Bow Before Mike Stewart

A hooded member of the Jedi Council of advanced wave-riders

Mike Stewart’s EOS page just posted, and to mark the occasion I will now attempt to triangulate Stewart’s woefully underrated surf-world awesomeness using Kelly Slater and George Greenough. Nobody else will do. Slater and Greenough. God and Buddha. On the thousand-plus-year parchment scroll of surf history, this is the kind of lofty company Mike Stewart keeps.

Time and again, while making the clip you see here (filmed mostly in the mid- and late-’80s), my Slater ganglia were set a-tingle. So many likenesses between the two. The flow. The confidence. The blood pressure, which apparently never leaves the green zone. The John-McEnroe-squared level of competitiveness—a superpower that occasionally doubles as a 25-pound albatross necklace. Stewart and Slater are both as loose and bendable as they are strong. They both create on the fly—my favorite wave in the clip above begins at 0:43, where Stewart punches a midface cutback, Ollie-hops into the pocket, then does an extended pasodoble on the foam ball. Slater is on record somewhere saying that Stewart was one of his original tube-riding inspirations, which makes total sense. That freaky high-line tube Slater whipped out in the semis against JJF at Teahupoo a few months back? The perfect 10? Stewart had that line dialed when Slater was still on Team Op.

Here is my list, in order, of the five most advanced wave-riders of all time: 1) George Greenough, 2) Mike Stewart, 3) Wayne Lynch, 4) Shaun Tomson, 5) Kelly Slater. Attack me. Attack my list. I will defend.

The dividing line here, obviously, is equipment. Lynch, Tomson and Slater all proved that you can put some daylight between yourself and the rest of the world’s best while riding more or less standard equipment. But to really break free—to not merely sail away from the known shores, but to disappear right over the horizon line—requires a complete break with equipment orthodoxy. For both Greenough and Stewart, that meant short, blunt, and flexible. On his spoon kneeboard, Greenough invented the banked-pocket turn, the figure-eight cutback, the air-drop. Actually, let’s just say he invented shortboard surfing. On his Mach 7-7 bodyboard, Stewart, working alone, completely revised and updated the Book of Tuberiding. He didn’t create the aerial, but up to that point the move was compelling in the way kids throwing glass bottles off a balcony is compelling. Stewart classed that shit up.

I made my list, above, after recently coming across SURFER’s 2009 “50 Greatest Surfers of All Time” list. Greenough at #19? A slap in the face. Stewart at #41? A slap in the face, followed by a Muay Thai spin-kick to the nuts.

I bow down to the greater wisdom of Nat Young, who bowed down to George Greenough. I bow down to the greater wisdom of Tom Curren, who bowed down to Mike Stewart.

Better minds than my own have thought these matters over.