Strider Wasilewski is one of those guys who needs no introduction in the surf community. He’s one of the sport’s most beloved stars who now graces our screens with his commentary at WSL events. He’s a beautiful human being and here he shares a truly remarkable story of a life that went from rags to riches.
“I was born 1972 in Sonoma County, California in a house over the Russian River,” he says. “The doctor was late and I was not waiting to come out so my dad delivered me that day. When I was five years old, my mom, brother Mescalito, and I moved to Santa Monica and that’s when I started surfing. My dad was in jail, we were broke, living on welfare, but the ocean was free. So my brother and I would see boards wash up and ride them until the owners came swimming in to claim them.
Then, in 1984, I won the NSSA National Boys Title and was on the surfing map. The same year, I was discovered by a Horizons West modeling scout and worked with fashion photographer Herb Ritz as a young model. I worked with Cindy Crawford, Olivia Newton-John, Darryl Hanna, I surfed for Horizons West, Town & Country, Body Glove, Astrodeck, Bear Clothing, Lost Surfboards, and eventually Quiksilver. Eventually, I landed a cover shot on SURFER Magazine at Pipeline, carving out a career surfing and modeling, getting paid to travel the world, surf, and be in magazines and movies. I bought my first house at 30 and then started flipping them, fixing them up and selling them for profit. It’s all led up to today, where I now live in Malibu with my wife Lily and three boys Coast (11), Country (8), and Cruise (3).
In 2012, I got laid off from Quiksilver, my mom was dying from cancer, the IRS was auditing me for the third year in a row, and my wife was pregnant. Enter my efforts to work for the WSL in 2014 along with starting my own business, Sunscreen Co. Shade Sunscreen. After 18 months of doing surf lessons, I went to work on both ventures. Sure enough, the WSL and Shade are still going today and life is good.”
How did you get the gig as WSL commentator?
I had heard about the restructure of the ASP/WSL and wanted to try to do the host thing. They told me they were done hiring but I said they were missing something — someone who actually looks like a surfer and is rough around the edges. Then they gave me a chance. The rest is history.
In the beginning, I was new, had no time on camera or with the mic, and they were asking me to be someone else. More of a clean cut sportscaster host, which is not me. After I got a little more comfortable and they taught me a few things I settled in and then I got to be in the water. Out there, I’m much more at home. Don’t get me wrong, I love the beach stuff but the ocean is my home. I’m a surfer first and always will be.
You grew up surfing in LA in the 70s. Can you tell us what the surf scene was like in Los Angeles back then?
The scene in LA in the late 70s and early 80s was mental. I was raised on the streets of Santa Monica by Tony Alva, Jay Adams, Skip Engblom, Kevin Ancel, and so many more amazing humans who looked out for me. My dad was in jail and I was surfing Bay Street in Santa Monica rain or shine. Cocaine, crack rocks, sex, and gang violence were everywhere. I lost friends to all of them. Life on the South Side of Santa Monica was no walk in the park.
My favorite Strider moment is you giving commentary whilst in the barrel at Cloudbreak and Teahupo’o. That will always stand out in my mind about you.
Fiji was amazing, Joel Parkinson and Owen Wright were telling me to pull in and talk through the whole thing. I tried to step off but farmed it and missed the wave. I thought ‘No, I’ve blown it…’ I was still in the spot so I put the mic in my mouth and paddled into the next wave. Epic 10-12 foot ledge nug that I got totally shacked on. I kicked out and the channel went nuts. Joel was laughing and said the wave before was shit and mine was the one. I tried to get them to broadcast it but they missed it. But people were shooting pictures and stills because Dane and Parko were out surfing, so I got the shot.
Tahiti was funny. My producers wanted me to get the interview with Jordy Smith but he kept paddling back out to the peak. So I went to the peak too, got the interview, and a set came. Jordy got the first one and a bigger one was out the back. Backpack and mic and all, I said fuck it and went, got shacked, and the place went nuts again. Jordy joked that he was glad I wasn’t in his heat.
My favorite contest to see you on is Teahupoo because there’s so much excitement and energy in the water that it rubs off on you and you are like a kid hyped up on sugar. It makes watching that comp even more fun. You are completely animated. What’s that event like for you?
The place is magic and that magic rubs off on you. Not to mention, the wave is so fucking scary it’s crazy so the added fear element really pushes things over the edge. Boats, floats, and people hanging in the channel and I’m close enough to high five the athletes on every wave. I respect the athletes for their ability and that comes across in the broadcast. That is real and that, I think, is why people enjoy what I do.
What is your favorite event and why?
They all have their moments, Europe is amazing for great waves, fans, lifestyle, food, and friends. Australia is about the quality of life. Yes, the waves are good along with the people and the waves. But above all else, they are living a good life. They work so they can live and are not living to work. I might end up there one day. Brazil is not everyone’s favorite stop, but I love it. The passion of the culture and the people is crazy. And the landscape is outrageously beautiful. But Fiji I think is my favorite, You just can’t beat Tavarua and I’m in love with the Fijian people.
What was your childhood like?
I grew up getting beat down verbally and physically. If you couldn’t take both, you were out. You either found a way to put your hands up and had a quick tongue or you got squashed. So I learned to spit back and verbally defend myself — talking shit at a high level. I was also a white boy in a predominantly Mexican and black school district so I had to fight at school and on the streets. Shit, I even got beat up for my food stamps by the bums at the corner liquor store.
So yes, I’m humble but only because I was humbled by life. The more you get beat down, the more you learn, grow, and get stronger in the ocean and on land. I kept my head up though and always looked forward.
What was your family life like?
My kids are amazing. They skateboard and snowboard more then they surf. They’re artist and performers and I can’t wait to see them keep growing as humans. My wife is the most amazing woman in the world — a Lebanese princess by blood. The most beautiful, strong, hardworking woman I’ve ever met. When I first saw her, I knew she was the person that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.
I am not alone in saying this but I am stoked that you grace our screens every month at the WSL comps. You are one of my personal favorites. Do you plan on sticking around?
A: I’m sticking around as long as they will have me. I love the job and surfing with the young bucks keeps me sharp and healthy. It allows me to have my sunscreen business as well. That’s my future along with being a dad and working in the water. It’s a good life.
Any parting advice?
Live your dreams. Don’t line up. In fact, get out of line and go to the front if you have to. Life is not about living other people’s dreams. Also, remember to each their own. Everyone is different and your path may not be right for others. My kids are teaching me this. Above all, remember to fill your heart with love and respect. What you put out there is what you get back.