Photo: Ellis
Photo: Ellis

Wisdom: Nat Young

69, 1966 World Champion, NSW, Australia

Competition can take some of the fun out of surfing. The early '60s were all about having fun. There was no sort of competition involved and surfing was a really social thing. We were competing with ourselves because we wanted to get better, but no one was saying "I'm better than you" or "I'm going to win this contest."

True genius is rare in surfing. George Greenough is a genius. George was the first guy I saw ride a wave how I wanted to ride a wave. I'd never seen anyone able…to place themselves inside the curl. Prior to that, it was all about passing by the curl and just waving at it.

People who can give genuinely and unconditionally are really special. That's what Greenough was to me. One day, he took the fin off my Magic Sam and put a new one on it with more energy and bounce, sanded it and got it ready for me. The board was spot-on and that's the board I won the '66 World Championships on.

People say "Everyone wants to see a winner," but in retrospect, I don't think that's right. I actually believed that for a long time, but I don't think surfing ever qualified as a very good competitive sport.

Surfing is completely subjective. Competition is best suited for sports where you have some line that's being crossed with a ball, or a net the ball is getting put into—anything with a defined winning or losing situation. That's competition.

In order to go forward, you've got to look at your past. I've never met anyone from the WSL, but I find it terrible [that] they don't listen to what surfing's elders are saying before they start trying to develop a style of competition that doesn't represent surfing as it truly is. I object to that. Surfing has a really strong, proud heritage. They've put surfers into boxes, telling them which maneuvers they have to do to win, and we're ending up with surfers who are doing everything by the book with little style and no understanding of the heritage of our sport.

The best surfer is the one who is good on many different boards. World Tour surfers should have to surf all kinds of boards: longboards, shortboards, retro boards. Something like that would be fantastic.

Good style is doing something with form, not trying to just do a maneuver for maneuver's sake. It's a surfer's individual way of just being. Ryan Burch is a classic stylist who hasn't been affected by competition. Joel Tudor and my son Bryce are exactly the same way. They're all unbelievable surfers that are into riding different styles of boards in different types of conditions.

It pays to experiment with different boards. The great thing about surfing is, we are riding nature and nature changes. Sometimes you can't fit a longboard in a certain curve and it looks ridiculous trying to make it fit. Other times a longboard works better than a shortboard.

Good longboarding is more than just noseriding across the flats. I don't think noseriding should be done unless it's back in the curl. It should be done as a slowing-down maneuver, not a speeding-up maneuver. If you want to slow things down, go to the nose.

It's a shame that longboarding has been made into this B-grade sideshow. Devon Howard and all those other beautiful, incredible longboarders should be given a better platform and more respect.

Kids have the right to imitate their heroes. Some people shit on other people for that, but I think that's the way nature intended it to be. You have heroes and you try to copy them until you become good enough to get off those train tracks behind them and do something for yourself.

Give respect to gain respect. Whether it's towards a wave, a woman, or someone of a different race, you have to be respectful. This is even more important now, as there are more people surfing and more people on the planet.

When it comes to the environment, we should all tread lightly. It's frightening that money can rule over what's being done to the environment. It's important that we all have jobs, but where is that going to lead us if we trash the planet? Everything in nature is connected, so we need to be careful.

Make it a beautiful life. You've only got one f–king chance. You've only got one go.

Photo: Bickford

[This feature originally appeared in our April 2017 Issue, “Evolution,” on newsstands and available for download now.]