Loud & Clear

The rumbling is incessant. The voices of 1 million surfers speaking out of turn. Some whisper. Some talk. Some scream. It's deafening. Welcome, dear reader, to the modern world. Instagram. Facebook. Twitter. The Internet: an open forum where Ph.D.s debate heat results with middle school dropouts, where lifelong surfers have the same voice as Wavestorm newborns. How can we sort fact from fake? How do we know who to listen to? Everyone's dressed the same.

It's why we still have magazines. We sort through the static and give you a quiet place to take it all in. Well, not always quiet, but at least free from polluted noise. We can shout from mountaintops how excited we are for Joe G's new film, the Keramas contest and Greg Long being alive. We can talk with people like Jon Rose, who remind us of the silver linings in Hurricane Sandy's dark cloud. And we can hush the crowd to allow a pair of legendary surf mag editors to discuss Dane and John John, bidding wars, wave pools and whatever else they feel like. They're experts, so we let them have the floor. In fact, they're here right now. Nick, Derek, we're ready when you are.

"Test. Test. Test. Can you hear us?"

Loud and clear, gentlemen

Julian Wilson, Reunion Island. Photo: Ryan Miller

Nick Carroll is a former editor-in-chief of SURFING Magazine and is currently writing a terrifying book about his younger brother, Tom. He lives in Newport, Australia.

Derek Rielly is the son of a pro wrestler father and diplomat mother. He is the founder and editor of Stab Magazine and lives in Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia.

Derek Rielly: How about this? Two old queens find each other again. Nick? Honey? Are you home?

Nick Carroll: I'm so here. Sore and sunburned. F–k surfing!

DR: Quick, ask me something.

nc: How about this, 5'9" in 10-foot surf?

dr: Well there's 10-foot surf and then there's 10-foot surf, ain't there? That 5'9" feels like a dream in clean Indo surf. At Sunset, it's a little different... 

NC: Is it? Or is it just, like, conventional wisdom? Surfing seems to progress in fits and starts, not in clean lines. I think it's 'cause progress requires an act of forgetting -- or of not being told in the first place. My dad once told me, "Experience is overrated. Enthusiasm's what you want." That seems wise, but it's not conventional.

DR: That is good. Experience can be a prison. What about Reynolds? Behind that grimace of self-control and fake unawareness, is there a terrific enthusiasm?

NC: You can't surf like that and not be stoked.

DR: You've got to wonder, what is the lifespan of a best-surfer-in-the-world? Kelly owned the '90s, Andy stole the early 2000s, but over the past four years along comes...Jordy. Then Dane. And now John, each surfer provoking these bidding wars, this fascination and a creepy lust. Are these bidding wars examples of a juvenile egotism among the competing brands or good biz sense?

NC: Ha! Ask Quiksilver if their bidding war over KS in 1990 (and a couple of the quiet ones conducted between the two parties since then) were worth it. I think some are conducted out of fear as much as anything else. Every company has missed a boat or two in their time and while they have no choice but to justify it somehow and move on, they damn well don't want the next Kelly to slip through their fingers out of laziness or lack of communication. What I wonder is how long the bidding wars will last when the kids from Brazil take over the world. 'Cause they will -- at least on the world rankings. And what will the US and Australian surf companies think of that? Will they just start inventing surf stars for US and Australian audiences?

DR: Maybe while we're asking Quiksilver about their 1990 bidding war for Kelly we could turn the conversation over to how they're currently feeling about their low-fi maestro, their crayon-drawing stud, Mr. Dane Reynolds. But maybe that just says more about the transcendence of Kelly than the relative worth of Reynolds. Do you think Kelly's awesomeness and the industry's fear-of-missing-out culture results in an expectation that each new superstar should be just as enduring, just as aristocratic, as Kelly? What a slippery slope!

NC: Shit. I don't know. What is a surf star supposed to do now anyway? Who the hell is ever gonna match Kelly's competitive records? Nobody. You can't invent that stuff, you have to go and do it, and that's pretty much impossible.

DR: Hey, don't you love it, right now, how every single surf mag interview references, at some point, Reynolds, Florence or both?

NC: Do you reckon the mags actually like those guys' surfing or are they just playing the surf star game? [SURFING Magazine likes them] And…hold on. What about Kolohe Andino?

DR: God, I've seen so many underpants photos of Kolohe [Stab co-founder Sam McIntosh has an underwear label, Tweeds, with Kolohe] lately I don't know what to think. I do believe he is a remarkable teenager. Far more sting than that one particular Australian superstar junior I had the misfortune to interview earlier today.

NC: I think it's time for some of these kids to go after the real shit. Apple, Sony, whoever. Break the cycle the way the ASP is trying to. Like, if you're gonna wear underpants in ads, get paid big for it.

DR: That's always been the dream, getting weaned off the surf industry teat. But we both know that corpos swing so wildly from season to season, and surfing ain't always in vogue...

NC: What about wave pools? Those are in vogue. Everyone flying to the Middle East to bite Dion and Joe G. I think it's all good fun, albeit soft…and I don't believe KS will ever get his up.

DR: The illustration on the Slater website [kswaveco.com] is a classic. Look closely and imagine the whitewater from that 6-footer washing through the entire eco resort...

NC: Well, if that happened, it might be a bit more interesting. Wave pools, if they worked, would send surfing through the roof. The skill levels you could achieve in a pool would so far outweigh anything anyone's yet managed in the ocean. Just because you'd be able to repeat, repeat, repeat, without the hassle of paddling out and hunting a wave. The Czechs and the Russians would end up mowing everyone else like they have in tennis.

DR: Can you imagine the Chinese Tiger Moms? "Finner! Stalefish! Lien!" And the 6-year-olds, the little Honey Boo Boos, drinking their Mountain Dew/Red Bull combos before heats, punching the air and yelling: "I holla for a dolla!"...that was kinda incoherent...sorry.

NC: Nah, go with it. Where were we? Ah yes, surfing around the world. Why do some places become cool and others not? And how quick is the turnaround. Is Bali still Balifornia?

DR: Maybe Ba-zil. And speaking of Bali, ain't the Deus, Morning of the Earth, handcrafted artisan-single-fin-resin-tint-artist-collab movement just the cutest thing in the world?

NC: Oh Rielly, that's not fair. You know you'd grow a beard if you could. A long, silky, fluffy beard. You'd look like some f–ked-up West Coast rock star from the late '70s.

DR: Jealousy and sulkiness is kinda my game...

NC: But it's a point, isn't it? It goes back to that thing about needing to forget in order to move forward. You can't just keep recycling the past, like surfing was some weird kind of counterculture steam-punk.

DR: I struggle with it all on an intellectual level. I can't believe grown men can wear the costume, recite the lines, do the dance, and not, at some point, realize the grandeur of their imitation. I'm waiting for Ellis [Ericson] or Alex [Knost] to remove their plastic masks and to tell us all we've been had. Reminds me of twerps who do the rockabilly thing or those Elvis impersonators in Vegas.

NC: It's a sign of cultural floppiness. If your generational stamp is aping a look and style from 40 years ago, you're already passe. I guess it comes down to having the sack to try something new. You're 20 years old! Make a dick of yourself!

DR: Can I ask you something? Do you watch every new Marine Layer clip like it's a new theorem being handed down by some kinda Newton or Darwin? Do you attempt to decipher the mechanics of Reynolds' jams? His boards? 

NC: Yes, I am afraid I do, though I sorta struggle to imagine ol' Dane as Darwin. It reminds me of once describing Occy as a "genius" in a mag article (in this very publication, in fact) and a friend reading it and smiling a little and saying, "Well, I'm not sure about Occy being a genius..." Which was fair enough. But Dane is such an advanced surfer; he rides with so much fire in the belly that it's impossible not to watch him, whether on screen or just going surfing. Like, I'll put up with his T-shirts if they mean he does another one of those incredible throwaway lip-slide rebounds or another vicious 180-gouge-straight-back-into-the-barrel. Poor Rincon. You almost feel sorry for it. Say, what's your take on the woes of the industry? Illusion? Typical surfer f–kup? Just another day at the races?

DR: Industry? That's something I've avoided for most of my time in surf mags, except when Sam Mac and I started Stab and we went from company to company, listening to each marketing manager explain whatever was in vogue that season in return for advertising. "Oh, we're sponsoring bands." "Oh, we're doing artist collaborations." Etcetera. But if you mean its health, I believe that if a surf company really wants to engage its patrons, more important than the riders it sponsors or the ads it runs, it needs to make quality products. I always reference the snowboard company Burton when I'm sucked into industry talk. You buy Burton and it works. It doesn't break. Never enslaved by fashion, but by its purity and the quality of its construction, it's desirable and it endures.

NC: It works. Well that's as good a measure as any. There's the pretense of things and there's the things that actually occur. Surfing's been bullshitting itself for generations, really. Soul surfing versus competition surfing, nonsense! Miki Dora, ridiculous! The sacred worship of the 1970s, the neon superstars of the '80s, ha! Nostalgia is something you feel about a thing or a time you didn't experience in the first place. If you did experience it, you know it was both way lamer and yet far more magnificent than it's portrayed. I bet those Dogtown boys know exactly what I mean. What comes out the other end is what works. The right board, the right spot. Paddle out and get smashed, laugh it off, get a sick barrel. That works, it always will.