Who’s Now/Who’s Next: Ten Surfers To Watch In 2011
If you’re like most surf fans, you know the big names: Dane Reynolds, Jordy Smith, Julian Wilson, Owen Wright, etc. What do all these names have in common? They’re all alumni of our annual Who’s Now/Who’s Next feature where we pick the best twenty-and-under surfers on the planet. This year, we’ve done it again and chosen ten surfers who are poised to blow up in 2011. And though you might not know their names yet, if you’re a fan of the future of surfing, you’ll be glad we introduced you.
Click through to the next page for an exclusive view into the future of surfing…
Coolangatta Rising, Redux: Jack Freestone
Jack Freestone has had a meteoric rise over the past two years. Hailing from the Gold Coast, his adolescence was spent rubbing shoulders with Mick Fanning and Joel Parkinson. Jack's early results hinted at his potential, but it was his win at the Oakley World Pro Junior that has sent a message to the surfing world. Get ready, because Coolangatta has a new title contender and his name is Jack Freestone.
Earlier this year I had the fortune of traveling through a remote part of West Java with Jack. At eighteen years old, he has an ample frame for throwing mid-face spray and his flare above the lip is becoming a trademark. What struck me most about Jack's surfing, however, was his ability to go left and his confidence in bigger waves. The Gold Coast has no lefts and rarely has sizeable surf, but there we were on a solid ten-foot day at a West Javanese bombie and Jack showed no signs of hesitation while weaving his way in and out of the bowling left-handers.
Ask Jack and he'll tell you, "My strength is in the air and in the tube, but what I need to work on is developing more power in my surfing. I think power is really important in surfing today."
What also struck me was his appreciation of '60s rock 'n' roll, namely Jimi Hendrix. In an era where most teenage surf rats have only got ears for ghetto rap, Jack's got some depth to his auditory experience. And though Hendrix might fill his headphones, Jack is going down a much less, let's say, distracted path. "I'm looking at keeping my head down and my eyes on the job at the moment," he says. "I don't want to get caught up in the whole Coolangatta struggle. I really want to do good for myself and my family."
Editor of Australia's Surfing Life, Chris Binns has seen firsthand the rapid ascent of Jack's surfing in the last two years. "I struggle to recall if Jack was even rated in our Hot 100 last year, and this year his peers have voted him third in the country. On location for our Hot 100 trip, even though he was surfing with guys three years his senior, Jack was the clear standout."—Jock Barnes
Ed note: Jack has since been crowned the ASP World Junior Champion and signed with Billabong.
Prime Time Peruvian: Cristobal De Col
It's not coincidence that good waves breed good surfers. For how good the waves are in Peru, with the exception of Sofia Mulanovich, there's been a relative shortage of Peruvian surfers on the world's stage. But seventeen-year-old goofy-foot Cristobal De Col is looking to change that.
He's won everything there is to win in Peru, including recently taking out the Cabo Blanco tuberiding contest. His airs and fin throws are on point, too—the kid is versatile. And despite the lack of industry and high-profile contests in Peru, with shades of Clay Marzo, Cristobal's mix of smooth style, barrel knowledge, and fin blasts have heads whipping around wherever he surfs.
Even when there's a firing point nearby, he's got the discipline to surf crap beachbreaks to work on his game in typical contest slop. "I don't like it," he says, "but I need to work on being quicker on short waves." Cristobal has been ripping for years, but now that he's getting bigger and stronger look for him to make more that a splash in 2011, it'll be an explosion.—Casey Koteen
Maui Power Broker: Billy Kemper
The maneuver de jour may be a big, smooth air reverse, but there are damn few people in the world that can bust out that, and get an XXL-contending barrel at Jaws. Maui's Billy Kemper is on the short list, and at twenty years old, he's just getting started.
Kemper had a solid junior career and can compete in the small stuff, but things got interesting with a massive barrel ride at Jaws last year that shot him into the limelight. It was the day before the Eddie, when the surf was even bigger and more out of control. Jaws was off its face, and Kemper got whipped into a big dog. Even though it looked unmakeable and his tow partner screamed at him to pull out, he had a feeling he could make it, and gunned it. "It was hands down the best barrel of my life," says Kemper. "Going down the line I was talking to myself saying, 'Is this really going to happen, am I going to fall, am I going to die?' But I got this weird feeling that I should go for it." He squeaked out the doggy door on the end, and on to the next level.
"I think my brother gave me a little help from up above on that one," he says. Kemper's brother, up-and-coming surfer Eric Diaz, passed away in 1998, and has been a major source of inspiration.
His style and attack are reminiscent of Hawaiian legends Sunny Garcia and Pancho Sullivan, which makes perfect sense since both are among his favorite surfers. He's a modern ambassador of the Hawaiian power surfing tradition, and evidenced by his mean ass pocket power carve, which he pushes as steep and far back as it's possible to throw a face carve.
If chasing WQS points around the world were his goal, his small wave game could use some tightening, but after bigger game. "What Ian Walsh does is inspiring," he says. "He and Makua [Rothman] kinda have the same deal; they do a few contests here and there so they can do the Triple Crown, and the rest of the year they're surfing the biggest, best waves in the world. Whether it's paddling in to a twenty footer, or towing into a 50 footer, that's all I want to do."—Casey Koteen
Brazilian Style Bandit: Miguel Pupo
After sweeping three out of the five Latin American Pro Junior events in 2010, Pupo has earned himself the title of best under-20 surfer of the what could arguably be called the most talented continent in the world—South America.
The 19-year old doesn't quite fit the Brazilian stereotype. He does have a smile on his face for most of the time, but prefers to hang out away from the crowds, hiding under a flat brim cap, rather than joking around. But when he gets up on a wave, it's hard not to pay attention.
"He's one of the most stylish surfers out of the new generation of Brazilians," states fellow countryman and recent World Tour qualifier Alejo
Muniz, who grew up traveling and competing with Miguel. "If you put him on a fun-sized left, he's one of the hardest guys around to beat." The goofyfoot's aerial game is one of his biggest strengths yet he’s the most stylish surfer from Brazil since Fabio Gouveia. The São Paulo native is now starting to see good results unfold in the big leagues. He finished the season at 51st in the new ASP ratings, getting a 3rd in the Canary Islands' 6 star Prime event, and a 5th at the US Open. "That might've been my best result, due to Huntington's media exposure," he says.
But the young gun's competitive hunger can be a two-way street. Although he's rising fast through the rankings, Miguel's focus on heat results might be leading him onto the same road taken by so many Brazilian "next-big-things". Instead of taking a few years to mature his surfing—getting used to perfect waves and landing media exposure along the ride—all he wants is to put a singlet on. "I want to make it into the World Tour. No freesurfing—competition is what I'm really into." And if the main goal is to make it to the top, his easygoing nature won't always be a plus. "I can't see him hassling for a wave during a heat. His personality keeps him from doing that," explains Alejo Muniz.
Growing up in a family of surfers, his father Wagner was one of the country's top competitors back in the day, he never drifted his focus off the sport. If he can keep his feet on the right path, and the same mellow smile on his face, Miguel Pupo may soon be facing the world's best.—Matias Lovro
Jaquias 2.0: Kaimana Jaquias
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, there's yet another amazing surfer coming out of Kauai who's ready to take on the world. Meet seventeen-year-old Kaimana Jaquias from Lihue, Kauai. Son of 1990's world tour warrior Kaipo Jaquias, Kaimana has stepped out of the shadow cast by his father and is now creating his own destiny and career.
"I had no choice but to become a surfer," laughs Kaimana. "Since I was seven years old I've been my dad's sparring partner when we surf
together. We haven't ever surfed a heat against each other, but I did do better than him at the HIC contest at Sunset this year, so that was cool. He was pissed and went home to start training more!"
A bit taller and lankier than his dad, Kaimana comes into his own in big, hollow rights like Haleiwa and Sunset Beach. "I'm pretty comfortable in big waves, I don't really get scared much," he says without sounding cocky. He also knows what he has to work on to be the best: "I need to improve in everything—I'm the slowest paddler ever!"
It's a catch-22 being from Kauai and trying to make it as a pro surfer, though. The locals are notoriously protective over their waves and cameras are frowned upon, making it tough to get exposure. Hence the "work" trips to Oahu: "You can't really shoot photos on Kauai, so you gotta go to Oahu and try to get photos with 300 hundred other guys. I have to decide whether to stay home and improve my surfing or go to Oahu—it's a tough call sometimes."
Like a lot of people from Kauai, Kaimana was devastated by the passing of his childhood hero and mentor Andy Irons. "He was the guy I looked up to my whole life and got me to where I am today," he says. "It still doesn't feel real, the king is gone." While there may be an irreplaceable void in Kauai's surf community, it looks like the future is in good hands.—Justin Coté
Not Just Cruising: Mitch Crews
At the 2010 U.S. Open, Pat O'Connell asked me, "Have you seen this kid Mitch Crews surf? He's so f—king gnarly."
I replied, "Not yet. Is he a Mexican guy?" I was met with a puzzled look. I thought his name was Mitch "Cruz." I thought he was from Mexico—he's not, he's from the Gold Coast of Australia. After seeing just a few waves that day, I knew he needed to be on this year's Now/Next list.
A few months later we invited Mitch down to the TransWorld offices to meet him for a quick morning surf, shoot some photos, and just shoot the shit with him. When you set up these awkward "pro surfer/magazine guy" meetings, you never know what you're gonna get. Sometimes the surfer is stuck up and super butt-hurt that they have to waste their precious time doing "work" with some magazine dude they don't even know. Other times the surfer turns out to be gracious, down to Earth, and basically an instabro—that's what Mitch Crews turned out to be. The second we met up with him, he was all smiles, jokes. I immediately thought, "Wow, this kid is really nice, he must not be that good at surfing." Then we paddled out and he put on a ridiculous shred clinic, despite the two-foot, swampy surf.
Mitch grew up in a hidden little corner of the Gold Coast called Currumbin, just a few minutes from surf central, Coolangatta. He's blazing a path to greatness using an interesting mix of formulas: part Dion Agius (video parts, airs photos), and part Mick Fanning (training, contest winning, focus). "Mate," Mitch said with a huge grin, "I'm having the time of my life. I just spent a month in Bali with my best mates, I've been living in Newport Beach for two months, and I'm going to live in Hawaii for two months next."
His genuine stoke for the position he's in is refreshing in a time when a lot of top prospects are spoiled brats. Cool guy or not, it's never easy to say if a guy can make the transition from winning pro juniors to winning WCTs . Mitch has a shot, he's a stocky power surfer with a deep bag of tricks and a good head on his shoulders, what we can't say is what his future holds—that's up to him.—Chris Coté
The Quiet Threat: Evan Thompson
Eighteen-year-old Evan Thompson grew up on the beaches of Jacksonville, Florida, and though he's a quiet kid, his tail blasts, power carves, and quickly escalating air game do the majority of his talking.
A former USA Surf Team member, his recent NSSA East Coast title and second-place finish at Nationals in Open Men's have been some loud statements. But his biggest accomplishment to date was this past October in Bali where he placed equal fifth at the Oakley World Pro Junior event, amongst the best juniors in the world.
"Evan definitely thrives on competing and wants to win. His surfing is powerful and loose," says Asher Nolan. "He could work on his flow in between his turns, though. I think he has a good chance of figuring it out and making a run for it on the 'QS when he's ready for it."—Ryan Brower
The Pitted Saffa: Dale Staples
With a clean style honed on the right-handers of Jeffrey's Bay, South African Dale Staples' surfing is nothing short of a genuine pleasure to watch. The nineteen-year old natural-footer is fast, radical, and polished, and has a comfort in the tube far beyond his years.
"He is one of the best tube riders in the country, and probably in the world," says close friend and Now/Next alumni Shaun Joubert.
One setback for South Africans wanting to make it on the world stage is getting comfortable in the heaving left-handers of Pipeline and Teahupoo, yet here too Dale seems on the right track, already having been invited to surf the Billabong Pro at Chopes. "I don't really think his backhand is very weak," says Joubert. "He is powerful and always goes 110 percent."
Huge contest results, international movie spots, and the ability to pull off crazy airs has him following on from Jordy Smith and Joubert before him—Staples may well be South Africa's next big thing. And some of the heftiest praise yet lofted onto Staples? During an interview with Slater after a heat at J Bay, he turned to watch Dale on a wave and said, "This kid rips!"—Craig Ritchie
French Flare-Up: Pauline Ado
At the age of nineteen, Pauline Ado has more than surpassed the boys she took up surfing with in France. And in only her second full year competing on the WQS, she shot to the top of the pro surfing hierarchy, qualifying for the ASP world tour. "Things have not always been easy this year," she wrote on her blog. "There were victories, losses, happiness, disappointments … [qualifying] was a real relief."
Pauline has a clean style, is remarkably powerful for such a young age, and even has a good sense for the barrel. Though she appears to have all the assets of a world tour surfer, a close look at her performance against Steph Gilmore in the Rip Curl Pro Search Puerto Rico shows her one weakness: a bit of wavering before finding her line and unloading an impressive, but slightly delayed, gouge. It's an easy adjustment, and we predict some upsets when she hits the big leagues in 2011.—Darlene Conolly
Killer Kiwi: Airini Mason
Name three pro surfers from New Zealand. Having trouble? Don't worry—you're not a bad surfing fan, it's just that the catchphrase "Kiwi contingency" hasn't exactly caught on yet. But don't take the lack of exposure as a sign of their abilities.
New Zealand surfers have no trouble keeping up with the rest of the world and Airini Mason makes a solid case for that point. The twenty-year-old is undoubtedly one of the best female surfers in the world, and she's got the contest results to back that claim, including recently taking the 2010 ASP Australasian Pro Junior Series title and third place at the Oakley ASP World Pro Junior last October.
She's got the results, the talent, and the drive. But she's lacking one thing: a major sponsor. Without that, following the tour becomes nearly impossible. "Next year, I'm not going to be competing because I haven't really got any financial backing," she explains. "So I'm just going to be doing the freesurfing thing and more photo shoots—that kind of stuff with local photographers around New Zealand."
Smooth, flowing, mature. These are all words that ASP world tour competitor and fellow Kiwi surfer Paige Hareb uses to describe Airini's surfing. "I know she'll make the world tour," continues Paige. "She has the determination, and I know for a fact that's been her dream since we were twelve years old."
However, Airini has shifted her attention toward the pursuit of a bachelor's degree in environmental sciences and taking photo trips, so don't be surprised if you see her popping up on the contest circuit again. Her tight, in-the-pocket approach to riding waves of consequence, combined with an exceptional jurisdiction over her board's tail, make her the complete package.
It's unfortunate story—for now. But don't feel to bad for Airini; she lives in one of the most beautiful places in the world with plenty of surf. And if a sponsor does come knocking, you can bet Airini will make the tour in a heartbeat.— Darlene Conolly