Ten Of The Best: Poo-Stances
The poo-stance need not be a badge of shame...
Let’s talk about poo-stances.
The surfer who stands as though perched upon the toilet seat is held to have committed the cardinal sin of style. The rigid right-angles hurt the eyes of the narrow aesthete, offend the delicate sensibilities of the purist, and elicit the ire of the online commenter. The culprit is mocked and ostracised, and an asterisk is marked beside his every achievement.
But the poo-stance need not be a badge of shame. Were you cursed with mutually repellent magnetic poles for knees? Do they refuse to speak to one another like feuding relatives? When you traverse the wave face do you assume the posture of one performing a delicate teabagging operation?
Be not afeard. You are, after all, in excellent company. Here are ten highly distinguished surfers who have overcome obstacles both physical and social to gain competitive, commercial, even artistic success. Their poo-stances are exemplary, ranging in severity from mild bowleggedness to full-body grimaces of constipation, hands clamped firmly round the disabled rails for support.
Adriano de Souza
Sometimes, when I consider the essentially subjective nature of all aesthetic judgement, I wonder if there isn’t a parallel universe where reigning world champion Craig Anderson is derided for his gruesomely narrow-kneed approach, while free-surfing media darling Adriano de Souza is pictured on the cover of the latest What Youth, thighs and buttocks tensed in a deep and powerful squat.
Perhaps the WSL judges come from just such a universe? De Souza and the judges seem to speak the same language, at any rate; the syntax isn’t particularly elegant but there’s always an exclamation point at the end of the sentence. (In this regard he bears an unlikely resemblance to Chas Smith.) Adriano's wide and compact stance has thus provided the ideal base on which to build winning heat scores, and from which to deliver the well-polished floaters that have become his trademark.
To have a poo-stance, but not to give a shit, so to speak -- this is the key. Adriano's worthy of your respect not in spite of his poo-stance nor exactly because of it, but rather because the criticism washes off him like jizz off a porn star’s face. The strength and charm of the reigning world champion* lies in his frank acceptance of the fact that competitive surfing is a game and he a player in it.
And don’t you dare be a player-hater.
Matto Wilky’s poo-stance seemed to have slipped under the general radar for years, partly on account of his not being Brazilian, mostly on account of his colourful off-field persona. But it hasn’t gone unnoticed during his remarkable run this season; indeed one could maybe trace a direct correlation between Wilko’s results and the distance between his knees.
“His wide-kneed bottom turn is as refined as a nightclub dance move," wrote Fred Pawle in The Australian following Wilko’s win at Snapper. This is undeniably true, but to point it out is not to write him off as a surfer; gusto and virility have often served as adequate substitutes for refinement on the dance floor. On his backhand Wilko is repetitive, sometimes mechanically so, but he attacks the lip more aggressively than anyone on tour, and it’s partly his stance that enables him to do this.
In the '70s, such was the exuberant spirit of the era, you could bend your legs squarely at the knees while performing the ‘YMCA’ with your arms and still be considered a paragon of sophisticated poise.
Take Shaun Tomson, for instance. Nobody flinched in disgust at his bold, muscular lines or virtuoso tunnelling technique then, and none but the most blinkered, historically illiterate of surf fans would do so now; in fact, one could make a strong case that Tomson elevated the poo-stance to an all-time stylistic high. Sturdy as an oak but refined, almost debonair, the South African bore his crablike posture with flair and panache, and far from being dismissed as ungainly, was celebrated as “innovative and aristocratic", to quote his EOS entry.
"Sturdy as an oak but refined, almost debonair, the South African bore his crablike posture with flair and panache..."
While Shaun Tomson used his solid base to advance the art of tube-riding — he’s generally credited with being the first surfer to pump in the barrel — and de Souza used his to perfect the craft of middling consistency, Christian Fletcher was able to inaugurate a new era of aerial surfing by keeping his shinbones parallel at all times. He was impulsive, he was raw, he was unlovely, and he was resolutely unfazed by the objections of those who found his surfing distasteful. (In 1990 a letter appeared in Surfer complaining about the amount of coverage Fletcher received; it was signed by a group of world tour competitors.)
In essence, he surfed exactly how he felt like surfing, and didn’t give a fuck what anyone else thought. Which, clichéd though it may be, is a jolly sound idea.
Matt Warshaw, author of the Encyclopedia of Surfing and the sport’s most knowledgable chronicler, was once asked on a popular online discussion board who invented the poo-stance, and why. His response was thus:
“Greg Noll, 1964. Legs and buttocks seized from a long night of man-spreading atop a barstool at Ercoles Tavern the night before. Fact."
Extra style points for the raised arms.
Peterson Rosa’s was not the first Brazilian poo-stance and it certainly wasn’t the last, but it was perhaps the most influential, and probably the widest by several inches. Neither Fabio Gouveia nor Flavio Padaratz, near-contemporaries of Rosa’s and the first two Brazilians to crack the world tour top ten, belonged to the Poo Brigade — Gouveia’s smooth, narrow-kneed style was even compared to Curren’s — yet it was Rosa’s ghastly silhouette that Brazil’s burgeoning surf culture took as its template.
But what use he put it to! Hair long and wild, kneecaps nestled in his armpits, he would compress off the bottom and hurtle at sections with an atavistic abandon rarely equalled since. Rosa "doesn't so much perform maneuvers as have collisions with the wave," wrote Derek Hynd at the time. And like a rubbernecker gawking at the wreckage, you couldn’t take your eyes off him.
It is possibly no coincidence that the current ratings leader, along with the two most recent world champions, are all decidedly square of stance. Might the poo-stance, in fact, be a technical advantage? The outward-facing rear knee more functional than its introspective equivalent? Must the notion that style and beauty are merely functions of function itself be discarded, or at any rate recalibrated?
Geometrically speaking, the poo-stance is a sounder structure, harder to topple. Though unlikely to put you off your food or wake you up at night in a cold sweat, Medina's stance is nonetheless firmly on the “boxy" side, to use the standard webcast commentary euphemism.
Eddie Aikau is, of course, a legend. None more legendary in the world of shred. And the fact that his knees pointed proudly outwards when he rode the mountainous waves of Waimea Bay constitutes no brown stain on his legacy.
When the surf reaches a certain size, a wide and robust squat is not only socially acceptable but strongly advisable — and, for most surfers, unavoidable, instinctive. To worry about the position of your rear knee would be like stopping to do up your top button as you flee from a ravenous lion. (Considered less attractive but evidently more conducive to survival, the poo-stance constitutes an evolutionary dilemma.)
Aikau was the preeminent Waimea surfer of his generation, at a time when Waimea was the world’s preeminent big wave. His attitude of firm resolution upon the wave bespoke a noble readiness, and was widely imitated in the late ‘60s and ‘70s, particularly amongst his fellow Hawaiians.
Narrowly edging out the Hos as the first family of Poo is another heavyweight North Shore dynasty, the McNamaras. Patriarch Garrett brought glory to the bowlegged with his bold tow-in performances at Jaws in the early 2000s, then with his record-breaking rides at Nazaré. His famously belligerent younger brother Liam surfed in a similar fashion: with balls, and as though he were lowering them into the mouth of a man liable to wake at any moment. Even when his career was threatened by a series of knee injuries in the mid-90s, he refused to compromise.
The stage is now set for a new generation of McNamaras. Liam’s eldest son, Makai, was an obvious standout at this year’s Volcom Pipe Pro, overcoming an interference call to advance through his semi-final heat by virtue of a 10-point ride; he swung on the biggest wave of the day and hung on for his life in an old-fashioned but highly effective marriage of poo-stance and pig-dog. (A dog-poo-stance? A pig-dog-poo?) Nor does Liam’s second son, Landon, now 18, show any signs of dispensing with the family tradition.
"Less attractive but evidently more conducive to survival, the poo-stance constitutes an evolutionary dilemma"
Adriano de Souza and Dion Agius in many ways sit at opposite ends of the pro-surfing spectrum.
One is the personification of surfing-as-sport, a master of calculated, mistake-free surfing. He rarely wows but rarely falls, and is almost never seen out of his no. 13 contest jersey — which, incidentally, never sells out at the merchandise store — because neither he nor the internet cares a new de Souza web clip. His sole purpose is to please the judges.
Dion, on the other hand, is largely uninterested in engaging his rail, fundamentally unsuited to competition, and bored by the prospect of a manoeuvre he knows to be easily within his grasp. What excites him above all is getting airborne, and while he is unlikely to make a controlled descent -- the landing process is almost an afterthought -- the ascent will be thrilling and the altitude stratospheric. Judges can’t understand him because he doesn’t surf in complete sentences, but the shoe-, sunglass- and grip pad-buying public get the message loud and clear.
And yet both surfers, so unalike in temperament and aim, find the poo-stance fit for purpose.