When I was eleven years old, way back in 1985, a budding young professional surfer named Brad Gerlach moved into our modest, working-class neighborhood. With his father videotaping from their bluff-top house, Brad brought never-before-seen speed and flair to our less-than-average beachbreak, and with pals like Marty Thomas and Jamie Brisick showing up for sessions out front, the level of surfing was drastically elevated. Not only did these guys surf better than anyone we had ever seen, they wore brightly colored thigh-length boardshorts and rode Day-Glo airbrushed boards covered with lots of oversized stickers. Between surfs, we neighborhood kids would post up in front of Brad’s house and wait for him to open the garage—our personal paradise. Strewn with an uncountable number of surfboards, wetsuits, board bags, rashguards, and other surfing paraphernalia, we would beg Brad for anything he could spare, and he was always more than gracious, tossing out handfuls of stickers, wax, and clothes.
My family was pretty well off, and I usually had a board and wetsuit, but my buddy Paul wasn’t as fortunate. He always had wetsuits with giant holes in them and beat-up old boards from his uncle’s collection. That all changed when Brad took him under his wing. Pretty soon, Paul had this radical bright-pink wetsuit and a nearly new board with a giant Surfer’s Alliance sticker on the nose. He went from freezing his ass off on a shitty old board to toasty and ripping on his new stick, all thanks to Brad. (It probably didn’t hurt that Paul’s sister was cute as a button, either. Did it, Brad?)
Brad influenced our neighborhood to rip. Moreover, judging from the explosion of tribal tattoos after Brad got his, he influenced a lot more people than just his Stone Steps fans. What influences a surfing hero like Brad Gerlach?
“I’m influenced by water, says Gerlach. “The way it makes you feel when you’re in it and after you get out is just great. There are a lot of people that influence me, too: Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix, Skip Frye, Gerry Lopez, Laird Hamilton, Tom Curren, Mick Fanning, Slater, Machado, Jackson Pollack, Perry Farrell, a lot of artists, Peter Beard, David Bowie. Artists influence me in the way they approach things differently all the time. As far as the surfers, I really like all of their styles, especially Joel Parkinson and Machado. Those guys surf effortlessly and position their boards beautifully without a lot of force. Slater, Taylor Knox, and Fanning all position their boards with force, and I love the way they surf. It’s nice to see all the different colors and flavors in surfing. Parsons is pretty inspiring, too. I would definitely put Mike as one of the bigger influences in my life.—Justin Cote
Weight: 165 lbs.
Hometown: Encinitas, California
Music: dub reggae
Influence: the water, artists, and fellow surfers