Chris Gallagher is the competitive surfing ambassador of Santa Cruz, California. He grew up surfing Pleasure Point on the Eastside, became a WCT surfer, and now just rips the hell out the beachbreaks just north of his hometown. Although he’s no longer on tour, Chris is still involved in the sport because he wants to promote what he feels is really important in surfing right now¿Santa Cruz kids, or American kids in general, kicking ass on the World Tour. Whether it’s being the team captain for O’Neill Wetsuits involved with research and development, or shaping and designing new epoxies for Santa Cruz surfboards, Gally is always busy. Don’t worry, though, he’s still shooting photos and training¿his love for the sport is what keeps him motivated.¿A.C.
Why do you have your hands in so many different things? I realized that after not doing the Tour anymore, I was just bored¿I wanted to stay busy. I’m trying to broaden my horizons by doing all sorts of different things. Hopefully, one thing will be more interesting than the other, and I’ll find direction that way.
What’s your opinion on the current state of surfing? Is it moving forward, or is it stagnating? I think there’s an underground movement now within America to sort of get back to basics¿a lot of kids are over the whole “chop-hop pose for the camera” stuff. When I went to the NSSA Nationals, I saw a lot of great young surfers with good attitudes throwing big rail turns with good style¿it looked like they wanted to be complete surfers. So I was pretty stoked on that. The current state of affairs with American surfing is fairly sad at the moment because we really don’t have anyone out there busting down the doors.
A lot of surf companies don’t push competitive surfing, and it’s obviously very important to you. What can be done to help motivate kids and their sponsors? I think the sponsors are into the short-term game and not looking down the road. If everyone supported the Tour, all the things people complained about could be fixed. If you put more money into it, then there’d be money to make a killer TV show that would promote the bigger companies. Simply increase the prize money so a kid can make a living when they get thirty-third place. It just comes down to support¿if it was totally supported from every angle, and that’s what drove the sport, the competition side of things would be what everybody wants it to be. It’s like the old saying, “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” Now the companies are like, “Screw it! We want to pay you 500 bucks a month so we can use you as a professional model all year. We don’t want you to go out on tour so we have to pay you 150-grand.” Look at the Aussies, most of their contracts are geared toward the Tour and qualifying¿producing quality surfers. And when America’s going, “We want you to hang out at Salt Creek and jump around,” look at the quality of surfers we’re producing. It comes down to, “I’m already good. I don’t have to do anything.” It’s a no risk, no failure type of thing. It’s pretty sad when we don’t have any new American kids qualifing for the Tour. They’re a minority on the Tour, and it’s intimidating for them to try to make a run at it with no support. Their sponsors want them to stay home, but they’re doing it because it’s their dream.
Let’s say twelve years from now, your son becomes a hot Eastside kid. Sponsors are going after him, but he doesn’t want to compete. What would you do? Anybody can do what they want to do, but it seems as if American kids grow up dreaming of making the Top 44, they come up against major stumbling blocks. There’s no support for them to do it, it’s something they have to make happen on their own. They actually go against the wishes of their sponsors¿they get less money, and get less hype because they’re out on the road trying to take care of business. A young guy who wins a WQS might get aa postage-stamp-sized photo in the back of a surf magazine. If a kid goes down to Cabo with a photographer, busts an aerial, and falls off, he’s probably gonna get a cover shot. The reward doesn’t jive with the risk of going out there and trying to be World Champion. There’s no reward for them. A lot of the American guys on Tour are getting up there in age and are gonna be over the Tour really soon. We have some of the best surfers and have produced some of the best in the past. The Americans at that time were getting pissed that the Aussies were dominating. Then your Robs, Kellys, Rosses, Shanes, and others got pissed and went, “I’m gonna make it¿take those guys Aussies out.”
Do you foresee that happening again? I do foresee that happening again. I foresee Americans getting pissed off again, and actually trying to make a run of it. I’m not saying contests are the only venue, but look at the World Champion¿you can’t fight it. If you ask any kid, almost every one of their heroes has been a World Champion at one time or another. So for them to call bullshit on the Tour at the same time is kind of hypocritical. Basically, the people who call bullshit on it are the ones who didn’t qualify. If they were winning events, they’d think the Tour was the best thing going. Americans go out there, get their asses spanked by the Aussies, call bullshit on the Tour, and quit. It really bums me out.
In regard to Santa Cruz, a lot of its citizens have been getting more exposure lately thanks to photographers like Dave Nelson, Tony Roberts, and Patrick Trefz. Does that make you feel good inside since it was tougher to get a shot when you were younger? I think it’s great. Basically, no one had really done it before Adam Replogle and myself. We did the Tour and tried to make a name for ourselves that way. Back when I first started, that was pretty much the only way to make a name for yourself¿busting into the Bud Tour so you could get on the World Tour to kick butt. Santa Cruz, California is a humbling town to be from. You could be in the Top 44, winning events, but then you got some kid around the corner dropping into 40-foot waves. It’s killer to see that get recognized. You get used to it when you’re up here, though. There’re so many good surfers from here that it’s taken for granted. Santa Cruz surfers are as good as anyone else’s, and it’s nice to see those guys get promoted and pushed¿it’s finally happening. We’ve got everything covered¿contests, big waves, and airs.