What makes a pro surfer interesting? The fact that they invented a certain aerial maneuver? That they surfed the biggest wave of the year? We think it’s a little more complex than that.
To us, the current most fascinating surfers have that certain je ne sais quoi. Plain and simple, when they perform, we want to watch; when they say something, we want to listen. And if it’s neither of the two, we’ll explain.
Put the perhaps unbeatable 11 world titles aside. And that he’s nearly 45 years old and still besting the best young guns on offer at perfect Pipeline. Even without mentioning that he’s won 55 World Championship Tour events in his career (most pro surfers hope to win a couple), the thing about Kelly Slater is that when he speaks, the world wants to listen.
In post-heat interviews, webcast commentary, video clips or magazines, Slater has an original and interesting take on everything. Part environmentalist, part businessman, occasionally political and never afraid to speak his mind (especially over social media), Slater has his fingers in a number of pies. There’s his Kelly Slater Wave Pool Company, uber-sustainable Outerknown clothing brand, Purps beverages and supplements, Slater Designs surfboards, an organic line of bedding for PBteen … the list goes on. And everybody wants to know what’s next on that list.
If there’s one thing surfers often get criticized about, it’s their public speaking. In a post-heat interview on a webcast or in a magazine article, the “I’m stoked, my boards are working and I’m having a lot of fun” line can get tired.
Enter 12-year-old Australian surf/skate girl wonder Sabre Norris. Charismatic and adorable, Norris’ interview on an Australian morning show (after being the youngest competitor ever in a Word Qualifying Series event) went viral, which then caught the attention of talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres’ people. Norris got invited on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” completely captivated the host and got 29 million views for her performance.
Precocious and unabashedly honest, Norris has officially become the surf world’s example of on-screen personality. (Take notes, Top 34.)
They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, and although California’s Dane Reynolds probably wasn’t using this ploy on purpose, it sure works. Quitting the World Tour back in 2011 at arguably the height of his competitive career, for years afterward (and even now) he’s been considered one of the best surfers on the planet.
Reynolds was so sought after and emulated — both for his style and his sheer inimitable talent — that even after quitting the Tour, he remained Quiksilver’s most marketable athlete. Since quitting Quik to cofound brand Former, each web clip he releases or project he’s a part of is still devoured with full attention by fans and pros alike.
Even his latest film, “Chapter 11” — an explanation, of sorts, of his last five years — is considered the most honest and well-surfed video of the year. Of course, the world wants more.
Back in ’07, there was enough sticky sweetness in the surf industry’s metaphorical honey jar to go around. There were many different ways to be a pro surfer, and a lot of companies would pay you to “just do you.” Fast-forward 10 years and that’s surely all gone.
Indeed, if you aren’t young, gifted and trying to make the World Tour, no soup for you. In 2017, there are very, very few paid “freesurfers” left, but one who’s managed to stick around and thrive over the last decade is Tasmanian Dion Agius. Hip filmmaker Kai Neville’s original subject, Agius continually stars in Globe films, graces magazine covers, designs clothes (Globe’s +/+ line) and is just an overall artistic chap when everyone else is focused on not sticking out.
Eloquent, interesting and highly productive, Agius’ career and lifestyle remain an objective many a non-competitive pro attempts to emulate.
Hollywood stuntman. Bowhunter. Deep-water spear fisherman. Big-wave surfer. Explorer. Yes, these are all titles that the North Shore of Oahu’s Mark Healey can claim — those and “madman” — because it sure seems like nothing actually scares him. Rather, fear seems to fuel him.
Healey has transcended big-wave surf stardom to grace the covers of Outside magazine, among others — a pure renaissance man of the adventure realm. Always the life of the party, with an original and honest take on surfing and living (follow his IG stories), the world awaits his next (probably terrifying) undertaking.
Another fearless chap from the North Shore of Oahu, Jamie O’Brien (aka J.O.B.) has managed to forge a successful career out of surfing his home break, the Banzai Pipeline, better than almost everyone and doing shenanigans at or around said break with his group of friends. His popular “Who Is J.O.B.?” web series, produced by Red Bull, has lasted five seasons, upping the ante every year, and he’s now morphing it into a larger show yet to come.
But when we say “shenanigans,” we’re not talking about silly pranks or “Jackass”-style scenarios. O’Brien, his fearless sidekick Poopies and other buds surf large waves literally on fire, ride soft-tops at Jaws, raft down Waimea Bay bombs, get winched 100 feet into rivers and pretty much have redefined the “don’t try this at home” motto. Why? To bring some fun, laughs and much-needed looseness back to the surf world.
For that, we commend and thank the man.