Professional Sports need their messiahs – those rare few who both exemplify and transcend their highest ideals. They are the Ali’s and Jordan’s, the Bolt’s and Federer’s. Neither competitive prowess nor performance alone can ordain these people. Instead, it’s a complex mix of ability, personality, drive, ubiquity, longevity, and verve. They must be just as savvy with their media presences as they are with their sporting performances, must have an innate sense of how to tease and reveal to the flocks of hungry journalists who regularly come pecking for a morsel of their souls.
Pro Surfing has had perhaps 4 bonafide messiahs since entering the modern era: Mark Richards, Tom Curren, Andy Irons, and Kelly Slater. This ignores the important folk heroes – the Eddie Aikau’s, Jeff Hakman’s, Wayne Batholomew’s, and yes, Laird Hamilton’s, whose reputations, while grounded in nearly unimaginable skill, are much more based upon their bonafides at certain spots or in certain types of surf than they are all in all-around greatness or, to use an ugly but apt term: star power. Sports messiahs as we think of them are a uniquely modern phenomenon, born in conjunction with the regime of pro sports – so, just or not, this also invalidates the Duke Kahanamoku’s and George Freeth’s, among others.