Joel Tudor. Photo by Grant Ellis
Joel Tudor. Photo by Grant Ellis

Wisdom: Joel Tudor

Life lessons from the most iconic longboarder of the modern era

Study your elders. Listen to everything they say because you're gonna be in the same place one day. Twenty years go by like that [snaps fingers]. I remember seeing Woody Brown at Mala when he was in his 90s. I was going to surf and he was on the beach. I ran over and said, "Woody! Let's go!" and he goes, "You go! I'll just watch." I didn't get it then, but I get it now. He physically couldn't do it, but mentally he was right there with me. He'd already been there a million times, and he was just enjoying it through other people at that point. Later I thought, "Alright, so that's what it's going to be like."

Your body has a number and your body has a time constraint. No matter how many yoga classes you do or how many crossfit things you do, you're going to run into that shit. But I'm still young, dude. Forty ain't shit. I was competing against Nat [Young] when he was 47 and he was whooping my ass.

Self-promotion used to be such a no-no and now it's kind of everything. With a lot of sponsors it all comes down to how many people follow you. I don't agree with it, but I do understand it. If you're going to be a pro surfer, which is basically asking somebody for free money, sponsors want you to have an audience. But I've always had a hard time wrapping my head around the idea of who would cut a paycheck for surfing because it's not a normal sport. Pro football players get paid, but they wouldn't be playing football and training everyday just for shits. As surfers, we'd be doing this shit no matter what.

In contests, when you remove any interaction on the beach and your aim is to just have a webcast, it becomes really impersonal. The experience of being there and interacting with your heroes always blew my mind growing up. If that all goes away and it's just a production team making a show for people online, then it's not really cool. Making surf contests more personal and making it more about connecting with the public would be the best thing. But what do I know about contests?

As much as surfing is becoming watered down as a super sport with numbered jerseys or whatever, the cool aspect will never fade. The lifestyle of surfing still has a cool factor that nothing else can touch. That's not going away.

You can only compete for so long until you think, "Okay, after me, who's going to be up next? What options are they going to have?" Nat really helped me and I have to do the same thing for the next generation. That's why I started doing the Duct Tape [Invitational], so there would be something to benefit longboarders because we didn't have anything.

When you're growing up, you know when you're screwing up and when you're not. I realized at a young age that alcohol was the gnarliest of the gnarly. It was the quickest thing to destroy your talent and push you to do other shit. I watched a lot of my mentors have such gnarly bouts with the leftover party shit of the '70s and '80s, and I realized I needed to choose which way I was going to go. Was I going to do this thing that kept me in a bar late at night? Or was I going to get up early and be psyched to surf the next day? Marijuana is different. The Native Americans passed the peace pipe around for a long time, so I figured that was safer. I'm not saying it's for everybody, because I've seen guys become stoners and it was the worst thing they ever did. But I personally think it's the lesser of all evils.

If you're gonna be a longboarder, you better be tough because you've got to put up with a lot of shit. So that was sort of my thing with Nate [Strom, a Tudor protégé], just making sure he's tough and making sure that he's gonna be able to handle all the crap that he's gonna take in his lifetime. Because doing an old man sport when you're a young kid, you're going to cop a little shit.

This is the best time to be a surfer. Depending on what country you're in, you can really ride whatever. That wasn't really the case back in the day. I remember going to surf Lennox when I was a kid and my friend paddles straight to the peak on his longboard. He goes to catch a wave and this guy comes and punches the bottom of his board and says, "Get that fucking thing out of here, mate!" It's just changed so much, and now there are longboards everywhere.

Longboarding is only going to get better. The whole thing with the Duct Tape was to take out all the extras and simplify longboarding so people could understand and appreciate it. I was just trying to figure out, "How do we keep longevity? How do we separate ourselves from the guys on high-performance, tri-fin longboards?" The answer was really simple: Take off the leash, get rid of the side fins and work on your style. Now look at how many Duct Tape events are happening. The only people who haven't caught on to that style of longboarding are the WSL--which is hilarious because they're the governing body of surfing and they haven't paid any attention to this thing that's happening all around the world. Not just with guys but with chicks, too. It's everywhere. How are they not noticing this shit?

As you get older, you learn to appreciate all the shit you've been able to do and realize how lucky you are to live the surf lifestyle. Seriously, when I think about it all looking back, I'm like, "Holy shit, did I really do all that? F–k, I made it. What a crazy ride."

[This article originally appeared in SURFER Magazine Volume 59, Issue 1]