I’m sitting here with the illustrious Mr. Mark Caffey in his hometown of Newport Beach, California. We’re discussing the cerebral ramifications of aerial surfing and how it’ll affect the old-school mentality¿making a lot of old men unhappy when they realize they cannot actually exit the wave face.¿S.Z.
What’s the best trick you’ve ever done surfing?
The best-feeling trick is a really high aerial and a normal frontside air-reverse¿grabbing the rail and just spinning it. I watch guys like Rat and Barney, they do shit I just can’t imagine. They do flips¿Rat can switch his stance mid air, and Barney is completing barrel rolls. Flea, Nathan, and Christian Fletcher all do shit that I can’t even comprehend. If I did, that’d be my best trick.
Are those some of the surfers who inspire you?
For sure. Archy and Occy, also. That guy’s solid.
Occy’s one of your favorites?
Yeah, since I was little. He’s doing airs and learning new things¿he’s blowing up. But the Santa Cruz posse and the San Clemente crew are super inspirational.
What kind of shapes do you ride? Are they different from the standard?
They’re pretty standard. I’ve been riding a lot of round pintails this year. Anywhere from six-o to six-three. Six-two is about the biggest I like to go. I just got a swallowtail that works really well. My shaper, Mike Estrada, shapes insane boards. He tells me what he thinks will work good for me. I give him a height¿I don’t even tell him the width or thickness¿and he just knows where to go from there. Do you skate?
I skate. Not a lot, I used to a lot more. I skated today.
Do you watch skate videos?
Yeah. I like to watch the vert-ramp demos at the trade shows, because that’s where I’d like to see surfing go. The height, the spins, the flips of the boards¿that stuff’s insane. I get jealous watching those guys because, unfortunately, you can’t get as high on a surfboard, and you can’t complete the maneuvers that they complete. If I didn’t surf all the time, I would definitely skate.
Have you ever tried a kickflip on a skateboard?
Yeah, I’ve tried a heelflip before.
Did you pull it?
Yeah, a long time ago. Ethan Anderson from Volcom taught me how.
Have you ever tried a kickflip on a surfboard?
No, I’m too scared of the fins.
You’re in the air a lot. You’re one of the highest-ranked aerial surfers, so fins must come into play a lot.
I like to get a hold of the rail so you have control, and you know that it’s not going to flip. Then there are those unexpected times it does, and you just have to hope for the best. I haven’t really been injured doing an air before. Sometimes when you’re up there you know you shouldn’t hold on to it when you’re going to land in the flats or you’re going to land hard, but it just depends on the timing and circumstance.
How much do you visualize what you’re going to do before you go out and do it?
I mostly think about it when I’m in the water. I’ll try to stick a couple airs at first to get the session going. I’ll pass up a lot of sections just to find that right air section, because to me, that’s what it’s all about. After you do a few standard airs, you start thinking about spinning the next one. It’s funny, as hard as you think about it, you have to wait for the right opportunity and the right section. You have to do whatever the ocean throws your way.
When I’m in the water, I’ll look up the beach and see Dave Post rotate a huge one, and I’ll say, “F¿k, I want to try that on my next wave.” That’ll inspire me to do something different.
What do you think about Bruce Irons getting really high out of the water?
I’m stoked. That’s what I want to see: higher, bigger. Bruce will try and stick those. You’ll see a sequence shot where he’s ten feet high, he’s holding on for dear life, and he wants to make that air. Unfortunately, sometimes you hit too hard and you can’t. He definitely has some spring to his airrs.
How do you feel about working in the surf industry as opposed to just surfing?
I like it. I’ve met a lot of really good people. Every day I’m in the office I want to try to do a good job, but there’re times where you’re sitting there just thinking, “Man, I want to be in the water right now. I want to be surfing some good waves, the swell is really good.” Fortunately, my job gives me the opportunity to surf a lot still. I’m right up the hill from Fifty-fourth Street, Blackies, and Newport Point. I also get to travel quite a bit.
I do enjoy the surf-industry vibe: the parties, the trade shows, all the gatherings are really fun. I definitely enjoy being in the water as much as possible. If I could get paid just to surf and make enough money doing it, I’d love to. At the same time, I think I have my foot in a good door. As you start to get older, you have to think about that, too. I’ve been surfing and working a ton. It’s a good balance. I still have time for my friends.