Ain’t it exciting to be part of a sport that’s always advancing?
Imagine if we all had to spend our time consumed by golf, where the rolling grassy knolls and little-manicured sand pits are exactly the damn same on every day of the year and the nature of the swing has barely shifted since the 1930s.
What on earth would we talk about all day long if our chosen pastime did not involve a vast and rapidly moving playing field and a competitive contingent so ripe with progression?
While it’s a cliche, we reckon that in surfing, every year sees the parameters of what’s possible re-defined. In the air, one the wave face and in the shadow of a cascading lip.
2018 was a particularly monumental annum in this respect, with evolution occurring in almost every enclave of our beloved sport. World records were broken, new technologies were unveiled and icons added bylines to their entries in the history books.
Here are ten moments we believe defined exactly where surfing is at in 2018.
June saw the most hyped southern-hemi swell since 2012 slam into Fiji. All the world’s hardest chargers were in attendance and while many attempted to paddle, Chilean hellman Ramon Navarro strapped into his tow board and waited patiently for the rogue ones. His approach paid off and in the late afternoon he snagged what many have since deemed the biggest barrel ever ridden at the spot. While the world of big wave surfing has been firmly focussed on paddle progression over the last few years, Ramon proved that sometimes getting behind the rope is still the best way to take the cake.
Since its emergence into the public consciousness, Namibia’s Skeleton Bay Has been churning out a steady stream of highlights, captured from every perspective imaginable. This year, Koa Smith, the man behind the internet-melting POV of the wave back in 2014, returned looking to outdo himself and came up trumps with this unbelievable 8 barrel wave.
While pro surfing has become increasingly homogenised in recent years, the world of traditional logging has managed to cling on to the outlandish characters and sense of individual expression that defined surf culture of old. Although theirs seems an inherently nostalgic corner of our sport, the combination of timeless style and ever-evolving board design has seen them achieve a better balance of classicism and modernity than any other school of surfing. Few embody these qualities better than Duct Tape Invitational winner Andy Nieblas whose idiosyncratic approach is as entertaining as it is unique. Watch the clip above to see him perfecting many of the fantastical manoeuvres (including the fins first nose ride) he utilised on the way to his win.
Since high-performance wave pools first burst onto the scene, there’s been much discussion about what impact a man-made wave with a perfect, predictable, air section would have on the surfing’s above the lip progression. In May this year, AWM’s new pool was unveiled in Waco, Texas, with a clip of Seth Moniz stomping arguably the highest, most rotated flip ever landed on a surfboard. It was filmed during his first ever session in the pool, taking the conversation around rapid progression out of the realms of the hypothetical, and into the field of certainty. The future was now.
If Seth’s backflip was the first inkling as to just what a game changer Waco would be then Stab High cemented it. It was undoubtedly one of the most enjoyable spectator surf events of the year, featuring more genuine innovation and creativity than a 90% of WSL comps.
2018 has seen another leap of progression In the world of big wave surfing. Bigger barrels, mammoth tow waves, and a lurch towards more high-performance lines. Young Basque charger Natxo Gonzalez snagged a game changer in the form of the biggest and best barrel we’ve ever seen at Nazare during the WSL comp, setting a new standard for what’s possible at the (often maligned) break. However, Rodrigo’s record breaker at the Portuguese behemoth (which actually took place in 2017, but was certified as biggest ever in April) Billy Kempers’ performance at the Jaws challenge and Kai Lenny’s crazy free surf after the event all deserve honourable mentions.
Despite a series of nagging injuries, 27-year-old Albee Layer remains at the vanguard of above the lip surfing, this year adding another supremely technical air to his showreel. Although it’s not the first double-oop he’s landed it’s by far the best and the cleanest, and he remains the only person on earth to have stuck one.
Back in the land of the WSL, this year saw two of the last two decades finest surfers finally hang up their boots. It was au-reviour to the Cooly kids, who boast a crazy 34 event wins between them. Of course, the morning Parko announced he would be finishing his 12 year-long CT career after the Pipe Masters, the GOAT decided he had a big announcement of his own, stating that he too would be retiring from full-time competition at the end of the 2019 season. Based on past experience, however, we are of course taking that with a pinch of salt.
After a few years of downtime, Steph Gilmore, the greatest, most stylish and well-loved female surfer of all time, further cemented her place in surfing history this year, winning her 7th world title- matching that of Layne Bleachley. Although the standard of women’s competitive surfing is constantly on the up, with new faces like Californian wunderkind Caroline Marks signalling a bright future, this year Steph G proved she is still very much the one to beat.
After an exciting and hotly fought title race, Gabriel Medina walked away victorious, equalling John John’s two world titles, and hopefully sewing the seeds for surfing’s next great rivalry. Although John is probably a little too mellow for any Slater VS Irons style theatrics out of the water, between the buzzers the pair embody the very best aspects of competitive surfing. Unflappability under pressure vs cutting-edge power surfing. Ruthlessly consistent aerial repotroires and super-human skills in the tube.
The WSL and the fans are crying out for 3d storylines, and what could be better than an authentic rivalry between our generations best, with Italo and Filipe snapping at their heels? Of course, if John throws the towel in to focus on ground-breaking clips and sailboat racing, the WSL will once again be left with a Dane shaped hole in its appeal and viewing stats. But if not, 2019, despite its questionable schedule changes, could be the start of something very special.