"If I’m not surfing a lot, and if I’m going out of my mind, I bust out dancing videos. The moves are in my brain and I freestyle.”
In the comparative seclusion of Victoria Avenue, Mar Vista, at a point where the 405 and Venice Boulevard are pleasantly tempered by distance, Nylon magazine’s The Merman has taken up his semi-permanent abode.
It is a barn-style house, set back from a plain-as-anything white garage with a beige coloured pickup from the nineteen-eighties parked outside.
The master of the house a friend from San Clemente called Max Robinson.
“He’s the one friend that didn’t surf,” says Luke. “He builds furniture and he’s an industrial designer.”
Across the road, we find the black twin-cab Toyota Tahoma which Luke bought for thirty-thousand dollars on a payment plan when he was seventeen. He rarely sleeps in the vehicle and imagines, at some point, going “full surf dog” installing a camper shell on the tray and travelling the coast for an extended clip.
The Tahoma counts one hundred and fit thousand miles on the odometer and is, currently, in disgrace for collapsing in a fit of smoke on the highway while Luke was coming back from a surf trip to Santa Cruz.
Still, he’ll keep it until it officially dies
Luke Davis is twenty eight years old, five feet and eight inches tall (in heels) and weighs one hundred and fifty pounds after a large meal and a gallon of water.
He has short thick hair, sometimes its natural yellow, often coloured purple or blue or pink, and the sort of facial construction best viewed in black and white and through the lens of Bruce Weber or Herb Ritts.
His skin is clear and, often, is coloured a shiny brown courtesy of a trip to the tropics, Mexico, for instance, from where he’s just returned.
For the first three days, Luke, along with the Hawaiian-born surfers Billy Kemper, Nathan and Ivan Florence, amused himself with jetski step-offs at Pasquales’ in Colima, a little state slipped in between Michoacán and Jalisco.
This was followed by a week surfing sandbottom points in Oaxaca.
It was, he says, “my first fucking trip of the year.”
Luke had said to his friends, “Let’s go down to Mexico for ten days and surf out brains out!”
Ten days was far too long and Luke recommends, instead, a maximum of five days south of the order.
“By the last couple of days it was fucked. So torched, too much sun. A full sun overdose.”
It was big-wave world champion and four-times Jaws winner Billy Kemper ’s first surf trip since busting his pelvis in February 2020 while surfing a wild swell at Morocco’s best wave, the righthand point Safi, which is a little like Lennox meets one of those Mex sand-bottoms.
The injury, which had Billy choking on his fluids and shitting the bed after overdosing on anti-inflamms, became a cause célèbre for the World Surf League’s CEO Erik Logan who, between tears on international phone calls, promised Billy, he’d bring him home.
“Just the words Billy was saying, I could feel the pain,” Erik sobbed to Billy, the events made into an excellent, if drawn-out, six-part series.
Luke was in Morocco when Billy’s pelvic girdle got bust.
“Yeah, I was there. It was fucked,” he says. “It was the end of our two-week trip. We’d surfed for two weeks straight. The day he got hurt, we got into the water at seven and we hadn’t got out of the water even one time and the sun was setting and everyone was completely delusional. You saw the wave. He dug his outside edge and, I didn’t know at the time ‘cause I was out of it on the beach and watching all the skis going around. I thought a camera had fallen in the water. And then someone drove up and said, ‘Billy broke his leg!’ From then on, it was a full fucking nightmare.”
The hospital, says Luke, was “super super scary. A stark room. Billy is on a metal table shaking and crying. It was fucked. I’d never seen an injury go down like that firsthand. They weren’t giving him anything for the pain. It was fucked, yeah, it was pretty fucked up.”
Do you consider yourself a lucky man, a happy man, Luke Davis?
“Lucky? Yeah, I feel super lucky. Blessed. However you want to put it. Nothing to complain about. I was lucky to be born where I was born, San Clemente, super fucking nice, you’ve been there. Trestles was right next to my house. Am I happy now? Yeah, I feel happy now. The better waves I get, the more barrels I get, the happiest I am. That’s my mission right now. I’m less happy if the waves are shit. My baseline happiness is somewhere in the middle and if I’m scoring waves it gets me to the place I want to be.”
As for last year’s trip to Indonesia’s Mentawai islands, Luke describes it as the best trip he’s ever been on, and says the waves were as good as you can get out on this ribbon of seventy islands stretching over a hundred miles just off the Sumatran coast.
A planned twelve day-charter on the seventy-foot supercat Sibon Jaya turned into twenty three as one swell followed another. Luke surfed for the first sixteen of the twenty-three days, but was benched for the final week after a series of wipeouts.
“Fuck, we got every wave you wanna get out there. Started out at Lances, firing, three days in a row, then we had Maccas, we had Thunderbox, that right slab, then we got Rags, we got Greenbush psycho for one day and we ended at Bank Vaults. It was overhead to, like, fifteen-foot faces on the biggest day. Big, big Mentawais. As big as you can get, some of the spots.”
Luke says Greenbush was a terrifying ride.
“I hit the reef there so it was fucked. Fuck, it was worse than I’ve had in years. Both hands on the reef, the first time, then had to get a couple of stitches in my hand then I went back out and got a couple of waves then on my third wave I hit my side on the reef and my knees and the top of my feet. I hit my whole body and I was done. That was my last session on that trip. I was kinda fucked.”
As the wave didn’t improve after day sixteen, Luke healed in the air-conditioned saloon, “a solid week of chilling.”
Do you drink, Luke?
“No, I don’t.”
It would’ve been much more fun if you drank.
“No one was drinking. Maybe Crane had a beer at some point. We were downing Coca-Colas and eating candy bars hard core. My teeth started hurting so much.”
Describe life as a beautiful man.
“A beautiful man? I don’t know.”
When did you become aware that you were more beautiful than anyone else around you?
“I don’t know, Brother’s pretty good looking. Captain America. I’m kinda short, though.”
What would you prefer handsomeness or height? I think, easy answer.
“Probably handsomeness. You have a point.”
When did you become aware you were very good looking?
“Fuck, I don’t know. It’s not something you choose.”
I imagine you’re a hit with the older gay man.
“Yeah, they like me. They do. I do get quite a few DMs.”
What do they say?
“Uhhhh… maybe they think they can turn me gay or something, I don’t know. I think it’s only gay people that I don’t know. Gay people that I know are more subtle in their approach.”
Have you ever wanted a man?
“No, no. I’ve had no experimenting.”
Maybe it’s because you haven’t met the right man, yet.
“Maybe. Feels like if it was meant to happen I would’ve met him already.”
At this point, I tell Luke that I believe he values individuality over conformity. He confirms my assumption.
“Hundred percent,” he says. “It’s important to be yourself over anything. And not change your ideas based on someone else’s opinion.”
Luke was eighteen, and he says he remembers this vividly, when he had a moment where he promised himself that no matter what people said, wrote or implied, he wouldn’t let it affect him.
“It’s pretty freeing,” he says, “you can do what you want.”
Doing what he wants means going through phases like putting glitter on his face all the time.
“You wouldn’t put glitter on your face if you cared what people thought.”
“It’s fun! Very fun, but I haven’t worn glitter in a while. Is glitter not fun?”
I answer that, no, I don’t find glitter fun, preferring, if anything was at my whim, the creamy colostrum from a free-flowing breast.
Tell me about the United States, I say. It’s a troubled time, yes?
“Yeah, how does it look from afar.”
It looks like it’s crumbling.
“It doesn’t feel bad when you’re here. It’s bouncing back now, but for a while, mid-last year it felt crazier.It’s pretty chill, it’s sunny and nice and places are opening up so it doesn’t feel too grim.”
Luke pauses and considers the state of the union.
“It could be crumbling still.”
The conversation swings towards music and Luke offers two different songs for his interlocutor to enjoy.
The first song I’m already familiar with, Cowgirl in the Sand, from Neil Young’s 1969 album Everybody Knows This is Nowhere.
The second is Brainstorm’s disco hit from 1977, Lovin’ Is Really My Game, which I haven’t heard. The lyrics are instructive.
You’ll be sorry if you pass me by
I’ve got what you need
And boy, I wouldn’t tell you no lie
I can’t catch no man
Hangin’ out at a discotheque
But I believe in the boogie
Oh, but lovin’ is really my game
Well, lovin’ is really my game
Well, lovin’ is really my game
Well, lovin’ is really my game
Try me, baby, yeah
“It’s really fucking good,” says Luke.
I ask, does surfing understand you?
“I think so. I put myself out there. I don’t know what they wouldn’t understand.”
Luke Davis is sponsored by RVCA, a martial arts outfit famous for its grappling shirts and no-gi rash vests.
Does the fight life interest you?
“The fight life? I don’t know about it. The closest I ever got into a fight was me and Crane. It was more of a wrestling situation, however. I burned him on a little wave coming in at Lowers and he freaked out at me on the beach and we started stabbing each other with boards. Another time, I kept making noises when he was playing ping-pong, it was a heated battle with Kolohe, he snapped and was wrestling me and trying to choke me out for twenty minutes.”
Do many people recognise you on the street, Luke?
“Not a lot. The odd person. It’s not annoying if it’s a small scene and surfing is a small scene. Although, it’s crazy with all the lockdowns and all the shit, it’s the most people surfing in California that I’ve ever seen. Never seen this many people… ever.”
How can you make suggestive Tiki’s Toks in the tragedies of everyday existence?
“The dancing videos? If I’m not surfing a lot, and if I’m going out of my mind, I bust out dancing videos. The most amount of views is one hundred thousand. I get my moves from… nowhere. They’re in my brain and I fucking freestyle.”
Tell me your daily routine.
“Wake up, cold and hot shower back and forth, bullet coffee. Hit Surfline hard and figure out where I’m surfing. If you don’t use the coffee jolt for something you have to ride it down and it’s disastrous.”
Do you surf as you think? Cock-sure and drunk with sudden success?
“It reflects my personality, confident, but not overly confident. I don’t look aggressive when I surf.”
Sometimes you look excited.
“Yeah, maybe sometimes.”
One of the things often said about you is that you’re a tremendously strong surfer. What does strength mean, is it the kind of strength that bends iron bars?
“Strong? I’ve never heard that. Strong like power? I don’t think so.”
Are you physically strong?
“Not crazy, that’s why it doesn’t make sense. The only thing I lift are board bags.”
I always think of you as tremendously fit and healthy man. Do you ever get ill, have a cold, for instance?
“I try and be healthy but after the Indo trip I was sick as fuck, mostly ‘cause I was run down – six weeks of going non-stop. That was fucked, went too hard for too long.”
What attributes must a good surfer have?
“Kelly’s a surf god, right? He’s five-nine, flexible strong. Him.”
Like you, he’s little, too.
“I think he’s around my height, he’s thicker and wider than me. I’m pretty thin.”
Do you like to escape to reality and how?
“With music, I do. My main time escaping reality, though, is surfing, which is the ultimate. Getting barrelled is the ultimate escape from reality. I don’t think anything else is better.”
Do you find cigarettes squalid?
“Yeah, and it’s fucking crazy how many people are into the vapes. Once, I took a couple of hits off a vape and the next day I couldn’t breathe when I was surfing.”
Do you have much to say about marriage?
“Fuck, I don’t have much to say about it. It sounds scary to me.”
What have been your experiences with marijuana? Do you find it a sensual drug?
“I don’t know how sexy it is. I start overthinking when I smoke with a chick, like, hyper-analysing the situation.”
How are you different from other men?
“Being able to surf for a living is pretty rare.”
What kind of boy were you?
“A shy surfer kid with a bowl cut. I had two doughnuts and a chocolate milk every single morning before surfing.”
What are you grateful for? For me, it’s the absence of pain and life’s little pleasures, my children, flowers etc.
“The ability to go surfing every day and for the group of friends that I have. Fuck, I was talking to everyone on our trip about it. Fuck, we met each other when we were ten and here we were eighteen years later still doing this fucking surf thing! When we were ten, who would’ve fucking thought we’d be doing this still, and not be in a cubicle.”
Do you wish you had children?
“No! they scare the fuck out me!”
(Editor’s note: This interview appears in the outrageously impractical, from-another-era hard-cover volume, The Last Crusade, which documents the best trip to the Mentawais since Pottz, Ross Clarke-Jones and Tom Carroll went there in ’92. In this instance, Kolohe Andino and pals, including Luke Davis, side-stepped COVID restrictions and, in the words of shaper Matt Biolos, “risked everything and embarked on a surf trip for the ages. A rally against repression. A Crusade.” (Watch the movie of the event, Reckless Isolation, here.) The Last Crusade is a fine book, beautifully made and so on. At one hundred Biden shekels it ain’t cheap, but it feels like a couple hundred pages, no page numbers, and features stories from Lewis Samuels, Travis Ferré, Matt George and me. The principal photographer is the peerless Nathan Lawrence and there’s cartoons from Ben Brown so it’s real pretty to look at. Buy here.)