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.

IMG_6334aBack 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.

jayadams1 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.

Skate-1970s-PaulFisher-blog-1976-2Flat days were often enough, so I remember the first ramp we built in my friend “backyard”, in an easement between his house and the elementary school fence next door… it was perfect.

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.

Picture 15.fwThere 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?

~ Flynn

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.



Filed under From the Editors

3 responses to “TRICKS and STYLE

  1. We with real life surf experience have failed to deliver.

    basics, 1. catch it, 2. ride as long as possible

    Leogarto’s teahuppo wave was the last serious attempt at ‘beating the curl” or “Making the Wave.

    In SL length of ride is largely ignored. Spinning 720’s frontside, backside, el rolos into yet another and another means basically rider is stalling riding straight to beach.

    If a real life surfer tried this they would wipe out repeatedly. The entire wave should be ridden back forth covering as much wave as possible using tricks sparingly with style. Since majority rule SLSA and have never surfed, They have passed along their judging criteria to members, tricks etc to team mates.

    All surf mags and many movies crop or edit pics to solidify the airial in our brains. 99% of riders do not make those waves.

    Mick Fanning won 2014 Bells… Power surfing entire wave.

    the SLSA supports sl style surfing only.

    I ask will this ever change?

    • There is a problem with style. Style is not easily defined, and though you can say you know what it is, it’s very subjective and very personal. Style is a very personal preference. Surfing style is very often described using adjectives such as smooth, buttery, aggressive, clean, hard charging, silky, mad, seamless, etc.. Words we use to describe style are often contrary. And when we form an opinion of what might be good or bad style, that opinion will always be very judgemental.

      Admittedly I don’t come from the world of surfing, and because of that, my opinion will always be discounted by some. I tried surfing once on a layover in Hawaii and admittedly couldn’t do it. My background is competitive skiing, and when I was younger also ballet and gymnastics. As a teen I spent allot of time on a skateboard as I considered it great cross training. In my college years I traded skating for mountain bike racing for my summer cross training.

      In skiing and many other sports personal style is very simply defined. Personal style is defined as ones execution of technique. For instance an almost universal technique is to use your hands for balance, where exactly someone holds their hands to balance is their personal style. And to some degree in all sports style follows function.

      Those who study kinesiology have often observed that what we perceive as good style often is related to balance and the angulation, rotation, and counter-rotated body positions an athlete gets into to maintain balance in very dynamic movements. That is, our eyes and brain perceive angulation, rotation, and counter-rotation as pleasing. Another universal aspect of style seems to be a quiet body and economy of motion, in other words the athlete that seemingly makes it look easy tends to be very pleasing to the eye. In most any sport, flailing arms and body indicates the athlete is struggling to maintain balance and is seen by the eye to not be so pleasing.

      But in SL, body position is a function of the poses built into the board. So when we talk about style, obviously we must be talking about something else. And this becomes even more subjective. In my mind, adjectives such as smooth, silky, flow, etc describe style. Other words could also be used, aggressive, tentative, rough, fast, slow, etc. could also be used to describe style. But what it really comes down to is what is pleasing to the eye. And what is pleasing to the eye is very personal and subjective. Each of us has a different background and base of experience, so we will have wildly varying perceptions of what good style is.

      I have to totally agree with some of the statements Flynn and Mick have made. Especially that trick selection, and connecting tricks together is a part of style. And that Mick Fanning won Bells by power surfing the entire wave. It is pretty clear that the best pros in the world are putting everything into it and leaving nothing on the table. As Flynn mentioned there has always been some debate about style. In SL I think this has mostly centered around two different philosophies about SL. There are those that feel that surfing in SL should emulate RL surfing as much as possible. And then there are those that feel that SL need not be constrained by any RL notions. I think that I find myself somewhere in the middle. I realize that tapping keys on a keyboard to control pixels on a screen and then trying to compare that to RL is very contrived at best. Personally I get my inspiration from RL surfers. I get allot of my inspiration from Surfline’s Trick Tips: . I don’t so much care about RL constraints. I think if we really had RL constraints, surfing in SL would be pretty boring. I like the fact that we get long rides, don’t have to wait for waves, and can get in multiple tricks on a single wave. But there is more inspiration I get watching RL pro comps. It is clear that they are very aggressive and doing as much as they possibly can. In the 15-20 second rides that Mick Fanning won with, he pushed it as hard as he could, he was constantly turning from rail to rail, and his big moves showed variety. And I try to do the same when I ride in SL. I try to push myself as hard as I can. And I would think that if Mick Fanning or Kelly Slater did come to surf in SL, they would do the same. In RL they push the limits of what is possible, I don’t think they would do any less in SL. I don’t think they would be happy just surfing back and forth on a wave trying to emulate some idea of what RL surfing is. So in RL they can’t pull off multiple trick combinations, but they would if they could. I choose not to be limited by RL constraints. SL isn’t RL and I accept that. And though I like to watch “Endless Summer” and the surfing in that movie is very stylish and pretty, that was 40 years ago, and it’s not the kind of surfing I want to do. In SL my ideas of style were much influenced by Seano who first coached me. My friends TK and Ritch were also a huge influence, and also Craig. Even Thor was an influence, he used to say “go hard or go home”, it was one of the Misfits mantras, and I took that to heart.

      Which brings me back to the question that Flynn posed: “Is packing in more tricks worth more than style and creating artistic flow?”
      I really kind of have a problem with this question. It supposes that tricks and style are a trade off. I don’t believe that tricks can’t be linked together with artistic flow. I don’t believe that a ride with many tricks can’t be stylish. I actually think the key to being successful in SLSA competitions is figuring out how to show a variety of tricks in a stylish and artistic manner. Certainly both are not one and the same, but one does not preclude the other. It is clear sometimes that people are just tapping keys wildly, and spinning endlessly, and I think that stinks. I want to tell them to get out of here, your stinking up the waves. On the same note, on occasion you see a surfer not do much and get a good score. I can only assume the judges see some merit in their style. But to me if you don’t show any technical merit or flare, if you surf like a beginner or look like your out for a Sunday drive, then I feel you should be scored like you are out for a Sunday drive. Certainly Mick Fanning at Bells didn’t appear like he was out for a Sunday drive.

      • Anonymous

        Two great replies/comments… What do you think? Express your opinion, it matters. There are no right or wrong answers… questions… comments (unless you are trying to hurt someone, intentionally – cus thats not cool or tolerated on this blog). Remember, Surfside is NOT a blog about SLSA, but SL surfing. I think Cierra’s main goal is to share as much about what is happening about SL surfing as she can. I on the other hand want to share ideas about making the boards, waves, and especially how we surf a “better” experience. What works for one person may not for another.

        For example, I don’t want to compete… not my gig anymore. But I do want to be one of the best surfers in SL (cough – again). And for this blog and from my perspective having to relearn everything I knew about SL surfing from beginner to kick ass will give me insight into SL surfing. Mind you, its will always be from my perspective and it will include my own unique and twisted subjectivity. That is the beauty of a blog!

        ~ Flynn

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