In 2018, SURFER staff and contributors came, they saw and they wrote. There were stories of wave pools and their potential to revolutionize competition, wave scores in the wake of tragic fires and floods, a shark-attack survivor who defied expectations and became a world-class surfer, an enigmatic world champion who prefers mysto surf missions to the competitive spotlight and the growing conflict between monolithic surfboard manufacturers and independent craftsmen mowing foam to get by. These are some of the most dynamic stories that appeared in SURFER’s print edition this year, deftly told by some of the best surf writers today. If you missed these gems before, or simply want to revisit an old favorite, go ahead and click the titles of the features below, kick up your feet and enjoy our best reads of the year.
At the beginning of 2018, the perfect artificial peelers that ran the length of several football fields in Lemoore, CA, seemed more like the product of black magic than engineering, and before The Founder’s Cup and the Surf Ranch Pro, we had no idea what the advent of quality artificial waves would mean for competition. In that watershed moment, senior contributor Sean Doherty went to the Surf Ranch to try the wave out for himself, talk to new WSL CEO Sophie Goldschmidt about their plans for the new technology, and try to parse what the hell it would all mean for pro surfing’s future. Read it here.
In late 2017 and early 2018, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties endured a series of horrific disasters, starting with the Thomas Fire that scorched the earth and created the conditions that would allow for an onslaught of flash flooding during a period of intense storm activity afterward. In the aftermath, while locals were still trying to piece together what had happened to their community, a run of perfect swell brought some of the area’s best waves to life. Senior contributor Kimball Taylor ventured to Montecito to better understand how local surfers were affected and what the act of surfing can offer in times of tragedy. Read it here.
Tragedy struck on Kauai one day in 2003 when a then-13-year-old Bethany Hamilton was attacked by a tiger shark, which bit off her left arm and seemingly dashed Hamilton’s hopes of becoming a world-class professional surfer. But Hamilton persevered, got back on the board, and continued to grow as a surfer, eventually cementing herself as one of the world’s best. In her profile on Hamilton earlier this year, managing editor Ashtyn Douglas paints a complex portrait of an unwitting icon who is aware of her gravitas as an inspirational figure, but wants to be known first and foremost for her abilities on a surfboard, not the single awful encounter with an apex predator that has colored her public life ever since. Read it here.
John John Florence is the most beloved surfer in the world today. A two-time world champion, an Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational champion and a five-time SURFER Poll winner, Florence has earned his fanfare—but that’s not to say he loves the spotlight. Earlier this year, Sean Doherty and Dave Rastovich linked up with Florence on the tail end of a WSL event, when they bailed on the chaos of the contest scene for some serene coasts and perfect surf on King Island. There, Doherty gleaned some uncommon character traits for a world champion that help make sense of one of the most enigmatic figures in modern surfing. Read it here.
The surfboard has always been the beating heart of surfing culture, and the shaper a figure worthy of reverence. Over the past few years, however, the surfboard industry has been in a state of sweeping change as small-scale, independent shapers have been increasingly pushed out of the surfcraft market by large overseas manufacturing operations. Features editor Justin Housman took a deep dive into what the future may hold for the surfboard building industry and what our purchases as surfcraft consumers say about us as surfers, and the value we place on the things we ride. Read it here.