Whether you love ‘em or hate ‘em, nicknames are a part of life. In sports, especially, creative monikers come to define the athletes and their careers. And surfing is no exception. Say what you will about surfers, but we’re a surprisingly creative bunch when it comes to nicknames (Aussies in particular, for some unknown reason). From rankings leaders on the WSL to big wave chargers, the surfing world is rife with clever alter egos. Let’s take a look at some of the sport’s best.
(Author’s note: Despite exhaustive research – on-the-ground reporting, scientific formulas, etc. – this list is completely subjective. Now that we’re clear, I welcome your hate, Internet. Bring on the obnoxiously impassioned opinions!)
17. Mick “White Lightning” Fanning
Platinum blonde locks – check. Surfs faster than anyone tour – check. Mick’s nickname describes his appearance and his surfing. But is it that fun to say? Not so much.
16. Adrian “Ace” Buchan
With precision approach and textbook style, Ace’s surfing is like a forehand serve from Federer. But despite the tennis correlation, the nickname comes from his impeccable competitive record as a grom.
15. Dean “Dingo” Morrison
Free-ranging, undomesticated and native to Australia. Dean Morrison and the wild packs of dogs he’s named after have a lot in common…except he spends a lot more time in the tube.
14. Sebastian “Seabass” Zietz
This one’s admittedly a bit of a copout, because it’s basically just an alteration on his real first name. But it just fits so well.
13. Kolohe “Brother” Andino
It’s a common misconception that Kolohe is Hawaiian for “Brother.” It’s not. The nickname took hold because his two sisters called him it when they were young. Now the whole world does.
12. Ken “Skindog” Collins
Santa Cruz locals are a close second to Australians when it comes nicknames. This one’s pretty self-explanatory – Ken Collins is a skinny dude, hence “Skindog.”
11. Grant “Twiggy” Baker
Similar to “Skindog,” South African charger “Twiggy” is a lanky guy. That’s where the name comes from, but he doesn’t let it hold him back in sizable surf.
10. Peter “Condor” Mel
At 6 foot 2 inches, Pete Mel’s larger than most. His height makes for a sizable wingspan, perfect for scratching his way into bombs out at Mavericks.
9. Jay “Bottle” Thompson
Nicknames with a story behind them are the best. And this one doesn’t disappoint. Basically “Bottle” comes from a time when a young Jay Thompson was stripped out of his surf trunks by a local. According to his heckler friends, his little pecker looked like a tiny Australian candy in the shape of a milk bottle. Get the full story here.
8. Craig “Owl” Chapman
I have never heard of Craig Chapman. Surfing legend Owl Chapman, on the other hand? Absolutely. That speaks to the perfection of this nickname. Oh, and he got it because of his poor eyesight and as a result, the thick glasses he wore on land.
7. Wayne “Rabbit” Bartholemew
Originally given to him to describe his speed on the soccer field, this nickname went on to perfectly describe Rabbit’s agile and quick surfing style.
6. Andrew “Droid” Doheny
As a young Newport Beach grommet, Andrew Doheny was dubbed “Droid” because of an uncanny penchant for assembling robots programmed to destroy blackball flags. No, I’m kidding…I have no fucking idea, but it’s rad.
5. Montgomery “Buttons” Kaluhiokalani
Again, who the hell is Montgomery Kaluhiokalani? Nicknames (and legends) never die.
4. Shawn “Barney” Barron
Typically a surfing world insult, “Barney” was worn by Shawn Barron like a badge of honor. He was goofy like a court jester on and off a surfboard. The dude did barrel rolls!
3. Kekoa “Bam” Bacalso
On The Flinstones, Bamm-Bamm Rubble destroys things with his club. Kekoa Bacalso destroys waves with his massive man hacks. ‘Nuff said.
2. Greg “Da Bull” Noll
In his day, Greg Noll looked more like a linebacker than a surfer. His broad shoulders and barrel-shaped chest helped him during his legendary late ‘50s, early ‘60s sessions at Waimea and Pipeline. The nickname was given to him by fellow big wave pioneer Phil Edwards for his massive frame and his way of “charging down the face of a wave.”
1. Zoltan “The Magician” Torkos
Some see the kickflip as surfing’s downfall. Other see it as a step into the future of the sport. Either way, you can’t deny Zoltan’s epic nickname. Whereas most surfing nicknames come from alterations of pre-existing names, or animal lookalikes, Zoltan’s is completely original. It evokes the golden alter egos of professional wrestling. The Undertaker… The Iceman… THE MAGICIAN.