Skimboarder Brad Domke has been farting internet gigabytes for the last two years, with his crazed performances in huge waves from Mexico to Australia to California securing him a huge following. Last year though, one wave at Mexico’s Puerto Escondido particularly caught the wider world’s attention and secured him a WSL Big Wave Awards (formerly Billabong XXL) Ride Of The Year Nomination.
But there’s been a bit of backlash against that nomination, some questioning whether a skimboarder should be a considered for a surfing prize, and also at the sometimes ungainly style that riding a skimboard in large waves seems to require. So what is it? A wave truly worth celebrating or an ugly novelty that cannot be compared to “real” surfing. As ever there are two sides to every skimboard…
The Anti-Skimboard argument…
It seems a bit churlish to actively turn against a Brad Domke for riding a finless four foot piece of fibreglass down a Puerto Escondido wave the size of The Shard. After all in the world’s population of just over six billion there is exactly one person who could have achieved that feat. In this he is the very definition of unique.
Most people would give credit to the Floridian skimboarder that broke the internet, caused the surfing and non-surfing world to gasp in wonder and landed himself a nomination for one of five Big Wave Ride’s Of The Year, the most prestigious big wave award in the world. And yet, and yet, I can’t help feel just a tad uneasy about the whole fucking thing. For one skimboarding is frankly, just a little bit silly. And while I can be accused of harbouring a typical surfer’s craft prejudice, Boogieboarders, obviously, being a few rungs down the evolutionary chain, SUP’ers a scourge on the ocean, surf skiers a low rent version of SUP’ers and don’t even get me started on alais, windsurfers, kitesurfers, kneeboarders and longboarders, I stand by the fact that anyone who chooses to spend most of their ocean time actually not in the ocean, and instead running at full speed and skimming across water three inches deep, has clearly, and fundamentally, made a poor decision. Or a series of them.
I can sense the thrill, but only if you are four years old, and getting towed by your dad on a boogie board. Now of course Domke doesn’t spend his time squealing on the shore, he goes out and rides the waves the size of houses. On a tiny board, without fins. In most cases he seems to be hanging on to his very life by the skin of his teeth. To many, this is seen as admirable, and I commend the courage, but it still looks, well, just a bit shit. On the XL nominated wave in question Domke is forced to use his arms as counterbalances to the considerable forces that are coming at him from all angles.
That it works is unquestionable, that he looks like a deranged 90s raver on high-grade ecstasy, undeniable. It doesn’t help that two of his fellow Ride Of The Year nominees have waves at the same break, with Shane Dorian and Gabriel Villaran not using jet skis to also ride cavernous barrels with all the balls of Domke, just with oodles more style. Dorian’s Jaws’ effort and Dingo Morrison’s effort at the Right, are also truly worthy.
So Domke’s efforts maybe shouldn’t be belittled, but maybe just put in perspective. Basically he has decided to make a very difficult task, even more difficult and why should he be lauded for that?
The Pro Skimboard argument…
Innovators are always castigated. Galileo was forced to recant and jailed for nine years for heresy after proving that the Earth revolved around the sun and not the other way round. Van Gogh cut his listeners off, driven mad by the lack of acknowledgment of his genius. Simon Anderson was told three fins would never work, and then won Bells, surfing his self-designed tri-fin in 20 foot waves.
Now I’m not saying that Brad Domke has found a cure for climate change or premature ejaculation, but his efforts in surfing, and surviving, giant mutant Mexican bombs is certainly worth, at the very least, his XL Ride of The Year nomination. Let’s cut to the chase. This is a very, very, big wave and one of the biggest barrels ridden last year at Puerto Escondido without doubt. To be on that wave, on absolutely any craft whatsoever, required a dedication, commitment and courage that only the very best of the elite big wave riders have.
Critics might point to the use of jetski, in this modern age of paddle or die, as somehow taking away from the achievement. To those, I’d ask them to try and paddle a 50 inch long teardrop of fibreglass and see how far they get. Of course perhaps the real worth in this ride, apart from the sheer size of the wave, was that he managed to tackle the beast without fins, which on a surfboard, provide all the stability and control.
It is akin to a downhill skier tackling the Streif in Kitzbuhel on one ski, or Lewis Hamilton driving Monaco with no steering wheel. Domke may be flailing a little, but considering that he is lurching at the base of a 50-foot wave, defying 98 per cent of laws of physics, it’s no bloody wonder.
“When the wave started to spit I was completely blinded and just going with the feel. I was on my back foot leaning so hard, it felt like my toes were digging into the rail,” Domke told Surfer, trying and just failing to explain the degree of difficulty. “I came flying out barely on my rail’s edge. And then I was hydroplaning through all the foam. It was one to remember.”
And that’s the key, anyone who has seen that wave (around a million have on YouTube alone), will struggle to forget it. It was sheer lunacy, crossfucked with immense novelty and you didn’t have to “get” surfing to know it was something very special. Ride of the year? Ride of the bloody century.
You’ve heard both sides of the argument. So what do you think? Should a skimboarder be nominated in a Big Wave Award contest? Is Brad Domke a hoaxer or hero? Post your comments below…