As seen in Billabong's new surf flick BLOW UP. (Free download here.)


September Issue 2011 Surfing MagazineOnce a year, we troll amongst our favorite young surfers of the moment, hook a few, and throw 'em on a trip to the test tracks of Indonesia in an attempt to evaluate the state of our art. The surfers we choose are usually ones we see as trendsetters for modern performance surfing — not World Tour pros (that's usually a whole different thing), but rather wild animals on the plains of youth. Kids. The ones showing signs of what's to come. We turn them into test dummies, experiments, lab rats. They flare. We watch. Annually. The results help form our answer to the enduring question, "What does good surfing look like now?"

Two years ago, this trip induced the heretical "onshore=offshore" proclamations that a lot of folks thought were pure nonsense. But a lot of folks understood. The modern surfer was hunting launch ramps as often as groomed perfection, and that was the fascinating truth of the day. We claimed it, shamelessly.

Then, last year, Clay Marzo and Chippa Wilson stole the show with approaches to wave-riding so creative we had a hard time defining what they were up to. We just knew it looked cool and confused angry old dudes, and again, we liked it. The Landscape Altered trip, so dubbed after the Kai Neville short films it inspired, set the year's performance benchmark in a flurry of giant punts and one-up sessions.

This year's trip was a little different. The results were impressive (did you see that f–king cover shot?), but misgivings soon surfaced about just what we were seeing. About just what it meant. Sure, a host of new airs, faces and styles were introduced — and the photos that came back were incredible — but the recurring sentiment voiced by the crew upon return was, "Airs are all right, and it's what we do, but we care more for good old style and power." This from a group whose past two weeks in Indonesian perfection had been devoted to nothing but aerials. We knew this. We had photographic proof.

What was happening here?

In truth, we shouldn't have been surprised. Innovation was never meant to be a matter reserved for above the lip. It isn't just a new grab, an extra half-rotation or another foot in height, no — airs are rad, but they alone are not good surfing. And today's innovators know it. Photos notwithstanding, they've got a healthy respect for the rail, matching fins-out sizzle with fins-in steak. Jordy Smith, Dane Reynolds and Dusty Payne lead by example, but branching out from there is a fleet of hybrids including Dillon Perillo, Granger Larsen and Craig Anderson — guys who blend together speed, style, power and flow (the bedrocks of good surfing by any measure) with that shit-hot spontaneity that makes the crowd go wild. They're everything we love and more.

So while this year's trip was another success in showing where good surfing is going tomorrow, it also — maybe more importantly — reminded us what good surfing always was. And no matter how many kickflips are on the Internet next week, that'll never change. —Travis Ferré