6 of the Best | Surfing Styles
Half a dozen of the smoothest operators ever to commit rail to water
We have opined elsewhere in these pages on the best poo-stances in the business, but what about the best surfing styles? And what does it even mean, anyway, to have a good or a bad surfing style?
Surfing with a poo-stance doesn’t necessarily mean that you are a second- or third-rate person, despite what (second- or third-rate) people may tell you. A link has yet to be established between unsightly arm-flapping and moral laxity or dull conversation or general unpleasantness.
By the same token, there’s little reason to believe that the stylish surfer will be a more reliable witness in court, a deeper thinker, or better value in the pub.
“Surf style reflects personalities and character," reckons the Australian national coach Andy King. "You can watch someone surf and know straight away whether you would want to share a beer with ’em." This is the worst sort of nonsense and you shouldn't stand for it. No: good surfing style is just good surfing style, and something to be treasured in its own right.
As for the best surfing styles — let’s confine ourselves, for the sake of argument, to the thruster era and onwards — six of them surely belong to belong to Messrs Curren, Irons, Rastovich, Parkinson, Machado, and Miss Gilmore. Smoother than a newly shampooed otter, every one of them.
"Curren could surf better than anyone who could surf more stylishly, and more stylishly than anyone who could surf better"
Is Tom Curren the most exquisite, the most supremely stylish being ever to ride a surfboard? The surfer most likely to induce in the discerning surf fan a state of aesthetic bliss, and/or a semi?
Probably, yes. He’d top most people’s lists, anyway, and he’s surely not far from the top of many “best ever" lists either. To adapt A. J. Liebling, Curren could surf better than anyone who could surf more stylishly, and more stylishly than anyone who could surf better.
And here’s another question to which the answer is probably yes: is Curren plus pink fluoro wetsuit plus J-Bay the best combo in surfing history?
"When young Bruce bewitched the surfing masses in the late ‘90s, he was possessed of a wiry and virile magnetism almost impossible to resist. The chiselled features and sunken eyes of a fallen angel helped..."
When young Bruce bewitched the surfing masses in the late ‘90s, he was possessed of a wiry and virile magnetism almost impossible to resist. The chiselled features and sunken eyes of a fallen angel helped; so did the casual swagger and abundant natural ability. Other qualities included an easy, limp-wristed fluidity and a first-rate hair-flick.
At his peak, he only had to get to his feet on a wave and he made it look like the coolest thing in the world. His section in Volcom’s Magna Plasm is a case in point. He sits on a wall, dangling his feet; he fries an egg; he inspects a surfboard. And then there is a right-hand barrel peeling across the screen, and the guitar solo commences, and Bruce makes his exit/entrance in time with the spit, flicking his hair insolently — and it’s sheer perfection.
The smoothest caarnt on tour, to borrow a term from the Australian vernacular. There was a time when Joel Parko Parkinson was rad as well as smooth, a wild, unpredictable beast as well as a graceful one. Latterly, however, he seems content with just being smooth — “buttery smooth", as WSL commentators are contractually obliged to say every time he gets to his feet.
Yes, he’s as smooth as the fat from a cow’s tits, although some would argue he lays it on a little thick. These days Parko serves up bread and butter and not much else.
But what did being rad ever get him anyway? His 2009 world title campaign, which began with three event wins out of five and seemed destined for glory, was derailed (to use the mot juste) by an awkwardly landed air reverse and a buggered ankle. Probably underscored in the first half of his career, he’s benefitted in the second half from a sizeable points rebate, but who could blame the judges for falling under his spell? He’ll be remembered as the pre-eminent stylist of his generation.
Machado's is a low-fat, easily spreadable brand of butter, possibly even margarine, in which there’s a decent chance of finding a frizzy sun-bleached hair that when stretched out to its full length could encircle the Earth.
"His simian silhouette — the spindly arms dangling down to his ankles, the thick mane and the waterlogged goatee — is one of the most instantly recognisable sights in contemporary shredding"
If you look can look past his recent flirtations with dreadlocks, and the tedious Drifter musings, and the fact he once mercilessly snaked the Surf Europe editor, who’s pursued a vendetta against him ever since — the man looks beautiful on a surfboard. His simian silhouette — the spindly arms dangling down to his ankles, the thick mane and the waterlogged goatee — is one of the most instantly recognisable sights in contemporary shredding.
To watch Stephanie Gilmore in full flow is one of life’s chief pleasures. To study her movements as she ascends and descends the head-high face of a long right-hander; a top turn here, a tunnel there, a soul arch for good measure, an occasional flick of the hair; her face a picture of joy, her rear knee a thing of exquisite delicacy — it could warm the cockles of the coldest heart.
It’s not exactly her womanhood that does it, although neither is her womanhood entirely beside the point. I don't mean in an erotic way — although yes, in an erotic way, too, the enjoyment of style being a fundamentally erotic experience, after all. No: it’s more that Gilmore routinely hits notes well outside the range of her male counterparts.
“There was once a man who became unstuck in the world, and each person he met became a little less stuck themselves," intones Dave Rastovich at the start of his otherwise flawless section in Castles in the Sky. "He travelled only with himself, and he was never alone."
Hmmm. Sounds like a bit of a helmet actually, this man. Anyhow — Rasta, he’s a stylish so-and-so isn’t he? He may have an unfortunate penchant for soliloquising, but he does some fine work for the whales and the dolphin folk, and possesses a mean cutback, so will almost certainly go to heaven/be reincarnated as something good. His surfing is notable for its atavistic caveman oomph, a distinctive and visually pleasing up-and-down pumping style, and an aversion to the industry standard tri-fin sled.