By Mike Parsons
On January 19, 2001, Brad Gerlach whipped me into the biggest wave of my life 106 miles off the Southern California coast at Cortes Bank. From that moment on things have really changed for me.
A few days after the XXL results came out, I paddled out at Lower Trestles on a nice four-foot south swell. About halfway out, I was shocked to see that people were sitting up on their boards and were clapping for me. I couldn’t believe it. It felt really cool.
Everywhere I go these days people come up to me and ask me what it was like. That’s the great thing about big waves — they capture the imagination of all surfers like nothing else.
Now here I am, embarking on a career as a pro surfer once again. I’ve signed a deal with Billabong and Von Zipper to travel the world and ride big waves. I really think it’s cool that the industry is behind some of the older guys like myself, Mark Occhilupo (who just re-signed with Billabong), Brad Gerlach (who just signed a new deal with O’Neill), and Tom Curren (who just signed a new deal with The Realm).
All these surfers are over 35 years old. The companies are realizing that although some of these older guys may not have the fastest off-the-top at 56th Street, they’re still among the most marketable surfers in the world. What Quiksilver has done with Tom Carroll and Gary Elkerton is brilliant, and if you have the chance to see them surf these days, it’s clear that their surfing continues to improve. In fact, I believe they’re surfing better than ever.
Can anyone honestly say Laird Hamilton has hit his peak as a surfer? If he stays fit and focussed, he’ll continue to improve well into his late fourties. Who knows?
I would argue that one of the most interesting surf contests ever was last year’s Quiksilver Masters won by 35-year-old Gary Elkerton with 36- year-old Tom Curren finishing second. Yeah, it was held in perfect six-foot right point-break waves — where these guys were at their best — but it was also some of the best surfing I’ve ever seen.
The best news about all this? The industry is embracing its own and there’s a place for pro surfers over 30 years old.