Fast Break: Phil Watters

When Photo Editor Steve Sherman and I met Phil Watters and his girlfriend at Billabong Team Manager Steve “Clarkie” Clark’s house in Laguna Beach, it was one of those moments where you say to yourself, “Somethin’ ain’t right.” On one side you have a typical Laguna artsy-fartsy pad with random antiques like a cash register and a barber chair placed in random spots around the yard. On the other is Phil Watters watching Black Entertainment Television (BET), sporting cornrows in his hair, and wearing a customized Billabong basketball uniform with Allen Iverson’s number (three) and Phil’s last name on it. Here in the place that was once the cosmic surf center of the universe was a representative of a fresh genre in a new age of surfing¿progressive, trick-minded surfers. Ever since he’d arrived in town, we’d wanted to get a full (not half) sequence of him busting his trademark varial, and although the waves never produced, Phil did. That’s his mission, pulling technically advanced maneuvers in front of the lens¿a direct contradiction of everything the sport meant in the past. He’s different. Phil doesn’t really care, because he’s not a typical pro surfer, party animal, contest, market himself type of guy. He’s a twenty-year-old Melbourne Beach, Florida resident who thrives on trying new maneuvers at his personal skate park called Sebastian Inlet and playing basketball. Although he’s not motivated for surfing’s NBA, he is ready to do what his idol Allen Iverson does¿change the game.¿A.C.

As usual, the TransWorld SURF staff procrastinated in getting both the Phil Watters interview and his surf photos. He was in Southern California for two weeks during the U.S. Open, but it wasn’t until two days before he was returning home to Florida that our Photo Editor Steve Sherman and I met Phil and his girlfriend at Billabong’s Team Manager Steve “Clarkie” Clark’s house in Laguna Beach.Immediately walking through the front gate of the house, it was one of those moments where you say to yourself, “Somethin’ ain’t right here.” On one side, there’s a typical Laguna artsy-fartsy pad with antiques like a cash register and a barber’s chair placed in random spots around the yard. And on the other is Phil Watters inside the house watching Black Entertainment Television (BET), sporting cornrows in his hair, and wearing a customized Billabong basketball uniform with Allen Iverson’s number (three) and Phil’s last name on it. Phil is so mellow, he didn’t even care that we were late or that he’d been doing circles for us his entire time in Cali. Ever since he’d arrived in town, we’d wanted to get a full (not half) sequence of him busting his varial, and, of course, the waves let us down as usual. We had also originally planned to do his portraits on a basketball court, playing his beloved game, but that didn’t happen, either. We ended up doing something totally different, and with his usual laid-back demeanor, he was ready for whatever¿he was just chillin’.Simply put, Phil is a nice person. He’s also not your typical pro-surfer, party-animal, market-himself-type of guy. He’s a twenty-year-old Melbourne Beach, Florida resident who thrives on trying new maneuvers in his personal skatepark called Sebastian Inlet and playing basketball. Although he’s not motivated for surfing’s NBA, he is ready to do what his idol Allen Iverson does¿change the game. And that’s what he’s doing. ¿A.C.

Callouts”It’s Sebastian Inlet a lot like a skatepark. There’re perfect air sections, little barrels¿everything you can think of. It’s perfect for learning new maneuvers, any trick you can think of you can pretty much try out there.”

“You guys said to just go out, do that one trick, and let them shoot the sequence over and over again¿kinda like how it is in skateboarding. That’s a good idea.”

“I just try to be a well-rounded guy¿be able to do everything. I definitely like free surfing and doing tairs a lot more. I n’t like contests that much.”

“That’s something I would’ve liked to have done other than surf¿be a pro basketball player.”

How much does living in Florida motivate your surf career?I don’t know, that’s a hard question right off the bat. How does it motivate my career? I have to travel, I guess. It motivates me because the waves are really good at my house at Sebastian Inlet¿there’s a good wedge. Whenever there’s a hurricane and the waves are good, it’s a super-fun wave¿perfect for doing all kinds of stuff because it’s a peak and always has an air-section.

Talking about tricks, how much does skateboarding influence your surfing?I’d say it influences it a lot. It’s Sebastian Inlet a lot like a skatepark. There’re perfect air sections, little barrels¿everything you can think of. It’s perfect for learning new maneuvers, any trick you can think of you can pretty much try out there.

What’s a trick nobody’s done that you think is possible?I don’t even know. Everyone’s doing pretty crazy stuff. Like Barney, he does that flip thing¿that’s pretty crazy. That’s a trick I thought no one would do for a while.

When you shoot photos, do you have a specific trick in mind or do you just surf and hope for good stuff? I used to just go out, surf, and hope for good stuff, but when I came to your offices, you guys said I should do shoots with a specific trick in mind. I’d always thought about doing that, but none of the photographers I’ve shot with did. You guys said to just go out, do that one trick, and let them shoot the sequence over and over again¿kinda like how it is in skateboarding. That’s a good idea.

So do you think it’s a good or a bad thing to approach surfing in front of a camera like that?I think it’s a good thing, definitely, to try and capture the maneuver. Every wave’s different, so it’s kinda hard¿it may take a couple of tries. As long as the guy’s photographer on the beach holding his finger down, he’ll get it.

In your opinion, who’s having the biggest impact on surfing right now?I like watching Bruce Irons. I think he’s an all-around great surfer who gets insane barrels everywhere and busts huge airs. And definitely the Hobgoods¿they both get sick barrels and do all kinds of good tricks.

Did you look up to the Hobgoods growing up? Did they influence your surfing a lot?Definitely, I surf with them all the time whenever they’re home¿they definitely influence my surfing.

Where would you like to see surfing go in the future?From what I’ve seen, and the way it’s going now, your magazine’s great because you guys seem like you’re amped on progressive surfing¿just all different kinds of airs. I think that’s cool. I like where it’s going right now with you guys¿I think that’s where it’ll be going.

With all the specialty stuff going down like big-wave guys, comp guys, and air guys, where do you fit in? Or are you well-rounded?I just try to be a well-rounded guy¿be able to do everything. I definitely like free surfing and doing the airs a lot more. I don’t like contests that much. I do ’em, and have fun when I do, but I definitely like to just free surf and shoot photos¿go on boat trips.

Why aren’t you amped to go on the ‘CT like the Hobgoods?I did the WQS last year, and the waves were usually kind of bad everywhere I went. I burned out on going to all those places, not doing good, and having bad conditions.

Is it frustrating to go halfway across the world, lose a heat, and sit around for a whole week?Yeah, it’s super frustrating¿it sucks. It sucks even more when you go all the way over there, the waves are horrible, and you can’t even shoot photos or get anything accomplished. You can’t free surf, you can’t do anything. That’s why I didn’t do that many WQS contests this year. I did the big ones, like the one in Huntington, but I try to get more photos and stuff like that.

I saw you at Sebastian earlier this year, and everybody was getting waves while you just kicked back. Then, out of nowhere, you found a wave and busted a varial¿something nobody ever does in a contest. Is that your contest strategy, and should formats change in that way?That was my home break, so it was a perfect opportunity to do airs out there. I’d feel weird not trying to do something like that there. I was watching Taj’s Burrow new video, and they had a bunch of heats from his WCTs. In every one of his heats, he was doing airs and other crazy stuff. I was thinking, “Wow, that’s pretty cool. He’s doing that stuff in heats.” He was doing air-reverses and other airs. It’s cool to see it going that far instead of just “three to the beach.”

This question will probably piss you off. You’re easily one of the top East Coast twenty-and-under guys, and Quiksilver dropped you from its team a year ago. In many circles, a top guy like yourself would be a hot commodity, but Quik let you go. What happened?I don’t even really know. I think they would’ve kept me for less money, but I really didn’t want to do that. That’s kind of a hard question to answer in this magazine.

I know it’s hard when interviews come out and people think you’re being bitter, but you’re laid-back and you don’t badmouth anybody. Are you happier now with Billabong?Yeah, I’ve got a great deal from Billabong¿I’m happy. I’m not bitter at all.

What do you do when you’re not surfing?Just hang out with my friends and do what everyone else does, go to the mall.

Are a lot of your friends surfers?Most all my friends are surfers. I’ve got a couple who aren’t, but most of them are.

Are there times when you need to get away from surfing?It kinda goes where it’ll be flat for a couple days, so I’ll just go play basketball and stuff like that. Then whenever the waves come, I’m amped to surf.

You’ve been doing the cornrow hairstyle for a while, how’d that come about?My aunt used to braid hair on horses, like their manes. I got my hair braided a long time ago and I liked it. I also look up to Allen Iverson, he’s a cool basketball player¿I get my hair braided because of that, and just for fun.

Do you emulate a lot of the things Iverson does? Are tattoos next?No, no, nothing like that.

Are there things you see in him that you can relate to surfing?From his interviews, he seems to be a super-motivated guy who wants to win real bad. That’s something some people could look up to, but I’m not really that much into the contest scene like that. I just think he’s cool. He’s a normal-sized person on the court compared to all those big guys playing basketball, and I think it’s cool to watch him play.

He’s creative with his playmaking. Is creativeness the future of your career?Yeah, definitely. I can kinda be compared to him.

If you grew up to be a seven-footer, would you have been a pro basketball player?Yeah, that would’ve been cool. That’s something I would’ve liked to have done other than surf¿be a pro basketball player.

You play often?Yeah. I’m not very good, but I like to play.

Do you have dribble skills?Kinda.

Do you have a three-point shot? Yeah, a little bit. I just play with my friends¿we always play.

If you could stay home all the time and just shoot photos, would you?No, I wouldn’t want to. I’d definitely want to go on trips, because when you haven’t been home for a little while¿haven’t surfed the Inlet for a while¿it makes it that much more fun.

Is it easy for you to go on photo trips; is everybody cool with you?Yeah, I guess everyone’s cool with me. I’ve never had any fights with anyone. I’ve never hung with someone too long to where we got on each other’s nerves or anything like that.

Where are some other spots that’ll give surfers a chance to try progressive stuff?I guess up in Santa Cruz, those guys are always doing crazy stuff. They have some pretty crazy waves up there. Wherever there’s a wedge or a good air section to try ned everybody was getting waves while you just kicked back. Then, out of nowhere, you found a wave and busted a varial¿something nobody ever does in a contest. Is that your contest strategy, and should formats change in that way?That was my home break, so it was a perfect opportunity to do airs out there. I’d feel weird not trying to do something like that there. I was watching Taj’s Burrow new video, and they had a bunch of heats from his WCTs. In every one of his heats, he was doing airs and other crazy stuff. I was thinking, “Wow, that’s pretty cool. He’s doing that stuff in heats.” He was doing air-reverses and other airs. It’s cool to see it going that far instead of just “three to the beach.”

This question will probably piss you off. You’re easily one of the top East Coast twenty-and-under guys, and Quiksilver dropped you from its team a year ago. In many circles, a top guy like yourself would be a hot commodity, but Quik let you go. What happened?I don’t even really know. I think they would’ve kept me for less money, but I really didn’t want to do that. That’s kind of a hard question to answer in this magazine.

I know it’s hard when interviews come out and people think you’re being bitter, but you’re laid-back and you don’t badmouth anybody. Are you happier now with Billabong?Yeah, I’ve got a great deal from Billabong¿I’m happy. I’m not bitter at all.

What do you do when you’re not surfing?Just hang out with my friends and do what everyone else does, go to the mall.

Are a lot of your friends surfers?Most all my friends are surfers. I’ve got a couple who aren’t, but most of them are.

Are there times when you need to get away from surfing?It kinda goes where it’ll be flat for a couple days, so I’ll just go play basketball and stuff like that. Then whenever the waves come, I’m amped to surf.

You’ve been doing the cornrow hairstyle for a while, how’d that come about?My aunt used to braid hair on horses, like their manes. I got my hair braided a long time ago and I liked it. I also look up to Allen Iverson, he’s a cool basketball player¿I get my hair braided because of that, and just for fun.

Do you emulate a lot of the things Iverson does? Are tattoos next?No, no, nothing like that.

Are there things you see in him that you can relate to surfing?From his interviews, he seems to be a super-motivated guy who wants to win real bad. That’s something some people could look up to, but I’m not really that much into the contest scene like that. I just think he’s cool. He’s a normal-sized person on the court compared to all those big guys playing basketball, and I think it’s cool to watch him play.

He’s creative with his playmaking. Is creativeness the future of your career?Yeah, definitely. I can kinda be compared to him.

If you grew up to be a seven-footer, would you have been a pro basketball player?Yeah, that would’ve been cool. That’s something I would’ve liked to have done other than surf¿be a pro basketball player.

You play often?Yeah. I’m not very good, but I like to play.

Do you have dribble skills?Kinda.

Do you have a three-point shot? Yeah, a little bit. I just play with my friends¿we always play.

If you could stay home all the time and just shoot photos, would you?No, I wouldn’t want to. I’d definitely want to go on trips, because when you haven’t been home for a little while¿haven’t surfed the Inlet for a while¿it makes it that much more fun.

Is it easy for you to go on photo trips; is everybody cool with you?Yeah, I guess everyone’s cool with me. I’ve never had any fights with anyone. I’ve never hung with someone too long to where we got on each other’s nerves or anything like that.

Where are some other spots that’ll give surfers a chance to try progressive stuff?I guess up in Santa Cruz, those guys are always doing crazy stuff. They have some pretty crazy waves up there. Wherever there’s a wedge or a good air section to try new things.y new things.