Phil Edwards will always rip. So will Nat Young, Gerry Lopez, Tom Curren and six-time world champ, Kelly Slater. I’m not saying you’ll see ’em — all prune-faced and toothless — busting lien airs in between bingo games. (Only Mark Occhilupo has a chance at pulling that one off.) But sample any of these guys’ very best waves at the peak of his career, and it’ll stand up as a model of perfection. Forever.
Now, I realize this idea might be contrary to this magazine’s founding principles. Both surfing and SURFING have evolved under the guise that we’re on a progressive continuum: there will always be someone faster and better riding something faster and better than the generation before him. And, for the most part, this is true. It’s why Big Wednesday’s Matt Johnson was heckled out of the theater during his ‘retro’ part in the local surf flick; why you can now pop in any Super Surfing Series video of the ’84/’85 ASP Tour and say, ‘Dude, that guy wouldn’t even make the finals in an ESA district contest. Women’s division.’
It’s also why our nutty professor, Nick Carroll had the fodder to formulate his ‘Full Circle’ theory (See our Nov. ’03 issue). According to Dr. Nick, today’s New Generation of surfers — the Parkos, Fannings and Ironses of the world — is the first group to truly master the shortboard in the same way the longboarding greats mastered their planks in the mid ’60s. As soon as we lopped the noses off of our boards and followed Nat Young’s ‘Attack,’ he argues, we basically kookified ourselves, struggling for decades to achieve maximum trim and minimal body movement. Now, thanks to today’s ultra-relaxed control freaks in everything from meaty Teahupo’o to mushy Japan, we’ve finally arrived. Or at least our heroes have.
But there are a handful of surfers who have seemingly never struggled. They’re the ones who — through either an aquatic sixth sense or supernatural talent — have the ability to make a ride look like a choreographed routine between surfer and wave; who can somehow make the wave’s ever-changing contours bend just for them. Whether they’re cross-stepping to the nose or crossing the boundaries with an impossibly tighter arc, it’s as if these surfers follow the same fundamental line — call it the Golden Line — that pushes surfing beyond sport and into the realm of the beautiful.
Beautiful in this case may even have a rational explanation. In math, it’s called Phi, or ‘The Golden Ratio.’ Phi — which computes to 1.618034 — is a ratio that eerily occurs everywhere in both the natural and man-made world, from ancient Egyptian pyramids to honeycomb; Da Vinci’s most famous paintings to the spirals in a nautilus shell. This number crosses so many epochs and cultures, in fact, that it’s generally agreed to be more ‘aesthetically pleasing’ than any other scale. Now, we haven’t asked any math nerds to graph the arcs in one of Slater’s perfect 11s at Backdoor, but I’d like to think the outcome would — in some way — relate to that magic 1.618.
But who needs math nerds when we have such strong visuals to illustrate our point? Take Tom Curren’s supposed ‘first wave’ at Jeffreys Bay more than a decade ago. From takeoff to kickout, coiling into a series of tightly wound semi-circles and last-second tube tucks, Curren gave J-Bay a treatment it had never seen and hasn’t seen since. It’s a treatment that — to us surfers, at least — will always be as ‘aesthetically pleasing’ as any Mona Lisa. Maybe even more. Because if a masterpiece like Curren’s is so fun to look at, we can only imagine how much fun he had painting it. — Evan Slater