Bad-Mouthing, Board Stabbing & Fist Fights in the Water: These Are The Greatest Rivalries Surfing Has Ever Seen

Can you be best mates but hate each other at the same time? These pro surfers think so...

From battling for the world title to surfing the world’s biggest wave, the path to success has never been easy. There’s always some bastard getting in your way, stopping you from reaching the top – nowhere more so than in surfing.

So here they are – the greatest rivalries to ever grace the world of surfing…

Mark Richards and Cheyne Horan

Photo: Horbnbaker

From 1979 to 1982, Australian Mark Richards won four consecutive word titles. Until Kelly Slater arrived, he was acknowledged as the best competitive surfer in the history of the sport.

However each year Mark Richards won, the runner-up trophy was given to his great Australian rival Cheyne Horan. This was the formative days of pro surfing and even to this day Horan claims that some of his losses were dubious.

“In both years, Horan lost the world title by a tiny amount of points… and never recovered”

In 1979 in Hawaii, one of Horan’s heats was called in early and in the Bells Beach final in 1981, it was universally agreed that he won the final over Simon Anderson, but wasn’t given the result by the judges.

In both those years, Horan lost the world title by a tiny amount of points, the closeness of the race further heightening the competitive tension between the two.

Richards retired after his 4th world title, while Horan never recovered from his narrow four losses.


Mark Occhilupo and Tom Curren

Photo: Courier Mail/Surf Europe

As with most rivalries they tend to arise between two very different personalities. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, surfing’s most talked about battles occurred between Tom Curren and Mark Occhilupo.

Curren was the smooth natural footer from California whose mellow and aloof act on land didn’t hide his fierce competitiveness in water. Occy was a powerful gooyfooter whose childlike exuberance and flamboyance couldn’t have been more different to Curren’s.

The battle reached its high point in 1986 in the semifinal of the Rip Curl Pro, a contest dubbed the best heat in professional surfing, with both surfers pushing themselves to produce remarkable performances.

Curren would win that heat and go onto to win the World Title, but the two very different surfer’s intense rivalry pushed surfing in a whole new direction.

“We weren’t friends, but we weren’t enemies either,” Occy told Mpora recently. “But when we put the contest singlets on, we both knew we had to surf as good as we possibly could.”


Kelly Slater and Andy Irons

Photo: Transworld Surf

Until Andy Irons arrived in professional surfing, no one came close to Kelly Slater for supernatural talent and competitive smarts. Again the difference between the two personalities fed their much hyped antagonism.

It was Slater with his good looks and articulated thoughts against Iron’s brash animal magnetism. The rivalry reached its peak between 2003 and 2005 when Slater couldn’t wrestle the title from Irons.

“I loved and hated the guy, but I probably only hated him because I envied what he was capable of”

“We wanted the same thing and knew the other was in the way.” Slater would say later, summing it up simply. The end point was when Andy defend his title against Kelly at the Pipe Masters, winning with a wave on the buzzer.

After that high point Andy’s competitive desire drifted, while Slater’s stayed strong. However in that brief time, surfing had never seen a rivalry like it.

In a tribute to Andy after his death in 2011, Kelly said, “I loved and hated the guy, but I probably only hated him because I admired and envied what he was capable of.”


Gabriel Medina and John John Florence

Photo: Grind TV/ASP

It’s early days, but you can sense the rivalry between Brazil’s Gabriel Medina and Hawaii’s John John Florence is one that will dominate the sport for the next decade.

Both in their early 20s, 2014 is the first year that both have been in contention for a World Title.

Again the differences between the two are marked. Florence has been a childhood prodigy that grew up in front of Pipeline and started surfing the wave aged six. Medina grew up a broken home and in the small beachbreaks of Brazil.

Through both possessing a once-in-a-generation talent, their careers and lives have dovetailed. A slow start to 2014 cost Florence a shot at the title, but as Medina could close in on his first (he will be the youngest since Kelly Slater) Florence’s performances meant it was obvious that it is these two surfers that will pushing each other, and the sport, for the next 15 years at least.


Joel Parkinson and Mick Fanning

The two Coolangatta surfers were in the same 7th grade class and have been dueling it out in surf competitions since the age of 12.

They both announced themselves on the world stage as 18 year olds, with Mick Fanning winning the Rip Curl Pro as a wildcard and Parkinson doing the same at the Billabong Pro in Jeffreys Bay.

“He’s one of my best mates, but that just means I want to beat him even more”

Two years later, they both qualified for the World Tour and have both been a fixture in the top five for the last 13 years. “I wouldn’t be where I am without Joel,” Mick told Mpora, “we have been pushing each other since I can remember.”

While both have claimed world titles (Mick with three and Joel one) they have remained the best of friends on land, but still fierce rivals in the water.

“Look he’s one of my best mates,” said Parko, “but that just means I want to beat him even more. I still hate losing to Mick, always have.”


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