Ozzie Wright is underneath a quarterpipe in the Volcom warehouse. He’s laying in a year’s worth of dust, his body splayed in the best Sid Vicious pose possible. It’s dark under the ramp, and people file past him without noticing that the party’s biggest celebrity–the lead singer of the Goons of Gloom, the ambassador of “mess and noise,” the star of Waves’ new movie Doped Youth, and one of the most recognizable faces in surfing today–is in a sweaty heap on the floor. He’s wearing a dinner jacket that’s been cut to pieces then reattached with patches, buttons, and safety pins; his hair is cut into a half-pompadour, half-Mohawk, and he has Day-Glo-orange plastic fangs in his mouth.
Ozzie’s a living barometer for where surfing is today. Half a decade or so ago–before Blue Crush, the WB’s Boarding House: North Shore, and Abercrombie & Fitch’s launch of a surf brand for the trend-devouring masses–people had strong opinions about Oscar Wright. If we ran a photo of him, we’d get a dozen phone calls from pissed-off advertisers lecturing us on why he’s “bad for the sport.” At the time, surfing had already lost a mainstream popularity contest with skateboarding by a landslide, and it seemed like a lot of surfers didn’t feel there was room for a guy just trying to punt airs and draw crude pictures of his girlfriend. Ozzie played the agitator, he needed to be watched. He was even accused of speeding his video part up in Volcom’s Computer Body to make it seem like he surfed faster.
Then things changed.
Surfing became cool again. A decade in the shadows of Tony Hawk seemed drew to an end, retailers welcomed surfing back like a long-lost son returning from a far-off war. Surfing returned to popularity with mainstream consumers, something strange happened–surfers began to embrace those things that had been purged by years of being skateboarding’s water boy. Fish came back, and bright-colored wetsuits, and retro single-fins. And in this sudden fit of acceptance, surfers like Ozzie found themselves welcome. Even Surfer magazine–the self-professed “bible” of surfing and a key perpetuator of the closed-minded purist surf mentality–ran a profile on Oz. He was cool, acceptable, even. In the joy of sudden prosperity everyone forgot to keep hating Ozzie.
As surfing continues to pick up steam, the doors of acceptance swing wider. Surfers like Dan Malloy, whose style and attitude hearken back to the exploration-minded, mellow attitude of nearly 30 years ago, have risen to prominent places in surfing without following the beaten path. Just a month ago at Jeffreys Bay in South Africa, Dan, Kelly Slater, and several others of the world’s surfing elite paddled 70s-style fish out and spent the good part of a six-foot, glassy morning arcing cutbacks and having a ball. They embraced the idea that there’s room in surfing for everyone and everything–from retro to modern, Bruce Irons to Joel Tudor … and even Ozzie Wright.–Joel Patterson