A commentary and history of surfing and extreme sports, by Flynn Sheridan (retired).
I am about to turn in RL 50 years of age. I started surfing in junior lifeguards and skateboarding at about the same time… 10. I jumped on my first YZ 80, a friend’s bike and crashed landed over my neighbor’s hedge… got up and whooped for joy. My friends thought I was crazy.
Back to surfing and skateboarding. I lived in PV, with some of the best surf there is in the LA/SoCal area. But I was limited to a good board and the folks were not forking over the cash to buy a Becker for me. My friends also preferred the easy access of riding a skateboard. So I started riding the steep streets where we live grinding up the curbs and carving up and down the streets. They were fucking steep and you could do a lot going back and forth. Plus it was our main form of transportation.
Then we discovered pools… just sitting there empty…. sometimes not. And we would ride all day long scraping the coping. To an extent we were the z-boys of PV. This was at the same time new trucks and wheels started coming out… and I bought my share… YoYo’s, the grippy green Power Paws among others. We “shaped” our own boards. I never caught air, although I had seen it done once… we were young and not ready for the likes of Tony Hawk.
The next summer I was in junior lifeguards and on a board surfing once again. God I remember to this day the cold mornings and utterly glassy conditions… you could see the bottom 30-40 feet down filled with sandsharks. I was in junior high at Malaga Cove and life was pretty sweet. I was a fish, as I call it. A beach rat by other standards. Anything that had to do with the ocean and hanging out there I did from sun up to sundown and, if we could get away with it, all night long drinking and other fun things when you are 12 years old.
But as junior high lead to high school and a divorce split our family, friends changed and motorcycles became the new toy. And I learned many of the cool “tricks” you do on a dirt bike. I can blame my step-dad for that (not that I regret it one bit)… but we would make trips to Baja and I’d see those waves in the distance calling to me. I’d bring my piece of shit board, and hop out to surf every chance I could. I was growing up fast, discovered and then followed the Dead for almost a year, and all along the western coastline were waves beckoning to me, from Ventura to Portland.
Back then the major surfing comps were all about style, baby! Fun to watch the pros, but it was all about style. Innovative moves were ignored at best. I never got around to buying a sweet board, just a patched up fiberglass and epoxy 7′ 8″ board that had seen much better days, but I surfed the coves and bluffs around the hill, RAT beach (many non-surfer and surfer alike try to figure out what RAT stands for, but that is another story) and of course Haggs, until I hit a boulder and that was that for many years to come.
Bummer! But then I had a hottie and the Dead and school (cough) took over my life for many years. That is a little history about me you would not know (perhaps didn’t really want to know… HA), but each of those experiences shaped the way I view surfing in competition today in RL and SL.
LMAO… Now, I’m finally getting to the point of this commentary.When we created SLSA we looked at Keala’s three competitions that preceded our formation. Sammy Jo Ah won the first comp. I did not really get to see her ride. But what made her the winner was that she was doing tricks most of us either ignored or just did not know how to perform. Surfing Heather and Seb’s Pipes (at Chi) was a lot like skateboarding. So she did the same trick over and over again with some style in between as filler. Competition Two was a repeat of Comp One, but this time Sammy’s friend beat her out, again tricks over-ruled style. Malcolm and I broke that streak in the third comp, with style over tricks, because of the nature of the wave. When we wrote the SLSA scoring guide there was a good reason for style to be equal to tricks. Once you do a trick over and over, it just becomes passe’. Style is when you connect one trick to another in a way that has… well… style. A wave in RL or SL has a mind of its own… there are a lot of variables. I won’t bring up my philosophy on the Flow, but if you listen to RL surfing competitions, it comes out loud and clear. Flow is a universal in life… I picked it up from practicing Qigong.
So our belief was a trick is a trick and when you are one of the first ones to bring it into a routine it is awesome and should be rewarded as such. Control is very important to RL surfing, and in SL surfing too; otherwise you belly because you do not have the speed to do much else.
There has been debate in both SL and RL about the role of style in surfing. When I first saw a film by Jelly Bean Madison with Desiree Beaumont performing a trick I had never seen before, I asked her how she did it. SL surfing in 2008, Pova, and Ritch both innovated signature moves. I played for a week before I discovered mine (W+E standing flip), which only works on SSI Boards and some selective waves today. Still today, I am more proud about that than anything I ever did for SLSA.
Which is what happens in RL as well. My memory is far from perfect, and this example might have the surfer wrong, but it happened and Cierra and I watched it. In Heat 3 at Bell’s Beach 2014, Easter mid-morning, Jordy pulled an aerial and landed it, a winning one trick score, I think it scored him more or less an “8”. The rest of his surfing during that heat was excellent, and I do think Jordy deserved the heat win.
John John’s amazing aerial ride was much better (trick included) and although I do not think it was a 10, the judges did. And I give John John credit, he committed to the wave and rode it out to snap another washwater wall. A “9”, IMHO was what that ride deserved and would have still won him the heat. For Jordy to drop into a wave and stick a single difficult trick should not be worth more than half a wave score. It was a difficult trick, but it is no longer innovative. So will RL and SL judges find balance between a single and amazing trick and the artistry of style?
The bottom line is this:
Tricks are vital to competitive surfing, it keeps everything fresh and innovative. It also shows the knowledge and skills of the surfer with the board and wave. Style is taking those tricks and transitioning between one and another, not just repeating the same trick over and over. Style is also trick selection and the order of tricks so as a surfer rides the wave it shows knowledge and timing of the wave. And finally the most subjective and at the same time the most technical, its called the artistry of surfing. It’s flowing with the wave and combining the knowledge and skill of tricks and creating a series of moves that awes the audience, judges and most of all your fellow surfers. Some surfers power trick after trick to show skill and knowledge, while others try to create an artistic flow on the wave dancing across its surface as they move from one trick to another.
The question I leave you with: “Is packing in more tricks worth more than style and creating artistic flow?
You can see the early evolution of SLSA surfers trying to move tricks into style on my Video site . Today’s competitive surfers are far more advanced than these videos show, but what I see is that judges are scoring higher on tricks over style, then and now.