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EXCLUSIVE: Joel Tudor reflects on the last 20 years in surfing

There might not be a living surfer with more style and grace on a board than Joel Tudor. He has made a living off his ability to ride any type of surf craft in any type of wave. He has been described by The Surfer’s Journal as “the finest longboard surfer of all time.”

In 1997 he became the first new-era longboarder to make the cover of SURFER. He transcended many different eras of surfing and has always represented the early days when surfers made their own boards and rode whatever the conditions called for.

Twenty years later, we are in an era where the longboarding has been largely taken back to traditional equipment, especially by the younger crowd. Coincidentally, Tudor is also celebrating 20 years this year with his main sponsor Vans, releasing a special-edition of his always fresh JT line with them.

We decided to take a look-back at the last 20 years with one of the greatest surfers to ever cross-step a board and get his thoughts on the evolution of surfing.

The man himself, Joel Tudor. Photo: Courtesy of Daniel Russo/Vans

What has 20 years with Vans meant to you?

Twenty years, man it’s been a cool. When I was a kid there was a huge pay difference between longboarding and shortboarding. Donald Takayama said to me, ‘What you lose monetarily you’ll make up in longevity. None of these guys will be able to be cool in their 40s.’

He said that to me when I was like 17, and I’m 40 now and Vans has created a platform for myself and guys like Steve Caballero and Tony Alva, all these guys to still be creative at our age and to continue inspiring people.

How has surfing changed in the last 20 years?

The concept that I’ve been pushing for a long time, the ride everything idea, is now widely accepted. It’s not really a concept anymore, it’s reality. So, for me it’s a cool time to still be active and making a living, watching it all unfold.

Joel Tudor walking out. Photo: Daniel Russo/Vans

From the longboarding aspect, girls riding longboards, people at Malibu, it’s kind of selling the real deal. To see all the advertisers now pushing that, to me it’s like the biggest ‘Yes!’ I was telling them that shit forever. ‘Guys quit turning your back on this. This is the last cool sector of what we’ve got going without selling it as a sport.’

Who are some guys taking that concept and running with it these days?

To see guys like [Ryan] Burch making their own surfboards, paying major homage to the very beginning of our industry, it’s just so rad. Kids are realizing it’s a valuable way to make a living. Working in factories, being a glasser, all of it. The longboard sector is still keeping that alive. And guys like [Dave] Rastovich and [Rob] Machado, guys like them doing the same thing gave it incredible legitimacy.

Joel Tudor right at home planted on the nose. Photo: Courtesy of Daniel Russo/Vans

Where’d that concept come from?

It’s not something I created, it’s something I was taught and it took a long time for what I was taught to teach the next group. I never want to take credit, I just took a concept that was handed down to me because I was surrounded by guys who were 30 years older than me by being involved in longboarding. It just took a long time for everyone to grow into being able to appreciate it.

Before it was just kind of a dad sport, an excuse to keep it going when you were older. But now it’s an excuse to keep it going so you stay in the water, regardless of age. It’s an option that doesn’t let you ever get bored of it.

What are some of the more memorable things from the last 20 years for you?

I got to surf in the Pipe Masters a few times. I was there when they negotiated the sale of the Triple Crown — I got to watch all that go down. A lot of stuff that is pretty monumental in the bigger picture. And also being involved with Vans in all that stuff, I haven’t really missed much. I’ve been in Hawaii every winter for 26 years, 20 of them with Vans.

Joel Tudor in Montauk. Photo: Courtesy of Daniel Russo/Vans

What’s one piece of advice you’d give your 20-years-ago self now?

That advice Donald gave me, through all the hard times I’ve always thought about that and it came true. I never thought about stuff in doing it for money, I did it for having fun. He always said if you're not having fun don’t do it. So I've always kept it fun for myself, and one of the ways to do that was by riding all surf crafts. Have an open mind and I think you'd be surprised by how far that will go.

Where’s surfing heading in the next 20 years?

The Olympic thing is going to change stuff a lot. I don’t necessarily know if it’s going to be for the worse. I’m obviously not in favor of it, I just don’t think it needs to go there. I just don’t like that kind of … it’s just weird. Where it’s going with that, it’s going to change a lot of stuff.

Tudor looking to the ocean in Mexico. Photo: Courtesy of Daniel Russo/Vans

What’s in store for Joel Tudor for the next 20 years?

I’m going to continue the Duct Tapes and build upon that to continue building the longboarding platform for the next generation. I’m going to stay involved with that stuff, still building surfboards, I’m about to reopen my store, I never really end with things. And surfing is my balance that allows me to do all the other stuff. Thankfully Vans gave me a platform to do it and I’ll be doing their stuff till I can’t do it no more.