If Brian Toth is PR’s Mike Tyson then Dylan Graves is it’s Barishnikov, the most mesmerizing combination of grace and performance to ever spring from the island. Sure he can turn it on in a contest. In fact, the impish 18-year-old regularly wins pro events, including APSPR contest at Wilderness. But when you watch Dylan’s effortless style you can’t help but wonder: does he even think about the moves ahead of time? Or do they simply materialize as he flows along — and often above — the wave face?
As his older brother and mentor Josie says, “Dylan makes every wave look beautiful.” It’s a captivating power capable of producing thousands of images. It’s also made “D” perhaps the most recognizable of all of PR’s current crop.
You’ve won some serious contests but you don’t seem quite as competitive as some of the other guys. Or is that just good style?
Umm. I don’t know. Well, Brian, we call him the Bulldog. He’s always aggressive. When I’m freesurfing, I don’t’ think of competing, I’m just trying to have fun. Of course, when I’m in a heat that’s a different story. I try to be as competitive as possible, but still try to respect the other guys in the heat.
Josie seems even farther removed in some ways. He’ll scoot down away from the pack and slip into some of the better waves. He finds like a separate groove and sneak these peaks and tear ’em up. There’s a mature air to him of sorts. Has he always played the big brother?
Yeah. Pretty much. If we’re doing something stupid, he’ll step in and be like, “Look, You;re being retarded.” He’s been the one to call us out on everything.
How was it coming up as a bunch of little gringo surfers in PR? Was it tough at any point?
[laughs] Nah. I never even really knew I was a gringo. [laughs] I never really thought of that.
Did anyone ever say it to you?
Only in school. And not in a bad way. Just like that’s my name, ‘Oh, Gringo, yeah.’ My brother was Gringo, too. All kids with blonde hair were called Gringo just because they looked American. [laughs] I was just a grom and I’d just go surf Jobos on the sandbar. And go surf the outside when I was feeling daring. It never really crossed my mind that I was a gringo.
So when were you daring enough to go out to the main peak?
I don’t remember an exact age. I remember when we were all still on the sandbar. And I guess my brother [Josie] was the king of the sandbar, he was the oldest. And he kind of graduated and just surfed the outside and Brian went at the same time. And I was king of the sandbar for a little bit. I followed them out there at some point but I can’t remember how old we were exactly. So you surfed Jobos almost entirely at first. When did you start going out and looking for these other spots? Did you guys all migrate at the same time, like in a group?
Yeah, we were pretty much a group with everything we did. We’d all go surf one spot. We’d go eat together. Pretty much did everything together. I don’t know what age but I remember the first time I went over to Surfers [Beach]. It was probably like head-high and there was all these people around — a lot different from Jobos — and I was like “whoa.” It was gnarly. My mom was out there and she was like, “Just look out for the sets.” And Aron [Gieger]’s mom Becky was out there, and it was me and her daughter, Tarah, and we were pretty stoked just to catch a couple waves.
That doesn’t seem to be a problem anymore. Obviously, your parents were a huge influence with getting in the water.
Oh yeah. I always just used my mom or dad’s boards. I never even had a board until I was 7 or 8.
At the East Coast Hall of Fame awards when you guys accepted the award for your dad, [Lewis Graves], Carlos Cabrero stood up and made his own rousing speech. How much of an influence was your dad on the PR community?
My dad would like hook everyone up with wax or product, so everyone was really stoked on him. And he surfed good. I remember one time at Jobos, he did this cutback and I was paddling back out, and he sprayed me and I started crying. [laughs] And he was like, “What’s going on?” And I was like, “You sprayed me! And it landed in my eye.” [laughs] And all the people out there started laughing. It was pretty funny. I think I was seven or eight.
How was the relationship with your Josie and Brian. Were they real encouraging? Or were they like, “You guys are pests, get away?”
A little bit of both. Wes [Toth] and I always hung out more because were the younger brothers. But they were pretty encouraging. They’d never just be like, “Beat it, groms.” They would always want to surf with us and want to see us do good.
Does it help that both you and the Toths have such supportive moms, too?
It definitely helps to have some cool moms. They’re really cool on letting us explore. They trust us a lot. They’ll let us travel on our own. They went the first few times and thenw hen we were like 15, they were like, “Alright, you guys can do this.”
When was the first year you went to Hawaii?
Did you surf Pipe the first trip?
Yeah. That was definitely an eye-opening experience. I didn’t even want to paddle out and Otto [Flores] sort of talked me into it. He was like, “You don’t even have to catch waves, just go sit in the channel and check it out.” I didn’t even think I was going to make it out. And I’m sitting there watching these huge barrels, guys just dropping in screaming, it was crazy.
Did you catch a wave?
I caught a wave in. It was one of the sandbar little ones. [laughs]
What’s the biggest day you surfed now?
Surfed? About eight feet. But one day after the 2003 Hansen’s pro, the WQS, after it ended it was picking up through the day and it just got huge, like 10 or 12 feet. And I borrowed Darryl Goodrum’s board. A brand new 7’2.” And I take it out and I get to the pack and this set comes, one of those rogue sets that clears everyone out. And I bailed my board and came up — I hadn’t even caught a wave yet — and the board’s broken. It was the weirdest spot to be broken. I was left with one fin. A lot of Puerto Ricans have really excelled in Hawaii. Which waves prepare you most?
[CENSORED] prepares you a lot. It’s a big left barrel and it breaks in front of this cliff thing that’s pretty gnarly. And Middles is good too, especially when it’s big. It’s a really barreling, top-to-bottom, crazy wave. We have a lot of waves that prepare you for Hawaii. We’re pretty used to everything. Everyone’s hit the reef a couple times, everyone’s used to it, so it’s not that big of a deal.
Do you think there are waves here that rival Hawaii.
This one wave [CENSORED] is pretty frickin’ gnarly. Definitely comparable to Backdoor in Hawaii. It’s not set up the same, but the waves just barrels so hard, and so top to bottom, you can compare it to Hawaii for sure. And Tres Palmas is a lot like Sunset.
How do you think Jobos has affected your surfing. All ya’ll’s first turns are super strong. Does that first bowl have something to do with it?
Yeah, Jobos is such a high-performance wave, and you’re right, that first section is just the one you can go nuts on. Because it kind of comes at you a bit, and the rest of the wave is just a normal wave. So you want to get that section for sure.
You guys have gotten a bunch of attention at a young age. You were really young with that Kelly trip a few years back. Now you sign autographs. How do you deal with that?
It’s pretty weird actually. Even after that trip, I was walking down the beach and this older lady comes up and goes, “You’re that kid that went on that trip!” That was weird for me. And it’s definitely weird to sign autographs and stuff.
Do you think there’s ‘CT player in your crew? Well, all of us are really competitive. And we haven’t gotten bent out of shape on contests or anything. We do pretty good in small waves, do pretty good in big waves. I could see one of us making it for sure. I guess it’s kind of a group goal. But we never even talk about that. It doesn’t even come up. I mean it comes up a bit, but we’re always busy surfing and having fun and going to movies and hanging out. When I’m home it’s like, we’re not anybody. Which I guess keeps us in line. — Matt Walker