ON THE SHOULDERS OF GIANTS
Every year performance surfing does something wild and improbable: it gets better. Sometimes the shift is so small it’s barely noticeable. Other years it feels as if surfing has been set off a leash and is running wild and free, knocking over bins and pissing wherever it damn pleases. Dane on the lam in Mexico. John John at onshore North Point. Kelly’s pool. Anything seems possible. The trigger could be a galactically large rotation, the descent of a monstrous new slab, a jaw-dropping new movie or the disruptive arrival of mechanical perfection. The pace of change varies but the direction remains on lock: onwards and upwards.
Surfing’s biggest innovators are a diverse lot but almost all were inspired by the generation before them. For many, the seed of their future success was sewn by an early obsession with a mind-blowing surfer. For Shane Dorian (and about a million others) that surfer was Santa Barbara style lord, Tom Curren, and that obsession was outsized. As he readily admits, Dorian would put together compilations of his heroe's video parts and watch them on repeat during his formative years. Not satisfied, he eventually set up a mirror so he could watch himself watching Curren in order to better imitate his mentor’s celebrated jive.
Today, big wave students study clips of Doran airdropping into 60ft Jaws with similar devotion. That’s how progression seems to work. The young surfer zeros in on an idol, studies and copies and then refines and embellishes when maturation is reached. The performance glass ceiling shatters but only because it has been pre-cracked. “I believe it is the right of kids to copy their heroes until they feel they are good enough to run on their own tracks,” Australia’s Nat Young writes for this feature. Given that Young is undeniably one of the most influential surfers of all time we’re not going to argue.
Something else is visible when we pull back for a wide view of influential surfers over the decades. Patterns emerge amid surfing’s grand old family tree. There’s the style-lord branch: Papa Lopez, uncle Rob, cousin Ando, sister Steph. The power surfer clan with their flexed thighs, wild eyes and MP posters: Young, Kong, Occy, Cram, Tom Carroll. Making all that racket? Look for the punks: Christian, Archy, Ozzie, Rat Boy and, as Wade Goodall, reminds us, wild cousin Dave Neilson. And then there’s the surfers who seem to have 12 surfing parents: Pottz, Kelly, Dane, Mick, John John, Gabby, Tyler.
The other thing to note about influence is that it grows and hardens over time. The lines of past legends are not erased or forgotten. They live on like classic blues riffs. And they lift the next generation up into the clouds where just about anything is possible. Mega brain and underground charger Isaac Newton nailed the concept with his famous quote of 1676: "If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." He was referring to ancient Greek philosophers or ancient Hawaiian surfers. No one’s really sure.
But enough jabber. Let’s meet some giants.