He’s like your inappropriate uncle who always manages to offend everyone in the room at Christmas dinner. He’s bitter, uncouth, and monomaniacal, but damn if he doesn’t say some really interesting things. Family get-togethers wouldn’t be the same without him.
Safety Measures in Big Wave Surfing
Enough near-death situations can convince even the hardest of heads that the odd contingency plan is a good idea. After years of turning away from modern gimmicks, like, you know, life vests, and uh CPR, the big wave community at large suppressed their egos and embraced new safety measures this year that include life vest and water safety training. At this rate, we might even see a professional wearing reef booties sometime this century. Probably not, though.
The Unknown Surfer from Spirit of Akasha
Among incredible performances by Stephanie Gilmore and Fergal Smith, Sam Yoon stole the show in the movie of the year, Andrew Kidman’s homage to Morning of the Earth, the obliquely titled Spirit of Akasha. Yoon shapes his own boards, rides with an old-school squat and can’t do an air to save his life. Despite, or maybe because of all this, his sections in the film are some of the best in the last decade.
Four-foot-and-under Men Who Love the Occasional 60-Footer.
If you are paid to make heats in competitions, or do airs for magazines and videos, it’s easy to post up at the pool bar when swell heights push passed twelve feet. But there are a few sick SOB’s who can’t help but do both, and we salute them: Kelly Slater, The brothers Gudauski, Adrian Buchan, John John Florence, Jeremy Flores, the Hobgoods and some I’m most definitely forgetting forgetting. These are among the few who have not forgotten that good surfers are good in every condition, not just when it’s head high and puntable.
Socially Aware Surfers
Surfers have a long and storied history of studiously ignoring any social ills that might impede their ability to get into the water – see apartheid in South Africa. It’s refreshing, then, to see a small but growing group leveraging their statuses and know-how to lead movements that stand for more than hedonism. Jon Rose is flying into disaster zones to deliver water filters to those in need, Dustin Barca, along with a supporting cast that includes Mark Healey and Kelly Slater, is leading the fight to get agribusiness to disclose what sort of pesticides they use in Hawaii, even the late Buttons Kaluhiokalani, a longtime drug abuser, became an open and vocal opponent of drug use until his death this year from cancer. If you are a gifted athlete, you don’t have to stand for anything. Maybe that’s why it’s so much cooler if you do.
John John Florence
When a child prodigy reaches adulthood without discernable psychological problems or issues with substance abuse, the entire world breathes a sigh of relief. John John Florence doesn’t need to win a World Title or ride the biggest wave, because he’s already come a very long way in a very short time and we are lucky to have him. That said, I’d love to see him getting freaky-deaky shaping his own boards.
I don’t own one and I don’t want one, but you can’t argue with this kind of success. GoPro has brought a lot of happiness to a lot of would-be surf heroes while taking the POV shot from sideshow to main attraction. How else can the average Joe get barreled on the shoulder of Mikala Jones in Indonesia?
For all the debate about wave shape, ride length, and ridiculous, pseudo-scientific measurements, it turns out that all most people care about is riding a giant, honking wave. Although behind the scenes, many in the big wave surfing community are still grumbling, (and I say let them) Nazaré is here to stay.
For most of us, surfing apocalyptic waves in near-freezing temperatures in the midst of howling, ever-changing winds is about as close to hell as we will ever get. For a select group of Irish surfers, including Paul O’Kane, Fergal Smith, Connor Maguire, and Neil and Easkey Britton, this is as good as it gets. They helped put Mullaghmore, the monstrous left point in Northwest Ireland, on the map and into our imaginations this year. I salute them for broadening the scope of my dreams and my nightmares.
Roxy Loves the Ass
We’ve heard it all before: sex sells; that’s how it’s always been and that’s how it’s always going to be. If you’re comfortable using the same marketing slogan as pornographers and pimps, I won’t argue with you. Just don’t claim you’re doing it for the benefit of women’s sports.
Where Are the Young’uns?
Kelly Slater, Mick Fanning and Joel Parkinson squared off for a World Title this year. Hold on, is this 2003 or 2013? Credit where it’s due: Slater, the guy that used his last World Title to say anti-semitic things (oh, you thought I’d forgotten?), and all the other old men of the tour are still surfing at levels that defy explanation. But the fact that none of the younger generations have risen to seriously challenge them for a title is a little embarrassing. For everyone. Which brings me to my next point:
A World Title was decided by a questionable judging call and many behind the scenes grumbled. Is surfing impossible to judge? Maybe. But if the ASP wants the tour to be relevant, they need to sort out their issues with judges getting “caught up in the moment” and tacking tenths and hundredths of a point onto scores. It’s ridiculous to even write this, but it needs to be said: they are judges, not fans.
In a culture where humility is practically a mantra, who would have guessed that all it would take was a board-mounted camera to reveal that almost everyone wants nothing more than to have other people watch them surf? Most of it is harmless fun, but when the last sunset has been instagramed and the last barrel shot at 30 fps, surfing will have lost something of the private relationship between wave rider and nature that used to define it.
The Whisper Campaign Against Maya Gabeira
Maya Gabeira is apparently not a very high level surfer when she isn’t towing. Because of this, there are a lot of people asking, in greasy whispers, whether or not she “should be” towing into gigantic waves. It’s an interesting question but we won’t find any definitive answers by gossip mongering. That the surf world still thinks it can work through public issues in a private manner speaks to deep and ridiculous levels of delusion.
Wassell vs Tk
In one sense, the now deleted video exchange after a drop-in incident in Tahiti is the runaway winner for most absurd surfing incident of the year. In another, it was a novel form of arguing that neatly displayed two opinions and let the public weigh in. Even if it was a bit silly, it was refreshingly frank. It also cemented Dave Wassel’s reputation as the most compelling screen presence in surfing – give that man a reality tv show. Just keep him away from the filet knives.
It wasn’t that he criticized Carlos Burle and Maya Gabeira publicly for their exploits at Nazaré, it was how he criticized them that left a lingering bad taste in the mouth. If he’s still got some fire left, he should be out catching gigantic waves along side them. If not, he should transition into a more senior, big wave grandpappy role. Either way, he is an immensely valuable character. Embittered blow-hard, however, is a role that does not suit him at all.
Asymmetrical is just another word for uneven, which is just another word for fucked up. I know it makes people appear “artsy” but there are other ways to do that, like, oh, I don’t know, studying art, reading, drawing something at a higher level than a primary school student… these are just suggestions. At this point, the only thing asymmetry in your follicles really denotes is pretense.
Have you ever noticed that when poor fishermen are guilty of hurting the environment by doing things like shark finning, surfers go bananas, but when a politician, or even better, other surfers suggest ashark cull, they remain silent? It’s easy to support the environment when it’s convenient for you.
Extremitization, or The Red Bull Effect
Have you noticed things getting crazier? The waves are bigger, the risks greater, the athletes more willing than ever to pitch themselves into dangerous situations to make a name for themselves. Over the last year, action sports in general, and surfing in particular, have seen a ratcheting up of the stakes. Some of this is simply progression, but it walks the fine line between moving forward and descending into the fetid idiocy of pure spectacle. Personally, I don’t care if no one ever rides a hundred foot wave or gets barreled at Pipeline on a pool toy. I just want people to have fun.