It can be exceedingly hard to write about contest surfing. That, I suspect, is why so much of it is so boring and similar. There are only so many ways one can describe a person doing turns on a wave, and anyone who has the brains to do so has moved on to bigger and better things than writing about a silly little pastime that’s taken very seriously. Great surf writing is just good travel writing with an emphasis on surfing. The same can be said for a good surf flick–the surfing is simply the platform on which a story about traveling is told. Surfing is the foundation, but the trim work is found in the journey. Otherwise, you’ve got nothing more than a three minute Instagram clip that’s forgotten about in less time than it takes to watch. Conner Coffin’s Year One is a perfect example of a good surf flick. It’s not a story about Conner’s incredible surfing, it’s a story about his journey.
Coffin’s story hinges on his surfing–and to be sure, he surfs on a level far higher than most–but his story isn’t about his surfing. Coffin’s surfing is a throwback to the days when surfing was a different beast–big, powerful turns on big, powerful waves. It’s big barrels at high speeds, not three-to-the-beach on (sometimes) crappy waves while a panel of judges sits in a high tower breaking down each tiny facet. That’s not to say I can’t appreciate the rigors of the contest circuit–succeeding on that level takes far more than just good surfing–it’s just to say that maybe, just maybe, the WSL’s “best surfer in the world” isn’t actually the best surfer in the world. Maybe that’s because there isn’t one.
Yeah, every year there’s a person who’s best at winning, but that often hangs on luck and a certain amount of competitive trickery. Year One follows Conner Coffin through his first punch up on the WSL Tour. After a whirlwind start, things go downhill, and Coffin struggles to find the reason why. His lack of contest knowledge (the trickery I spoke about above) and a fair amount of rookie year test jitters proved, for a few events at least, to be an almost overwhelming obstacle. His surfing faltered, his confidence wavered, and he wasn’t able to surf as well as he can.
It’s funny, though. A recurring theme in winning a contest revolves around finding a headspace where winning the event isn’t the objective. Instead, it’s to surf for fun. Without the paddle battles and interference calls, without the strategy and mind games, the best surfer often really is the one who is having the most fun. Conner’s surfing is proof of that. When he’s having fun, he’s one of the best in the world. When he’s competing to win, he’s not. Whether or not he goes on to have years of success on the tour, he will undoubtedly continue having fun surfing. With that, he’ll fall into the ranks of surfers like Bobby Martinez and Dane Reynolds: those who continue to drive the viewer’s interest because of nothing more than pure, unadulterated, incredible surfing.