These days it seems any halfwit teenager from anywhere near Cornwall who can do a chop hop reverse can score a sponsor and travel the world, for a while at least. It seems brands are usually happy to invest in next big thing from the UK, until inevitably the next big thing paddles out at the Superbank, or Pipeline, or Hossegor, basically any beach or reef that isn’t Fistral. It’s then they realise (or worse, as in many cases, fail to realise) that he is just a slightly above average surfer with a shitload of stickers. By their early 20’s the money usually runs out, the career high 25th placing in the ISA games doesn’t quite cut it, and the professional English surfer goes back to being a lifeguard/surf coach and a right cunt at his local, shitty, break.
So yeah the state of English surfing, at the pointy high performance end, is atrocious. I can already hear the response to that statement, no doubt a violent collective whinge of epic proportions. To which I respond, Get Fucked.
So anyway, saying Reubyn Ash is the best surfer in the UK is kinda like telling a fat girl that she has a lovely complexion, kinda nice, in an evil backhanded way. So, I’ll go further, and really push the boat out, and say not only is Reubyn Ash the UK’s best surfer, he might be Europe’s best surfer. There ya go. Boom. Put that in your pipe and smoke it. And smoke it deep.
Now sure if it was Reubyn vs Flores in 10 foot Chopes, it’s only going to go one way.
Or if it’s Reubyn up against Ramzi in a WQS heat in three foot beachies, it also might not be pretty.
And if Lacomare steps up in six foot draining lefts, well the Frenchman probably has it. But if you crave excitement goddam it, if you wanna to see shit that’s electrifying, if you prefer your surfing acid tinged and flared at the bottom, if you have seen enough of the Flores frontside fin waft, or have been beaten to a pulp by Lacomare’s backhand bash, if you want pre-wank heart thumps or post coital goosebumps, then Ash is your man. See, Reubyn is cutting edge.
That’s his currency. That’s why at 27 years of age he is still being paid to travel the world and fling his shit against walls. That’s why there are big fat stickers on his board, big fat tyres on his car and why you are being invited to be as excited as I am about an Englishman’s surfing. An Englishman!
I’ll be honest, I don’t really know him personally. I know him a bit professionally from working for both Surf Europe dot com and Billabong, but both have since fired me. In an ideal world Surf Europe would have sent me on a three month trip with Reubyn and we’d bond over broken down buses, sunset sessions, eight pint evenings and decadent orgies. But this is no ideal world, so I Skyped him.
I know precious little of his inner demons or if he has ever saved a man’s life. No, I have just engaged in a watered form of cyberstalking, where I’d watch his online clips and then Skype, our chats a pixilated stranger stream, as he careered about the earth while I stood still; a fixed, stationary, fool.
“As a professional surfer I’ve always travelled loads, but last year I tried to tick off a few places that I have always wanted to go to,” he told me by way of a square screen.
“I had an extended winter season in Indonesia, before traveling to Chile, California and then a road trip through Europe in the summer. Then there was an amazing couple of weeks in Scotland, and I finished off in Ireland and then around home in an epic winter to finish off the Runaway Project.”
The Runaway Project is Ash’s latest online video series, covering all those far flung places I didn’t go with him to. Ash was traveling with his girlfriend, Jonna Kerman. “My girlfriend was filming, after being taught by my Dad,” says Ash. “They collaborated and probably did 50/50 of the filming on the Indo clip. Then she did the rest of the year on her own.” A cursory cyberpeek into Jonna’s world and she looks fit, blonde and Scandinavian. His dad Peter, is neither of these things. I don’t judge Reubyn for harshly jettisoning his own flesh and blood, despite the fact it was it was Peter who got Reubyn into surfing.
“I started actually surfing, as in paddling into waves and standing up, doing it all for myself, at four. My brother Joss already surfed, my dad and my grandad all surfed. Dad’s dad was actually the first person to surf the left pointbreak near me and a few other reefbreaks around the area. But at two my dad used to take me out on his shoulders and catch waves and I used to hold on to a leash thing. And then before I was even walking, he was pushing me into waves already standing up and I’d be cruising along them. That was at Widemouth Bay in Bude.”
From aged 4 to his late teens or so, Ash was the typical competitive machine, and by the time he was 18 he had won more than 10 British titles, as well as a European junior championship. He was also traveling loads, to Indonesia and Sri Lanka especially, with his old man and brother Joss, who was also a gifted sponsored surfer, with Pete taking time out to video his boys.
“Dad used to do loads of videoing with us, all the time, all my career really. He’d video the entire trip out in Indo or wherever we were. Afterwards we’d watch it and he’d never say ‘Oh yeah that’s amazing,’ so I used to wonder, ‘Why can’t he say something was really good for once?’ You know, when I was fully stoked on a wave or a move. But now I see how you need to be kept hungry, and chasing it, so it was the best thing to do. We watched loads of footage of ourselves.”
A decade on, and countless Indonesian summers under his belt, the Runaway clip shows both Reubyn’s progressive act, but also maybe a new sense of maturity.
“I spent around three months in Indonesia, split between Bali and Lakey Peak. I was travelling with my parents and Jonna, so it was a different kind of trip. It was a family trip, and more relaxed. We weren’t chasing every swell and bombing around madly but more enjoying the surf when it came. We were surfing good waves and surfing every day, but we made sure we took our time to enjoy and film the moments that matter. Be it the sunsets, or early light in the morning, or the nature, the personal stuff at the time or a super clean perfect session with just my mates.”
The first Runway Indo clip is pure Ash – long tubes and big, progressive airs. The tube style is functional with no Machado like grace, but his above the lip act is still right up there with the best. If he’s not in that group of aerial freestyling cats like Chippa Wilson or Creed McTaggert, he sure isn’t far behind.
“I am still really about progression, that’s my focus,” says Ash, sounding like a man who knows exactly where his paychecks come from. “A lot of people think that when you are not doing the comps you are not really surfing at your absolute best. I disagree with that. As long as you’re surfing the best waves you can find, making sure your equipment is dialed in, training super hard and trying your absolute best each session, you can improve and keep up with the pack.”
In that he has been aided by travelling with Nic von Rupp. Nico might just have the best all round act in Europe, and definitely is one of the Continent’s hardest chargers. While Reubyn has always kept pace with the pack on the progressive front, when you are hanging with Von Rupp, you know your big wave game is going to be properly tested.
“I travelled down to Chile with Nic. We stayed in Arica, and scored El Gringo, and the other slabs down there. So that was more of focus in bigger heavier waves, which is something I really want to concentrate more on,” he says. “Nic was good to travel with. It’s great to have someone to push you and someone to spar with in terms of performance. He is always up for it. You’d turn up and it would be big and there is no hesitation. You don’t have a chance to talk yourself out of it. That’s what you need, that’s what helps you improve in heavier waves.”
Improvement and progression seem to be the pillars of the Reubyn Ash freesurfing empire. It’s made him the best surfer in the UK, although a decent cutback can almost do that. More than that it’s made him relevant, no easy task in a surfing world that moves fast. He doesn’t wear coloured singlets and he doesn’t louche around smoking cigarettes, riding 5’2” stub voodoo and getting tattoos, he simply surfs on the edge of what’s possible. And as long as he keeps doing that, he will maintain unique spot in the surfing world.
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