Derek Hynd and the Philosophy of Free Friction

A profile from our October 2011 issue

“The speed factor without fins is ramped up,” says Hynd of this shot at J-Bay. “The drop happens in an instant. It puts the rest of a big wall in a different perspective. In this shot I’m about a second ahead of where I’d normally be if riding with fins. It reminds me of where Makaha Point surf riders may have been in the early days before the fin—which is a prime reason for searching the far field of free friction to begin with.” Photo: Van Gysen

The surf is building. We’re at an A-grade pointbreak—a kind of warm-water Jeffrey’s Bay. Paddling into the lineup, I immediately recognize the atmosphere. It’s the aggressive mediocrity that characterizes most good lineups in the developed world. The kind of hysterical devotion of the nine-to-fiver getting their recreational fix in a kind of bland denial of the ever-decreasing crumbs available to them. In among this chaos Hynd glides and hunts like a wily leopard seal; now, pouncing on a stray penguin who has slipped off the ice, now darting wide to snaffle an unclaimed morsel. His surfing among this mostly hunched and desperate masturbatory frenzy seems almost bizarrely baroque and graceful and attracts curious, uncomprehending stares from the kinds of unsmiling monkeys who will flap and butt wiggle their way across the next oceanic scrap they can get their hands on.

Surfing’s most lateral thinker is laying down an improvised track. Relentless progression as the body ages and eventually fails the commands of the mind. Even outlasting the bastards has a time limit. In the moment he is driving down the line, on the edge of control—an apparition of acceleration—flying toward surfing’s future. The whole crushing meat market of mass consumer culture surrounds him, moving inexorably in like a slow-motion scream, while his exploration of nothingness continues and infinity beckons. The voices in the wilderness are becoming fewer as conservative elements become dominant.

In the car after the session, we hear that Osama Bin Laden has been killed. I ask Derek for his thoughts. With touching innocence he tells me: “Retaining composure in whatever crap lands around you is worth its weight in gold.” He then pauses and glances at me, his world-weary eyes now full of fire: “Hold your line and don’t bend over.”

Thus endeth the sermon.