Every surfer has his/her own distinctive style. Whether it is aesthetically pleasing or an absolute horror, a surfer’s style is as unique to them as their own DNA.
Since the definition of one’s style is related to their own approach or manner of surfing, no surfer is without style. Whether your peers consider your style graceful, jerky, good, bad or somewhere in the middle….you still have style.
Having said that, time has not been kind to the art of stylish surfing. Competitive surfing, with it’s fast pace and specific criteria, has not been kind to anyone’s surfing style either. It made one’s approach to wave riding become somewhat pre-determined, hurried and forced. So much for going with the flow.
What was once a graceful, “be one with the wave” pursuit, surfing has now become a sport that focuses more on, for lack of a better word, tricks. The earlier days of stylish bottom turns, soul arches, walking the board, getting in trim and smooth cutbacks have been updated to tricks such as the rodeo flip, alley-oop, superman, sushi roll, stale-fish grab and 540 double spin. It’s all about what you do ABOVE the wave now. It’s all about setting up for that one big aerial maneuver.
Don’t get me wrong, all the new, super high-performance maneuvers, and the talented surfers who pull them off , are impressive. But, damn…how are we going to give these guys nicknames like we had done for decades and decades with previous surfers?
I don’t know about everywhere else, but in our surfing community, many of the surfers were nicknamed after their surfing style. I’m going out on a limb here and guess that Mark Richards was nicknamed the “Wounded Gull” due to his surfing style, as was Miki “Da Cat” Dora and Mickey “The Mongoose” Munoz.
Here, along the Gulf Coast, we have surfers with nicknames such as Stomper (constantly stomping), Stink Bug (a stance that would tear a groin muscle), Bird (both arms in the air), Roboto (contest surfer), Mullet Man (helluva fisherman and surfer), Cuttin Hutten (helluva cutback and blind as a bat), Silver Tooth (yes, he had a silver tooth), Slick Rick (lock up your daughters), Choker Man (never asked why), Motorhead (he will work on your car too!) and Crab (never leaves the beach and has a propensity to pinch people)-just to name a few.
For each and every one of them, their style defined them. As soon as they got to their feet on a wave, regardless of the size of the crowd in the line-up, you immediately knew who they were, due to their unique style. I could be driving 50 mph down the road and just get a quick glance at someone surfing and know instantly…that was Choker Man! Just as no two waves are alike, no two surfers are alike.
It is their style that primarily set surfers apart. I imagine the early beginnings of stylish surfing had a lot to do with the size and weight of the boards of the time. It took a LOT of body English to turn a 60+ lb. beast! Grab an early 60’s log, paddle out, catch a wave and do a bottom turn and you will instantly discover the language of body English. After that, Google “local chiropractors”.
The single fin shortboards of the early 70’s, although much easier to turn and lighter than their longboard counterparts, needed finesse and body mechanics to ride them successfully and that was a monumental period for stylish surfing. Rolled bottoms or ones with deep vee, coupled with soft, no edge rails and low rocker produced its own set of challenges to ride them; the boards often spun out or slowed to a crawl if not ridden properly.
Surfers like Barry Kanaiapuni, Reno Abellira, Bobby Owens and California’s Chris O’Rourke were my favorites and were all stylish single fin stand-outs of the period. For me, there was nothing more enjoyable than watching or sharing the line-up with a surfer with good style.
Good surfing style equates to grace under pressure. A surfer with good style flows with the wave as opposed to attacking the wave in a hyperactive, angry, overly aggressive manner, as many surfers are guilty of doing. Don’t think for a minute that I am suggesting that being a power surfer reduces someone’s style points. The best surfers mix good style with power. Watch just about any video of Taylor Knox or Tom Curren and you will see two good examples of power surfing with style.
Surfing is a fast paced, fleeting and constantly progressing sport, practiced on an ever changing playing field, in increasingly crowded line-ups, so we all have a tendency to freak out when our wave of the day comes to us. When the average ride lasts between 10-20 seconds, well… SLOW DOWN your mind, throw a little hand jive in, bend the knees, arch the back, maybe drag an arm, put that smile on your face, spray the hell out of your friend sitting on the shoulder with that power hack of yours and enjoy the ride…with style.
Otherwise, your nickname will forever be– Bouncing Bob, Hoppin’ Harold, Stinkbug Stan or Crack-Head Jed. I prefer Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon…or just Bird.