Catching Up With Tom Curren

After a week or so of planning, Joe Curren gave me Tom Curren’s cell-phone number and reminded me to call him a few times. “Tom’s pretty hard to nail down,” Joe said with a chuckle. “He’s expecting your call, but you never know.”

I remembered all the stories of Tom missing trips, disappearing, and becoming invisible. As a surf-magazine guy, I was almost certain he was gonna blow me off. Undeterred, I started driving on a Saturday morning from Cardiff to Santa Barbara. I figured the closer I was to Tom, the better chance I could get an interview. I left Tom a message around Ventura. He called back as I passed Rincon. In his mellow, soft voice, he invited me to come skate a local skatepark in downtown Santa Barbara with him and his two boys, ages nine and ten.As I drove up to the skatepark, I was trying to picture what Tom Curren would look like skating around with his kids. Would he be carving? Popping ollies? Doing big backside Smith grinds? I really had no idea.

I walked up to the park carrying my board and caught my first glimpse of Tom. He was wearing tan cargo shorts, a Rip Curl T-shirt, his ever-present wraparound shades, and a kids’-size plastic bicycle helmet that barely fit on the top of his head. He was carving around the big cement park on a board with two wheels-one on the nose, one on the tail situated in a straight line. The front wheel turned like a shopping cart’s wheel, and the wheel on the tail was locked straight forward.

I watched him cruise around the park for about twenty minutes before approaching him. His style on the unusual board was a mirror image of his surfing style-front arm dropped and loose, back arm straight out from the shoulder, bent at the elbow with his thumb tucked perfectly under his palm, and perfectly bent knees. I watched him carve around small kids and whiz by older dudes on big old-school boards. He seemed to float around the banks and transitions of the cement park. It was an obvious demonstration of his natural ability. He stopped on the edge of the park walls and talked to his nine-year-old son. I approached nervously and tried to pull myself together to look cool. This was a guy I had worshipped since I was ten-a guy whose surf shots had covered my walls for years. I (along with every other surfer at the time) used to sit on my bed, studying his arm placement on his frontside snaps, and skate down the sidewalk of my street trying to replicate his quick arm pumps and slash at the grass along the sidewalk, pretending I was pumping through the inside section of the Op Pro. Here he was. I stood in front of him for a second in a slight daze. “Hello, Tom?” I asked. He reached out his hand before looking at me to shake it. “I’m Chris, we talked on the phone about an interview.”

Tom looked up at me, then out toward the park. “Did you bring a helmet? The rangers will bust you if you skate without one.”

What an idiot I was! Tom Curren invites me to skate with him and I forget a helmet. “Here, use mine. I need to get some water.” Tom handed me an old black plastic bike helmet (you know, the kind that stick out in the back and barely sit on top of your head). I took the helmet and cruised around the park, trying to skate with a good style, being a nerd trying to impress my idol who couldn’t really care less how I skated.

After a few laps, I rolled back over to Tom who was sitting on the ground talking to a little kid in French. “I just met this kid,” he said to me. “He rides for Rip Curl. He’s cool.”

Tom was speaking fluent French to a twelve-year-old kid who had just moved to Santa Barbara. “He surfs good from what I hear. So, should we talk over there?” Tom said and pointed to a bench along the side of the park.

“Sure, let’s do it,” I was trying to be all confident and cool, but I probably sounded like an idiot.

Everyone was saying how amazing you surfed at Pipe this year. What were you thinking going to Hawai’i this year and why haven’t you been there in the last feyears?

I was really trying to focus on the contest (Tom’s new Rip Curl deal garnered him a wildcard into the Pipe Masters). I didn’t do very good in it. I went out at Pipeline and pulled back on a medium wave (pause). I hadn’t been on the North Shore in a few years, so there was a big gap between any other spots I had been surfing. The contest was on hold for one day and a lot of the guys weren’t going out because they wanted to wait. Basically, I had a bigger board-I sat outside, picked and chose my waves. It was a fluke that I was able to get good waves at Pipeline, which doesn’t usually happen. It was a lot of fun.

Where do you fit in the lineup out

at Pipe? Are you in the pack? Did you sit next to Kelly?It’s awesome to be out there with all those guys. I was bummed out that I didn’t do well in a contest, so I didn’t surf for a few days after that. I felt like, did I really want to be paddling for these waves? Those guys are just charging out there. It’s great to be out there getting a couple. I’m not quite at the same place, as far as competing at a high level in big surf. Just freesurfing out there is really fun.

Did you have a full Al Merrick quiver in Hawai’i this year?

Yeah.

Was that the first year in a while you’ve had all Merricks?

Yeah, I had a really good quiver. My best board was an 8’0″ shaped for Bobby Martinez-very little volume and narrow. It was different than what I normally ride.

Are you mainly riding normal shortboards now?

Yeah. I basically try to ride whatever Kelly Slater’s riding. I think we’re at about the same weight and height. What’s good for him, generally I can feel comfortable with.

Do feel like your surfing has changed with boards that are new to you?I need to work on things like bigger waves, taking off late, doing airs, and tailslide maneuvers. That’s a weak point for me.

Have you been doing some airs lately?

No, I haven’t. I don’t know how that’s gonna work out.

You’re back doing contests, but are you going to try to do them consistently?

I’m gonna compete more this year and try to get good results on the ‘QS.The rumor right now is that you want to make the WCT.

Yeah. I’m definitely gonna try to get enough points for that. It’s more like a three-year deal-we’ll see what happens.

You bailed off the tour in your prime at a fairly young age-do you ever wish you would’ve just stayed on the tour?

I don’t know. Sometimes I think I want to compete and do well, and other times I feel like I’m not really relating to the contest thing so much.

How long has it been since you were on the ‘CT?

Twelve years.

You guys used to have to surf in bad waves a lot. Do you watch the contests now and think you should be there?

I’ve had a few invites, but I haven’t really convinced myself that I belong there yet. If I start getting better results, then, yeah, maybe I’ll feel I should be there.

Is it weird surfing against fifteen year olds on the ‘QS?

Fortunately the contest format is pretty much the same as it ever was, which is an advantage to a lot of the older guys like me. When that changes, things might be different. Right now meat-and-potatoes surfing-like it or not-is still gonna work if you’re getting the waves. I think some of the really talented kids aren’t gonna get through, and some of the guys who are more consistent will.What has changed in competition?

They’ll score a big aerial really high, like a six or seven. So that’s something. At the same time you can get a ride without any of that and get the same score. It would still help for me to improve busting some airs and tailslides, though.

Do people still ask you for your autograph a lot?

It depends, not so much, unless I’m doing really good at a contest or something.Do younger kids still recognize you a lot?

Sometimes. Surfing’s growing, though, so it happens.

You seem really quiet, solitary, and shy, but you’ve chosen two professions that are in the spotlight-pro surfer and musician. Is it hard for you to do what you do?

I don’t think so.

Do you get stage fright?

It’s fun to make music and perform it. I like it.

What are you concentrating on more right now, music or surfing?

I’m just having fun learning, you know. I love music. I’ve had a chance to meet some of my favorite musicians. I’ve always liked music and played music. I’ve played drums since I was little, played guitar for about twenty years. Singing is harder, but I like to sing. It’s cool.

When you put out your CD, what did you think the reaction would be? Like Tom Curren the surfer, or Tom Curren the musician?

It’s geared for people my age, I guess. Just for people I knew, and songs I’ve been working on for a long time. I was happy to finish and move on to other things.

Do you record stuff on computer?

Not yet. I use an eight-track recorder and a mini-disc recorder. I play to a drum machine and play guitar and bass over it.

What would you rather do, win a big contest or headline a huge show?

I’ve already won a lot of contests, so I guess it would be better to play a huge show. I’m not anywhere ready for that, though. There’s no way I could manage that. Hopefully I can get good enough to put a great show together in a club or whatever. It’d be great to have a super tight band and all that. That would be great.

Who would you want to play with?

Pearl Jam, Ben Harper, Jack Johnson, Donavon-something like that. It’s so awesome, the loudness of the speakers at those big shows-I love that power.We could talk music all day here, so let’s switch gears-do your kids surf?Yeah, it’s the best. It’s so much fun. It’s getting harder to surf with them in Southern California. Even when I was their age, it was a lot different. There’re still good days, but the crowds and all that. It’s more fun when we’re all traveling together.

Do you take them on a lot of surf trips?

Yeah, I try to.

What’s your average day like?

I try to surf every day. We’ve had good surf around here (Santa Barbara) lately. Actually, some of the best surf I’ve seen in a long time. The other day Rincon was really good. A real even sandbar that was filled in perfectly-it was really crowded, though. Real bad. A lot of getting dropped in on, and a lot of work to get a good wave.

Do people give you waves because you’re Tom Curren?

`Not really. If I’m already up and riding, maybe, but not really. I still get dropped in on at Rincon.

Would you want your kids to be pro surfers?

Sure, if they wanted. They don’t have to. They can do whatever they want. I just want them to be happy.

Any tips you’d give to a young surfer out there?

It’s good to have a few options of what you want to do. It’s good to travel-traveling is always a win-win situation. I guess just try to travel if you like traveling. Just get out there and keep surfing if that’s what you like to do.

Any younger guys who have made an impression on you lately?Bobby Martinez was surfing really good out at Rincon the other day. Ryan Mohr. My brother Joe was surfing good. Older guys, too, like Allan Sarlo and Matt Mondrigon-they were surfing good.

Do you see this new deal of yours a resurrection or a new beginning-now that you’re back with Merrick and Rip Curl?

It’s kind of like a beginning of sorts. It’s a new agreement with Rip Curl, which is a large part of it. We have a lot of plans for the future. As a goal, I want to work closely with them with different projects.

So we can all look forward to a lot of Tom in the near future.Maybe-I hope. We’ll just have to see.

After the interview, we went back and skated around for another hour or so. His kids skate really well. The Tom Curren-style gene is alive and well in his nine- and ten-year-old boys. I watched his nine year old carve around the park-he had perfect arm placement, just like his dad.Callouts:”I basically try to ride whatever Kelly Slater’s riding.”

“Right now meat-and-potatoes surfing-like it or not-is still gonna work if you’re gettin for you to do what you do?

I don’t think so.

Do you get stage fright?

It’s fun to make music and perform it. I like it.

What are you concentrating on more right now, music or surfing?

I’m just having fun learning, you know. I love music. I’ve had a chance to meet some of my favorite musicians. I’ve always liked music and played music. I’ve played drums since I was little, played guitar for about twenty years. Singing is harder, but I like to sing. It’s cool.

When you put out your CD, what did you think the reaction would be? Like Tom Curren the surfer, or Tom Curren the musician?

It’s geared for people my age, I guess. Just for people I knew, and songs I’ve been working on for a long time. I was happy to finish and move on to other things.

Do you record stuff on computer?

Not yet. I use an eight-track recorder and a mini-disc recorder. I play to a drum machine and play guitar and bass over it.

What would you rather do, win a big contest or headline a huge show?

I’ve already won a lot of contests, so I guess it would be better to play a huge show. I’m not anywhere ready for that, though. There’s no way I could manage that. Hopefully I can get good enough to put a great show together in a club or whatever. It’d be great to have a super tight band and all that. That would be great.

Who would you want to play with?

Pearl Jam, Ben Harper, Jack Johnson, Donavon-something like that. It’s so awesome, the loudness of the speakers at those big shows-I love that power.We could talk music all day here, so let’s switch gears-do your kids surf?Yeah, it’s the best. It’s so much fun. It’s getting harder to surf with them in Southern California. Even when I was their age, it was a lot different. There’re still good days, but the crowds and all that. It’s more fun when we’re all traveling together.

Do you take them on a lot of surf trips?

Yeah, I try to.

What’s your average day like?

I try to surf every day. We’ve had good surf around here (Santa Barbara) lately. Actually, some of the best surf I’ve seen in a long time. The other day Rincon was really good. A real even sandbar that was filled in perfectly-it was really crowded, though. Real bad. A lot of getting dropped in on, and a lot of work to get a good wave.

Do people give you waves because you’re Tom Curren?

`Not really. If I’m already up and riding, maybe, but not really. I still get dropped in on at Rincon.

Would you want your kids to be pro surfers?

Sure, if they wanted. They don’t have to. They can do whatever they want. I just want them to be happy.

Any tips you’d give to a young surfer out there?

It’s good to have a few options of what you want to do. It’s good to travel-traveling is always a win-win situation. I guess just try to travel if you like traveling. Just get out there and keep surfing if that’s what you like to do.

Any younger guys who have made an impression on you lately?Bobby Martinez was surfing really good out at Rincon the other day. Ryan Mohr. My brother Joe was surfing good. Older guys, too, like Allan Sarlo and Matt Mondrigon-they were surfing good.

Do you see this new deal of yours a resurrection or a new beginning-now that you’re back with Merrick and Rip Curl?

It’s kind of like a beginning of sorts. It’s a new agreement with Rip Curl, which is a large part of it. We have a lot of plans for the future. As a goal, I want to work closely with them with different projects.

So we can all look forward to a lot of Tom in the near future.Maybe-I hope. We’ll just have to see.

After the interview, we went back and skated around for another hour or so. His kids skate really well. The Tom Curren-style gene is alive and well in his nine- and ten-year-old boys. I watched his nine year old carve around the park-he had perfect arm placement, just like his dad.Callouts:”I basically try to ride whatever Kelly Slater’s riding.”

“Right now meat-and-potatoes surfing-like it or not-is still gonna work if you’re getting the waves.”

“I’ve already won a lot of contests, so I guess it would be better to play a huge show.” tting the waves.”

“I’ve already won a lot of contests, so I guess it would be better to play a huge show.”