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Archive: Wings On His Feet

A look back at the rise of Chris Ward and …Lost’s era of rebellious debauchery, from SURFER Volume 37, Number 11

The above profile of a teenaged Chris Ward, published in June 1996, came out smack dab in the middle of Slatermania. Only 24 years old and well on his way to a fourth world title, Kelly Slater was already the most famous surfer the world had ever known. His model-handsome face, squeaky clean image and lithe physique were selling Quiksilver boardshorts by the bushel to the inland masses while also dominating surf magazines and videos.

But despite Planet Slater's gravitational pull (or possibly because of it), many angsty teen surfers of the time didn't think Slater was anywhere near as interesting as a small band of delinquents getting stone drunk in a rotting house in San Clemente, California. The Orange County crew lit each other's hair on fire, slid down the carpeted stairs of cheap apartments on finless surfboards, got blotto with the local drifter population and ripped the ever-loving crap out of every wave between Lowers and Salt Creek. This was the ...Lost crew, a legion of miscreant pro surfers led by Chris Ward, Justin Matteson, Strider Wasilewski, Aaron Cormican and Cory Lopez, among many other dizzyingly talented surfers who were nevertheless known as much for their antics as their wave riding.

It doesn't seem like there'd be much to rebel against in San Clemente, a sun-kissed beach town with plenty of waves and friendly, beautiful people enjoying solidly upper-middle-class incomes. But that was sort of the point. Slater and the rest of surfing's elite, straight-laced competitive class represented the placid, commercial side of surfing, which felt jockish and boring to lots of kids who craved something authentically their own. 1995's "What's Really Goin' On," the first smash-hit ...Lost Surfboards team video, was like a siren call to young surfers across the country. The waves were mostly average and relatable while the surfing was frenetically brilliant, anchored by Ward and Lopez's world-class hucks and fin ditches. The music was energetic (and probably unlicensed) party punk, and the b-roll mischief inspired laughs or cringes depending on your age and appetite for destruction. It was a recipe that ...Lost stuck with for a handful of years, creating a breakout series that made fledgling stars out of not only the surfers, but also bizarre beach-bum characters with names like Gilligan, Chicken Willy and the tortured but beloved Randal, the crew's 40-something, hard-drinking mascot who often bore the brunt of whatever childish pranks San Clemente's
rowdiest could come up with.

In the '90s, ...Lost was surfing's answer to skating's misanthropic Antihero team, a gritty (albeit more suburban in ...Lost's case) middle finger to respectability, responsibility and anything that stood in the way of hedonistically enjoying the present. For a giant swath of surfing's youth, …Lost felt like home. Like a community they desperately wanted to be a part of -- one that felt far more relatable than the groovy globetrotters of "The Search," or any member of the "Momentum" justice league.

But despite the maniacal, bad-boy allure of the lifestyle portrayed by ...Lost, those early films would have fizzled without the jaw-dropping talent of Ward and Lopez. "Perhaps more than any surfer going right now, Ward has benefitted from the video boom and he might be surfing's first legitimate video superstar," said writer Ben Marcus in the above profile. Ward made the ...Lost videos compelling, even if you rolled your eyes at teenagers getting drunk and riding shopping carts down city park berms -- which many surfers surely did. But on some level, most surfers probably wanted to be there, maybe not lighting people on fire or tumbling off the roofs of apartment buildings, but watching in the background, beer in hand, laughing at the absurdity.