Last night, the Surf Industry Manufacturers Association (SIMA) held it’s annual Waterman’s Ball, a fundraiser for environmental and other ocean-related charities held each summer at the flash Ritz Carlton at Salt Creek. The night includes silent and live auctions of art and surfboards, a steak dinner, moderate to heavy boozing, and awards in three categories—lifetime achievement, environmentalism, and the coup de grace, Waterman of the Year. While it’s fun to socialize and wear that jacket that hangs gathering dust in my closet all year, I go for the speeches by recipients, and this year was the best bunch I’ve seen in the decade I’ve been attending. Here’s a quick run down:
Lifetime Achievement Award: Al Merrick
The always jovial Shaun Tomson, the first big-name surfer to help popularize Merrick’s Channel Islands Surfboards by showing the world how incredibly well they ride, introduced Merrick, but the legend didn’t attend the Ball, sending a video in his place. But there to receive the award was 9-time world champ and honorary member of the Merrick household Kelly Slater, who teared up a bit while taking about the shaper who’s been so much more to him than just his board builder. At one point, Kelly became emotional and was having a hard time continuing, and after a long pause, he looked out into the crowd of several hundred and smiling said, “Is anyone gonna help me out here?” The tension was broken, and the crowd burst out laughing and applauding. Kelly Slater continues to amaze. Merrick himself was said to be on an annual family vacation, which surprised no one who’s ever met the humble evader of the spotlight. In his video acceptance, Al thanked the guys who rode his boards so well over the years, his family, and god.
Environmentalist of the Year: Robert Kennedy Jr.
Son of RFK, nephew of JFK, Robert Kennedy Jr. has the genetic oratory gift and passion that catapulted his family to the status of American royalty. President of the influential grass-roots environmental organization Waterkeeper Alliance, Kennedy has dedicated his life to the cause of keeping America’s waterways pristine, an ideal he held up Saturday night as “our birthright as Americans.” At events like this, I’m often just praying that the speaker gets to the end of his speech with his reputation still in tact, collecting a couple laughs along the way, but Kennedy’s 20-minute soliloquy about keeping the oceans, lakes, and streams clean and able to sustain both sea life and the communities that use them as their livelihood and place of relaxation, was truly on another level. He concluded by vowing to continue battling big polluters like BP, saying, “I will die fighting with my boots on.” I stood so quickly to applaud, my chair flew into the legs of the person behind me.
Waterman of the Year: Tom Curren
California’s most talented and nuanced pro surfer ever, Tom Curren is many many things to the sport of kings—world champion, style master, and true soul surfer—but great orator he is not, but I had low expectations for his time at the podium. I’ve heard him mumble his way through a few interviews and appearances, and I always feel for him. Maybe it was the low expectations, or maybe as he ages he’s accepted that simple speechifying suits him well, but his simple address and deep-felt thanks for the recognition was surprisingly smooth and coherent. I looked around the room and every 35- to 45-year-old guy in attendance was looking at him like god himself were in the room. When you can bury a rail like Tom, who cares about speeches? Read an archived interview with Curren.