A couple of years ago at the Rip Curl Pro in Peniche, in Portugal, I happened to be staying in the same hotel as Adriano De Souza. At breakfast one morning, he got to the buffet table just as a fresh batch of orange juice was brought out. I watched as he did a double fist pump, threw his head back, and let out a little yelp of delight. Raoni Monteiro and Heitor Alves chaired him back to his breakfast table where he was put down, high-fived by Gabriel Medina’s dad and then chest-bumped by Medina’s mum, who almost ruined the OJ with her tears because she was so overwhelmed.
When I got to the contest site that morning, there was a bit of a furor in the car park. As I pulled up, a crowd had started to form and there was a lot of whooping and hollering. I pushed my way to the front to see Miguel Pupo’s car at the center as he casually draped himself over the bonnet in a kind of seductive no-claim claim. Apparently, he had pulled straight in to the parking spot and hadn’t had to reverse at all.
Now, before any of you surf trolls go accusing me of Brazzo-bashing, just don’t bother. A non-claiming Brazilian is like a non-drinking Scotsman – they do exist, but they are rare. It’s not racist or prejudice, it’s the truth, in my eyes. Boom. I just claimed that like Chazz Michael Michaels.
I’m not against claiming, as it happens in all sports. I think it is an important and intriguing expression of emotion. There is a notion in surfing that claiming is poor etiquette, as if we are too cool to express our excitement when we do something great. It’s the same notion that still believes surfing is counter-culture.
Competitive surfing needs claimers. Surfers should develop their own trademark claims like the athletes in other sports. One of my favorite football claims (that’s soccer to those of you across the pond) came from an English player named Robbie Fowler who was playing for Liverpool at the time. In a hilarious response to media allegations that he had been using cocaine, he got to his knees after scoring a goal and pretended to snort the white touchline.
This, of course, merely exacerbated his shaky relationship with the press and the Football Association, despite his manager’s claims that he was simulating “a cow eating grass,” but the fans loved him for it. More honest expressions of personality in surfing would do us no harm at all. Just look at how much Matt Wilkinson is lauded for wearing whacky clothes or fancy hats. Professional surfing could definitely do with some personality injections from time to time, particularly when the likes of Slater and Fanning can occasionally make Ivan Drago look like Eddie Murphy. And, of course, what do we have to look forward to from our future world champion and legend-in-waiting?
Journo (hopefully not GT): “So John John how does it feel to win your umpteenth world title?”
John John: “Um…eh… yeah…I’m…eh…stoked.”
*10 secs of awkward foot shuffling and sand-gazing*
Journo: “And it must be incredible to have done it once again at Pipe, in front of your entire family and friends?”
John John: “Eh…yeah…I’m…eh…stoked.”
*More dead air and awkward curly blondeness*
Journo: “And you had a perfect heat in the final with not one, but two 10s for possibly the greatest waves we’ve ever seen at Pipe! Tell us about that…”
John John: “Um…I’m stoked about that. Yeah…I’m eh…um…eh…stoked I suppose.”
Journo: “And apparently now, as well as being the greatest surfer the world has ever seen, you are the richest man in the world, have 18 supermodel girlfriends, granted us world peace last week, and just yesterday found a cure for cancer! That must feel pretty good right?!”
John John: *stares blankly through curls*
The future of pro surfing definitely lies in John John’s hands, but for the sake of post-heat interviews, I sincerely hope he lets Jordy win an event or two.
Pro surfing needs personalities, and it needs claiming. In this respect, I’m not actually disagreeing with Adriano et al and their penchant for claims. They are expressive, passionate, and competitive, and I want to see them in professional surfing. But I definitely don’t want to see them claiming three turns in sloppy beachbreak in an attempt to syphon points from the judges. I don’t want to see anyone do that. Claims in pro surfing, at the moment, are geared too much around milking points from mediocre waves, and I don’t understand why experienced judges can’t see through this. Surfers should be docked points for claiming shit waves in much the same way that NBA players are fined for “flopping,” or pretending to be fouled when no real contact was made.
The art of claiming is all about timing and personality. It can be a freak-out involuntary expression of pure emotion if you are Medina or Wilko; it can be an ice-cool no-claim claim if you are John John or Kelly; or it can be a balls-out-fuck-the-world blow-up if you are Adriano or AI. You just need to find your niche and go with it. And let’s have none of this semi-claim bullshit. I hate that. Just commit. If you’re not sure whether or not to claim, then you definitely shouldn’t.
One of my favorite claims of all time was Andy’s shotgun claim at Teahupoo. It was just a perfect expression of him, and that’s what claiming should be. Likewise, I love John John’s no-claim claims. A no-claim is overused in surfing because it suits the perception of what a claim should be, or shouldn’t be, as the case may be. But you need a certain personality and style to pull it off. John John has both and bags of the latter in particular. As far as I’m concerned, if thousands of people are claiming all over the world on his behalf from behind their laptop screens (myself definitely included) then he can do whatever he likes. And if what he likes is to nonchalantly kick out in the manner that most of us wake up on a Sunday, then that’s just fine.
Maybe we have to accept that claiming – just like surfing – is an art, and that art is all about perception. A wave is a blank canvas, and if a surfer thinks they have poured their heart and soul into it and suitably expressed themselves, then they have every right to claim it. And I have every right to either agree with them or tell them that it was shit.