Without fans, without a base of people that are very passionate about the sport, the surf industry wouldn't be much of an industry at all, and last night, at the 33rd Annual Surfer Poll Awards, that point was highlighted several times by the likes of Surfer Publisher Rick Irons, Surfer Poll MC Sal Masakela, and the legendary Rabbit Bartholomew. During an evening devoted to honoring professional surfing's best and brightest, it was nice to see that the pros were not the only ones given their much due credit.
With the red carpet in full affect, the evening kicked off just after sunset last night at the Grove Theater in Anaheim. The house was packed and the crowd was the usual array of surf stars and starlets, beautiful women, industry and media moguls, famous faces and camera men.
The ceremonies began with the Surfer Video Awards hosted by the hysterical duo of Peter King and Alex Gray. "I'm the past and this guy is the future," said King of Alex, and while PK might not be washed up yet (he was an absolute riot, and in true form proved that he's one of the brightest personalities in the industry), it was nice to see some new blood on stage. Gray approached his MC duties with all the fervor you would expect from a kid in his late teens, by propositioning women, howling for the winners and dropping outlandish one-liners that had the house rolling. His surfing talent aside, the kid should have a long and bright run in the industry just based on his magnetic persona, and as Alex tried (jokingly) to arrange an after-party hot tub session with a trio of beauties in the front row, his dad was seen laughing and shaking his head, wearing a smile that clearly said, "That's my boy."
Antics aside, the Video Awards were action packed with Shane Dorian winning the Guts for Glory category, Kelly snagging Best Maneuver for his frontside rodeo-flip in A Broke Down Melody, and Dane Reynolds nabbing Best Tube Ride for the absolute mind-blower he emerged from at Macaronis in Young Guns 2. Best Female Performance was won by Layne Beachley, while Bruce Irons took down the Best Male category for his blazing efforts in The Bruce Movie. Wobbling onto stage, a well-lubricated Irons made the first of several rock star-esque acceptance speeches that had the house in stitches throughout the night. Best Cinematography was awarded to the art-full and beautifully shot A Broke Down Melody, while Best Film went to The Bruce Movie, a presentation that had Bruce back up at the podium, much to the delight of the crowd.
After Irons and company were ushered offstage, ASG President Don Meek took the spotlight to explain the philanthropic aspect of the night, thanking those who made donations for raising over $20,000. As Meek articulated, this year, the sum will be divided evenly between two organizations, the first, Surfing America, a group that promotes youth competitive surfing, and the second, Surf Zone Relief Operations, whose efforts and responses to both the Southeast Asian Tsunami and the Katrina disaster in New Orleans have been amazingly heartfelt and effective.
Surfer Editor Chris Mauro grabbed the mike next to give out a few special awards, the first being the Cannon Photo of the Year, which was given to photog Vince Street for his incredible shot of Shane Dorian racing through the maw of a Teahupoo monster. In his acceptance speech Street thanked Dorian for "surfing like a madman those two days," and then paid homage to the boat driver who helped make it all happen.
Next came Breakout Performance. "The Boost Breakthrough Performer of the Year Award is an honor that's given to someone whose performance exceeds expectations. It's given to someone who comes out and makes a statement, to a surfer that says, 'hey, I'm gonna be around for a while,'" explained Chris Mauro, and this year the honor went to 2004 Pipe Master Jamie O'Brien. O'Brien won Pipe in '04 as a wildcard, "a pretty loud statement," according to Mauro, and as O'Brien took the stage, he dedicated his win to lost friend Jason Bogle and then affirmed that for him, "this is just the beginning."
Tom Curren presented the Lifetime Achievement Award next to Wayne "Rabbit" Bartholomew, and to see these two surf luminaries share the stage was without a doubt a highlight of the night. Paying homage to one of his hero's, Curren told story after story about times he's spent with Rabbit. Trips to Japan, practical jokes, words of advice, all delivered in classic uhhhhhh…Curren fashion. It was nice to see that as his speech went on not a soul tried to cut him short. No pretty lady came out to usher him off stage in Hollywood-style apologetic embarrassment. The man was allowed to speak and the crowd responded with a standing ovation. When Rabbit was finally handed the award he got a standing ovation of his own, and then launched into a discourse that equated the experience of surfing the North Shore to facing the dragons and monsters of Tolkien's Middle Earth, pled with surfers to address the issue of skin cancer, and paid homage to the current crop of talent on the CT today. It was a string of powerful words from an articulate icon, a man who has done much for the world of professional surfing, and it was capped by a sentence near and dear to every surfer's heart, "I get a smile on my face to just get out there and surf."
With the show reaching its climax Sal Masakela took the podium to present the Surfer Poll Awards and it was no surprise that the Ladies Category was dominated by Sophia Mulanovich; proof positive that a World Championship is a sure way to rake in respect from the fans. "I used to look at the mags when I was a kid and always dreamed of getting here," said the diminutive Peruvian.
In the Men's category, of course, it all came down to Andy and Kelly. In his final trip to the stage to scoop up third, Bruce Irons said repeatedly with sloshy honesty, "Kelly Slater is my favorite surfer." Apparently this year he's everyone else's too. Andy seemed to instinctively know what was coming before anything was really said, and marched up to the podium after his brother without even waiting for his intro to be read or his name to be called. Graciously accepting the runner-up slot like a gentleman, Andy warmly congratulated Kelly and thanked his fans. "I just feel so fortunate to be doing something I love," said the current World Champ.
"It's funny, because dependant on the day or where we are, my favorite surfer is either Andy or Bruce," said Slater as he took the microphone next to accept his 11th Surfer Poll Victory. "This award means a lot to me because these last few years, the thing that has inspired me to keep competing and surfing in the public eye is the appreciation I've been shown by people around the world," said Slater of his victory, telling words of where his inspiration is found. In the people.