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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.


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