Though it seems to be a polarizing topic among many, the popularity of hunting has increased noticeably within the surfing and action sports communities. Taking the life of an animal, in an effort to support your own life, is often looked at from several viewpoints. Many believe that hunting is a necessary element of life, or even an enjoyable pursuit, while others think it’s unethical, and those who engage in it have a skewed set of morals.
In light of the surfing subculture’s growing interest in organic foods and farm-to-table dining, alongside the recognition that overpopulation of non-native species is causing negative effects on the environment, hunting has become a hobby that some surfers seem to be embracing.
Guys like Shane Dorian, Matt Meola, and Mark Healey are clearly leading the charge in normalizing hunting among pro surfers, but the list of action sports icons who double as hardcore hunters does not end there – Alex Gray, the Malloy brothers, pro skater Geoff Rowley, Dave Wassel, Raph Bruhwiler, and even surfing activist Kyle Thiermann, to name a few. Some of these guys appear to be seasoned hunters, while others are merely beginning their pursuit because they see the incredible benefits. Regardless, there is no question that hunting is quickly gaining popularity and credibility in the world of surfing.
So, as a hunter myself, it made me wonder: what’s with this sudden interest? Is it an element of this whole sustainability movement that we’re seeing? Perhaps just an instinctual connection or necessity that some of the world’s hardest chargers feel a draw to. I spoke to a few of these iconic surfers to get a little taste of why they hunt.
We’re all public land owners! Unfortunately it takes dedicated groups of outdoor enthusiasts to remind the government of this. I got to experience a small taste of the vast areas of public land this year on an Elk hunt. It was one of the coolest trips I’ve ever done. The buddies who hosted me over at @firstlitehunting are passionate about protecting access to these places for all people. This Sat the 30th is National Public Lands Day and www.firstlite.com will be matching ALL donations made to their Round Up For Conservation program dollar for dollar to help sustain public lands . So, if you were thinking about buying some gear, this Sat 9/30 is the time! #publiclandowner #publiclandsday #firstlite. 📸 @idarado
Mark Healey is one of big wave surfing’s most recognizable faces. He’s also a diehard bow-hunter. Having been introduced to it by fellow Hawaiian surfers Shane Dorian and Dave Wassel, the spearfisherman was instantly drawn to the sport.
“At a certain point, I thought okay, I’ve been in some pretty crazy situations with both of these guys. If they are both saying hunting is that intense and difficult, then it must be,” Healey said. “So I went with Wassel one day, and some pigs came out – you have no frame of reference until an animal shows up in front of you. It’s real. Everything changes.”
Recently featured in an advertisement for the hunting apparel company First Lite, there is no question that Healey is very passionate about his bow-hunting pursuit. He’s only been hunting for some four years, but seems to put nearly as much time into his chase of big-game as for his global chase of massive waves. But it’s not just the opportunity to explore that keeps Healey on the hunt. He feels a primal connection with his prey, invoking emotions unlike anything he’s felt before.
“It’s such a challenge. I’m really drawn to all these things, whether it be free-diving or surfing big waves, where under intense feeling of adrenaline and discomfort you still have to focus and perform.” Healey told The Inertia. “Having an animal in front of you after four hours of crawling towards it, and it’s now the moment of truth, and you want to get a good shot – I don’t even get that freaked out when I’m surfing giant waves that could kill me. It’s intense. Trying to focus and perform demands a lot out of you.”
Another surfing icon into the hunter-gatherer lifestyle is Matt Meola. A lifelong fisherman, Meola started hunting when he was in his teens. What began as a friend taking him pig hunting quickly turned into an addiction. Growing up in Hawaii, Meola was exposed to many hunting opportunities, from spearfishing tuna, to chasing wild pigs and axis deer through the jungles. He finds that his favorite method of pursuing big game animals is by using a compound bow. In his early 20’s, Meola put down the rifle to put his skills to the real test. The challenges he faced in bow hunting pushed him to the brink, and he began hunting with a bow almost exclusively. But it’s not only the challenge that keeps Meola in the woods, he enjoys everything from the solidarity of his exploits, to putting food on the table.
“The food is as good as it gets. And the whole adventure of it keeps me coming back,” Meola said. “Being by yourself in the middle of nowhere. It’s just peaceful, and it’s kind of like my escape. To go out, you’re all alone, and you only have one thing on you’re mind – to get a deer.”
Similarities between the two endeavors, hunting, and surfing, may seem completely foreign to many. The sheer instinctual nature of both seems like an obvious draw, but it may not be the only reason why hunting has gained so much popularity in the surfing community. Meola has identified multiple similarities between the chase for waves and the chase for meat.
“Once you find an animal and you’re trying to stalk it,” Meola said, “You have to do so many things to calm your nerves. And it’s almost like big wave surfing. You get that same nervous feeling, but you have to do everything you can to remain calm.”
Above all, one of the most distinct similarities is the need for an individual to gain an understanding for a wild and unpredictable environment. Without the knowledge and respect for the environment, a hunter would be at an enormous disadvantage. He must learn and adapt to his or her surroundings, just as a surfer would need to read the ocean in front of them – where to paddle out, where to line up, what board to use — the list goes on.
“Both of them take knowing a wild environment,” Healey said. “You can learn how to ride a surfboard in a wave pool, but it’s going to take you a lot longer to learn how to read an ocean. Same way, you can go and shoot targets with a bow, but it’s going to take you a hell of a lot longer to learn how an ecosystem works, habits and behaviors of animals, and being able to perform under pressure. It’s these incredible life pursuits that I think bring you closer to wild places and the human experience.”
The growing popularity of hunting is prominent in the surfing community and after speaking with a few incredible folks with ties to both I think the attraction is obvious. Hunting presents a challenge like no other, and that challenge comes with an array of rewards unfathomable by those who haven’t been behind that arrow or that gun. Some may be in the pursuit of a challenge, while others may only be in pursuit of the most organic meat they can find. Though not everyone should feel inclined to give hunting a try, no one should be quick to question the morals of a hunter. Guys like Mark Healey and Matt Meola represent a small sample of the action sports community who enjoy hunting. But their articulate thoughts are likely to be agreed with by every hunter in the woods.