You can learn a lot from other people, whether it’s deliberate and conscious or indirect and influential. For this piece, I chose five surfers that have inspired me in a way that changed the course of my surfing life. I feel super grateful for how much I’ve been able to experience through surfing. I’ve done photo trips and culture trips, grinded the WQS and made the WCT, got shaken up on tour and came out the other side with more stoke than ever. But it’s these guys that I keep referring back to for inspiration. I grew up idolizing the way they smashed lips, dropped in on bombs and blasted airs. These five guys are the DNA of the surfer I am today. And after writing each of their pieces, I realized that all of them have two things in common: they love what they do and are comfortable being who they are.
Photo: DJ Struntz
I remember Damo on a beach in France with a backpack filled with Clif bars, carrots and water, wearing a fullsuit peeled halfway down and a board under each arm. The day before he'd scouted the entire coastline and decided the sandbar in the distance was our best shot for the day. And now he was running down the beach, screaming at the top of his lungs for a rip tide left bubbling up just long enough a couple of turns. And there I was running behind him, a little less organized, but stoked nonetheless. Why? Because Damien Hobgood is contagious. The man doesn’t stop and I love that about him.
While most veterans exit the world tour quietly, Damo got fired up. After losing in last year's Pipe Masters, he stayed at Pipe for a couple weeks to wait for the next swell. When it came, he copped the rail of his surfboard to his grill in a horrendous wipeout. He went to the hospital, got stitched up and then got back in the lineup. Sitting 40 feet inside everyone, Damo was looking for the most hair raising of First Reef drops. Just glassy eyed. Fearless. Possessed! And for what? He has nothing to prove. But when the next set came in, there he was. Smiling through two black eyes, a couple stitches and a swollen nose, turning and paddling as hard as he could to catch it. For my brothers and I its damien’s warrior spirit that we have connected with.
Since I did my first Camp Hobgood trip at 13, Damien's always inspired me by how hard he pushes himself. He has so much love for surfing that he naturally wants to see it progress. Whether it's in contests, freesurfing or big waves, Damo lives to raise the bar. But only because he himself wants to see it go higher.
Photo: Dustin Humphrey
I don’t have Dan Malloy's number in my telephone and I never see him unless we randomly bump into each other in the lineup. He doesn’t have Facebook. Or an Instagram. In a world of technology, his elusiveness is impressive and inspiring. But despite his perceived disconnection, he is still a staple in core California surfing conversations.
I recently watched the Jamaican section of A Brokedown Melody while I myself was in Jamaica. I sat in the seat right next to Billy Mystic as he smiled saying that he absolutely loved how the Malloy brothers had portrayed his family and Jamaican surfing. It was true. They nailed it. And it takes a genuine human to tell someone else's story and make them feel proud of who they are and what they stand for.
Dan Malloy exists through story telling. That's how I’ve heard what he is doing, at least. Someone told me he bicycled the California coastline. Someone else told me he moved further inland and works on a ranch. I don’t know how true either one is, but what I do know is that he was surfing some seriously ledgey Off The Wall about a month ago. He still charges like a mad man!
I’ve gotten to share car rides, taxi cabs and plane flights with Rusty over the years, and every time I'm left in stitches. He has an appetite for storytelling and has a deep bank to pull from, as he has a unique ability to find himself in some crazy situations in and out of the water.
Growing up in San Clemente, I've always looked up to Rusty. His big-wave bravado is no secret, but it's the way Rusty has done what he has done that has always sparked me with stoke. The man takes amazing photos, writes with the descriptive power of J.R.R. Tolkien and does both without showboating. He lives his life at his own pace. Nothing is rushed. And he's refreshing to hang out with because you feel like whatever you’re doing, it is right on time. I feel like he should have a soundtrack that plays whenever he rolls in. Something like Sade’s "Smooth Operator" (which actually happens to be one of his go to Karaoke songs).
Not long ago, Pat, Dane and I flew over to Hawaii for some late season Pipe. The swell turned out to be too north and the weather was bad, so we sat there at the Beach Park, in the rain, feeling a little defeated. Then, up comes Nate wearing a cut off pair of sweatpants over his trunks, pointing at Pipe. "How's that mega kicker?…Look, there it is again!" Nate was psyching, and he gets us psyching, but I couldn't spot the air sections he was seeing. All I saw was an 8-foot folding sandbar section that would swallow you if you got near it. But sure enough, we paddled out and boom! On the first wave Nate pumps down the line and boosts a straight air off of that exact closeout section he'd seen from the beach, launching himself at least 10 feet above the lip. He buckled his favorite 6’8" going for the landing. (He said it buckled because he didn’t commit hard enough.) I had never looked at Pipe that way.
Thoughts and actions are two very separate things. A thought is just a daydream until you turn it into an action. And Nathan's ability to turn his thoughts into actions is what inspires me the most about him. He has unfiltered creativity and the will power to try his ideas in real life situations. With Nathan's help we've rethought big wave boards and the way we use quads, and he will always be involved with surfing's evolution because he doesn’t mind taking criticism for thinking differently. And the best part? Nate is inclusive with his ideas. He wants you to hit the same air section he is looking at. He wants you to try his concave deck board so you can feel how it rides. And he wants you to ride a 10’2” so you can feel how it rips down the face of an Outer Reef. He is 100 percent genuine, with no ego trips about his ideas being any better than yours. He's just real.
Jason "Ratboy" Collins
Surfing today seems pretty polarizing. If you wear a jersey then you don’t get to go on trips with Dion and you definitely can't ride a longboard. If you shape your own boards then you don't enter the Cabo 6-star and will probably skip the Europe leg. Where did the jack of all trades go? Someone that can do anything and everything that encompasses surfing. To me, Ratboy has always been that person.
I was only 6 when Ratboy landed his humongous backside air-reverse in the '94 Coldwater Classic Expression Session at Steamer Lane. To this day, it's one of the most iconic airs ever done. I'm now 25 years old and have gotten to know the man behind the rotation, Mr. Jason Collins. What I love about Rat is that he's never going to try and impress you. He does his own thing and doesn't care what you think. He's 50-grit. He fishes almost every day and says "fuck off" to cameras and still gets the shot. He rides longboards and golfs and never looks soft doing it.
And I’ve always loved to compete in events, but I cringe at being labeled a "QS grinder." But knowing that someone as core as Rat has already blazed an unforgettable path of doing whatever the fuck he wants reminds me that I shouldn’t feel strange for wanting to be a part of
every side of surfing, be it for clips, contests or even a nose ride.