Joel Tudor: Unfiltered

The longboard icon speaks without inhibition about the state of surfing

Tudor, poised and opinionated. Photo: Glaser

You’re a world longboard champion and more recently, a world jiu-jitsu champion. Why jiu-jitsu?
I got sick of getting f—ked with. My whole life I got f—ked with for riding different equipment. And that’s basically what it came down to. I got really, really sick of getting my ass kicked. In my lifetime, i’ve gone through a lot for riding a longboard and you can really only put up with so much of it. So I looked for a martial art that was most efficient at kicking everyone’s ass. My teacher was pretty funny, the first time I walked in he was convinced I’d never come back because skinny, wiry, vegetarian guys aren’t really sort of the status quo for the sport. But I got hooked. I feel like as surfers we have such an advantage on so many people. A lot of times when I’d step on the mats and I’d be looking at a guy who was a famous fighter and I’d realize yeah, he’s covered head to toe in tattoos and he’s got 20 pounds on me but you know what, he can’t swim. We have such a mental advantage on so many people because of these environments we put ourselves in. Most people would panic or shit themselves if a bunch of water fell on top of them. And our flexibility and our timing, it’s just next-level. We really are elite athletes who don’t have to train very hard to attain a high level of mastery. I was also fascinated by the history. I had the same sort of affection for it that I have for surfing. Martial arts is an infinite well that you can study your entire life. I never graduated school, I dropped out at 15. I never graduated from anything. Except for maybe the school of Nat Young.

But you’re a scholar of surfing.
I’m a student of surfing. You’ve got to understand, I met Craig Stecyk in a parking lot when I was 11. And he attached himself to me my entire life after that. I also had all these other people around me that were so eccentric and weird. And I think they attached themselves to me because they saw me attaching myself to something that was disappearing. They felt they had a responsibility to guide me in my efforts. The only subject I liked in school was history—I hated the rest of it. History became fascinating to me because I just enjoyed that Marcus Garvey quote, “No tree can grow without its roots.” That’s the story of my life; I always wanted to know the foundation. I think my book [Surf Book, 2005] speaks volumes for the amount of knowledge I attained at such a young age. At a period in my life when most people today are worried about putting their own clips up on the Internet, I made a book about all the people that had given to our spiritual activity that’s changed so many peoples’ lives. I felt a responsibility to pass on the knowledge they had given me. It’s rad to have all this knowledge. I get to share it with my kids and I hope they carry on the tradition, ’cause somebody’s got to carry it.

Are your kids going to be pro surfers?
You want your kids to surf and do all these different things, but surfing happens. And talent with surfing happens naturally, it’s not just something that can be forced. Even for all the parents that are on the beach at Lowers with video cameras, sending all their videos to the magazines, hoping that their kid makes millions of dollars, that’s not the angle. All of us fell into these amazing situations to make a living with surfing; it was never on purpose. Money was never a reason for surfing, and it was never a reason to surf really well. You were rewarded for your talent. And I think people need to focus on that again and have the love for the activity as opposed to loving the activity to get to the paycheck.

So do you think as a culture we’ve lost sight of what surfing really is?
We haven’t lost sight. I think we get a little jaded. I think those of us that are over-informed need to remember that we’re over-informed. But I think we’ve all gotten so obsessed with chasing the buck and attempting to make ourselves different from everyone else that we sort of lost sight of how cool the whole activity is. As a whole, not just one little thing. And we also need to maybe take a step back for a second and appreciate it for what it is. You know what I mean? It’s rad, all categories. Bodyboarding’s rad, bodyboarders are rad—that shit’s hard as can be. You don’t believe me? Take a bodyboard out to Pipeline sometime. Bodysurfing has become a little bit trendy, with some people trying to attach themselves to the bodysurf culture, but bodysurfing’s still rad, it’s cool as can be. Chicks surfing is f—king awesome. I can’t explain to you how much better that is. They’ve given light to the entire activity, it’s great. When you get old, people that are older than you are cool. Because all the things you’re going against—your body falling apart, arthritis, neck issues, back issues—if you really dedicate yourself and do it your whole life, even if you’re not good, you’re f—king cool. As I’m getting older, I’m realizing how cool all of it is. When you’re younger, you have attitude and an opinion on this and on that, but when you’re older you realize that doesn’t matter, you definitely get some perspective. I’m just sitting back and appreciating all of it.