Do Bastards Make The Best Surfers?

by Stab March 27, 2019 5 min read

I’ve got a confession to make – last week’s story was written about two months ago.

New Year’s Eve had just passed, I was trying to watch less TV and replace that time with reading and writing. After a few glasses of red, I got inspired and knocked out the bones of that story. But as old habits die hard, so do New Year’s resolutions, and soon I was back to my old ways in front of the boob tube.

Last Friday morning, all those good intentions were now a distant memory. After an unexpectedly massive night that involved an Italian piano player, several carafes of wine, and Bruce Irons outside a Venice bar at 3 am, I woke up for a call with a client of mine, who was quite unhappy with my performance – just the thing you want to deal with when you’re hung.

Halfway through the call, a former east coast pro texted me, “Kudos on the article onStab, I could read that shit all day.”

Oh. Fuck,” I thought. “What have I done now? I need to phone Morgan and tell him to take that shit down.” 

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Koa Rothman is one surfer whose business acumen Dooma has praised, primarily for his weekly travel vlog ‘This Is Livin’.

This is my brain’s natural PTSD from my days of Doomasrumors.com and working at Stab, where controversial articles were often met with hostility. (Michel Bourez once told me he was going to kill me for something I wrote.)

Much to my relief the article went over really well, and everyone’s kind words were just the push I needed to keep writing.

So, here goes.

After shaking the hangover, I shared a Lowers session with about 100 San Clemente groms, whose dads could be found in a firing squad formation, lined up on the beach, right eyeballs glued to a camera’s viewfinder. Pretty typical nowadays, but it forced me to cosider my junior career and my dad’s involvement in it.

Like these Californian kids, my pops gave me all the love and support I needed to succeed. What held me back was Talent – it just wasn’t there, and if we’re being honest, I was an overachiever. 

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Dooma shreds by all objective metrics, but so do 10,000 other guys on this surf-crazed planet.

Meanwhile, I was around to witness the childhood of the abundantly talented Jordy Smith, who dealt with his own complex father/son issues. I was there when Jordy started traveling without dad, and when he decided to not ride his boards anymore. These were really hard decisions for Jordy, because he loved his dad and knew how much work Graeme had done to get him where he was.

But at the same time, Jordy knew it was time to become his own man and make his own decisions.

We saw a similar thing recently with Jack Robinson, who placed 3rd in a recent QS 6000 on the heels of winning this year’s Volcom Pipe Pro– Jack’s greatest successes to date, and his dad, Trev, wasn’t anywhere to be seen.

If you know anything about Trev and Jack’s relationship, you know it’s been intense and that Jack’s independence took more time than it should have. Now that he’s making his own decisions, Jack seems to be on a better path competitively and in other aspects of his life. (Have you seen his missus?!)

Kolohe and Dino are another father/son duo whose relationship has been met with some scrutiny. You could say Kolohe has grossly underperformed on the CT for the amount of talent he has, and there are some competitive mental barriers he’s trying to overcome. Hopefully he can surf like he did in his latest clip on the 2019 Tour.  

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Filipe and his pops have had some huge wins, but he’s choked anytime the pressure has been on, which could have to do with the inner turmoil caused by pops’ intensity.

It’s true that Carissa Moore and her dad have seen major success. But after she kicked him to the curb a few years back, she has recently asked him to come back into her corner to help her win another Title.

Now, what about Gabs and Charlie, who do all but makeout on the shoreline and have two World Titles? Well, every rule needs an exception.

With all these thoughts in my head, I phoned up Sam McIntosh to talk about my piece, and what it takes to become a World Champion, trying to find parental parallels between contemporary surfers that have the most Titles.

Kelly Slater, Mick Fanning, Andy Irons and John John Florence: what do all these guys have in common that has made them so successful?  

I argued time in the water or natural talent, but the truth is that they’ve all grown up in different parts of the word over different decades. Then Sam figured it out: The only thing they all have in common isabsent, difficult, or downright degenerate fathers!

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Due to his dad’s drinking addiction, 11x World Champ Kelly had a tricky father-son relationship. Was he better off for it, competitively-speaking?

Disclaimer: while I’ve been around these guys most of my life and would like to say we’re ‘friends,’ my facts aren’t 100% bulletproof. However, it’s known that Kelly’s dad was a radical alcoholic, leading to Kelly being brought up by his mother—you can read about it in his memoir. Same goes for John John, and we’ve never seen Mick Fanning’s pops. Phil Irons has always been missing in action, as he and Danielle split up when the boys were young.

Halfway through writing this, and feeling quite proud of our discovery I thought, “I can’t be the first person that has thought of this.” AsGalileio knows, sometimes it sucks being right.

Our friend Taylor Paul, a much smarter and far superior writer penned a piece for the recently deceased Surfing Magazine titled, “Daddy Issues And Surfing” (you can read ithere.) In Taylor’s piece, he consults with a therapist from Santa Cruz, Dave Schulkin. Dave had this to say:

“Typically, a child’s mother is always present; her love is experienced as unconditional. But a father is often less present, and his love can be experienced as more conditional. Because of that, children want to prove themselves to their fathers to show them that they’re good enough. Where a child’s mother often reassures them by expressing, ‘Don’t worry, you’re good enough,’ their father might say, ‘Well…show me what you can do.’ So perhaps if your father is absent, you have a need to prove that you’re worth something — it’s the innate desire that we all have to be seen as lovable, good and worthy.”

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Was John intrinsically motivated by his absentee pops?

 Thanks, doc! I’m sure if you’re a dad with a young talent, you’re now thinking, “Dear Lord, in order for my child to reach surfing’s Everest, do I need to abandon the wife and kids, go on a wild bender around town?”

Yes! And in return you’ll get a World Champion surfer with some deep daddy issues. The juice might be worth the squeeze, so I say go for it.

Speaking frankly though, take a step back and let the kids breathe. Let them figure out what truly makes them happy and more importantly let them surf on their own terms. Let them surf the way they want to, ride the boards they want to, and make a few mistakes along the way. It’s 2019 and there’s no right way to surf.

With this recentcollege admissions scandal, I think it’s more apparent than ever that parents care about ‘it’ more than the kids. The real thing that connects the best surfers in the world is that surfing came to them and they figured it out on their own terms. Sure, love and support goes a long way, but so often an “expert hand” kills creativity.

So while your motives may be pure, remember: the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

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