Surfing Localism Gone Wild | Violent Tales from The World’s Toughest Surfers

'If I’ve said anything to offend anyone, well fuck you'

You wouldn’t want to meet Kala Alexander in a dark alleyway… Photo via. Saturdays NYC

Surfing has a long history of violence and intimidation. The lineup can sometimes be a survival of the fittest with a brutal, animal-like pecking order.

Here we look at nine surfers who, by just being generally hard, have risen to the top of their respective packs. While you might not agree with some of their approaches, you certainly would never question their methods face-to-face…

Eddie Rothman

“Rumours and whispers about his penchant for violence haunt the North Shore. Brave surfers speak of him in hushed tones, afraid they might turn around and see him standing there and then see the darkness of a knockout.”

These are the words surf writer Chas Smith used to describe Eddie Rothman – founder of Hawaii’s militant surf group Da Hui – in Playboy Magazine. 

“Perhaps no one is more terrifying in the surfing world than Eddie…”

For over three decades Eddie Rothman has had a big say in what does, and doesn’t, happen on the North Shore of Oahu.

It was Eddie Rothman that led the threats against Rabbit Bartholomew and the Aussie pro surfers back in 1977 who he thought weren’t showing enough respect to the local surfers.

This year he is still flying the flag. The clip above shows his warning the ASP about their decision to only have two local wildcards in the Billabong Pipe Masters.

At 65 and only five-foot-six, you might think Eddie might have lost some of his hardness. Think again and watch the clip. Perhaps no one is more terrifying in the surfing world than Eddie.

Koby Abberton

Don’t mess with Koby. Photo: Rotten Tomatoes

The Abberton family has been at heart of the rise of the infamous Bra Bay gang from Maroubra in Sydney, Australia.

Koby, the third brother after ex-pro surfers Sunny and Jai, went on to have the biggest profile and hardest reputation.

“Despite appearing on an Australia TV celeb show, he still carries an aura of hardness”

At his peak, he was one of the best big wave surfers in the world with exceptional talent allied to a total lack of fear in waves of any size.

Out of the water, he also never backed down from any situation, famously going head-to-head with one of surfing’s most notorious psychos Johnny-Boy Gomes (see next page) in a public toilet in Hawaii.

He’s also had many scrapes with the law, successful defending an accessory to murder charge after his brother was acquitted of the murder of a Sydney hitman after pleading self defence.

More recently he was charged with assaulting an off-duty policeman in Hawaii, and despite appearances on an Australian celebrity TV diving show called Splash, still carries an aura of general hardness.

Sunny Garcia

Photo: Timo/Surf Europe

The physicality of the 2000 World Champion is the first indication that Sunny Garcia is not someone to be messed with.

Garcia is six foot tall with 90 kilograms of Hawaiian muscle. In the past, he has never been afraid to throw most of that considerable heft around.

“He famously chased Brazilian Neco Padaratz up the beach after a heat at Pipeline”

He famously chased Brazilian Neco Padaratz up the beach after a heat at Pipeline. In another, he punched out at a local Burleigh Heads surfer who had an altercation with his son, before throttling another bystander who taken photos of the incident.

In 2006 he spent six months in a San Diego Prison after being convicted for tax fraud. While the heavily tattooed grandfather has mellowed over time, he is still one the most respected and fearsome surfers in the world.

Mick Campbell


On this list of surfing’s hard nuts, the ever-grinning 5’8″ freckly ginger professional surfer from Port Macquarie on the east coast of Australia doesn’t seem to really fit the bill.

He might not be 200 pound Hawaiian ball of muscle, but the former world number two has deep reserves of self belief and would never back down to anyone.

“Campbell never takes shit from anybody, not even Andy Irons”

Back in 2000 in France, he clocked Andy Irons straight on the nose after the Hawaiian bad-mouthed him after a heat. That punch would risk antagonising all of Irons’ considerable Hawaiian posse, but Campbell would still never take shit from anybody.

After a semi-retirement where he took up professional boxing, the ginger ninja came back to tour, made the elite WCT and finished off a stellar career in style.

Kai “Borg” Garcia

Kai “Borg” Garcia is a third degree black belt in martial arts, the gatekeeper at the infamous Volcom house at Pipeline and leader of Kauai’s ever-present Wolfpak, one of the most feared surf gangs in the world.

“He rules the the toughest stretch of surfing real estate with an iron fist”

Kaiborg’s steady hand and unique brand of tough love has been dished out liberally to most of Hawaii’s best surfers, such as Andy and Bruce Irons.

Always a giant of a human, Kaiborg has become even leaner and meaner in the last few years. He’s given up various drug and alcohol addictions, instead focusing on a healthy diet and an intense regime of cross training.

The 120 kilogram, 6’2” Garcia is now a rippling mass of focused core strength, mentoring the next generation of Hawaii’s grommets and ruling the toughest stretch of surfing real estate, the North Shore of Oahu, with an iron fist, albeit now wrapped in a velvet glove.

Russell Winter

Russell Winter with his ornamental sword back at the 2006 O’Neill Highland Open. Photo: ASP Europe/O’Neill Europe

Russell Winter has to make the list if only for recently pleading guilty to possession of a bladed article and directing it towards another during the incident, as well as using abusive or insulting words or behaviour with intent to cause a fear of violence.

“He used a trophy sword to deter three drunk, abusive idiots in his hometown”

Winter was once the British and European surfing champion and the first European surfer to qualify for the prestigious WCT tour, which he competed on for three years.

Back in 2009, he won the O’Neill Highland Open in Thurso, Scotland and was awarded a Scottish broadsword as a trophy.

His legendary status was only enhanced when he used the sword to deter three drunk, abusive idiots in his hometown. Winter received a suspended sentence and was also ordered to pay £85 costs and an £80 victim surcharge. The sword is now housed elsewhere.

Johnny-Boy Gomes

Photo via.

At the risk of piling this surfing hardmen list with Hawaiians, it’s hard not to include one of surfing’s most dangerous and volatile dudes, Johnny Boy Gomes.

Gomes made a name for himself in the 1990s by being one of the best surfers at Pipe (he won the 1997 Pipe Masters), but also one of its most unpredictable.

“In 1991 he was fined $1,000 for punching a fellow competitor during a match”

Scores of professional surfers have tales of engagements with Gomes that range from being sent from the water to viciously beaten.

“He’s outrageously talented,” said Australian surf writer Tim Baker, “but has soured more surf sessions for more people than any surfer alive.”

In 1991 he was fined US $1,000 by World Tour officials for punching a fellow competitor during a match. In 1993 he slapped female pro surfer Jodie Cooper.

Finally in 1999 he was convicted of assault and fined US $6,300 after breaking a surfer’s nose during a beating at Chun’s Reef on the North Shore. And that was just the reported incidents, the tip of the assault iceberg…

Paige Hareb

As a rule, women are smarter than men and don’t engage in ridiculous chest puffing bullying and bashing when there are better things to do, like actually surf.

However, out of the water Paige Hareb might have the best case to be surfing’s hardest women.

“You’d be a brave man or woman to hop in the ring with her”

Hareb became the first New Zealander to qualify for the women’s ASP World Tour in 2008 and reached a career high rating of eight in 2009. However, it was her entry into the boxing ring that made her a household name in New Zealand.

Fighting against TV presenter Hayley “The Incredible” Holt, their three round bout to raise money for charity in 2011 gained huge media exposure.

“Surfing will always be my number one priority,” said Paige on New Zealand TV afterwards, “but the reality is I need to bring more money in to support my campaign because of the amount of travel around the world.”

Hareb lost the bout, but after watching the (quite brutal) footage above, you’d be a brave man, or woman, to hop in the ring with her.

Kala Alexander

Photo via. I Am Wok

Like his good friend Kaiborg, Kala is another reformed leader of Kauai’s Wolfpak (which is tattooed across his knuckles).

He has ditched a former reputation as the leading Hawaiian hardman (a 2004 article in Australian surfing magazine Stab was titled ‘The Toughest Fucking Man in Surfing’) to become an business man, actor (he has played the bad guy role in films like Blue Crush and Forgetting Sarah Marshall) and activist.

“In 2003 he went around “requesting” surfboards from all the visiting professional surfers before handing out some vicious beat downs…”

In his prime hard phase, he was on record as saying violence had a part to play in regulating the Hawaiian lineups and he was often best placed to hand it out.

In 2003 he went around “requesting” surfboards from all the visiting professional surfers and was also caught on film handing out some vicious beat down to surfers who had transgressed the unwritten rules at Pipeline.

While now his Instagram handle reads, “Proud father. Native Hawaiian. Professional waterman. Actor. Stuntman. Artist. Teacher. Student. Mauli Ola Vice President,” all of which is true and admirable, he is still regarded as the one man in Hawaii that you never want to be on the wrong side of.

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