The Decision

Rob Gilley on the void Dane Reynolds left on the World Tour

All we wanted was to watch Dane surf, in or out of a jersey. Photo: Gilley

I don’t know if you follow traditional sports, but a couple of years ago one of the most famous basketball players of all time, LeBron James, became an unrestricted free agent. With the knowledge that off-the-charts speculation, analysis, and hype would surround LeBron’s next team choice, a freelance sportscaster named Jim Gray convinced LeBron (and his agents) to announce his new home on a sponsored, nationally-televised one-hour TV special, named, unsurprisingly, The Decision.

Whether a fifteen second announcement surrounded by a shockingly hyped and marketed 60 minute program represented a new low for western civilization remains unclear, but more to the point is that this show succeeded in its intention: it achieved high ratings, furthered LeBron’s brand exposure, and became the topic du jour at water coolers the world over.

Of course the closest thing to The Decision in the surf world is Dane Reynolds’ choice to leave the World Tour. Not since Kelly Slater decided to join Quiksilver have lineups been so afire with debate and gossip.

As for timing, weighing in on Dane’s decision puts me way behind the eight ball, but a recent event gives me a good excuse to flog a dead horse: The 2012 Hurley Pro at Lowers.

With the early demise of Brett Simpson and Taylor Knox in the event, there were no Californians left to cheer for after Round 3, and as much as a global surf citizen I pretend to be, this made me a little depressed. It was like the Chargers taking a beat down from the Patriots…again.

Those familiar with the competitive history of California surfers know that other than the Tom Curren years, our standing on the world scale hasn’t exactly been stellar. In fact, given our population pool, it’s pretty abysmal.

That’s why the rise of Dane Reynolds and his associated pitch-perfect, devil-may-care, throw-caution-to-the-wind ethic was so worshipped: here was a West Coast boy who didn’t seem to give a shit, but was going to kick some World Tour ass just the same. For California surf fans, it was having our cake and eating it too.

And after three full rounds of perfect glassy Lowers ramps, I really wanted Dane to come back and carve me a huge piece of Australian poundcake.

These are impure thoughts of course. As I have alluded to before, in its essence competition runs counter to the very spirit of surfing itself. Time limits, hassling, letting perfect waves go by unridden under the banner of “priority,” and wanting to crush your fellow competitor into unrecognizable mulch are not, and should not, be qualities associated with the aloha sport.

Better heads will prevail, as they say, and lucky for us, Dane seems to possess one. Under grand self-introspection, he decided that surfing contests full-time stymied his surfing, and stymieing one’s surfing is tantamount to selling-out. And further, to answer doubt about his motives, Dane even wrote a raw, eloquent, and decidedly tongue-in-cheek declaration of independence, a gesture that represented, to me at least, the antithesis of The Decision.

While lost in reverence for this soulful document, my desire to see a Californian do well on the World Tour remains. OK, that’s not the full truth. What I really miss, and what I suspect many other fans of great surfing miss, is the opportunity to see Dane surf on a semi-regular basis—that’s it. It was just comforting to know that, at the very least, I could log on to a World Tour webcast and see the young airman take-off and fly at an appointed hour.

What it comes down to is that I support Dane’s decision because he deserved to make it. He has paid his dues. He has proved his ability beyond any reasonable doubt. He has fossilized his validity. He has surfed hundreds (thousands?) of contests, and more than any of us, understands the exact value of competitive surfing.

Admittedly, my opinion on the matter is also skewed by the fact that I know Dane a little bit. I went on a photo trip with him once, and found him to be a polite and humble kid with a sense of humor. He also carried a trait that fewer and fewer professional surfers possess these days—he seems to be smart. He reads books, of all things.

So like a fame-brushed, name-dropping, blinded fan, I am supportive of whatever Dane chooses to do.

But it also happens that I wholeheartedly agree with the basic, over-riding tenet of his declaration.

That above all, surfing should be unrestricted.