Note: The following text concerns underrated surfers. Feel free to use the comment board below to post the name of a lesser-known surfer you think deserves more credit.
Every surfer knows one: Another surfer that rips but isn't well known. Somebody that shreds but is under-recognized. An unsung talent that deserves more credit.
Usually underrated surfers are underrated because they are incapable of drawing attention to themselves, and are perfectly comfortable living under the radar. Self-promotion is the last thing on their minds.
Over the years I would hear about surfers like this: Bobby Owens, Jimmy Lucas, Mark Dekoats, Tim Smalley, Russell Short, Keoni Cuccia, Sean Rhodes, David Scard, Travis Molina, Brian Pacheco, Aaron Chase—guys who ripped but never quite got the recognition they deserved. If I claimed these guys in print though, it would be technical hearsay—I never got to see them surf enough in person to write about or hail their overall talent.
The text below, however, represents five surfers who I've witnessed enough to confidently say are underrated. Most of them are known to the general public, but in my opinion, not to the degree that they should be. Not by a long shot.
He won contests in perfect conditions against the best surfers in the world, was a consistent Top 16 force, was the king of the Aussie Pipe, a master shaper, turned in stellar North Shore performances…and yet remains in the back of a historical bus driven by Shaun, MR, Rabbit, PT, Ian, and Simon. For whatever reason, Richo never quite got the credit he was due. Terry is a Wollongong boy, a workingman's hero for the ages, and in my view, should be better recognized for his surfing prowess and contributions to surfing.
It's hard to fathom now, but there was a time when a single skate maneuver was not the be-all, end-all. Reputations were made with linkage, flow, style, and rail-work. For this reason, whispers of an heir to the Chris O'Rourke La Jolla throne began to circulate in the early eighties. Richard's North Peak fade, his Windansea lines, and his subtle approach to Big Rock eventually got noticed by the outside world and surfers began to privately hail him, and for good reason.
It's kind of ironic that he is getting first-exposure attention now as a filmmaker/board experiment guru, but you should know that back in the day, Richard Kenvin was a true kingpin.
Some people are probably sick of me talking about him but it can't be over-stated: Chris Menzie was the closest thing California ever had to Tom Carroll. Power, balls, style, and the ability to lay it on a rail like few others. He also had a healthy mistrust for industry authority way before it was fashionable. As it happened though, Chris didn't like traveling that much, didn't really have much family support, and was involved with surfing just prior to the bigger money arriving. But to speak for those of us who were privileged enough to see him surf, we can safely say tell you that Chris Menzie was one of the best.
It's probably fair to say that Sean Hayes lived under a shadow—a Ventura shadow created by figures that included the Malloys, the Slaters, the Currans, Donnie Soloman, Keoni Cuccia, and later, by a kid named Reynolds. Ventura had such a phalanx of talent to hit the scene that, in my opinion, Sean kind of got lost in the shuffle. But make no mistake, Sean has it all: a clean, powerful style and a modern approach to waves of all sizes. Sean Hayes is a complete surfer, and one of the most chivalrous humans I have ever met.
There aren’t many surfers in the world that can land a highly technical air on a 3-foot wave one day and then stick a behind-the-boil air drop on a proper 20-footer the next. Gabriel Villaran is one of them. I've seen a lot of good surfing over the years and it's hard to describe this Peruvian's surfing without using a bucketful of superlatives. This guy is as legit as it gets. The world got a taste of him in Innersection and the Todos contest, but believe me, that's just the sauce on the anticucho.