A couple of years ago, I paddled out to Teahupoo at first light. The waves had come up overnight and it was at that size that people—including most pros—really don't want to paddle into. Before long, the lineup was dotted with a handful of elite Chopes chargers: Andy, Manoa, the Hobgoods, Cory Lopez. But the standout that day, by a mile, was Bruce. He absolutely ruled it. He was obviously excited, but also had this calm confidence that's rare in surf of such consequence. A bomb would come in and everyone else would scratch straight over it or pretend to have a look, but Bruce would whip mid-face, put his head down, and commit. That day, everyone in the water wanted to be like Bruce.
I was impressed, but not surprised. As a skinny white-haired grom, Bruce earned respect early on by launching himself over the ledge at the heaviest spots at his beloved home island of Kauai. On the North Shore and beyond, he quickly established himself as one of the best all-around surfers in the world, from soft chest-high Trestles to gaping triple-overhead Pipe.
A lot of the credit for Bruce's success belongs to his big brother Andy. Their open rivalry benefited both. When not battling on the beach, the two would spar everyday in the water, trying to one-up each other with higher airs and deeper tubes.
Because of his freakish natural ability, it was only natural for Bruce to want to see if he had what it took to follow Andy's path and win a world title. But that was not to be. Bruce's raw style was stifled by judging criteria, and he could never quite channel his freesurfing superpowers into consistent contest results. Frustrated and bored, he decided to retire from the Tour for good.
In my opinion, Bruce is back where he should be. It's as though he's finally been returned to us after an ASP kidnapping. Bruce's best years are still ahead of him—even though he's already achieved two things that most pros only dream about: winning the Eddie Aikau at massive Waimea Bay and dethroning Kelly Slater by taking his place in the final segment of a Taylor Steele video. I can't think of anybody else (except, maybe, Andy) who could pull that off.
Considering the huge and ever-growing parade of talented surfers out there these days, the question remains: Why does everyone love Bruce so much? What is it that makes him one of the best-paid surfers in the world? I can only speak for myself, and I love Bruce because he simply doesn't give a f-ck. He's not trying to be a role model. He doesn't care how he "represents" our sport. He rarely censors his thoughts—or his surfing.
And on certain days, on certain waves, almost all of us—including some of the best surfers who've ever lived—wish they could surf like him.—Shane Dorian