tony says it’s never too late. You’ve just gotta want it, even if you have to temper that excitement a little, he says.
“If you have air fever and just try airs on every wave your stomp percentage will be real low. So, first tip. It’s wave judgement. You gotta learn what a good ramp looks like. You have to know when to go, when to blow. Slater is a great example. He only goes for airs on waves that have good sections for it. Most older guys tend to boost too early and fly out the back of the wave.”
Tony says you have to slow the game down, even if it means eating into your style. Stomp on the tail, stay in the pocket, wait for the wave to set up.
“Watch any footage of Ratboy Collins. He has a very exaggerated setup,” says Tony. “He’ll even just stand on the tail and sideslip to let the wave form in front of him, then pumps and gets speed and then really pauses at the last moment until he sees the coping, then boosts.”
Gerr says: “Filipe Toledo’s whole momentum is going through his front foot. He doesn’t get that stuck-at-the-top feeling and the reason he’s landing so many aerials is he has a very clear picture in his mind where he’s going to land. He’s not up there in the air going, “I’ll see where I am when I’m up in the air”. The better surfer you are, the slower the wave appears to you.”
What else are the old men doing wrong?
“They crank too hard once in the air and over-rotate,” says Tony. “A nice straight air is equal parts power and finesse, like a straight ollie street skating.”
Specifically, “the frontside edge of your front foot is what should be guiding the board upon takeoff. Wherever your eyes go the nose of your board follows so it’s important to eyeball your landing on the lip or real high on the wave face.”
Gerr says you’ve got to remember to straight your legs coming into the lip, bring your board to your chest when you exit, straighten a little in the air, and compress to land. And, for god’s sake, stay over your board.
Tony’s got a few drills, too.
“Skateboarding gives a man a chance to practise ollies over and over so you develop that muscle memory. Learn proper ollies, and there’s a ton of YouTube clips showing you how to nail ‘em, on a head-high quarter pipe with a decent sized coping you really get that ‘bonk’ wired.”
Bonk? The moment you hit the lip and it pushes back.
How about the old man’s choice of weapon?
“Real important,” says Tony. “Thickness and width in the tail makes lift-off a lot easier. The wide round nose template catches a lot and fishy type boards, twin fins and four fins, tend to make you surf front-footed which is okay for lateral type airs, but isn’t conducive for vertical style squaring off the bottom to lip launch punts. The best airs come when you are feeling that rail-to-rail carving speed through the contour of the wave and then you boost.”
Gerr rides a thruster setup with a small rear fin. He agrees with Tony on board choice. “Quads do great cutbacks, carves, floaters but only straight airs.”
More than anything, you’ve gotta live airs. Watch footage over and over, although don’t get all hung up watching someone like Reynolds or John John. It’ll overcomplicate things.
Know who you should watch?
Kelly Slater, who turns forty six at his next birthday. His technique isn’t close to Dane or John, or even Craig Anderson or Creed, but he’s coming from the same back foot era as you. His desire to succeed, and not technical perfection, is what gets him through his airs.
And you’ve seen those tens at New York, at Bells, yeah? You like?
As you learn, as you progress, maybe you’ll see a little of yourself in the greatest surfer of all time.
Another tip, says Tony, is to “ride logs and stiff single fins a lot because when I get back on my little board it feels like a skateboard in comparison. It gives you that fresh lively feeling. When the board feels like that it feels like I can do anything.”
Tony says his best air was a Hail Mary frontside 360 three years ago.
“I was going really fast and just threw everything at a meaty section on an overhead wave and ended up really high and rotating super slow. I wasn’t planning on trying to land it but when I came around I looked down and saw the most pillowy landing and I knew I was going to make it.”
Or maybe the whole thing just frustrates you?
“Listen,” says Gerr, “they’re just fucking hard. Not hard technically, just hard because you need to do a lot of ‘em. You have a have a certain type of wave, a consistent wedge, that you can go and do fifty of ‘em a day. To think you’re going to pull one off just once in a while? No way. Those kids, they’re spending eight hours a day practising them, and then several hours watching movies of guys doing airs.”
Thing is, says Gerr, “Surfing is something you just can’t force. If today isn’t your today, maybe tomorrow is. Getting mad isn’t going to change a thing. Don’t set yourself up for failure by having unrealistic expectations. Yeah, you’ll learn airs if you try hard enough. Just don’t panic when it doesn’t work straight away. Surfing shouldn’t be painful.”
(Note: This story first appeared in issue number 336 of Surfing Life magazine, which you can buy here.)