Who is the best surfer? Who Cares?

Incinerator Rock - Long Beach

Whistler Blackcomb is opening tomorrow…so I’d better throw in one more post on surfing before the waves in my mind turn to snowflakes.  Here is an editorial I wrote before the Cold Water Classic landed in Tofino and the results may just answer both questions above.  Read on…

 Up way too early this morning…4:30am…Just Right cereal, cup of tea, a couple freezies – why not I’m a grownup – and a quiet break to read the October, ‘Green’ issue of ‘Surfing’ mag before the kids are up.

surfing-oct09-coverAnother wanna-be surfer local, Scott, told me about the wetsuit issue so I picked it up the same day. ..that was about two weeks ago…and I finally sat down to see what it’s all about in the early morning hours in my PJ pants and ‘Retallacka’ pow beanie.  After meeting all the key suppliers at the Know?Show I’ve been thinking about getting some suits in the shop and the Surfing mag was just the motivation I needed to get interested again.  Winter is near, snow is in the alpine and the thought of plopping into the ocean (or into the lake for an SUP for that matter) in anything less than a full hooded 5/4/3 seems ridiculous.  Oh Canada!

Canada’s west coast, cold water haven to the so obviously not pro-surfer.  Maybe the Devries’, Bruhwiler’s and Malloy’s of the world will somehow maybe find their way into quasi-surf-pro-dom  in their back woods, 4×4, SBC Surfer Mag, Patagonia saving the planet, free riding, adventure seeking way but the obvious is about to meet the obscure reaching of the pro circuit in about three weeks time.  Before witches and goblins, batman’s and whatever MTV idols make their way into our children’s heads and onto Halloween door steps the O’Neil Cold Water Classic will land on our nearest local shores outside Tofino.

So what? To echo Dane Reynolds in that Surfing Mag intro, “Isn’t it strange how obsessed we are with determining who is the best at surfing?”  So strange in fact, that after more than a few decades and a couple generations of surfers have more or less silently went about their business on Vancouver Island’s West Coast without much concept of a crowded line up (re. south Cali) some bloke from England walks into my shop and asks how to get to Tofino…”where they’re having the cold water classic.”  (Reminder: My shop is in Whistler…a solid 6 to 7 hour trek via Highway 99, BC Ferries – Queen of Cowichan,  and the Island Highway over another mountain pass you never thought possible on an island to get to the nearest surf spot.)  I wonder which is more ridiculously obscure, his asking me? or me knowing the answer?

Hurley US OpenThe truth be known, I have to admit I tuned in online to watch the Hurley US Open, AKA the $100,000.00 winner take home $100,000.00 US Open at Huntington Beach, Ca.  But the real truth be told, I didn’t get it??  I had never watched a surf competition beyond the highlight real and the Kelly Slater Tweet Machine wouldn’t let me forget to tune in.  So there I was, at work, in true Canadian naivety, watching the so called world’s best thinking, “Raph and Sep can do that.”  In fact, now that I stop long enough to read more in the magazine about the pros and their own apathy towards the judges, “who can’t even do an air”, I hear echoes of the ski world turned on its head and the ‘FIS Sucks’ sticker on my old race helmet…not that I ever raced, it was just all we could get back then.  After decades of FIS domination of the sport from racing, to freestyle, to the production of boards, they masterfully guided the entire sport and then the Gen X and Y crowd came along and decided, ‘that’s not cool’ and the industry leaders reluctantly followed suit with Shane McConkey leading the charge of free-ski comps, skier-cross, big air, slope style, fat skis, reverse camber…you get the picture.  More truthfully, or faithfully perhaps, they said, “That’s not what it’s all about guys.” 

DownhillRacer1TN_featureWhen we look back a little further we see there was once a cooler time before the media generation our parents raised us in.  (Baby Boomers, I’m about to blame you messing up skiing and surfing so hold on…)  There were happy people sliding down mountains and riding waves for decades without sponsors, photos, action vids, helicopters, iPods, and Tweets between heats.  Look at the original classic novel turned movie, “The Ski Bum”, and Robert Redford and Camilla Sparv in, “Downhill Racer”, in those days it wasn’t hip to be down with sponsors at all and if you were headed to the Olympics – then the pinnacle of amateur sport – you’d better not take a free lunch if you want to maintain your status.  These days you can’t make it there without a long list of sponsors (most of which have nothing to do with sport) and ironically many of the athletes still don’t get paid a living wage.  In fact, let me take that one step further into the pro-free ski world, why is it with multinational multimillion dollar companies leading the charge that every time we lose another hero to an avalanche or accident in the alps somewhere we have to start a trust fund for their families to get by?  Where are the sponsors then?  (Don’t even get me started…in the meantime, please go to www.shanemcconkey.org and help out if you can.)

Surf Etiquette on MacKenzie Beach

So what’s next?  The Zen of sport has arrived…or returned, which ever you choose Baby Boomers so prepare yourselves.  Surfing, like skiing, is alive and well, thriving I would say, and the culture of surfing whether paddling out on a sunny lake or slipping into that 5/4/3 with frost on your truck windows hoping the icy water is warmer than the air temp, or floating down Rat Fink on opening day (which more importantly happens to be a pow day this year), the culture is back just like the first time.  Hearing the pros of today question their own sport may be the first sign that they really get it.  Maybe the old dudes behind the judges tables don’t understand what they’re watching (like the judges watching the Z-boys hit their first skate comp) or maybe now their kids don’t surf and they’ve lost their stoke, I don’t know.  But I know when a 40 something dude rolls into my shop still shivering after what he thinks may be his last paddle of the season on Alta Lake to ask if I’m going to bring in those Naish boards next spring, I see the light.

PeterDevriesCoverIt’s not the $100K Hurley that drives us, it’s the search (and if you’re still reading, you know what I’m talking about).  Maybe there will be a few more cars driving out to Tofino for the CWC, at least a few more than the usual few, maybe the local hotels and campgrounds will fill a few more beds and maybe they’ll have a few more boards on beach than usual.  Can Tofino take on one competition a year? I don’t know (the obvious answer is ‘yes’ it can but I am really asking if it should?).   What I really believe (hope) is that it is all a sign that the search is back on.

PS: The winner of the first ever Cold Water Classic Pro Surf Competition in Tofino was local surfer Peter Devries…who knew?



  1. Just read this again…the ’40 something dude’ was my friend Chris who I just learned passed away this winter. Peace be the journey buddy.

  2. Slightly off topic maybe, but a plea for people to consider the ethics of buying wetsuits. Please try and think about, for example, the things your product is manufactured with, the conditions of the factories where they’re manufactured and the ethics of retailers. Oh, and try to recycle rather than throwing away. Thanks!!!!

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