Video Time Machine: Searching for Tom Curren

28 01 2010

The following video is from the Sonny Miller’s classic Searching for Tom Curren. In this particular section, shot in Bawa, Sumatra, Curren ditches the gun for a 5’7″. As far as I know this video is not available on DVD. If you own a VHS copy consider yourself lucky. Enjoy.


Is God a Surfer?

9 12 2009

Stained glass tributes to Curren should be the norm.

Wish I was ocean size
They cannot move you
No one tries

—Perry Farrell from Ocean Size

Years ago Australian surf legend Nat Young reportedly tried to register surfing as an official religion. He did not succeed. It’s a ludicrous concept you might say. Blasphemous even. Well, not so fast. For centuries the religious have honored and respected the ocean. But for surfers, the ocean has always been sacred. The art of riding its waves is often compared to a spiritual experience. The ancient Polynesians were the first humans to view surfing as a spiritual endeavor. Religious even.

Well, let’s imagine for a moment Nat Young was successful. What might surfing be like today? And more importantly—is God a surfer?

Would churches have enormous stained glass windows embossed with images of the Duke, Dora or even Curren? Would the holy water be salt-water based? Would the Sabbath or a swell take precedence? Would the pastor often be a no show because of it? “Sure fellas. I’d love to preach the Good Book today but Blacks is six foot and firing. See ya.”

Holy days would depend on swell too. Employers would grant these days as holidays. The human resources department would make sure of it. Sit back and think about that. This is the world I want to live in. Not one where Christians fight Muslims. A world where a confessional means atoning for all those poor souls you snaked at Rincon during the swell of the year. Nothing else. I want to live in a world where we are separated not by our beliefs, but brought together because of our love of the sea. Wouldn’t mankind be better off coming together as one and ridding the Earth of the real dregs of humanity—the stand-up paddleboarder and the bodyboarder?

It is no coincidence the Earth is more than 70 percent water. And they say Jesus walked on water. So he must have been a surfer. Maybe even the first. Right? He was also a carpenter and a craftsman. Not unlike a shaper really. You think Merrick makes a good board. Every “Jesus” board would be magic. And you can bet your ass he would need a machine to do it. Young punters beware. He might have a preference towards the alaia though.

Religious institutions pride themselves on giving and helping the needy. They pray for them. Surfers pray for surf. We even sacrifice surfboards for the greater good. Now if that’s not giving I don’t know what is. I want to live in a world where we are not judged by the color of our skin but by our punts and nose-riding skills. I want to live in a world where a black bodysurfer from Hawai’i can become President, yet a bodyboarder is still a second class citizen. That is my world. That is Nirvana.

The “Soul Surfer” by default nomenclature alone may be the most holy of the lot. You know the type. They usually look like Jesus anyway. Long hair. Flip flops. He speaks in a language few understand. His own linguistic cocktail of surfer, pigeon and some extinct dialect that fizzed out in the Middle Ages.

I have no doubt in my mind God was a surfer. Tell me divine influence didn’t create Jeffery’s Bay or Pipeline or Teahupoo. If the Earth was God’s canvas, its waves were the brushstrokes. On the seventh day God wasn’t resting. He was surfing perfect Indo. Still think I’m full of shit? For further proof one only needs to refer to Genesis.

And the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters.

Or if the Bhagavad-Gita is your thing. Khrisna said: “I am the ocean.”

Yep, I’m certain. God is a surfer.

Style Bandits: A Case Study

23 09 2009

Style pioneer Miki Dora at Malibu circa 1966.

Style isn’t any exact science. In fact, it’s not science at all. In competitive surfing style is undoubtedly the most overlooked aspect of the judging criteria. If you commit and do something radical, nearly fall, and foresake any resemblance of style you’ll get a better score. If one makes surfing look too easy, the scores will suffer.

There are exceptions, but those with the best style usually hone their skills surfing points and reefbreaks. It makes sense, right? Stinkbug punters and grovelers, for the most part, grew up surfing beachbreaks. Surfers like Curren, Parkinson and even Dora perfected their gifts at world-class pointbreaks.

There is a shift that’s been slowly happening for decade or so. Sadly, style is not what is once was. I see it every day in the lineup. Kids are trying to emulate the Dane Reynolds and Julian Wilsons of the world. But Reynolds and Wilson are fin-free freaks…with style. That is a rarity. Not the norm. These days groms learn airs even before they perfect a simple cutback.

The ASP judging criteria states… “A surfer must perform radical controlled manoeuvres in the critical sections of a wave with speed, power and flow to maximize scoring potential. Innovative/Progressive surfing as well as variety of repertoire (manoeuvres) will be taken into account when rewarding points for waves ridden. The surfer who executes these criteria with the maximum degree of difficulty and commitment on the waves shall be rewarded with the higher scores.” (Note: It was obviously written by an Australian, hence the spelling of “manoeuvres.”)

Did you notice anything peculiar other than the funny spelling? You guessed it. It does not mention style. Repeat. It does not mention STYLE. Not once. Sure it states “flow” will be scored, but not style. Webster’s Dictionary defines flow as “proceeding smoothly and readily.” So if I’m reading it correctly, this means Jihad Khodr will score a perfect 10 on every wave as long as he shaves his entire body, lathers his skin with baby oil and gives the judges a playful San Francisco bath-house wink. If it’s flow they want maybe Marlon Lipke should cohearse Jay-Z to be part of his entourage. Would he then have a better chance of ever making it past the first round? It couldn’t hurt. 

Earlier I stated style is undoubtedly the most over-looked aspect of the judging criteria. Disregard that. I was wrong. It’s not even a part of the judging criteria.

ASP judges, much like a kitten that just witnessed a bird fly past him, are easily distracted. Waving your arms wildly (also known as claiming) scores points. Don’t believe me? How do you explain the longevity of Gary “Kong” Elkerton and Victor Ribas? Maybe the problem is that the long-time ASP head judge was a Brazilian and the system is still recovering, even years later. The irony is the average Brazilian wouldn’t know style even if it crawled up his ass, built a campfire and started roasting marshmallows. But this isn’t about the proper technique for making a Brazilian s’more. I’ll cover that in a future post.

Most will agree Joel Parkinson is perhaps the most stylish surfer on tour right now. His surfing is like sex on satin sheets. It’s slippery smooth. It’s wet. It’s exciting and fun. He’s the world champ-elect for good reason, despite a judging criterion that has always been a few steps behind the times. In the September issue of the Surfer Magazine Parkinson stated this in regards to claiming a wave…“People can give me shit about claiming, but if that’s what it takes to win a world title, then I’ll claim every wave.”

So there you have it. If you wave your arms after that last turn, you’ll win a world title. Now that’s science.

Curren vs. Occy Video Tribute

13 08 2009

Santa Cruz surf filmmaker Josh Pomer has spent nearly 20 years documenting the sport around the globe. He put together this tribute to Tom Curren and Mark Occhilupo to help promote the final installment of The Kill Series, “TK8 Last Ride.”

At stops in Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Newport and La Jolla, Curren will be playing a live score to the film.

For more info you can visit

Fixing Professional Surfing from a Fan’s Perspective

12 08 2009
Is Fixing Pro Surfing that Hard? Pic: Myles McGuinness

Is Fixing Pro Surfing that Hard? Pic: Myles McGuinness

There has been a lot of speculation and talk about a new Rebel Tour taking the wind out of the sails of the current ASP system. The hype and stories are all over the Internet. Gra Murdoch of Australia’s Surfing Life even made a hilarious video on the subject.

My guess is Kelly Slater is leveraging the ASP to make the system better for the future generation of surfers. Rather than “Bustin’ Down the Door,” he’s going through an open window. The current ASP system may be broken in the eyes of the surfers and the fans. But I think it can be fixed and here are some ideas to make it better.

Endemic Sponsorship, Control and Money
Why do three or four surf companies basically control professional surfing? Every other major professional sport has no problem finding advertising dollars from the outside. Why doesn’t Louisville Slugger or Rawlings control professional baseball? Because it’s a ludicrous concept at best. Can you imagine if the NFL gave up all the control to Under Armor or Nike and let them market the events exclusively? The ASP needs to wake up. How freaking amateurish is that?

Having too much endemic sponsorship would go against the soulful dynamic of surfing, wouldn’t it? Well, I have news for you. These surf companies (Quiksilver, Billabong, Rip Curl and Hurley) are multi-million dollar corporations. They have stock holders and bottom lines. Just because they make boardshorts and wetsuits doesn’t automatically make them cool. At the very root, these surf companies have one interest at heart. To make money. To sell you products so they can profit and make more products to sell you. Where is the soul in that? Why does that make them different from Target or Microsoft or Budweiser? More endemic sponsorship may also increase the prize money. And really, that’s what it’s all about isn’t it? 

Let’s face it. If you are a professional surfer you have already sold out to a certain extent. In reality, you’re just a whore. I’m not saying your pimps are bad, but there just might be better pimps out there willing to give you a larger cut of the money.

Marketing Wizards
The ASP has never marketed the sport well. For chrissakes, hire some marketing pros, not a former surfer with a marketing degree from San Diego State and a wicked cutback. The sport needs pit bulls who will market the brand ferociously. Is ASP CEO Brodie Carr that pit bull? Only time will tell.

If you want a laugh, take a look at Really? It looks like a third-grader who bought “An Idiot’s Guide to Selling Product on E-bay” is running the site.

The Feeder Tour
The WQS surfers should compete in the trials of each event to vie for wildcard slots. Why even have separate events at all? Have the WQS events before the WCT events with fewer surfers. Sure this would take up a lot more time and it will piss off the locals, but the locals are pissed at the ASP circus when they come to town anyway.

Involve the Free Surfers
One aspect that makes surfing unique is the free surfer or video pro. Years ago I had a conversation with Brad Gerlach about the subject. Although his “Game” concept never really caught on and was niche idea at best, he was extremely articulate and passionate about the subject. He said surfing is different in that you don’t have to compete to become a pro surfer and that’s great. There should be an opportunity to do that. But Kobe Bryant doesn’t tell Nike “Yeah…I’m over the NBA. Just not feeling it anymore. I’m just going to shoot hoops at the local playground, maybe go to New York and play at Rucker Park a few times a year. But I’ll still wear your shoes and bring a cameraman.” Can you imagine trying to pull that off?

Some of these pro free surfers are considerably better than the guys on the WCT tour. And they are more exciting to watch in many cases. Fans should have the opportunity to see them surf in these events. Some may not want to, but if the money is right they will come.

Slater at Jeffreys Bay

Kelly Slater is a rare example of a true spokesman for the sport who is also the best in the world. Surfers should be better spokesmen. Tony Hawk is a fantastic example of an individual who promoted his sport well. Tom Curren never had it in him to promote the sport. Neither does Andy Irons. Most of the top guys don’t. Someone should teach these guys how to be media savvy. Maybe the problem is most professional surfers drop out of high school or never go to college. I would probably do the same if I had the opportunity. But more often than not, those who don’t make it on the tour or have limited success end up being the team manager for a second-rate surf brand. If the NBA has mandatory seminars on how to avoid gold-digging groupies and how not to shoot yourself in the leg, the ASP can certainly have some sort of training in dealing with the media.

Mother Nature and Webcasting
Surfing is unlike any other sport. Mother Nature is a wildcard. Surf contests, if done correctly, can’t be on a set schedule. Waiting periods have become the norm and that’s a good thing. The Dream Tour has done a good job at having events at the best breaks in the world for the past several years. That is also a good thing. Part of the reason soccer has never caught on in America is because it’s one of the few popular sports that doesn’t cater to TV timeouts and commercials. Surfing is similar in that respect. To bring in revenue, the ASP should sell the television rights and webcasting rights to a media conglomerate with the tools and money to do it right. Don’t let Billabong or Quiksilver do it alone. This should be ESPN’s only involvement. Let them buy in just like they do with professional soccer, baseball and football. Give them too much control and those bastards in Bristol, Connecticut will eat you for breakfast.

Less is More
The so-called rebel tour is rumored to consist of just 16 surfers. This takes out the element of the Cinderella story. Forty-eight surfers might be a little too much. Perhaps 32 or 28 could be the magic number.

Subjective Old Guard Judges
How does one evaluate soul and style? What about progressive maneuvers? It’s difficult isn’t it? Well, not really. My understanding is the same 5-10 judges work each and every event. Why is that? Maybe they should mix it up a little more. Select the judges from a larger pool. And don’t tell me there’s a lack of individuals who can accurately judge the sport. That is a cop out. Judging surfing isn’t rocket science. It’s just surfing.

From the Vault: Tom Curren Speaks

6 08 2009
The cutback that inspired a generion of surfer. Pic: Servais

The cutback that influenced a generation of surfers. Pic: Servais

*Note: The following interview took place just more than 10 years ago and was originally published in a now-defunct magazine I edited. At the time Tom Curren had dropped out of the completive scene for several years and was in the midst of a semi-comeback. I thought I would reproduce it here because of the recent Clash of the Icons event held at JBay. By all indications it was major success and there are rumors of another clash with Occy in the near future.

Tom Curren saunters unnoticed along the sand just south the Huntington Beach Pier. A surfboard rests under each of his arms while his toddler son, Francis, rests on his shoulders. Tom’s hair is cut into a short buzz. His eyes, covered by blue sunglasses, focus on the large surf generated by a hurricane southwest of Baja. He gently places his two-year-old son on the sand. Francis pulls at his shorts like a playful cat. Tom smiles and plays along.

Can you talk a little bit about your impending comeback or whatever you want to call it?
My impending doom?

What are you hoping to accomplish?
Just to do my best, you know. I’m not thinking about where I’m going to finish or anything like that.

You’ve had a little taste of how the tour is now. How would you say it differs from, say, the mid ’80s?
There’s a lot more people surfing in the contests. The equipment has changed a lot. The contest formats are pretty much the same. It’s just a little bit harder I guess.

What about the venues nowadays? There seems to push to have the contest in better waves. Does that excite you?
Yeah. It’d be great to have the opportunity to surf in better contests with better venues. That’s one of the goals I have…to be able to surf good waves with no one out. I didn’t really have that opportunity before.

Is it a goal of yours to qualify for the WCT again?
I’m going to surf some contests coming up. I’m going to Europe and surf the contests over there. I just enjoy competing and want to do as good as I can. Who knows what will happen? I don’t know. I’m working on my boards and I’m just going to try to surf as well as I can.

You mentioned your boards. You’re known for riding some un-conventional stuff. The boards you’ve been riding in these contests seem pretty normal.
Yeah, they’re pretty conventional. Pretty normal. Some are a little different. They have different outline curves, but the actual width and lengths are pretty conventional. There’s a lot that can be done with the normal dimensions…different bottom curves, outlines and stuff like that. But, I’m not riding a 5’7’’ or a four fin or anything like that now.

What do you think about Occy’s comeback? (*This was just before Occy cleaned himself up and won the world title)
I’m happy for him, I guess. I think he’s still surfing really well. He’s still pretty young you know. He’s about 30. If he wants to do the tour now he has plenty of years left to do it. I’ve always been impressed by his surfing. It’s good to see him. If I had him in a heat I would definitely take him very seriously.

Does he inspire you? Does he make you think “if he can do it so can I?”
I haven’t really looked at it that way. I think he has a lot of energy and skill. It takes that and it takes endurance. I think he’s more stable now, you know, and it looks like he’s going to do as good as he can. As far as inspiring me…I don’t know. I can’t really plan what I’m going to be doing as far as results in contests. All I can do is work on my boards, surf and practice. I can’t predict anything. I’m not going to let it get me down if I don’t re-qualify.

You have influenced a whole generation of surfers. How does that make you feel?
(long pause) It’s an honor I guess. There are a lot of other surfers out there and there’s a lot of emphasis on contest surfing. That’s all favorable to me. I just recognize there’s a lot more to surfing than contest surfing. I respect other surfers and what they are doing. And there are a lot of goods surfers out there.

You sound like you don’t want the attention on you. Is that the case?
Yeah, it is in a way, but you know I went through a bit of time doing other things, not really practicing, not really working on my surfing. But I think I feel better surfing everyday. I feel more at peace surfing than not surfing.