Ian Gentil was set to be the best grom in the world, and then — nothing happened.
He was losing out of contests early and putting out sporadic edits, but anyone could tell that his heart wasn't in it. Finally accepting that he was not enjoying the sport he once loved, Ian took a break from surfing. Not competitive surfing, not filming for surfing, but surfing itself. For several months, he did everything other than surfing, and he learned a hell of a lot about himself and about life. Now back in the water and reinvigorated, Ian plots his course towards a successful future. Let's hear what that's all about. – Michael Ciaramella
This is Ian before he surfs. This is Ian after he surfs. Photo: Taras
Interview by Peter Taras
Surfing: You have a new edit coming out for the first time in a while. What's it called and what's it all about?
Ian: Elliot Leboe came with up "Something for nothing". It means just that [laughs]. We did it just to do it. In the past we'd put out a bunch of edits to try to make up for my average QS results. But now I don't have the pressure of a major sponsor to be of part of the media anymore, so I'm just doing it for fun.
S: What have you been up to?
I: I basically got to do things that I never got to do, or never even wanted to do because I was always traveling for something surfing related. I spent a bunch of time with family, which was really nice. At first I was a little shocked at how much I'd missed with them. Suddenly my brother is 16 and driving, and my sister is off to college for her freshman year. It's not like I didn't see them throughout the years. But even when I was home in between trips, I didn't really care about anything other surfing and planning the next trip… it was almost like I wasn't there. So this year, when I lost interest in surfing altogether, I was angry with myself. I think somewhere a long the way I mixed up not wanting to compete with not wanting to surf at all. That was really frustrating. It felt like I'd been training my whole life for something I didn't wanna do anymore. And it felt like I missed so much for nothing. I went like 3 months without surfing, which is total insanity in my world. Anyone who grew up surfing would probably agree that not surfing is the equivalent of a religios zealot going haywire and not believing in shit anymore. It was bad. Of course, as soon as I started doing other things, going surfing became the sickest thing ever again. Now that my day consists of more than just the same wake up, surf, eat, and sleep routine, I actually have fun when I get in the water. My life is way more balanced now, and even so, I spend just as much time in the water at 20 as used to when I was a like 10.
S: Do you surf for different reasons now than you did before?
I: Yeah, totally. Just with figuring out life in general and becoming an adult, I see surfing as a nice escape. It's also turned into a constant thing for me. After quitting and the coming back, I know I'll never stop regardless of what I get into in the future. I can't believe that thought I wanted to dedicate my entire life to trying get on a tour…haha. I mean I'd love to compete in the Triple Crown again one day, but if I do go back, it'll be just another thing I do, not the only thing.
S: Every kid's dream is to make the tour and become world champion. But in reality, not many kids achieve those lofty goals. Can you give some perspective as to how difficult the road to success is, through the QS and everything else?
I: Even up until a couple years ago, that was the dream, you know – getting on tour. Although it didn't look like it, I was really trying. People thought I was lazy or whatever, but I was just trying to pick the right events, and I still wasn't doing that well. Even when I did get a result though, I wasn't as fulfilled as I was when I was a kid. I hadn't figured that out at the time though. I thought maybe I'd be happy if I started doing really well. And that mindset is what kept me in it for so long. Besides that, I'd change my mind from month to month about being a freesurfer. So I was never really committed to anything. And yeah it is really hard. Especially for a guy like me—I suck in grindy beach breaks, and that's the majority of the QS. There's nothing like traveling to the other side of the world and losing first round in knee-high surf. I won a bunch when I was so kid, so people expected a lot out of me. And part of me wanted it for sure, but not enough to put in the work and deal with all the ups and downs. You're away all the time and like I said, you miss a lot– family stuff, and even just normal childhood stuff.
Even if he quit for 10 years, Ian would never forget how to punt and roll. Photo: Erik Aeder.
S: How did you entertain yourself during the 3-4 months that you weren't surfing?
I: As soon as my main sponsorship fell apart, doing contests was the furthest thing from my mind. I was totally over it. So then I had all this time, and just thought, OK, what now? I went snowboarding for first time… I had so much fun that I extended the trip like 3 times! I got home from that and started going to school – the first class was the weirdest thing ever – and just started trying different things. I always thought that to make it in surfing, you had to be all in, all the time. So that's literally all I did. That's probably true for competitive surfing, but I've realized I can have a life outside of surfing and still maintain a career as a "freesurfer". Maybe that's obvious to some people, but it definitely wasn't to me. I'm really stoked on where I'm at with surfing, and just everything in general. After getting back into it, I started riding all kinds of trippy boards, single fins, twins etc. It's kinda funny because I used to bag on guys that rode boards like that in pumping surf haha. Like even 2 years ago, there's no way I'd paddle out at Honolua bay on a 7'6 single fin cruiser. I wouldn't even be open to trying something different like that back then. Now, I'm all about it. It may look weird, but it's pretty damn fun to just pump across an entire wave on a twin fin and not try a single turn.
S: Do you feel like you have a bigger perspective on everything nowadays?
I: When I was a kid, surfing was everything. It was my entire world. Now I'm starting to see just how small surfing is in relation to the world, like our industry is tiny, and it's really awesome to branch out a little bit. I remember when the NSSA nationals seemed like the Olympics. It literally felt like the entire world was watching. When realistically, there were maybe like 100 people on the beach, if that.
S: Do you still follow competitive surfing?
I: I've been a fan of the CT ever since I can remember. It's kinda hard for me watch nowadays though. Every sport has its politics, but it's even worse with surfing because it's not like there's a finish line at the beach or something. It's totally subjective. We all know that and accept it as part of the game. But surfing has some really bad judging going on right now, more so than ever – I think so anyways. You watch a heat and it'll leave you thinking how did they come up with that?