Birdwell Blog

The Resurgence of Surfing for the Sheer Joy of It
Dazzling Blue #60

It was a confluence of events, an aligning of stars. Pro surfing hit a high-water mark in the ‘80s. The industry flourished. Tom Curren featured in Rolling Stone. Tom Carroll scored the sport’s first million-dollar contract. Then came the recession of the early ‘90s. The surf industry shrunk. The surf mags got thinner. The day-glo and big logos that punctuated the boom era drifted into a more subdued, more muted tenor. Without all that money being thrown around, it was as if surfing needed to find itself, reconnect with its roots.

     It did. In 1992, sixteen-year-old San Diegan Joel Tudor finished second in the World Longboarding Championships, in Biarritz. Wiry, agile, graceful as a dolphin, Tudor found all the right spots on the wave, danced up and down on the board, and hung ten for hypnotically-long periods. But it was his age and fascination with surf history that made him most unique. For the past couple of decades, longboarding had taken a back seat to shortboarding. And the holdouts were mostly older dudes. Tudor was a teenager. The style of surfing that he was passionate about happened before he was even born. His heroes were now in their forties and fifties.

     Tudor spearheaded what might be referred to as The Resurgence of Surfing for the Sheer Joy of It era. The world tour kicked on. Slater and The Momentum Generation slid and spun and air reversed on low-volume shortboards. But there was this new alternative approach that had nothing to do with competition, and least not formally. Much of it was done on longboards, though vintage single fins, Fishes, and twinnies got play. It was pure self-expression. It was about looking to the past to find the way forward.

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