Nathan Fletcher – Jack Of All Trades, Master Of Puppets

Nathan Fletcher has baggage. He was taken out of school in the seventh grade. At age sixteen, his family created a clothing brand based largely on his image. He was married by nineteen, broken up at 21, and legally divorced at 24. Today he’s credited as one of the most progressive surfers on the planet and the reigning king of crossover boardsports athletics, but he had to completely walk away from the privilege and opportunity that was handed to him in order to make a life of surfing real for himself.

We all have baggage that we carry around with us everywhere we go-some type of social weight that we drag into every situation and conversation, the result of something that happened to us earlier in our lives, either through participation or no fault of our own. This baggage often is manifest in the shape of self-consciousness, intimidation, social anxiety … the list can go on forever. Baggage sucks, especially when it’s written into your name.

Upon first glance the name Fletcher isn’t one most people would automatically associate with baggage. In fact, no other name in the sport of surfing could possibly be more synonymous with progression. It was a Fletcher who first walked the nose at Backdoor, it was a Fletcher who first rode a jet-ski into closing-out Waimea Bay, and of course, the aerial would never be what it is to surfing without the omnipresent Fletcher influence.

But Fletcher also invokes an image of attitude, rebellion, and carelessness. Throughout the generations, the antics of Nathan’s father Herbie on the North Shore and the rumored drug addictions of his older brother Christian have brought a lot of awareness to the family name. But baggage is heavy, and preconceived opinions are often based on ignorance. Nathan Fletcher is 28 years old and has already lived a life fuller than most of us can dream of, but it’s all happened under the scrutinous eye of a public intent on not letting Nathan out from underneath the unit he had nothing to do with creating.

Nathan’s bloodlines can be traced for generations, and he has grown up directly influenced by his family in a profound way. Nathan’s uncle Walter Hoffman is the surfwear manufacturing giant whose company, Hoffman Fabrics, has supplied companies like Quiksilver, Billabong, Gotcha, and Rusty with fabrics and materials since its inception. His aunt Joyce was the most successful female surfer of her time, racking up six world championships-as many as Kelly Slater. His father Herbie pioneered surf filmmaking, riding a longboard and a jet-ski in surf of consequence, creating surf brands that include inventing Astrodeck-a product that is today a feature on most boards in the water. His mother Dibi is an amazing free-thinking artist whose contributions have inspired entire movements in action sports and whose paintings hang in the homes of some of the surf world’s most distinguished patrons. And then, of course, there’s Christian.

Christian Fletcher’s contributions to surfing are substantial. In the early 1990s, he influenced the world of surfing with a reckless approach that forever changed the sport. He created the modern aerial and left his fingerprints on the crime scene of every beachbreak in America. He was the first surfer to appear on the cover of Surfer magazine, Surfing magazine, and Breakout (the California surf magazine of the 80s) at the same time. In an ongoing public shouting match with the surf media, Christian questioned every established value in the world of surfing. Christian’s raucous battle with the surf media created a potentially insurmountable handicap for his younger sibling.

Along with altering the landscape of professional surfing forever with his aerial attack, Christian found that a life of domesticity was not for him. He experimented with drugs and alcohol and made no secret of his passions out of the water. The image he created and the mark he made in the world of surfing is one that he still has difficulty explainingven fifteen years later.

Nathan, however, also completely benefitted from the family structure much the same way Christian had. In his early teens, he had an intuitive sense of style, fearlessness in big surf, and a flair for creativity that could not be denied growing up in the Fletcher home. In addition to the introduction to surfing and skateboarding, the Fletchers also put a premium on their kids’ exposure to art and music. Nathan’s knowledge of music is substantial, and his ability to create music is as natural as his ability to surf. In recent years, the entire surf world has shifted its views to incorporate a sense of fine art and independent-style graphics and aesthetics-both traits that Nathan showed in his surfing, skating, and art years before they were popular.

Herbie and Dibi took a completely unorthodox approach to parenting and came out with amazing results. They consistently taught their sons to be good people, but individuals first-to love nature and the things around them, but to always be looking ahead to the future. Herbie’s approach is perfectly embodied in Nathan’s daily life. Nathan’s love for his family is evident in everything he does, but he’s also constantly looking outside the lines. Nathan, like his father before him, puts a premium on individuality and creativity.

But Nathan is much more than the sum of these parts. While he has benefited from the places he has been and learned from others’ mistakes, he certainly has taken his own path. Nathan’s first major act of rebellion was to quit his life in surfing before it ever really started.

By the time Nathan was fourteen years old, he had already been featured in films and magazines and was quickly on his way to becoming one of the next hot young surfer kids from America. It was something that everyone wanted, everyone but Nathan. The combination of his older brother’s massive success and subsequent brilliant fall from fame would have been enough to push any young, free-thinking teenager away from surfing, and Nathan also saw something else happening in surfing at that time. He noticed the Day-Glo, photo-pro, three-to-the-beach type of surfing taking center stage and the loss of the soul of the sport he grew up in. He might have been the first one to see this.

So at age fourteen, Nathan left the world of surfing and began his own journey through the physical, the metaphysical, and the radical with a method all of his own. He found motocross to his liking and dedicated himself to a sport where his family name brought him no special treatment. He created a new group of friends and lived for riding dirt bikes the same way his dad lived to surf Pipeline in the 60s with a half-dozen other guys.

Riding motorcycles and skateboarding were the important things to Nathan. His understanding of the alternative culture in skateboarding was inherent, and he was drawn to it like a moth to a flame. But his rebellion from all things surfing wouldn’t last a lifetime. In the summer of 1998, Nathan traveled to a hard-to-pronounce town in Tahiti, camped in a tent, and surfed a spot that at that time had not yet been plastered all over the pages of every surf magazine on Earth.

Nathan’s reintroduction to surfing took place at Teahupo’o for the absolute pure fun of getting barreled. That same summer Gotcha sponsored the WQS qualifier at Teahupo’o, and Nathan entered as an alternate. With nothing to lose and no sense of competitive drive to suppress his natural energy, Nathan tied for thirteenth and landed a sponsorship deal with Gotcha.

The deal with Gotcha wasn’t handed to him. This wasn’t the byproduct of his appearance in the Wave Warriors movies produced by his father or because his older brother practically reinvented the aerial. He wasn’t awarded these spoils because of his family-on the contrary, he earned them in spite of it.

In hindsight, Nathan’s abrupt absence from the surfing world and his subsequent dive into skateboarding, snowboarding, and motocross is one of the major reasons for his progressive style and totally modern approach to surfing. If the Fletchers have been anything to surfing, they have been ahead of the pack. Ahead of the trends and ahead of what’s hot.

At an ASR (Action Sports Retailer) trade-show conference in San Diego in 1994, Nathan and Christian both appeared with skateboards in hand and blew right past the surf section of the show and straight up to the mini ramp where they proceeded to session with Christian Hosoi, Ed Templeton, dirty local kids who snuck into the show, and old industry dogs who wanted nothing to do with the surf aspect of the growing action-sports world. For this the brothers were largely criticized in the gossip circles downstairs in the surf show. The rumors that they were in the building skating met with negative snarls and comments like “too bad, wasted talent.” Only years later would every single surf company downstairs have an image completely influenced by the crossover appeal that skateboarding has in surfing.

Nathan’s style in the water is a mirror image of his style on the beach: He has a lackadaisical approach. He slowly saunters into rooms and toward big sections and looks for hidden lines. He naturally seeks out the steep and deep in surf and in people, and he applies a mix of classic carves and progressive aerials where others wouldn’t think to look.

Once reintroduced to the sport he grew up in, Nathan quickly blossomed into an athlete of serious marketing potential. His sponsorship with Gotcha was short-lived, and soon the largest surf company on Earth was courting him. He signed with Quiksilver in the year 2000 and began a new chapter in his life. While sponsored by Quiksilver, he’s become an internationally noticed model and a global surfing icon.

For nearly a decade, Quiksilver has produced a surfing and snowboarding event in France called the Quik Cup that hosted the best crossover athletes in the world to compete for money and status. The year before Nathan was added to the team, Quiksilver added skateboarding to the mix and history was in the making. In 2001, Nathan won the ninth-annual Quik Cup and secured his spot as the best crossover boardsport athlete alive.

Now, at a time when the lines have never been drawn less clearly between skateboarding and surfing, the time is right for an athlete like Nathan, whose totally independent and pure approach to both sports allows him to utilize the strengths of both. The term “jack of all trades, master of none” often applies to the mediocre surf/skate/snow athlete, but not in Nathan’s case. He’s not a surfer who can skate or a snowboarder who can surf. He’s had his own relationships with each of these sports at different times in his life. He has approached each of them with the focus that each sport requires, and that has been the reason for his high level of acceptance in each separate arena.

The labels and baggage that we all carry around with us obviously aren’t clear indicators of who we are or what we are capable of, but in Nathan’s case they have never been farther away from who he is. Nathan is a Fletcher through and through. He is a modern-day soul surfer, a dedicated uncle, and a classic charmer. He is a kind, generous, and sensitive being who thinks of others first. The hardcore image of his older brother has very little to do with the life Nathan leads. Once again the labels fail us, and the baggage isn’t real. Nathan is living proof.

arding, and motocross is one of the major reasons for his progressive style and totally modern approach to surfing. If the Fletchers have been anything to surfing, they have been ahead of the pack. Ahead of the trends and ahead of what’s hot.

At an ASR (Action Sports Retailer) trade-show conference in San Diego in 1994, Nathan and Christian both appeared with skateboards in hand and blew right past the surf section of the show and straight up to the mini ramp where they proceeded to session with Christian Hosoi, Ed Templeton, dirty local kids who snuck into the show, and old industry dogs who wanted nothing to do with the surf aspect of the growing action-sports world. For this the brothers were largely criticized in the gossip circles downstairs in the surf show. The rumors that they were in the building skating met with negative snarls and comments like “too bad, wasted talent.” Only years later would every single surf company downstairs have an image completely influenced by the crossover appeal that skateboarding has in surfing.

Nathan’s style in the water is a mirror image of his style on the beach: He has a lackadaisical approach. He slowly saunters into rooms and toward big sections and looks for hidden lines. He naturally seeks out the steep and deep in surf and in people, and he applies a mix of classic carves and progressive aerials where others wouldn’t think to look.

Once reintroduced to the sport he grew up in, Nathan quickly blossomed into an athlete of serious marketing potential. His sponsorship with Gotcha was short-lived, and soon the largest surf company on Earth was courting him. He signed with Quiksilver in the year 2000 and began a new chapter in his life. While sponsored by Quiksilver, he’s become an internationally noticed model and a global surfing icon.

For nearly a decade, Quiksilver has produced a surfing and snowboarding event in France called the Quik Cup that hosted the best crossover athletes in the world to compete for money and status. The year before Nathan was added to the team, Quiksilver added skateboarding to the mix and history was in the making. In 2001, Nathan won the ninth-annual Quik Cup and secured his spot as the best crossover boardsport athlete alive.

Now, at a time when the lines have never been drawn less clearly between skateboarding and surfing, the time is right for an athlete like Nathan, whose totally independent and pure approach to both sports allows him to utilize the strengths of both. The term “jack of all trades, master of none” often applies to the mediocre surf/skate/snow athlete, but not in Nathan’s case. He’s not a surfer who can skate or a snowboarder who can surf. He’s had his own relationships with each of these sports at different times in his life. He has approached each of them with the focus that each sport requires, and that has been the reason for his high level of acceptance in each separate arena.

The labels and baggage that we all carry around with us obviously aren’t clear indicators of who we are or what we are capable of, but in Nathan’s case they have never been farther away from who he is. Nathan is a Fletcher through and through. He is a modern-day soul surfer, a dedicated uncle, and a classic charmer. He is a kind, generous, and sensitive being who thinks of others first. The hardcore image of his older brother has very little to do with the life Nathan leads. Once again the labels fail us, and the baggage isn’t real. Nathan is living proof.