What do you say about a night that has a little bit of everything? Because if you’re telling the story of the 2006 Surfer Poll and Video Awards, it’s kind of hard to figure out exactly where to begin. Should we start with the red carpet, lined with paparazzi snapping shots and snatching interviews with the latest surf star arrivals? We could, but that’s a story you’ve probably heard before—or at least if you’ve been paying any attention to the Surfer Poll for the past 34 years you have. So, scratch that idea. What about starting with the capacity crowd that filled The Grove in Anaheim to see how their heroes fared at this year’s Poll? Hmmm, interesting. After all, the fire marshal showed up, refusing to let anybody else in the venue, stranding dozens of would be revelers outside on the curb, including Kelly Slater who only snuck in because, well, he’s Kelly Slater.
Or, what if we started the story with how close the results of this year’s Surfer Poll were? Hey, now that’s something. It’s been a long time since a race was this tight. Reminiscent of the George Bush/Al Gore battle for the presidency in 2000, controversy and lawsuits aside of course, the competition to be named in the top ten men and top five women was hard-fought to say the least. Cory Lopez barely edged out Joel Parkinson to slide into the tenth slot, while the surprise of the night came when Bobby Martinez rose from out of nowhere into a very respectable fifth. At no time in the history of the Surfer Poll has somebody come on so strong. Ooo, now we’re getting somewhere. Oh yeah, and while we’re on the subject, Rob Machado, he’s another that’s enjoyed a bit of a resurgence on the Poll. Almost dropping off last year, and maybe partly because of his wins at Pipeline and Huntington earlier this year, Machado surged back, finishing third between Andy Irons who filled the runner-up position, and Bruce Irons who slipped into forth.
But now come to think of it, you could find the results any old place online, so maybe that’s not the right place to start this thing. How about starting out by tugging on the old heartstrings? People love those kinds of stories, don’t they? The ones that start off with somebody facing insurmountable odds, and somehow, if only by the grace of God, after a long, trying battle ultimately overcoming them. It’s the kind of stuff movies are made of. Hey, what a perfect segue into the Video Awards. One of the most inspiring films of the year, and winner of the Best Documentary category this year, Sofia: A Documentary, is most definitely chalked full of emotion. Following the Peruvian world champ from the countryside of her native Peru to surfing’s biggest stage, if it’s a film about overcoming obstacles you’re after, Sofia’s got it. And speaking of overcoming obstacles, with a blistering start to his rookie year on the WCT, Bobby Martinez was named Breakthrough Performer of the Year. With his patented Cheshire Cat-like smile spread from ear to ear, when Martinez took the stage he appeared so humbled he was barely able to say, “I just can’t believe this.” We also can’t forget one of Martinez’s good friends from back in the NSSA days, Brian Conley. Known more for his funky diet regiment and bravado in Mexican beachbreaks, with the debut of his first movie, My Eyes Won’t Dry, Conley’s been able to prove that there’s much more to his act than just a big 4×4 called the “Hurricane Chaser”. Conley in fact has some cinematic talents, which was recognized this year as he took home the award for Breakthrough Filmmaker of the Year. We’d also hate to forget to talk about Dane Reynolds walking away with not only the Best Performance by a Male, but also Movie of the Year for his part in the newly released First Chapter. Timmy Turner, fresh off a hair-raising, two-week hell mission through Baja, and of course, as he candidly reminded the audience, “pretty gnarly brain surgery,” stood at the podium to announce the Movie of the Year candidates. In proving that actions speak louder than words, Turner received the only standing ovation of the night…which is saying a lot considering the star power on stage.
That’s all well and good, but by now you’re probably wondering how the hell we’re going to start this story, and ultimately, who the hell won, right? Well, who do you think won? Sure the fire marshal wasn’t all that keen on letting Kelly Slater in, but the thousands of people that voted were, and at the end of the night, after Sofia had been named as the Number One woman in 2006, it was Slater’s time to stand in the spotlight. In one of the most genuine, heartfelt speeches of the evening, Slater thanked not only all of the friends and fans that continue to support him, but surfing in general, as a lifestyle, a livelihood, and ultimately, a way of life. Caught up in emotion, he got choked up when he recollected the time Al Merrick and his father spent together before his father passed away. He also gave a nod to the next generation of heroes, most notably Bobby Martinez and Sofia Mulanovich for their grit, passion and determination. So maybe that’s what we should start with, that under all of the hype and hoopla surrounding surfing and the Surfer Poll these days, deep down we’re all just surfers, and we’re all just trying to find a way to stay stoked. We could start there, but considering how much I’ve already written, maybe it’s better if we just leave it at that.