Payne In The Ass
Dusty Payne on injury, girls surfing, and the return of power surfing
As seen in the August 2012 issue of TransWorld SURF
Dusty Payne is an honest guy who likes to speak his mind. Or he's a dick. There's thin line between the two. If you speak your mind plainly, it can come across harshly and offensive. If you're too choosey, you sound like a stiff politician. He uttered some choice words about women's surfing in Kai Neville's Lost Atlas last year that stirred up the debate about how far women's surfing has come, or not come: "They're terrible," he said. "They think they should just sit on the boat and wait for it to get one foot again so they can go out and do their little tailslides."
At the Surfer Poll awards this year, women's world champ Carissa Moore spent nearly her entire acceptance speech sarcastically thanking Dusty for his support of women's surfing, though the blowback didn't seem to get much harsher than that—at least publicly.
With Dusty suffering an ankle injury that's kept him sidelined for the first few events of this year's World Tour (and possibly more), and this being in the women's issue and all, we figured it'd be a perfect time to ring him and shoot the shit. Plus, we happen to have a load of good photos of him.—Interview by Rory Parker
TransWorld SURF: Beyond rehab, how’s life treating you these days?
Dusty Payne: I’m good. I’m out of the boot, so I’m way more mobile than I was, and life’s good. I’m hanging out in California just enjoying the summer. Not too much going on, just rehab and trying to get strong.
How was the World Tour treating you before the ankle injury? Were you enjoying it?
I wasn’t enjoying the results I was getting. It’s kind of hard to enjoy it when you’re losing and you’re down. But you've just got to make the best out of those situations and look at the life we have and what we’re able to do. We get to go to such unreal places, and sometimes you lose and you want to get out of there, but you’ve got to look at positives and keep your head up and keep going. But life on tour’s good.
Anything you’d like to see change on the tour to make it better?
One thing I'd like to see is a lot more major sponsors come into it and bring more money into surfing. I think surfing should be one of the highest-paid sports for the things guys are doing. Guys risk their lives doing it and don’t get much reward. It’s not really about the financial reward. We’re out there just doing it because we love it, but still…
Another thing would be the judging—it’s up and down. They need to come up with a system where power surfing is scored properly. They go overboard with the airs and stuff, and I think they need to find a balance somewhere because the scale they have now is so up and down.
It’s funny how the scoring did a complete 180. For years, turns were rewards and airs weren't scored well at all, and now they’re doing the complete opposite.
Yeah, for sure. It’s pretty obvious. Everyone sees it. I really enjoy watching surfing on the rail. That’s what I love to see. When you see some guy race down the line, miss some really good sections he could have hacked at, and go for one air and get a nine… To me, that’s not a nine. It should have been a three. He missed the whole wave. He missed sections. It just really needs to find a balance.
I think some of that comes from the desire to make surfing more accessible to the non-surfing public and bring more money in. Rail surfing has a really technical aspect to it that is lost on people who don’t surf. Whereas somebody doing a big air, whether or not it’s actually very difficult, it’s a lot more impressive to people who don't really know what they’re looking at.
What’s your take on all the Brazilian guys on tour?
The Brazilians are crushing it. I was just down at Lowers and watched Gabriel [Medina] win, and he was ripping. They’re fighters, and that’s what you’ve got to be to get on the tour. You’ve gotta scrap. They don’t lay down for anybody, and that’s cool to see. There’s a group of really talented kids now. They’re surfing tail high, and they’re really good at that aerial stuff. I think they’ll be around for a while.
Do you think we’ll ever see a Brazilian champ? With their competitive drive, it’s kind of weird we’ve never had a Brazilian win it all.
I think it just takes a bit of adjustment for some of them. A lot of them just come from beach breaks, and it’s hard to adjust to a Teahupo'o, or Pipeline, or Fiji, but I think for them it’s just going to take adjusting to those types of waves. And one day, there will be a Brazilian champion, no doubt. It’s just a matter of time. But as long as I’m around, I’m trying to find my form, and I want to contend for the world title one of these days.
So, let’s talk about your ankle injury for a bit. You mentioned you had the boot taken off recently…
It’s just a constant grind trying to get better. I’m in California right now, working as hard as I can, going to the gym as many times as I can. Trying to strengthen the leg, and get the ankle feeling 100 percent before I get back on a surfboard. I’m taking it day by day, and I’ve still got a ways to go, but I’m making progress.
What exactly is wrong with it?
I tore some ligaments on the inside of my ankle—just compressed it really bad. When the initial injury happened, I didn’t think it was that bad. It was hard to walk down stairs, and over a few weeks it started to feel better, so I didn’t think it was as bad as it was. I kept surfing on it, and probably made it worse, so now I’ve got to take the time and not get back on a board until I feel 100 percent.
You initially got hurt at the Cold Water Classic in October 2011 but kept surfing on it and did some more events. Looking back, are you glad you kept going, or do you wish you’d backed off since it ending up making things worse?
In hindsight, yeah, I wish I’d just stayed off it, but I would have had to sit out the entire winter season. And the waves were insane. I got some of the best waves of my life at Backdoor. It’s easy to say now, "Yeah, I wish I’d stayed off it," but looking back, I don’t regret it.
Nike’s been giving you a ton of support with your rehab, and they have a reputation for being very supportive of their athletes. Is that typical of most companies, or are they something different?
Companies will look after you, and be like, "What can we do? How can we facilitate you? Where do you need to go?" They’ll help you like that. But having Nike step up, and say, "Come out to our facility and we can try and help you get better," is insane. They offered support, and I’ve been really appreciative of that.
Skaters' knees and ankles take more abuse than surfers, but surfers seem to injure those joints more. Why do you think that is?
Obviously a skater is going to be more bruised—they’re falling on concrete. And we’re lucky. We fall and the ocean is forgiving; it’s a nice cushion to fall into. But the things guys are doing on surfboards now, the ocean fights back. The concrete is just a still thing, and when you get yourself in those positions surfing, twisting an ankle, or tearing your meniscus or ACL, it’s a lot worse because of the stress from the ocean.
With airs being so hard on the joints, but knowing that that type of surfing is what the judges are rewarding, are you looking at ways to avoid future injuries?
I'm working on that now. I’m trying to build strength in all sorts of areas that will, hopefully, protect me in the future. I’m working on building my knee strength, doing everything I can to build up strength in the muscles in my ankles, and knees, hips and shoulders. Every part of my body, I’m trying to build up muscle in areas that will protect me. It’s been a great learning experience for me.
At any point during your recovery were you worried about your future?
Those thoughts definitely cross your mind. Like, "Am I going to be able to come back from this?" But it’s what happens to pretty much any athlete in any sport. You have your injuries, and champions come back from those injuries smarter and stronger. And that’s what I plan to do. I feel like I’ve grown a lot and learned things that I wouldn’t have if my ankle hadn’t been hurt. In a way I’m glad it happened, and at the end of the day when I do start surfing again, I’ll be a way smarter surfer and be able to compete way better than I ever have. I’m looking forward to getting back on a board and coming back smarter and stronger.
Have you given any thought to an exit plan?
Well, in the end, I want to be able to give back to surfing. But first, I really want to leave surfing with a couple world titles, and in the future, help out kids in Hawaii who are aspiring to be professional surfers. That’s kind of my dream, to one day be able to teach kids everything that I know. To help out and give back to the community that’s given me so much. Everyone in Hawaii has been so helpful to me that any way I can give back would be icing on the cake.
Above: Dusty rehabs with surf trainer Wes Berg.
So, you know, this is in the women's issue, so obviously, we’ve got to talk about your comments in Lost Atlas. Do you ever regret your comments in the video?
Oh, this is gonna get me in trouble. Do I regret it? It wasn’t really a serious quote. Well, I guess it was kind of serious. Shit, how am I gonna get out of this? I kind of regret it. Chicks do surf good, but I just think it’s crazy that chicks are getting paid as much as some of the dudes, as much as the bottom tier of the ‘CT. And some of the chicks are making more money than those guys, and those guys are pushing it one hundred times harder. Not saying that the chicks aren’t pushing it very hard, they’re doing great, but they… It’s just crazy.
It’s a good point because, to be honest, women's surfing in the last few years has come a long way.
Oh yeah, no doubt. But at the same time, men's surfing has progressed in leaps and bounds, so much further. For a minute there it was almost like the ladies are catching up, and then all of a sudden they got left way behind.
Do you think this is because of innately physical differences, or they just aren’t pushed to try as hard?
If you look at pretty much any sport, if you put a guy and a girl up against each other, the guy will out do the girl to a huge degree. Men are just built more physically to do physical sports. Not taking anything away from the women; they are insane athletes. There are women athletes who I respect, and in surfing, they’ve come so far and are surfing unreal. I wish I could surf like that right now. I’m just saying that for a guy on the ‘CT to not be making as much as the ladies on their ‘CT is crazy to me. Because the things the guys on our tour are doing are just ridiculous, and the women just aren’t there.
Sometimes it seems like the marketing side of women's surfing focuses so much on their physical attractiveness as opposed to their ability.
And the ads—there’s no way guys would pose for that. I can’t imagine Stab asking any of the guys to pose nude for photos.
Exactly. They’re way more attractive than the guys. And that’s great. Women are supposed to be more attractive than the guys. But in surfing, that’s kind of a recent development. A lot of the women in pro surfing in the '70s, '80s, and '90s, they were pretty masculine, and all of a sudden, the tour is made up of these gorgeous, tan girls in thongs. It seems like sponsors may, sometimes, be rewarding attractiveness over ability. There’s no doubt. They’re attractive, and that sells a lot. You know, a guy in a thong is not going to sell much.
If Nike called tomorrow and offered to double your salary, but you had to surf in a thong or one of those high-cut wetsuits, would you do it?
No way. I’d tell 'em I’m moving to Oklahoma and I’m never gonna surf again.
What’s your take on Carissa Moore’s wildcard in last year’s Triple Crown?
My hat’s off to Carissa for winning the world title, first of all. I was really cheering for her to win, and I’m so stoked she did. I’m really proud of her. But, you know, the guys are really good at surfing these days, and for a world champ to go and try to compete against some of the top men in the world, it’s just going to be really tough for her. Honestly, I would have rather seen one of the former world champs from the men get in instead of her, but I’m glad she got to go and compete against the men. And she beat poor Alain [Riou]. But, personally, I would have rather seen someone like Derek Ho get in.
After your comments from Lost Atlas came out, did anybody call you out on it?
Carissa’s kind of given me grief, and she called me out at the Surfer Poll last year, and that was pretty funny. And this one time I was walking over to the Billabong house, just to hang out with Granger [Larsen], and I was trying to open the gate, and you have to open it from the inside because there’s a code on the outside. And this girl pulled up on her bike, she’s like, “Oh, you have to reach over the inside.” So I reached over and opened the gate, and she looks at me and goes, “Are you Dusty Payne?” And I was, like, “Yeah.” So she doesn’t say anything and just walks in the gate before me and Dean Morrison and runs up the stairs and turns around and looks at me and says, “You shouldn’t say those things about women's surfing.” Dean looked at me, and we started laughing so hard. That was about as bad as it got, so it was really just funny.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
Yeah. This is no disrespect to women's surfing. I don’t want anyone to take it the wrong way. The girls are surfing insane, and whatever I said in Lost Atlas was not meant to be taken the way it was. Sorry to all the women surfers. You girls are great. But, men are just great surfers, you know?