Location: Lower Trestles, San Clemente, California
Moment: Surf’s resident rebel takes to the air and wins the Body Glove Surf Bout, forever innovating the style of competitive and free surfing.
“I’m not gonna go out and do the same tricks as everyone else. It’s like beating a dead horse.” – Christian Fletcher
By 1989, Christian Fletcher had already been pushing the envelope with aerial maneuvers for years. While pioneers like Larry Bertlemann and Davey Smith had already taken to the air years before, it was the San Clemente prodigy who took aerial surfing to new heights.
As one of surfing’s most iconic rebels — nicknamed The Anti-Christ of Surfing — Fletcher evolved the aerial from a mere trick to a major force in surfing’s evolution. With his progressive outlook and aggressive execution, moves like the air-reverse and stale-fish became an integral part of surf vocabulary, especially in competition. But Fletcher despised competition. He notoriously claimed he “could[n’t] give a f*ck about being a world champion.” His competitive edge? He simply “like[d] to go out and f*ck with people during the heats.”
Despite this distaste for putting on a jersey, Fletcher took center stage at the 1989 Surf Bout held at Lower Trestles. The event allowed him to showcase his skills on one of surfing’s biggest stages — and to, of course, go out and “f*ck with” the top pros. The PSAA event boasted the largest prize purse ever for the time: $100,000. As a result of this huge purse, Surf Bout carried an unusually large amount of prestige as well. While the then-unseeded 19-year-old spent his rest time between heats playing Skate or Die on Nintendo, during heats he ripped, eventually reaching the final where he would take down Joey Jenkins, Colin Smith, and Noah Budroe for the title and a hefty $31,725 in cash.
With the obvious impact his high-flying moves had on his higher scores, it became clear that airs were there to stay. Although he didn’t “look to be a leader,” Fletcher took the lead in moving past the tired maneuvers of the time, and the rest of the surfing world was quick to follow. No longer confined to skate parks, aerials were soon dubbed the move of the future as top pros like Kelly Slater began to take to the air in the early nineties. In the past decade, Jordy Smith has landed gorgeous rodeo flips, Julian Wilson developed the sushi roll, Flynn Novak dialed in backflips, and today, they’re commonplace and required in a well-rounded arsenal. It was Fletcher’s conviction and willingness in breaking the mold that served as the starting point.