The king of the sea!
Sunday is Matt Warshaw day, when surfing’s sole historian and its most quotable writer looses a sprawling stream-of-consciousness email upon his subscribers.
Today, Warshaw riffs on the North Shore bodysurfer, Mark Cunningham, a man who is to the North Shore what Churchill was to his besieged people in 1940: an unwavering symbol of determined righteousness and with a sorta off-kilter brilliance.
Read and learn:
Cunningham is of course the world’s most revered bodysurfer. For many of you, he is the only revered bodysurfer, but that is because so little attention has been paid to bodysurfers over the past 50 or so years.
Bodysurfing got way more attention in the earlies; Ron Drummond wrote a whole book about it, and Russell Hughes’ one brush with fame came with this long board-free ride in the ’68 World Surfing Championships, as seen on Wide World of Sports. Bruce Jenkins, in this excellent Mark Cunningham profile, highlights some of the first great bodysurfers.
The surf leash broke up surfing and bodysurfing, which up to that point had been united since the beginning—wipeout, lose board, bodysurf, repeat— and not long afterward Cunningham more or less became our one-man repository for what some people think of as the purest form of wave-riding.
It is often said that Cunningham is amphibious, which is true but incomplete.
Yes, he is amphibious.
He is also Ferrari.
He is chinchilla fur, knee-length and silk-lined.
Cunningham is as powerful and smooth as he is fish-like, in other words.
He wanted to bodysurf Pipeline the way Lopez board-surfed it, and that is what he did. No tricks, no wasted motion. Just mindful Zen-infused chinchilla-trimmed Ferrari perfection from takeoff to beach landing.
I have to tell this last story, even though it is self-serving and makes it appear as if Mark bought his way into EOS, which of course he did not.
While roaming a distant corner of the Surf Expo tradeshow in Orlando two years ago, I found Mark sitting alone at a booth, his magnificent head of white hair full and lofty, looking every bit the hawk-nosed crinkly-eyed younger brother of Nick Lowe.
A perennial EOS subscriber, Mark clapped me on the back and raved about the site and the importance of surf history and whatnot, and maybe because I did such a good job at maintaining cool he suddenly reared back and said, “Are you still taking donations?” I nodded. He pulled out an ancient two-tone Velcro wallet, ripped it open and fished out the only bill therein, a twenty, which he looked at for a moment then folded once and handed over.
“That’s not enough,” he muttered.
With a snap of the fingers, he squatted down, rummaged through a duffle bag, and came up with a shrink-wrapped box of Mauna Loa chocolate-covered macadamia nuts, which he also handed over, then once again clapped my back and sent me off with more uplifting remarks.
Dammit, he did buy his way onto EOS!