Smell ya later, twenty teens. We started the decade not wanting to be part of no f*kin tennis tour, and ended it on the eve of being part of the Olympics, whether we like it or not.
If we cast our minds back a decade, we probably didn’t particularly see a wave pool CT event, foiling, or the Brazilian Storm coming.
Elsewhere, wetsuits have got a bit warmer and more flexible, boards have got a bit more… actually boards are more or less as they were. Sex Wax now comes in a cardboard box.
The more some things have changed, the more many others have stayed the same. Meanwhile, Europe is still a thoroughly nice place to be a surfer, if perhaps a bit of a busier one. Oh but we’re about to not be in Europe anymore.
Oh let’s not get into all that!
Here’s our look back on some of the key European performers, headline makers and game changers over the decade that was.
Happy New Decade everyone, good health and happy surfing.
2010: Mickey Smith releases Dark Side of The Lens
While much of Irish-based Cornish water photographer Mickey Smith’s stunning images from the Celtic slab frontier first came to the fore in the naughties, with the likes of Tom Lowe, Fergal Smith as well as a crew of dedicated tube-fiending bodyboarders unveiling world-class surf around County Clare, a 6 minute short film about Mickey’s particular take on his chosen career path, entitled Dark Side of the Lens, brought the exploits to an all-new audience.
The moody, compelling short reached well beyond the core surf world and resonated with the broader ‘work/life balance’ conversations, the radical rethinks of the traditional mortgage/secure job/pension aspirations going on nearly everywhere in the wake of the global financial crisis.
Mickey’s widely-imitated earnest, emotive, occasionally melodramatic storytelling style paired with distinctive imagery; heavy surf in heavily contrasted light became the blueprint for almost every budding Vimeo Staff Pick aspiring filmmaker out there.
Nearly ten years on, Dark Side of the Lens has aged better than almost anything else from the time, and stands out as a rare success of a surf piece taking on life’s big themes, without descent into toe-curling cliché.
The fact that Smith then soon left surf media on his own terms at the at peak of his powers makes him stand out even more.
2011: Wavegarden Unveiled
If, in the immediate wake of Andy’s death and Kelly’s 10th World Title you claim you’d forseen a quietly spoken mechanical engineer from San Sebastian called Josema Odriozola becoming, indirectly at least, one of the most influential figures in global surfing, you’d be lying.
While wavepools have been around for decades (in fact the 1984 ASP season finalé was held in one in Allentown, Pennsylvania,) the tech unveiled in a viral video from a secret location in the Basque hills from Wavegarden’s v1 (pushing a hydrofoil through the water) would go on to see the genesis of Kelly Slater’s Wave Co Surf Ranch, (uses very similar tech) the WSL’s subsequent purchase of it and becoming a CT fixture. Elsewhere, commercial facilities are popping up on every continent faster than google earth ‘new waves’.
For surf media outlets in a landscape still just tipping towards digital over print, it quickly became apparent that the public had an almost insatiable appetite for artificial wave clips, which contributed significantly to wave pool’s perceived commercial viability.
Or to put that another way, if you don’t appreciate the rapid scramble to put up wave pools anywhere and everywhere, consider your own role in the tub rush.
It’s partly your fault; you clicked on it.
Winter 2013/14: Nazaré x Hercules x A Plumber from North Devon
A hitherto unknown fishing town in an uncelebrated part of the Portuguese coast managed to do, over the course of a few notably big Atlantic swells, what no other big wave venue had managed in the previous half-century; become a global headline news story as rule, rather than as an exception.
When the 13/14 big wave season kicked off early with a giant swell in October, it set off a chain of events that would not only transform careers and tourism economies but moreover, show surfing’s core, so self-assured in the merits of its own mythology, just how wrong it was about itself.
Tow surfing was a regrettable 2000’s cul de sac, surely soon on the way out, Nazaré was a big, fat, stupid burger. Neither, it seemed, were to be key players in surfing’s future. How lucrative could big wave surfing ever really be, anyway? ‘You can’t even see the stickers.’
BBC, Sky, ITV, CNN and every other major news network seemingly had other ideas, and extreme weather events’ headline-making credentials combined with the new appetite for ‘you won’t believe what happened next’ eye witness clip imagery and broad appeal human backstory narratives, to make the Nazaré tow scene – a random assortment of non-A-list surf names, suddenly very box office.
A frantic Atlantic storm season, including the naming of 2014’s first massive depression as ‘Hercules’ (you feel ‘Storm Ian’ wouldn’t quite have had the same gravitas) was the gift that kept on giving.
Andrew Cotton suddenly became world famous as that ‘plumber from Devon’. Cotty, who’s slight pause before answering each question (whether they be posed by Marr, Paxman, Humphries, Vine, etc before live audiences in the millions) made him seem both studied and ‘normal’ in contrast to the mainstream’s stock image of surf loons, combined with a bit of Eddie the Eagle plucky Brit plotline to rocket Cotty’s star into an orbit many Tour surfers struggle to get close to.
While the unique bathymetry offshore of Praia do Norte is so often lauded as the key ingredient in making the natural wonder happen, so too is the terrestrial geography key to Nazaré’s fame. The unique proximity to the surf from the cliff, combined with the fact that the main Big Momma peak has something so few big wave spots anywhere do, a foreground. The iconic lighthouse with giant wave looming above it has made Nazaré instantly recognisable worldwide, arguably more so than every other major surf spot combined.
2014: Fergal Smith’s Green Revolution
While based in West Oz but regularly chasing swells thousands of miles across the world, Ireland’s first professional freesurfer, Fergal Smith had a moment of reckoning, realising his pro surfing reality was way out of whack with his ideology, and promptly decided to quit flying on planes altogether, opting instead to only surf the waves near his home on the west coast of Ireland.
A bold move, at the time (and probably still) without precedent in the pro surf world, made even more impressive considering he still had a couple of years of his contract (with Analog) to run. In 2014, Ferg’s web series ‘Growing’, which featured his exploits growing organic veg on borrowed land near Lahinch alongside Mitch Corbett and Matt Smith, quickly became a web hit. With a mix of The Good Life meets Father Ted meets Litmus, Fergal’s YouTube environmentalism was not only ahead of its time in terms of mainstream acceptance, but it was done with positivity and – most notably – a complete absence of the performative.
While his talent in some of Europe’s most beautiful and frightening waves was undeniable, Fergal’s biggest achievement was his ability to be the charismatic leader of a kind of peoples’ revolution, seemingly without ego or self-righteousness.
In 2016, Fergal stood in the Irish General election in the Clare constituency for the Green Party, a reluctant and ultimately unsuccessful politician, but nevertheless a well-intentioned one.
2016: Magnetic North – Surfing’s Arctic Fetish
While the Instagram generation might not often be accused of originality in either thought or deed, one quasi-pioneering move over the last decade has been, like so many mid-latitude species in the Anthropocene Era, a recent poleward migration.
Soon emerged the advent of the Bucket List, a now perhaps regrettable pre-Thunberg concept that involved ticking off planetary ‘experiences’, intended to demonstrate the lister’s good taste in their uniquely curated destinations but somehow usually resulted instead in travel that rendered the lister slightly more vacuous, rather than wiser.
And so, from our relative mid-latitude mundanity, from surf zones generally blasted by west winds more often than not, swirled in murky, sediment-laden waters and fringed by unremarkable terrestrial backdrops, came the calling of Arctic Circle surf. Clear, blue waters, polar easterlies grooming the swell. Snow-capped mountain glaciers, hygge, beards and resin tints, all sit just so composed within the square crop.
Seems so obvious now, but as much as 2010 didn’t see Odriozola coming, neither did you see Iceland becoming to new Indo, right?
As with many things, it’s hard to discern an exact moment when the phenom peaked and began to wane. But Mick Fanning heading to Unstad, in Norway’s Lofoten Islands to make a Red Bull TV edit in 2016 seems like as good a time to point to as any.
2019: Jeremy Flores Secures Legacy with 4th CT Win
Unless you’re French, and even if you are, Jeremy Flores is unlikely to rate as your fave surfer of all time.
While generally respected, Jeremy hasn’t always been particularly liked. There have been a few notable PR mishaps, coupled with a general air of apparent disgruntlement that we, the non-paying public, tend to disapprove of in our surf stars.
And yet while there’s been a general thawing of misgiving between Flores and surfing and vice versa in recent years, he’s remained pretty true to his game. Rather than come around the system, it seems surfing has come back to appreciate Jeremy.
When he gave his post-heat interview at the Freshwater Pro and revealed to Rosy that he “Can’t take surfing this place seriously, really” it felt like he’d captured the entire surf world zeitgeist somehow.
Rather than being the slightly bitter outlier lemon, Jeremy was suddenly spokesperson for the everyfan.
For the last few seasons his surfing has been better than ever, and he topped off a notable decade as a CT fixture with his forth CT win, at his home event in France. As a packed beach at la Graviere sang la Marseillaise in delicious evening light this October after a day of thumping shorebreak tubes, very few surf fans anywhere could have begrudged Jeremy a genuinely epic victory.
Coupled with wins at Pipe (2010, 2017) and Teahupoo (2015), Flores’ Quik Pro France win secures his legacy as a legit core lord of global surfing. The surprising part about that? That he’s basically all alone as a European in that regard. Truth is, Europeans (assuming Bourez isn’t included as one) have largely been also-rans on the Championship Tour, perennial requalification doubts. Even Fred Morais, rookie of the year one year, relegated back to the QS the very next, proved just how impressive Jeremy’s record is.
One thing we can be almost certain of, is that in a decade from now Flores is unlikely to still be on Tour. Whether or not a worthy successor comes along in the meantime for him to pass the baton onto remains to be seen.
Cover photo: @emilsollie