Joel Tudor: Unfiltered

The longboard icon speaks without inhibition about the state of surfing

Single-fin slab, San Diego. Photo: Ghiglia

Today, the “ride everything” mentality is more pervasive than it ever has been and that’s been something you’ve been championing all your life.
Surfing is everything, it’s not just one thing. And you can accomplish all of it; you don’t have to ride one piece of equipment, which now everyone’s kind of doing. I didn’t have an ASP/NSSA upbringing. I didn’t grow up with Ian [Cairns] and PT [Peter Townend] telling me what was cool. I grew up with Nat [Young] telling me what was cool.

And really, Nat’s one of the founders of our counterculture. Nat was such a powerful figure for me. He rode everything. He would just critique the shit out of me if I did something wrong. And really, I couldn’t say anything back to him because he was so legitimate. There was no backlashing the man. He pressed so many things on us that were so different, and that made us step outside of the box. I mean, yeah, we went to contests and all that, but he also lectured us about having manners, which is funny coming from him. But he’d also tell us crazy things, like telling us to take psychedelics. And we did. And those were experiences and times that were priceless. Because I wanted to experience the things that they experienced. I wanted to surf on acid, I wanted to do all these things. And I did, under his guidance. And I know parents are gonna freak out on this, and I hate to say it, but that’s surf culture. It really is surf culture. I was under an elder, a chief. It was only natural to do that kind of stuff. And it molded me into who I am today. I wouldn’t take any of it back.

And surf culture now?
It’s a different time. I mean the kids these days think it’s normal to take a filmer to the beach and make a video about yourself and put it up on the Internet. For some reason it is just completely cool to blow your own horn in 2012. Like there’s nothing wrong with being an egomaniac and basing your entire existence from sunup to sundown on producing yourself as a cool person. In my day, if you did that, you were done. My car would still be getting destroyed every time I parked it in the lot. Today, it’s all about yourself and how to make yourself seem cool. How much talent you have doesn’t seem to matter. It’s cool to film and make videos and all that shit, but not if that’s your sole purpose for surfing. If you can’t go to the beach and have fun without a filmer, well something’s wrong.

You’re not really getting everything that surfing has to offer.
There’s something really natural about getting into your car and not contacting anybody and just disappearing and finding a wave and just surfing. That lonely aspect is an escape and a cancellation of all the shit that you deal with on a day-to-day basis. And sometimes it’s just cool to leave the documenter or photographer behind and not spend the rest of the day editing your clips to get it up by that night. I think we’re just spending too much time making ourselves look cool. I mean I’m not gonna knock it, it’s how we make a living, and I get it, but there’s just something kinda tacky about it. I like the old Greg Weaver theory or even Denjiro Sato, who I got to work with when I was a kid, they would show up and film you and you wouldn’t know. And they would do it on purpose, because I think that element of not knowing a filmer is around makes you surf that much better. And that’s why the best surf sessions are not on film. Because you don’t have the pressure of performing. Natural is better than posed.

As someone who comes from a skate background what are your thoughts on aerial surfing?
I’m so sick of watching the same rotation air, it’s about as lame as noseriding on every wave—it gets monotonous and old. You’ve got to break up the routine. Everyone can do the same air and they do it on every wave. You’re watering down a trick that’s cool. You’re taking the technical aspect out of it ’cause you’re doing them every wave. And then it really comes down to who has the best style when they do it. Overall, I think that a lot of aerial surfers would really benefit from studying skateboarding a little more. If you look at how much skateboarding was influenced by surfing—with the current state of airs, it would only make sense if these guys took some time and learned a little bit from skateboarding. I mean, there are some crazy airs. I watch everything—that Matt Meola Innersection thing was incredible. That stuff’s cool. I don’t necessarily like the style of certain things, and I think that’s where skateboarding would probably fix the kinks. Some of these guys could actually benefit from taking a little bit of time and rolling around on four-wheels.

What’s it going to take to change course? What’s going to slow the onslaught of air reverses?
Cancel your Facebook.

Cancel your facebook? That’s it? Stop watching two-minute clips on the internet?
Well the Internet has changed everything. It kind of waters down certain things, because everybody can see something and copy it immediately. Before, you had a long window of originality before someone could get to it. In this day and age, you have about 20 seconds before somebody sees it and they’re like, “I want to do that too.” And then it’s a fight for who did it first.

Who’s getting it right?
I think Ryan Burch embodies the future of surfing. Burch’s approach applies to every surfer. He embodies what we’re all about, he makes his own equipment, he’s fascinated by different things, he moves from one board to another. We need more free-thinkers in our next and current generations. Ryan is an example of what it will take for us to get to the next level of the sport. Simon Anderson had the sense to make three fins the same size and the only way he did that was because he was designing his own equipment. Ryan embodies a change in surfing in that direction. We need more free-thinkers who aren’t 50 years old.

In your opinion, what is the cutting edge of performance surfing right now?
I look forward to going to Hawaii every year because for me, the proof is in the pudding. I get to go and see all the hype. And I’m a pretty astute critic. I believe you have to surf big waves as well as you surf small waves. I came from that generation. I think that’s super important. What’s blowing me away is the level of tube-riding. Airs I could give two shits about. But the level of tube-riding when you go and you sit at Pipeline and you watch, every year the bar is getting higher. John John is leading that charge. I used to say that Tom Carroll bought the blueprints of the reef at Pipeline from Dane Kealoha, Kelly took the blueprints from Tom Carroll, and now it seems like Jamie [O’Brien] and John John got the blueprints of the reef too. John John is probably the best surfer in the world today—he’s on that level of being able to ride a 10-foot wave like a 2-foot wave. He schools Dane Reynolds in that aspect, hands down.