Multi Sport

Then and Now | How 8 Surfers and Skaters Were Forged By Their Environments

Looking at the origin stories of some seriously talented skaters and surfers

If you’ve ever spent time surfing or skateboarding, you’ll know that community lies at the heart of these action sports. Whether you’re learning to kickflip or perfecting your cutback in the water, it’s the environment around you that’ll shape your experience and foster that feeling of being part of something larger than yourself. No one knows this better than these eight pro surfers and skaters who’ve all risen to the pinnacle of their respective sports, but also stayed in touch with their roots and home community.

Tom Knox

As a kid, we all wanted to copy our older siblings, right? That’s how Tom Knox – one of seven children – first got into skating aged 11, by tagging along with his eldest brother as he cruised around central London. It was this freedom that allowed Knox to become the adaptable, fast-footed skater that he is today. In fact, his younger brother, Sparrow Knox, has carved out a similarly successful career as a Vans sponsored snowboarder. Fast forward nearly two decades, Knox not only has several lauded video parts under his belt and a pro shoe with New Balance, he also recently starred on the cover of Thrasher Magazine. But underneath it all, Knox’s heart lies with his community. This year, he teamed up with Oakley to supply tools and help renovate Betongpark in Stockwell, one of his favourite childhood skate spots.

Italo Ferreira

The ferociously competitive Brazilian is known for his savage backhand skills in the surf, honed at his childhood break of Baia Formosa, arguably one of the best right-handers in northeast Brazil. However, life didn’t come easy to Ferreira; his first surfboard was a three-foot-long coolbox lid that his father used to carry fish from the harbour to sell at local restaurants. Eventually, his father managed to buy him a real surfboard. Two months later, Ferreira won his first contest and was quickly spotted by Brazilian surf coach Luiz “Pinga” Campos, kickstarting his meteoric rise to surfing fame. His crowning achievement to date is winning the first Olympic gold medal in surfing at the 2021 Tokyo Games, as well as becoming the WSL World Champion in 2019. Despite all of his successes in the water, it’s his family that motivates him to keep pursuing his dreams, as detailed in the Red Bull documentary about his life, The Curious Tales of Ítalo Ferreira.

Oli Adams

British surfers rarely garner much international attention, however Oli Adams is the exception to the rule. After learning to surf aged six, his parents hopped between New Zealand and the UK, before finally making a home in Newquay, the country’s capital of surfing. “It wasn’t until I was about 16 I realised that I could do this as a career. I guess I spent every day of my childhood working towards that goal,” Adams told the BBC back in 2007. The Newquay local went on to compete in the World Pro Junior tour, followed by the World Qualifying Series (WQS). Adams, however, had been suffering from Crohn’s Disease since he was 13 years old. By 23, his illness forced him to withdraw from the WQS. He received a lifesaving operation that enabled him to forge his path as a professional freesurfer. Today, he still travels the world hunting for waves – most recently to legendary G-Land – but always returns home to his childhood community of Newquay.

Griffin Colapinto

San Clemente in California is arguably the best place on the planet to watch world-class surfers in action  – from local Kolohe Andino to seasonal resident Filipe Toledo. As a kid growing up here, Griffin Colapinto had a front row seat. He cut his teeth at Lower Trestles, thanks to his parents’ encouragement, plus made regular trips to surf Hawaii’s North Shore accompanied by the legendary Moniz family. 2016 was a big year for Colapinto as he stormed into the public eye by stomping a Hail Mary aerial reverse at the Hawaiian Pro at Haleiwa. The following year, he became the first Californian to win the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing. While he takes surfing very seriously, it’s his playful, goofy character, fostered at home in California, and endless support from his family that spurs him on. No doubt he’ll continue to give the highest ranking surfers on the tour a run for their money.

Sage Erickson

Originally hailing from Ojai in California, Sage Erickson’s family moved to the North Shore when she was just nine years-old. After watching her older brother and dad surfing, she decided to teach herself by paddling out – at Sunset Beach, no less – and catching her first ride in. It wasn’t until she moved back to California with her mum that her surfing career skyrocketed, initially making a name for herself in the NSSA and Pro Junior circuits, perfecting her dynamic cutbacks at the point breaks near Ventura. Finally, she joined the WSL tour in 2012 and became a two-time US Open champion. Earlier this year, she competed back on home turf at the WSL SLO CAL Open in Morro Bay, a spot where she secured a plethora of wins nearly 20 years ago.

Aori Nishimura

Japan is clearly a breeding ground for top skateboarders of the future; three out of the six skateboarding medals at the Tokyo 2021 Olympics were awarded to Japanese riders. While Aori Nishimura didn’t quite make the podium, she is just one figure that has risen out of this new successful skate culture. Hailing from Tokyo, she first began skating aged seven years-old, copying her older sister Kotone, who also became a pro skater. By 11 years-old, she’d won her first national competition and went on to claim gold at the X-Games in 2017. Not only was she the first Japanese athlete to be awarded such an accolade, she was also the first to appear in a globally-released Tony Hawk game. She now lives in the United States, but continues to represent the Land of the Rising Sun in international competitions. 

Alex Sorgente

Despite historically not being a skating epicentre, Florida has produced a number of household names in recent years, including Alex Sorgente. Growing up in Lake Worth, his first experience of skating was at a mechanic’s house; he attempted to push a skateboard up a mini ramp and was hooked ever since. With the support of skate coach Mike Rogers, Sorgente joined the competition scene alongside fellow Floridians Zion Wright and Jamie Foy, securing sponsorship aged 10. He scored first place at the 2018 Vans Park Series and became part of the USA Skateboarding team at the Tokyo 2021 Olympics. When asked by Red Bull why there is so much great skate talent in Florida, he said, “We’re just super-hungry. All the skating is on the west coast, so we have to work harder to get onto the scene. We’re all dreamers, so we put our heads down and just learn everything we need to learn.”

Ryan Sheckler

If you watched reality TV during the mid-2000s, you’ll definitely remember The Life of Ryan, an MTV show following the daily routine of the child skate prodigy, Ryan Sheckler. Growing up in San Clemente, Sheckler was surrounded by legendary skaters, including Rodney Mullen and Tony Hawk. He first stepped foot on a board at 18-months old. By the time he was 6 years-old, he’d landed his first kickflip and was sponsored by Oakley aged eight. Sheckler’s meteoric rise to fame saw him claim seven X-Games medals, including four golds, as well as successfully gapping Bob Burnquist’s 55-foot Mega Ramp in 2008. However, early fame led Sheckler to alcoholism in his twenties, which he recovered from with his mother’s help. Today, he gives back to the skate community through the Sheckler Foundation, which encourages kids into skateboarding as well as supports injured action sports athletes.


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