Can you name the best baseball player on earth? If not, don't feel bad. Mike Trout is a historically great baseballing man for the moribund Angels down there in Anaheim, an amusement park strip mall masquerading as a city. He's a raging force of a baseball player, but a stale vanilla wafer of a sports personality. Last week's MLB All-Star game was the setting for a great big collective handwringing among baseball execs worried about why Trout isn't more popular, and, therefore, printing money for the league.
Well, that's easy. Trout is polite. He's quiet. His name is boring as hell. He'd do MLB a solid by getting into a sordid affair with a porn star, spending all his money on diamond-encrusted Tyrannosaur skulls, or doing anything memorable, really, besides simply being the best baseball player of the past 50 years. Neck tats. Neck tats would help.
Anyway, also last week, Mr. Dane Reynolds released "Copacetic" an, uh, eagerly anticipated, I guess, vid of what he's been up to in Ventura lately, besides changing diapers and looking confusedly into cameras with unwashed hair wearing a smock-sized horizontally-striped shirt. Mostly, he's been surfing some punchy, warbly waves with lots of aggression and neato lines. Also, making sweaters with ironic pictures on them.
So, pretty much same thing as he was doing five years ago.
But I watched. You watched. My friends watched. My wife watched, reluctantly, from bed one night. We all asked each other: "You watch the Dane thing?" "Yeah," we all replied, because all of us watched it, because all of us are starved for relevant surf entertainment, because, for a while now, it seems like that's been lacking. As much as I love Dane—and I really do—and as much as I enjoyed “Copacetic”, it still seemed a little uninspiring that a short, lo-fi vid that's also a clothing ad was can’t-miss internet viewing.
Which made me wonder: Does surfing also have a generalized version of the Mike Trout problem? A lack of compelling star power?
Yeah, maybe it does. Here’s a summary of an informal poll among SURFER staff and my surfy contact list:
Q: Who's the biggest star in surfing?
A: John John Florence. Unanimous. No question he's the best surfer in the world, and he's a lovely man, humble, intelligent, downright polite. But he ain't exactly sizzling cultural entertainment. A little Trout-like.
So who’s the throbbing heart of surfy star power? Slater? Only if your whole world is Instagram. Filipe? Gabby? Probs in Brazil, sure. But the US seems to be idling listlessly here, caught in a kind of cultural irons, no single surfer, or group of surfers grabbing the reins and wheeling surf culture in their direction. Dane's Marine Layer period did that. Kai Neville's “Modern Collective” and “Lost Atlas” did too. Thomas Campbell's orbit of rootsy surfers broke some molds in the early 2000s. For a bit there, we were obsessed with Noa Deane and Creed's metal-tinged punkish approach. Carissa Moore is I guess helping lead a charge of fitness-inspired, wellness surfing. Albee Layer might have some acolytes in both the big surf and dizzying air genres. Knost is pied pipering a gaggle of followers to a hyper-specific kind of LA rocker kitsch. But, well…huh. What's the can't-miss surfer or crew dominating our culture’s airwaves today?
Actually, it's not a person. It's a thing. Wave pools dominate the news cycle in a way nothing else has for a while. Mechanized, carbon copy waves. Not people. Egad.
Why, I wonder? Is it just a cycle? I don't know. I can't really remember a time that seemed as dim in terms of star power. Surfing talent is at Mike Trout-ian levels right now, but the personalities in our game are buzzing quietly at a pretty low wattage. Social media balkanization could be an answer. We can all dial into our own little closed-off worlds, so maybe we’re all too focused on a little niche. Lack of marketing dollars could be another. Lot less money to blow on mag and video trips and high-production 20-minute films.
Give me the …Lost fools cackling and inspiring. The supernovas like Andy Irons screaming through the night sky. The transcendent everyman god-hood of Occy. The 21st-century electricity of the Mod Col crew.
Where the hell is the next Dane, anyway?
If you're out there, next big thing, now would be a really great time to show yourself. You've certainly got a captive audience.