As Michael Ciaramella helpfully pointed out last week over on Stab, a male Californian hasn't won a World Tour event in 10 years, when Bobby Martinez earned his second Teahupoo crown. This is consternating enough on its own, by why stop there? 2009 was also the last year to feature two Californian men in the WCT top 10 (Martinez and Dane Reynolds). The last Cali boy to win the World Title? Tom Curren in 1990.
Hell, let's leave the World Tour altogether. The last Californian male to win the U.S. Open of Surfing was Brett Simpson in 2010. Over the course of 64 WQS events in 2018, Californians only won three — and none higher than a 3000 (good on you, Skip McCullough).
What's that? Surfing's not just about competition? Californian surfers pioneered the very idea sport as culture? Miki Dora Miki Dora Miki Dora?
That's all well and good, but the last time a Californian set the standard in surf culture was when a pre-Former Reynolds was playing "Will He/Won't He/Where's He?" with the ASP, Quiksilver, and his fans all at the same time. Reynolds' T-shirts are much cooler now, and his legend status secure, but you could argue that Western Australians have produced more influential film segments over the past five years than Californians.
If all of the above makes you feel defensive, hide behind surfing's primacy as the physical embodiment of the California dream, a visual shorthand understood the world over to symbolize freedom, youth, sex appeal, and the charm of a limited vocabulary. This may be true — we may still lead the world as a location for car commercials featuring surfing — but it's a pyrrhic victory. Rob Machado is no doubt one of the five best surfers California has ever produced, but putting him forward as your standard surf bearer in 2019 is like saying your most significant contribution to global food culture is the smoothie.
The truth of the matter is that we don't lack for raw surf talent; Colopinto is probably Kolohe 2.0 and, at 25, Kolohe 1.0 isn't exactly washed up, despite what Chas Smith and David Lee Scales would have you believe. But there's something about the state-wide surf culture that feels just a little fat and happy, like we can't quite believe that we can't win (the contest, the contract, the girl) just by showing up. Meanwhile, no one else even notices our blasé sense of entitlement, because they're too busy running in terror from the Brazilians.
Speaking of the girl, she's doing a hell of a lot better than the guy when it comes to Californians seizing the spotlight. Lakey Peterson and Courtney Conlogue are keeping the Australians and the Hawaiians honest at the top of the women's World Ranking, and Bianca Valenti is helping push surfing to the forefront of the fight for gender equality in sports. If you're looking to put your money on Californian surfers in 2019, start there.
It would be easy to dismiss this whole line of thinking with a studied shrug and a "Let's go surfing, bro" — that would be very Californian. But if 169 years of California statehood have taught us anything, it's that our sunny, chill veneer is just a patina that obscures the same primal instincts that drive everyone. Hollywood agents are the ones who invented throwing phones at people's heads as a workplace hazard, after all. San Francisco gazillionaires have taken the idea of zoning out the riff raff to levels not seen since the UAE built Dubai.
That means we're as tribal as the next tribe — our belief in our own superiority is innate, and we have a subconscious desire to see it proven at the expense of others. That's what makes sport as a concept tick the world over; it's why, when the Oakland Raiders moved to "We Don't Give A Shit" Los Angeles in 1982, their apocalyptically lunatic fans materialized out of whole cloth in their new home.
So, go ahead and insist you don't care that California kind of sucks on the global surf stage right now. I'm going to do what surfers from any other state or country would do if they were in our position: bitch about it on the internet.
Then again, I did just move here from New York.