This surreal image of Laird Hamilton stunned the surf world and inspired a growing contingency of slab hunting tow surfers to go bigger than ever.
As in most things in life, the world of surfing is cyclical, yet within the cycles we see changes. While in the 90’s surfers wouldn’t be caught dead wearing the tight neon board shorts of the 80’s, during the first decade of the new millennium they became cool again. In the 1990’s it was all about the potato chip thin, needle sharp boards popularized by “new school” surfers such as Kelly Slater. Nowadays Slater prefers short, stubby boards that would have been scoffed at ten years earlier.
The retro trends of the 2000’s were for many a nostalgic look into the past for answers to present questions, but for others just another way to look cool at the beach. Surfing is what you make of it. To those who don’t know any better, the trends or shifts in surfing culture simply dictate what size board or color shirt to wear, but for those truly involved, they point towards either making surfing more functional, accessible, and like Kelly’s shift to shorter boards, just more fun.
As we enter this new decade, it will be interesting to see what route the world of surfing will take, and how the memories, events, and trends of past will shape the way we perform and look at our sport. Here are 5 interesting stories and phenomena that capture some of the spirit of the 2000’s.
1) Laird’s Millennium Wave- Photos of Laird Hamilton navigating an enormous barrel at the infamous Tahitian reef known as Teahupo’o surfaced on the web in August 2000, shocking the surf community to the core. Hamilton, a dedicated and well respected waterman, has always pushed the limit, but this one ride was the pinnacle of his career, one that redefined what was thought possible-a monstrous, unbelievable, and surreal looking 25 foot slab that defied imagination.
2) Quiksilvers Young Guns- Funded by Quiksilver a handful of some of the world’s best young surfers, accompanied by Kelly Slater, scoured the Mentawaii island chain off the Coast of Sumatra in Indonesia in search of perfect waves, documenting the action all the while for their highly acclaimed, “Young Guns” surf flicks. On three separate occasions, Slater and a crew of high profile young surfers- guys like Dane Reynolds, Clay Marzo, and Ry Craike, proved themselves as future innovators of the sport, ripping defenseless Indonesian waves with reckless abandon. Helicopters, Jet ski’s, and 5star treatment aboard the luxurious Indies Trader 4 may have cost the surf wear giant a pretty penny, but the series has been a big hit- not only a successful marketing ploy by Quik, but also serving as a great platform for current super stars such as Julian Wilson to showcase their skills to the world.
3) The Slater/ Irons rivalry- The first half of the 2000’s was all about the intense, dramatic, and at times see-saw battle for surfing dominance between Kelly Slater and Andy Irons. Irons, the hardheaded upstart, emerged from the 90’s as a focused, calculating, and cutthroat competitor. In fact, as Irons found his competitive rhythm flower, he became one of the few athletes able to ruffle Slater’s feathers, who had dominated the WCT during the 90’s. As the two squared of in several nail biting world title chases, the surf media fed on the drama and exaggerated it a bit, because it helped sell magazines. As Slater observed to Transwordsurf.com in 2008,“Hype creates great situations in sports. It definitely gets overdone, but it’s also not without merit. There’s a reality to feelings and situations in those places, but it gets fed by the media in a negative way—most often that doesn’t really help you as a person but does help you as a competitor to focus” Recently the two seemed to have squashed the beef by traveling together in a free surf boat trip. Documented in the film entitled, “A Fly in the Champagne”, the trip served as a chance for the two to put aside their differences to travel to Indonesia together to surf as friends.
4) Clark Foam Scare- One man, Gordon “Grubby” Clark, was able singlehandedly to put the surfboard industry on hold when he decided to shut down his surfboard foam business, Clark Foam, in 2005. Controlling a monopoly on polyurethane surfboard foam blanks for decades-quite often through ruthless business tactics-Clark sent a wave of panic through the industry, as the supply of blanks suddenly sent shapers on a quest for alternative sources of foam, which in turn sent up the price of boards through the roof. While Doomsday scenarios of a world without surfboards have been put to rest, many shapers got busy looking for different ways to get their precious foam blanks. While the blank scare raised the prices of boards, the craft actually may have benefited from Clark’s rash decision to cut and run. Now, shapers are not only looking to different sources of foam, they are also introducing new, innovative, and environmentally friendly materials for board production, such as “biofoam”(polyurethane foam made locally with less hazardous materials), sugarcane blanks, and bamboo stringers, just to name a few.
5) Attack of the Groms- During the late 00’s, surf brands began showcasing their mini-me like pro surfers, many of whom had barely reached puberty, in a high percentage of their advertising campaigns. For a time it seemed as though every magazine you leafed through had surfers under the age of 16 on every other page. Rumors of big money contracts put the spotlight on these young rippers. Many of the older, struggling pros grumbled at the new focus on youth, yet the surfing of some of these kids was so impressive that it could not be ignored. Not to be defined simply as tools of the industry, many of these youngsters, including John John Florence, Kolohe Andino, Evan Geisleman, and Santa Cruz’s own Nat Young have proven themselves worthy of the spotlight, in some ways not only keeping up with their elders, but surpassing them. Young has established himself as a distinguished competitor, racking up numerous national titles, a spot on the Gold winning US Team, and even a 4 star WQS victory, right here at his favorite break, Steamer Lane. Andino is hot on Young’s trail, with a recent win at the NSSA Nationals Open Men’s division, and numerous scalpings of veterans of the WQS in the select events he’s entered this year. These kids have been well groomed to chase the dream of a world title, and there’s nothing holding them back. Believe the hype.