by Corky Carroll
We are at the end of another year and the sport of surfing is in a very “transitional” period as far as I see it. In the competitive arena, I guess you would call this the “sport” part, it looks like we are seeing the final days of the Kelly Slater competitive marathon. He enters the coming year approaching 51 years old, yes…. I did say 51 years old, ranked at number 17 in the world. This will be his 32nd year on the World Professional Tour and he currently holds 11 World Titles. Now, I am not saying this will be his last year either, but that is my guess. I mean, why retire if you are still top 20 in the world and making a ton of money doing it? But just think about it, how can a dude 51 years old be top 20 in the world? It is beyond amazing. I don’t have an adjective for it, there is none. It’s just a thing that is beyond a word.
We had thought that John John Florence, the North Shore phenom, was going to take over as Kelly slid out of the number one position. Due to injuries and what not, that hasn’t happened. The tour is up for grabs, the Brazilians having a bit of an edge at the moment. The competitive part of surfing is definitely in transition.
Then there is the emergence of one Kai Lenny, from the island of Maui. I, for one, never thought anybody would go beyond what Laird Hamilton was doing in giant surf and with use of multiple wave riding vehicles. Laird was riding the biggest waves with the least amount of fear and was coming up with ideas and designs for new equipment that was definitely broadening the scope of riding waves. His ideas are still valid, only might have been refined as time always makes happen. But then, along comes this wild and fearless kid Kai Lenny. And this is not exactly news, he has been taking the “giant surf” thing to a whole new level for a number of years now, although recently has been doing things on another level altogether. Arials on 80 foot waves. I saw one video of him free falling at least 40 or 50 ft on one wave and pulling it off with no problemos. The guy is just radical to the max. And, he rides everything that will float. Transitioning from Laird level to Kai level. Mind blowing stuff
And that brings us to the waves that are being ridden. On one hand you have people like Kai Lenny and others going for waves bigger and bigger all the time. Waves we never thought possible back in the 60’s and 70’s when I was still of the opinion that the waves I was taking off on where actually 200 to 300 ft, when they were only being called 20 to 30 ft. Today they are riding waves three times as big as we were. How do they survive? Don’t ask me, I just shake my head and go “wow!”
Besides big waves we are also seeing the construction of more and more wave pools being built around the world. Many people are of the opinion that as more of these are opened throughout inland and landlocked areas it will change the face of surfing in a number of ways. Just the sheer numbers of people surfing is bound to increase. Competitions held in pools where every wave is the same will be different. I am also guessing that the styles and techniques of those who exclusively ride man made waves will also be different. Just how, not sure, but when you know exactly what’s going to happen with the wave it has to make you look at what you are going to do in a different way. This is more transition.
Things are changing, some faster than others. It’s not a “revolutionary” kind of thing, like we saw in the late 1950’s and late 1960’s when boards changed from wood to foam and then from long to short. It’s more subtle, but it is happening. It will be interesting to write this piece again at this time next year and just see how things went down. Stay tuned.