ALEX KNOST

On surf­ing, shap­ing and per­ceiv­ing with­out bar­ri­ers

Surfer - - A Drift With The Vanguard - In­ter­view by TODD PRODANOVICH

How dif­fer­ent do line­ups look around New­port now com­pared to when you started surf­ing, in terms of what peo­ple are rid­ing and ex­plor­ing?

I was so young that I didn’t have any vis­i­bil­ity—ev­ery­thing just seemed nat­u­ral, and quite com­fort­able. What’s a lineup? It’s a rein­car­na­tion of past gen­er­a­tions. Black­ies has the same hot­bed of tal­ent now as it did long be­fore, and 56th Street and River Jet­ties are much the same. Only dif­fer­ence now is there is no seg­re­ga­tion. Ac­cep­tance is some­thing that mir­rors one­self.

You’re one of the only peo­ple who rides al­ter­na­tive shapes to surf Slater’s pool. What kind of board was that and how did it suit the wave? Do you think those de­signs are more ver­sa­tile than peo­ple give them credit for? The wave is its own medium, as is the board I rode. The plane I flew in on was tiny and only could ac­com­mo­date one board of mine, so I took a ver­sa­tile board I shaped with Mal­colm Camp­bell—it’s 6'9" but 18" wide. I never look at boards or waves or ap­proaches as any­thing but an op­tion. Point be­ing, the com­mon mis­con­cep­tion about any board but the stan­dard thruster is that it is a com­pro­mise. When in fact, a stan­dard thruster com­pro­mises the in­di­vid­u­al­ity of a wave. The con­tem­po­rary thruster is de­vel­oped to surf a va­ri­ety of con­di­tions the same way. Bonz­ers ac­cen­tu­ate and ex­plore the vari­a­tions of end­less con­di­tions.

Af­ter that clip was re­leased, a lot of peo­ple thought it was the best thing they’d seen from the pool. But there were some haters in the com­ment sec­tions as well. Why do you think peo­ple are es­pe­cially crit­i­cal of you com­pared to other surfers?

Bore­dom. In­se­cu­rity. Gen­eral con­fu­sion. The me­dia cre­ates this void, and the void is the ul­ti­mate form. It’s a shame that com­mer­cial pub­li­ca­tions and me­dia out­lets lazily cre­ate cor­ners to place vari­a­tion. You shouldn’t feel like an out­cast on the playground. Haz­ing is some­thing the me­dia ex­ac­er­bates. No­body would flinch at some­thing un­less they’re pre­pro­grammed to do so. Last time we talked, you said you’d been on this Barry Kana­iaupuni kick, mak­ing boards in­spired by what he was rid­ing in the ‘70s. What drew you to that era of board de­sign and those spe­cific shapes? An aes­thetic? A feel­ing? Purely a kin­ship. A fa­mil­iar com­fort, like what you wear, eat or how you style your hair. Taste. Yeah, taste. Mark Martin­son was a huge in­spi­ra­tion for me at a young age be­cause of his bot­tom turn—the same “f--k off ” bot­tom turn that BK per­fected. How­ever, it wasn’t till later that I was forced to rec­og­nize that BK, prior to his short­board rev­e­la­tion, was con­sid­ered one of the best long­board­ers un­doc­u­mented. But I can’t ex­plain what drew me in. In hind­sight per­haps there is a par­al­lel.

What got you into shap­ing? For some­one who can get boards from the best crafts­men, it seems like it’d be tough to com­mit to rid­ing your own boards while you learn the craft.

Quite the op­po­site. It’s one of the few art forms, sports, or what­ever you con­sider, where you can ap­proach it in a bo­hemian sense, much like blend­ing colors or word play, po­etry and art.

A lot of peo­ple would ar­gue that rid­ing boards based on 40-year-old de­signs is a re­gres­sion. What would you say to that?

I wouldn’t say any­thing, re­ally. Peo­ple just do or buy what they are sold in surf­ing. It’s con­ve­nient for the av­er­age per­son. Iron­i­cally enough, I per­ceive con­ve­nience in com­mer­cial­iza­tion as re­gres­sion. If the top three surfboard man­u­fac­tur­ers, in terms of pro­duc­tion, were to pro­duce and pro­mote a cer­tain type of de­sign, that is and will be the norm.

In surf­ing, the word “pro­gres­sion” has be­come at­tached to ev­ery­thing hap­pen­ing above the lip. What does pro­gres­sion mean to you in the con­text of al­ter­na­tive boards and ap­proaches?

Ma­neu­vers are just ex­plo­rations in rep­e­ti­tion, for com­pe­ti­tion. It can be judged. A pro­gres­sion would be to con­sider the va­ri­ety of stim­u­la­tion.

With the cur­rent me­dia land­scape, it seems like it’s never been harder to cut through the white noise and re­ally im­pact peo­ple through surf­ing and surf films. What do you think it takes to af­fect peo­ple on a vis­ceral level to­day?

I’m not sure I agree with that. Jay Davies film “Na­tive” is vis­ceral. Ozzie’s “156 Tricks” was in­stru­men­tal be­cause it was com­pletely him. And through so­cial me­dia peo­ple do have the abil­ity to demon­strate their de­sire. Look at Dane Reynolds re­leas­ing his own movies, ac­quir­ing his own brand, work­ing with friends like Craig An­der­son and be­ing able to sur­pass fil­tered me­dia.

What type of surf­ing af­fects you in a vis­ceral way to­day?

I’m re­ally into Nancy Ker­ri­gan, se­ri­ously. What about her? It’s like the most grace­ful mo­men­tum-based per­for­mance. Some­thing that is com­pletely in the mo­ment, yet well-prac­ticed. El­e­gant. Also, Mark Gon­za­les, An­drew Do­heny and all the Hawai­ians, like Ma­son Ho, Dustin Barca and Bruce Irons. That’s good shit.

When you’re work­ing on a film with some­one like Thomas Camp­bell, where you know it has the po­ten­tial to be an im­pact­ful piece of art in the surf world, does that af­fect the way you surf ? Do you feel like you need to ap­proach things dif­fer­ently or make a state­ment with your surf­ing?

I just try to be my­self. That’s the best thing I can do.

(Op­po­site, top) In the splash zone with Alex Knost.

(Op­po­site, bot­tom) Past or present, no surfer on earth has likely racked up as much cheater-five tube time as Knost.

Knost al­ways draws his own line, which in this par­tic­u­lar case means a ca­sual, switch-stance bot­tom turn on a self-shaped bonzer.

(Above) Knost’s first ap­pear­ance in a Thomas Camp­bell film was 2004’s “Sprout,” where his el­e­gant-yet-fren­zied style cast him as a man apart. Here, we see that same dis­tinct form on dis­play in Indo.

(Op­po­site) It would be hard to find a more dy­namic rider of mid-length sur­fcraft than Knost, which is why he’s been a key fig­ure in their resur­gence in quiv­ers ev­ery­where.

(Right) Be­tween ses­sions, Knost does a lit­tle im­pro­vised board al­ter­ation, re­shap­ing, re­glass­ing and sand­ing the tail into a new form.

(Above) Knost, tak­ing the high­line.

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