The 7 Strangest Professional Surfers on the Planet
In surfing, more than ever, we need original characters to stand out and surf to a different wave
“I never set out to be weird," said the great goofy-footed Frank Zappa. “It was always other people who called me weird." These odd surfers have a lot in common with old Frank, being slightly weird, but also touched with a mad genius that has helped make a real difference to the sport. In an ever-standardised surfing world, we need odd characters to stand out and surf to a different wave. These seven surfers do that, and much, much more.
Ryan Burch is odd in the very best sense, a young surfer so out of step with the times, he is actually ahead of it. The 24-year-old Californian roams the world riding his own equipment that varies from homemade 9’6" logs to a 4’ block of foam. His different take on surfing both in and out of the water has meant that he has pushed design to new, truly unique places.
His love of the asymmetric design is a perfect example of his skewed thinking and his surfing on the design in films like last year’s psychic Migrations showed that not only does he think outside the box, but his surfing is at a level very few can match. Burch is an open channel of inspiration and creativity among a generation that’s more interested in four-inch screens than challenging the status quo. He’s odd all right, but in a way that sees him operating on a higher plane entirely.
George Greenough was known as a Barefoot Genius (he’s worn formal attire twice in his life, and flies first-class to avoid wearing shoes) way back in the ’60s, and even in those drug-addled revolutionary times he stood out a truly different thinker. 50 years on time hasn’t dulled his oddball genius and he is a unique icon in the surfing world best known for his innovative surf photography, his visionary surfboard design and his ingeniously conceived and constructed inventions including everything from wind generators to handmade air mats and blue water fishing boats.
He has produced films, sailed the South Pacific in a 39' yacht he built in his backyard, and built countless toys ranging from ultimately practical to amusingly whimsical. For his latest project, a film about dolphins, he has fashioned a camera housing shaped like a baby dolphin. Yep, thankfully, the weirdness never ends.
Despite having just made the final in the Fiji Pro, extending his huge lead the world rankings, and having taken on a coach and more professional approach, there is still no getting around the fact that Matt Wilkinson shines like a beacon of weirdness in the ever-normalised surfing world.
He first showcased his different approach through his blog Out 2 Brunch, self designed wetsuits (incorporating everything from sardines to stars and stripes) and by turning up to the WSL end of year award nights in wacky costumes with cross dressing dates. Luckily his surfing is as creative and as his dress taste, and it’s hoped that the very real chance of a world title in 2016 won’t curtail his odd ball tendencies.
Paul Fisher is an LA based former WQS surfer from the Gold Coast who has made a name himself through his blog and videos at followthefish.tv and as a DJ with the dance outfit Cut Snake. Rude, lewd and with a truly psychotic laugh, Fisher has a different take on surf celebrity than most and is so odd that he seems to be beyond embarrassment.
He has interviewed Kelly Slater with a microphone in the shape of a 10 inch black dildo and ridden a personalised surfboard in the shape of a penis at some of the world’s most famous waves. His weirdly sexualised take on the surfing world isn’t for everybody, but in an increasingly sanitised world of surf corp speak he stands out for at least being himself.
Born on the 6/6/66 it was perhaps destiny that RCJ would make his mark on the surfing world. With nicknames that include, but are not limited to: Howie, Rosco, Stewie, Clarkey, Jonesy, Dark Bones, Rock, Owl Face and Rambo, there are few that have lived a life with such frenetic madness as the Australian has. Matt Warshaw from the Encyclopedia of Surfing said, “His reputation was made as a perpetually adrenalised thrillseeker who never seemed to be more than a few months removed from a near-death experience."
Throughout his career he's been in the mix with 80-90 foot waves on the biggest day ever surfed, ridden a tidal surge up the piranha-infested Amazon River, and is the sole Australian invitee to the Quiksilver In Memory Of Eddie Aikau Competition held in Waimea Bay, Hawaii (and, in 2001, he was the first ever non-Hawaiian to win it). Mad as a meataxe perhaps, but few other surfers have injected surfing with such pure energy and big wave balls.
Mason Ho’s post heat interviews are enough evidence that his brain is assembled in a different way to most other humans. Sometimes incomprehensible, but never not entertaining, the Hawaiian often launches into a form of filterless verbal diarrhoea with sometimes a tenuous grasp on reality. However like his surfing, it is always spontaneous, rapid fire and unmissable.
Ho has carved a niche not only for his ability in waves such as Pipeline, but for his approach to small waves and life in general. He is almost childlike in looking for the simple pleasures, but his unique perspective and love for life has seen him become one of the most popular surfers in the world right now.
Who was the first surfer in the water at Jeffrey’s Bay after Mick Fanning’s shark attack? It was Derek Hynd, again showing just how he looks at situations different from most.
Rated in the top ten in the early ’80s, even after losing an eye in a surfing accident, Hynd has had one of the most mercurial careers, being coach, marketeer, journalist, contest promotor, orchestra collaborator and much, much, more. No one in the surfing world thinks like Derek, perhaps the reason he has been so influential for so long. He helped launch the Fish surfboard, was a leading proponent of finless surfing (and can now be found teaching it to Japanese tourists at Byron Bay) and tried to launch an alternative to the ASP’s Pro Tour, which was to be held in the remote Hebridean Islands off Scotland.
Perhaps surf writer Nick Carroll said it best way back in 1981 when he described Hynd as, “The most looney and colourful character in professional surfing; an enigma who can at one moment be shrouded and withdrawn, and involved the next moment in some startling display of all-out public lunacy."
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