by Corky Carroll
I was chatting with a friend of mine who came from the same era of surfing as I did, and in fact competed against a few times back in the 60’s. He was mentioning that watching the surfing events these days it seems that the scoring gives way too much credit for the “airs” and not pure surfing. He would rather see powerful carving lines and lip smacks, more “glide” if you will. I hear this a lot from older surfers who came from a different generation and different approach, so I thought I would weigh in on this and give you a little bit of history on my own evolution.
First off, I wanna say that the way the top surfers are riding these days is the way I used to dream about it when I was younger. Getting air was a fantasy. In the early longboard days the “side slip” was about all there was in that direction. When the boards went short we began to start to pop the boards out and “free fall” a bit. They called this “floaters.” When they finally were able to blast out the top and truly get air I was blown away.
Thru the years this has evolved into some amazing moves, and some becoming a functional part of the ride, not just a trick. The art to this is to combine the spectacular with power, glide and style. That is where the controversy over scoring comes in. We, as long-time surfers, don’t always see the style part as much as the trick part and feel the scoring gives too much credit to the trick.
This takes me back to my “formative” years in surfing, my teens. One of my best friends back then was Billy Hamilton. We surfed together all the time and used to go to contests together and take trips up and down the coast surfing different spots. Our approach to surfing was very opposite. Billy was a student of surfing style. He spent hours looking at photos and movies of guys like Phil Edwards and Skip Frye. Dudes who had beautiful surfing technique. He would work on his hand positions, even how he held his fingers. His stance and how his weight shifted during turns, his head position and how the whole position would flow from one second to the next. Billy got style way before he had a lot of moves, he was fluid and easy to watch. Didn’t get him many points in the contests though. Me, on the other hand, tried to do anything and everything I could think of on a board. Didn’t really stop to think so much on how my hands were pointing or any of that. Just wanted to be able to crank big turns, hang toes over the nose, do spinners or any other thing that popped into my mind. I remember one time I wound up going straight off in the white water at the end of a ride. Instead of just pulling out I turned around backwards, went into a kinda push up position and stuck one leg up in the air. A totally absurd move at best. Everyone laughed and it got me an extra point. I called that the “reverse bird.” This kinda stuff got me a lot of points in the contests, and I won a lot of them that way as a Junior. Tricks scored higher than flow. As we both got older our approach game together. Billy got the moves to go along with his style. When the boards went short I smoothed out and got the flow to go along with the moves.
So, I think that relates to my friend’s comment. Style and flow vs spectacular tricks. Why do I like watching Kelly Slater or Tom Curren over these amazing Brazilians winning a lot of these events today? The fact is that I am starting to see this all coming together at this time, just as it happened with Billy and me. Guys are putting style and flow with big airs. This state of the art is now maturing, and I find it incredible to witness, and am horribly jealous that I am too old and fat to pull it off myself. Can’t do it but totally respect it. As far as contest judging goes it has always favored moves over style and still does, right or wrong. We, as seasoned vets so to speak, would like to see it finally weigh the entire presentation of the ride and not just the tricks. Maybe it is, or will. We will see.