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...

Ken Bradshaw and Mark Foo

Photo: Encyclopedia of Surfing

Ken Bradshaw was the square jawed 6’2” Texan that built himself a reputation as one of the biggest chargers on the North Shore and one of its most intimidating enforcers.

Mark Foo, of Chinese extraction, was a slight, lightfooted bundle of energy who loved the limelight and made a name for himself surfing Hawaii’s biggest waves, especially Waimea Bay.

“I can’t be at war with Mark Foo. If I wanted to go to war with somebody, they would cease to exist. I would win”

For over a decade, they waged a running battle of exposure and credibility, each vying for the mantle as the world’s best big wave rider. Their rivalry is chronicled in the excellent book Stealing The Wave by Andy Martin.

In it he says, “We talked of this and that, and then I said to him: ‘Ken, I’ve heard rumours, is it right that you’re at war with Mark Foo?’

He gave the question serious consideration. ‘Andy,’ he finally replied, in his most meditative, professorial style, ‘I can’t be at war with Mark Foo. If I wanted to go to war with somebody, they would cease to exist. I would win.'”

They would eventually reach some sort of truce. However, in a final tragic twist, Bradshaw was just one of the last people to see Foo before he drowned surfing the Californian big wave spot Mavericks in 1994.


Martin Potter and Brad Gerlach

Photo: Surfer Today

The ongoing feud between Martin Potter and Brad Gerlach was revisited recently when the two surfed a heritage heat at the Hurley Pro at Trestles.

“I really hope Pottz has been training for this heat,” Gerr said, “because while the hate maybe gone, I still plan to tear him apart at Trestles.”

The hate can be traced back to the ‘80s, when the two had a running battle that featured an endless run of niggling, board stabbing, jersey tugging and paddle battling which eventually led to a physical confrontation in the water during competition.

“Years after he and I quit the tour, we ended up talking about how much we hated each other, but how it drove us to be better surfers,” Gerr said recently. For the record, Gerr took out Pottz in the Heritage series heat and 20 years on after the rivalry reached its peak, embraced on the water’s edge.


Nat Young and David Nuuhiwa

Photo: Surf Catalunya/Surfer Mag

This was a rivalry that started back in the ‘60s, but still has relevance today.

It was more than just two surfers as the antagonism was more symbolic. It stood for American vs Australia and old school vs new school, themes very much around today.

“The animosity between the Aussies and the Americans never really went away…”

Nuuhiwa’s longboarding smooth, fluid style and noseriding was worshipped in California. When Australian Nat Young, nicknamed the Animal, used his rougher, more powerful and radical approach on a shorter board to beat Nuuhiwa in the 1966 World Championship in San Diego, a famous article by Australian John Witzig in Surfer magazine claimed “We’re Tops Now.”

The animosity between the Aussies and the Americans never really went away with Gary Elkerton in the ‘80s labeling all American surfers, “soft cocks”. In fact it was only Kelly Slater’s dominance that stopped the conversation.


Michael Peterson and Rabbit Bartholomew


For five years, Michael Peterson dominated professional surfing and was unbeaten in from 1972 to 1975. No one could come close to the enigmatic Australian whose blinding talent was matched with an impenetrable aura, more a result of drug abuse and undiagnosed schizophrenia than a planned act.

He had taken a young Rabbit Bartholomew under his wing, with the young upstart first learning from and then matching his brooding hero.

Their freesurfing and competitive battles were legendary and culminated in the 1977 Stubbies competition, the first ever man-on-man event, where Rabbit took out MP in the semifinal in perfect Burleigh Heads.

It was a heat that has gone into surfing folklore and signaled the demise of MP. He would retire from competition while his nemesis and student would claim the World Title the next year.

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