“Isn’t it strange how obsessed we are with determining who’s the best at surfing?” Dane Reynolds says to me, from the eighth floor of an apartment overlooking crippled remnants of the Superbank, where we’re on location filming for the shred epic Modern Collective. “It’s such a strange thing to me. It’s so jock-like.” Or as Dusty Payne puts it, “Surfing the WQS makes me hate surfing.”
Dane swills his Victoria Bitter stubby as a 2-foot set limps through the Swiss-cheese sandbar at Greenmount, violated by six SUPs. Cloaked in a thrift store denim shirt and large-billed Quiksilver hat your dad would be into, it’s pretty easy to see that Dane is from a very different school of thought (and wardrobe) than a lot of the current Top 44 — and Dane’s is a sentiment that’s firmly taken root in surfing’s younger generation. The old guard’s competitive arena is becoming less and less relevant with each passing event. Judges can’t relate to what’s going on out there anymore, and the kids aren’t going to take it much longer. “I doubt there’s a judge in the tower who can do an air,” Dane continues.
As someone who’s more interested in the moments of imperfection, innovation and therapeutic release of free surfing, I’m just as puzzled by the current state of competitive surfing. We find surfers like Dane bored, jaded, and drinking beer during contests to quell the anxiety and pass the time. Mitch Coleborn and Dusty Payne ignite standing ovations at premieres of Volcom’s BS! but then hesitate to strut their stuff in a jersey. And we still base almost our entire sport on contest surfing? Weird.
In this issue, we prodded, polled and profiled several surfers and industry figureheads to find out what can be done about it. We used the greasy and radical Mitch Coleborn as our problem child. At 22 years old, he’s on the brink of blowing up in free surfing and/or the competitive ranks, if he so chooses. But with competition being what it is — or, perhaps, what it isn’t — what’s a dude to do? We then spent an evening out with current and two-time world champ Stephanie Gilmore, the supposed contest machine, only to learn that she’d skip an event to see a PJ Harvey concert in Paris if she could. And then there’s Adriano de Souza. He’s committed his life — which began in an impoverished favela — to becoming the best surfer in the world according to an ASP ratings sheet. But now that he’s closer than ever to his goal, the whole system is being challenged. Is there hope out there for the competitive pro?
Well, if we’re to believe the rumors swirling around Kelly Slater and a so-called “rebel tour” that Slater is predicting will cause “a year of chaos in competitive surfing” come next season, then…maybe. And while no one is really sure what that means, it could be the best news we’ve heard all year.
We love chaos. — Travis Ferré