Surfing’s seen quite a bit of a mainstream sports crossover lately. From Drew Brees at Kelly’s wave tank in Lemoore to PGA stars Adam Scott and Rafa Cabrera Bello, ahem, also at Kelly’s pool. The point, though, is that despite professional football players and golfers being freak athletes in their own disciplines, professional athletes are, quite simply, extremely athletic in most pursuits. Surfing included.
Being gifted in sport might make the prospect of trying new ones, even at a ripe age, less daunting. We can only imagine this was the case with basketball legend Steve Francis, who recently received a surf lesson from South Bay perennial Hunter Jones in Santa Monica.
According to Hunter, Steve’s had a heart for surfing for some time. “Steve told me he’s always been interested in surfing and had surfed once prior to our lesson. He loved the thought of being outdoors in the ocean and wanted to give it another shot.”
But how’d the whole thing come to pass in the first place? According to Hunter, it was basically a right place, right time type scenario.
“At the time, I was working for the World Surf League as a social media coordinator minding my business on a normal day at work,” he said. “The WSL shares an office space with The Players’ Tribune… They approached me about taking retired NBA legend, Steve Francis out for a surf lesson and creating an edit around his experience surfing, and immediately I said yes.”
When the two met up the following day, the first stop was to get Steve some neoprene.
“As soon as we jumped in the car to go buy Steve a wetsuit he Facetimed his son telling him he was about to go surfing,” said Hunter. “He didn’t believe his father at first but it was funny to watch the two go back and forth.”
And before paddling out, Steve continued to second guess his decision. “He would ask me, ‘Are we really gonna do this?’ and every time I’d reply ‘100%! You’re going to be fine man.’ He had to take a few moments to himself.”
The lesson was a success for Steve, but for Hunter being able to take the basketball great surfing was the opportunity of a lifetime. From a rough childhood in D.C. to playing in the NBA for 9 years, being the second overall pick in the 1999 NBA Draft, NBA Rookie of the Year in his first season, and a three-time NBA All-Star during his tenure at the Houston Rockets, Steve Francis’ story is one about beating the odds. “[It’s] extremely inspiring to me,” said Hunter.
“It was rad for me being a bi-racial surfer to connect with another African American athlete who shared an interest in surfing. I think that added to Steve’s comfort level and I was just stoked to get another brother out in the lineup, haha,” he said.
“At the end of our surf, Steve laid on his back in the sand looking up at the sky. He was so stoked to get out there and said he really loved the challenge.”