The other morning, I was sitting on a bench watching a group of surfers tear into some swell at my local break when I started thinking seriously about what makes great surf style. It is the most important aspect of high-performance surfing and part of what makes the sport so visually appealing. It is also a large part of why it’s possible to sit in the car park watching surfers rip apart wave after wave without getting in yourself. At least for a while. Great surf style captivates and inspires onlookers in the most unique way—throwing gas on the fire that is surf stoke. An effortless bottom turn here, a swift cutback there, a fluid air reverse thrown in at the end, and you’d be forgiven for thinking you were sitting on your couch watching the latest surf flick. So what does great style look like? Well, it has five fundamental characteristics, and five surfers embody said qualities. Feel free to add your own.
5. Mastery: Jamie O’Brien
If you didn’t know, Jamie O’Brien surfs Pipe/Backdoor switch. Marinate on that for a second. While plenty of surfers are intimidated enough by the thought of just dropping in, JOB has the requisite style to drop in with his right foot forward on one of the world’s heaviest waves. His ability to go both front and backside on the barrel at Pipe/Backdoor highlights the fifth aspect of style—mastery.
4. Versatility: John John Florence
Versatility is an important part of what makes a surfer particularly stylish, and John Florence epitomizes dynamic surfing. A good marker of versatility is the ability to rip in both small conditions (his first WCT win was at small Rio) and big swell (his winning barrel in the waning
seconds of the 2012 Pipe Pro–among a million other examples–exemplifies grace under pressure) alike.
3. Spontaneity: Dane Reynolds
Every time the word “style” gets brought up I think of Dane Reynolds. To me, it’s an obvious call because there is no other surfer that can electrify a tv/computer screen, lineup, or announcer’s booth as spontaneously as he. Remember the “layback heard round the world” and the reactions that gem elicited? It may not have been the world’s smoothest turn, but my God, did it ooze style. Dane makes the list as he embodies the third characteristic of great style—spontaneity.
2. Body Language: Craig Anderson
Another quality of great style is body language. It’s tough to watch someone who surfs like they’re just trying to survive each wave while squatting in a half-constipated stance. It’s tough to find a picture or video taken of Craig Anderson where he doesn’t look cool, calm, and collected. From steep bottom turns to heavy barrels to big airs, his body language suggests, “this is child’s play. I’ve got this.” And that makes him both easy and fun to watch.
1. Flow: Joel Parkinson
The most important characteristic of great style is flow: the ability to seamlessly link together turns, maneuvers, etc., while constantly keeping your rail and not getting bogged down by the wave. Next time you’re at your local break, take notice when a surfer seems to effortlessly glide through the water having his way with each section as though it were a video game. That is flow. The first person that comes to mind when considering this vital characteristic is Joel Parkinson. Whether he’s surfing small waves or mountains of consequence, Parko makes difficult maneuvers look easy and has no trouble linking them together.