When we’re kids, there’s a metaphorical suit of armor in which we envision our favorite athletes. They’re indestructible. They’re perfect. They’re better than us.
This lens through which we see them blurs our senses to their human traits entirely.
Really, it’s hard to imagine them as anything other than our favorite athletes. Our heroes.
To us, they were never kids. They never had to grow up.
They just showed up this way, as fully fledged otherworldly beings dominating their craft.
And, one day, we will be just like them. Just waiting on that beam up to the mother ship.
In the eyes of a child, professional athletes are never sad. They don’t ache or get sore. They don’t have bedtimes. They don’t get nervous. They don’t have to eat their vegetables. They don’t have allergies. And they sure as shit don’t have any homework.
They don’t have the same problems as us.
And when we grow up to be just like them, neither will we.
Then you grow up, and you’re not them. Mirage vanishes and it’s just a dry desert and you’re fighting the people you once admired for a little sip of water.
When we grow up, we realize our heroes are just as messed up as the next guy. We finally see them for the flawed and vulnerable human beings they are.
They’re not heroes. They’re anti-heroes.
We almost like them more this way. We can relate to them on a granular level unlike before.
Suddenly, they understand the death-inducing monotony of a job you hate.
They feel the agony of a parking ticket.
Jury duty, they get it!
The messed up order at the drive-thru – yep, that happens to them, too.
They surely know the palpable need for a frosty cold beer after a long, terrible day.
Nonetheless, it’s a little jarring when this realization first takes shape.
It’s even stranger to find out who their favorite athletes were. Especially in their same sport. The people they looked up just like you looked up to them.
How could they have a favorite? They’re the FAVORITE. Our favorite.
What if I don’t like their favorite athlete like they do?
Or worse, what if I hate their favorite athlete?
In the NBA, Boston’s Jayson Tatum’s favorite player is Kobe Bryant. Kobe was a Laker. Lakers and Celtics fans DESPISE one another. There are few players they ever hated more than Kobe Bryant.
Can you imagine the amount of beer that was drunk and shit that was talked when Jayson Tatum wore a purple and gold arm band in the TD Garden…during a playoff game!?
Catastrophic for Tatum admirers everywhere.
In professional surfing, I don’t think that happens – where an entire fanbase shutters when they find out who their favorite surfer’s favorite surfer was growing up, but I guess it’s certainly a possibility.
So let’s find: WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE SURFER’S FAVORITE SURFER?
It’s going to take some investigative work and amateur internet sleuthing, but I’m not above either.
Surprisingly, the information is not as readily available as I had hoped or anticipated.
But I want to know.
Simple as that, rat-a-tat-tat.
John John Florence
The blonde haired phenom from the North Shore was born in 1992, the same year Kelly Slater won his first world title.
Stab your voodoo doll because it might not be a coincidence that JJF has regularly named Kelly Slater as one of his favorite surfers of all time over the years.
“I love it when people make things look fun and easy. Guys like Dane Reynolds and Kelly Slater and Pedro on a skateboard, they’re never forcing it.
He’s also named Andy Irons alongside Kelly in multiple interviews, which makes sense given the age that John John was when Andy and Kelly battled during the early 2000’s. That rivalry is arguably one of the greatest of all time.
In the raw outtakes of Kissed by God, John gives a heartfelt remembrance of Andy’s impact on surfing.
But who is it, Kelly or Andy? Can it be both?
That’s kind of like saying my two favorite basketball players of all time are Magic and Bird. It can’t be an and. It has to be an OR.
I don’t think I’m going to get my OR here, so I’m going to have to guess. I think it’s Andy. I think the Hawaiian connection edges Andy out in front of Slater by a touch.
Then again, Andy’s lifestyle was completely different than John’s. John lives a life more like Kelly’s. They’re not really partiers or hell-raisers the way AI was.
Kelly’s back out in front.
In an interview, John mentioned that he wanted to keep surfing until he was 62. It was a joke, but it seems like a subtle nod to Slater’s longevity.
With all of John’s other interests, like sailing and exploring and Florence Marine, I don’t think he’ll want to surf competitively for that long.
I don’t think he likes the attention or spotlight the way Slater does. Slater’s mind is also singularly focused on winning.
Andy or Kelly?
Who do you think?
Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the greatest surfer of them all?
We don’t need a mirror to help us with this one, but the mirror might help us answer who the GOAT’s favorite is…
Could it be the person staring right back at him?
Over the years, Kelly’s had his certain romances with different surfers on tour.
Two people in particular have come up over and over again: Andy Irons and Dane Reynolds.
With Andy it was more of a love/hate relationship, but it was definitely full on. No one had ever or has ever pushed Kelly the way Andy did.
“I loved and hated the guy, but I probably only hated him because I admired and envied what he was capable of.”
Kelly needed it. Andy knocked him on his ass and awoke Kelly’s inner demon, then went head-to-head with that demon and won.
When Kelly and his demon finally wore Andy down and beat him, Kelly’s hatred of the guy turned to love. No one is going to outlast Slater, but for a brief window Andy Irons out-punched him.
Andy sometimes reminded me of a gorilla in the way he surfed. Have you ever seen an angry gorilla fight? It’s absolute chaos, but graceful as all hell. It’s beautiful. Each action and movement calculated and purposeful.
When Andy surfs there’s seems to be an element of randomness and bedlam, but it’s all very precise and deliberate.
It’s organized chaos and that’s what Andy was.
The other surfer that Kelly has been enamored with at certain points during his career is Dane Reynolds. They both rode for Quiksilver for a long time, but Kelly admitted on The Wire Podcast back in 2017 that he always thought the fit was unusual for Dane – but was happy for the pairing because of the way Dane pushed the company, and surfing.
Crusty with time, I seem have forgotten how much influence Dane had on professional surfing earlier in his career. His current pit of influence is still deep and well-documented by himself via Chapter 11.
Dane’s surfing is still as maniacal and unpredictable and powerful as ever, but it’s strictly for the internet now.
When he was younger and skinnier and surfing on the tour, he was the apple of everyone’s eye for a moment.
Dane just wasn’t meant for competition. He hated it. I think that’s partly why Kelly was infatuated with him. He couldn’t understand him. Here’s this kid with all the talent and skill in the world, but he can’t put together a solid run on tour.
He did, I know. He finished 2nd one year, but he couldn’t push it into the end zone.
Frankly, I’m sure that’s why Slater was so okay with openly praising Dane. He was never a threat.
Watch Dane’s first wave in Excerpt below.
He drops in grabbing rail to Pac Man a backside barrel. Stands up with a stanky back leg mid-tube before being spit out, pumping through the slow zone into a skimmy roundhouse off the top and redirecting into the right, then immediately launches a Forigve Me Father for I Have Spinned air reverse.
It’s fuggin’ dazzling. It’s fuggin’ threatening.
“At times [Dane] was the greatest surfer ever on a surfboard.”-Kelly Slater on Dane Reynolds
More from his interview on The Wire podcast:
“More impressive than John John and Jordy and them…because Dane’s surfing overhead Ventura shorebreak and putting out these edits. You’re like, ‘How the fuck did he do that?’
“I think all of us surfers were just proud to have him on tour because of the surfing he was doing, and it was giving us all credibility because the best surfing was being done [on tour].”
Heavy and genuine accolades from the King. There’s definitely a soft-spot for Dane in Kelly’s demonic heart. I’m sure, in some ways, Kelly wishes he could be like Dane, utterly content away from it all. The competition. The brands. The spotlight. All of it.
Alas, that’s not who our favorite psycho is.
After all, what would the [tour] be like without [Kelly Slater]?
I think there’s enough evidence to agree that Kelly admires both Andy and Dane, but neither are his all-time favorite.
Kelly’s favorite surfer ever was Buttons Kaluhiokalani.
“Matt Kechele was a huge influence, but when I was about 8 years old I started really looking up to Buttons. Tom Curren, too, once I grew even older. Buttons was my guy though. I thought he could go upside down under the lip and stay on his board. That was the future to me.”– Kelly Slater
You can the see the influence Buttons had on Slater’s style even in the way he simply pumps down the line on his squirrely single fins.
The starkest example of Button’s influence on him comes in the free-wheeling way he played with the lips of waves. In particular, Kelly’s carving 360s screams, “BUTTONS KALUHIOKALANI!”
We march on!
Here’s an easy one.
Rob Machado has always put style above everything else.
He’s said time and time again that style needs to be a more integral part to the judging criteria. I think he’s got a point.
Might need to deep dive into the current judging criteria next. Pick it apart like a parking lot pigeon outside of a donut shop.
For the stylish Rob Machado and Cardiff local, it was always another Californian he looked up to.
“I started surfing in 83 and I would say Tom Curren ….he was the California kid. He was the hero, you know…..I think he won a world title in 85, he was a style master guru.”
Can’t argue with Curren, future star of The Board in the Stone as the famed and eccentric wizard Merlin, as your all-timer.
Pleasing to the eye to say the least, but for Rob it didn’t end with Curren.
For Rob, a goofy-footer, his search for influence naturally led him to another surfer. Someone like him who lead with his right foot.
Unsurprisingly, it was Mr. Pipeline Gerry Lopez who captured and the heart and mind of young Machado. The similarities are abundant and appreciated.
It’s a love that’s been reciprocated, too.
“My favorite surfer is Rob Machado,” wrote Gerry in an article for Patagonia. “His stylish approach, not only to riding waves, but to everything he does, reminds me of Paul Strauch.
“Rob is one of those guys who, on a contemporary surfboard, can rip with the best of them, but put him on any kind of board – long, retro, tow-in board, whatever – and he will still be outstanding.
“He is a throwback to my generation of surfers who were trying to raise their performance level with innovative and radical maneuvers, all while being smooth and stylish.”
Perfect. We’ve got ourselves one big Kumbaya circle of love. Gerry is Rob’s favorite surfer, and Rob is Gerry’s.
They should take their act on the road.
The San Clemente surfer was just recently relegated to the Challenger Series and eliminated in the round of 64 at the first event on the Gold Coast in Australia.
He’s been a staple on the CT for years and we’re rooting for him to climb his way back on tour. With just 6 contests on the Challenger Series this year and only the top 10 finishers making next year’s tour, he’s going to need results in every remaining contest.
Who might he be channeling on his renaissance conquest?
Two Australians, of course.
“I always wanted to surf like Taj backhand and Mick forehand, I always thought that was an epic combination. That was before Jordy and Dane started doing all their tricky stuff.”
Tricky stuff, indeed, and just the kind you’ll need as the Series moves to Sydney at the end of the month.
The train doesn’t stop! Next!
Gabriel’s instagram is a wealth of information on the 3x World Champ. Here’s what I learned while perusing his page:
He likes his Coronas with lime.
He loves his boys and fellow Brazilian Storm surfers Filipe and Italo.
He’s a workout nut.
An avid soccer fan.
An F1 fan.
His ‘eternal idol’ is the late great Ayrton Senna, who tragically died in a crash at the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994.
Gabe’s caption: “This means a lot for me…my eternal idol @oficialayrtonsenna helmet and my good friend, inspiration and now Brazilian @lewishamilton.”
He’s got a very real bromance going with Brazilian soccer player Neymar.
He’s definitely an NBA fan, sporting both Dennis Rodman and Patrick Ewing jerseys.
Tom Curren is one of his favorite surfers, but not the favorite.
Then who is?
His instagram won’t tell us.
He’s also referred to his other Rip Curl brethren Mick Fanning as one of his biggest influences, but it’s still inconclusive as to whether or not Mick is his all-timer. I don’t think so.
Another feather in Dane’s cap incoming as Gabriel said this about the virtuoso surfer, modern-day beatnik back in 2014, “He’s a little crazy [laughs], but he’s amazing. He’s at the forefront of performance surfing. Nobody can touch him when it comes to maneuvers. He always does stuff as radical as it can be done.”
Inspired by, yes, but I don’t believe Dane is his favorite surfer either.
If I had to venture a guess, I would say that, based on Gabe’s approach to competitive surfing and his willingness to play the game as well as the villain, his favorite surfer of all time is Kelly Slater.
Also in 2014, when asked who he thinks is the best surfer in the world:
“Kelly, hands down. He’s a freak.”
Sign, sealed, and delivered? I’ll count it.
Gabe also loves puppies.
No time to stop here! More!
Joel Parkinson & Mick Fanning
I’m going to go for the whole straight from the horse’s mouth bit here.
The horse being Joel Parkinson, who lays it out plain and clear.
“[Brendan Margieson], for me… he was just the best. He’s like a big teddy bear and such a nice guy, but he surfs with this amazing, kind of weird energy. It looked like he was not even gonna be able to do a turn, then he’d get into a wave and you’d be blown away.
“Margo had that knock-kneed, back-knee-in style backhand. For me, it was unbelievable to watch. I remember going down the coast with him when I was a kid, and he was just going upside down, with this crazy, perfect backside surfing. He was so strong. There was so much spray. But he also had this smooth, perfect style.
“The turns he was doing back then were way better than what most, if not all, of the surfers on today’s CT are doing. I don’t think people realized how influential Margo was to my generation. He was in everybody’s top three surfers, and he wasn’t even on Tour. Taylor Knox was always Mick’s favorite, and Margo was mine.”
Taylor Knox as White Lightning’s favorite is a bit surprising, but I can see why. I also loved Knox’s powerful carves.
Margo for Parko, though! An inspired pick.
Often regarded as the first successful professional free-surfer, before Rob Machado, Margieson is beloved in Australia and the surfing world ad infinitum.
When you see his surfing, it needs no further explanation.
Is it me or do you see remnants of a goofy-footed Andy Irons in there? I DO.
Guess who’s next…
The People’s Champ!
At one point in time, he was probably everybody’s favorite, even if they weren’t willing to admit it. But who is his?
As a kid, he shared a room with his brother Bruce.
“We both had our own little TV and VCRs and I had Momentum and all the new surf vids going 24/7. I had surf posters up and shit too. I remember having this old Shane Dorian poster and a couple of sick Taylor Knox posters, an Occy cutback at Rocky Point. Sunny. It was pretty typical grom stuff.”
Truly though, Andy’s favorite surfer was Kelly Slater.
“I surf because…Kelly Slater did it, for chicks, for the cool cars, for the hype, but it all became just stuff.“
People, whoever they are, always say don’t meet your hero…
Finish that however you’d like, but in Andy’s case it goes something like: Don’t meet your hero, because he’ll become your enemy.
Then after you smash him, your friend.
I started this by talking about how we view our heroes as kids. They’re untouchable. They’re perfect.
Then you grow up.
For Andy Irons, I’m glad he grew up and met his hero, because it gave the world of surfing the most bitter rivalry it’s ever seen.
I don’t think we’ll see the likes of it again any time soon.
Here’s to hoping.
Go meet your heroes, kids. The world needs more of it.
That’s all for now.