A few days ago Stab published an article heralding their picks for the most ‘unjustly appraised pro surfers’ of recent times.
‘Unjustly appraised’? We hear you cry, surely that’s just a needlessly verbose synonym for underrated?
Apparently there’s some subtle distinction, althought it appeared equally lost on contributors and readers alike. Anyway, mid-way through the article Brendan Buckley threw Brit ripper Reubyn Ash a mention:
“Even though his name is only six letters long, I had to copy and paste it from YouTube because I can’t bring myself to organize those letters in succession like that.
Who the fuck was this guy? He’s from the UK? Like, for real from the UK? If so, why is everyone else from the UK so bad at surfing? Are they bad at surfing or am I making that up based on what I see in France? What is this? Was Billabong even paying him?”
Despite the stinging attack on the motherland and our collective surfing prowess, we felt compelled to get the man some answers. So we dialled Reubyn and hit record:
WL: Did you read the article on Stab?
RA: Yeah, I read the bit about me.
WL: I thought it would be good to do a bit of a catch-up, maybe see if we can answer some of Buckley’s questions. The first thing he noted is that your name sounds like a porn star, but also a popular sandwich… are you named after either of those things?
RA: Well no, not really. It’s just a slightly different spelling of Reubin. It’s pronounced the same.
WL: And what does he mean a sandwich? I don’t know what the fuck that means.
RA: No, me neither.
WL: Right, let’s start with a quick bio…
RA: I was born in Bude and I grew up in Bude. My grandfather surfed and my dad surfed ever since he was a little kid. I was the youngest of six kids and everyone surfed, so I was introduced to it when I was baby. I was surfing before I can even remember. When I was tiny I just used to get left at the beach, getting looked after by friends and family and just surf all day. I started competing when I was about 7 and got sponsored by the age of 9 and it kind of all just progressed from that. I did the conventional thing as a kid; went to the comps, won all the titles in my age group. Then won some European titles. I was riding for different people, as you do when you’re a kid, because you’re just looking for a bit of money to feed yourself. And then by the time I was 16, I started riding for Billabong and started doing all the Pro Junior stuff. After I came out of that they said: ‘If you just want to freesurf, do that.’ So I just went off and free surfed, getting waves all over the planet.
WL: What was it like getting sponsored that young? Does it feel like your life’s laid out for you?
RA: Well at first it was just some free suits, so every summer and winter I’d have a new suit, minimal stuff at the start but enough that when you’re a kid you’re stoked. And it went all the way from there up to getting paid to surf. Stuff comes and goes though.
Obviously now I’m doing my surf school and don’t get me wrong, I’d totally prefer to be off surfing and making films, working with a company or something, but in the UK it’s pretty easy to get left behind because it’s really out of the spotlight. You go to Australia or even France and it’s a big sport, but in this country, it feels a bit disconnected.
Nowadays, I just want to go surf, I get up every day and no matter what the waves are like I just get in for a surf. And as long as it’s like that to me, I’m stoked anyway, because it was always all about the surfing.
People get supported for way longer than I got supported for but I’m not bitter about that at all. I’m grateful for what I had from surfing, I had a great run of it going away with my family, surfing places all around the planet, getting loads of free stuff. Getting paid to do it, that’s the dream.
I do think it’s funny though how it’s becoming an Olympic sport and you can be pretty much the best person in your country and you still can’t make enough money out of it to get by.
WL: Can you run me through some of your career highlights?
RA: European title, two of them, stoked with them. Some British titles, English titles and British tour champion multiple times. I think I was one of the first guys to ever do a rodeo flip. That was about 12, 15 years ago now or something.
[Ed. Although a few surfers had stuck them previously, Reubyn got a solid rodeo flip on film in 09, the same year Jordy Smith brought the manoeuvre to the world’s attention in the Mentawais.]
I felt like I was up there with the best in terms of tricks that people could land. Just with varials and passion pops with the extra twists. It was like people all around the world were adding on to a trick and it kind of felt like I was in the mix with that. It was just airs that got me pumped. I just wanted to go and boost, try shit and make shit.
WL: Back in 2011, you got voted into Innersection, alongside guys like Matt Meola, Albee Layer, Jamie O’Brien and more, that must have felt good.
RA: Yeah it was pretty cool. I grew up watching Taylor Steele’s films, so it was great to get into one.
WL: A few years later Ben Mondy wrote a profile on you for Surf Europe bigging you up, but writing off the whole rest of the UK pro surfing contingent.
Quote: “Reubyn Ash is the UK’s best surfer. Now let’s be honest, that isn’t saying a whole lot. As an Australian, when it comes to you dirty Poms, I am able to be brutally honest. My blue passport with the funny animals on the front means I can say, without impunity, that the level of English surfing is absolutely shithouse. Russell Winter was the last world-class surfer to emerge from those damp, litter-strewn Isles, and that was a millennia ago.” etc…
Did you ever get any shit for that? I know he did…
RA: I mean he was being nice about me but at the same time he wrote off a load of people and people took it really to heart. But someone’s just writing their opinion and you can’t take someone’s opinion so personally. I don’t know, even this thing that’s written on Stab is written in a way that’s derogatory. It always seems that in any interview with me there’s always some other motive towards it, like writing this country off, which I find quite funny but I don’t know why they always choose my article to do it with.
I just think rather than write people off it’s better to praise someone in a way that inspires them.
WL: Yea, although to be fair there’s no sport or art form or anything where the top people aren’t subject to criticism. I actually think surfers get off pretty lightly in comparison a lot of the time.
RA: People just love drama. That’s it really.
WL: I guess at that time you were pretty head and shoulders above other Brits, at least in terms of aerials.
RA: Yeah, I mean I was just on my own thing. I had in my head what I wanted to do, and I just set my mind to it and tried to get better and better, because that’s what it was all about. I remember watching movies on VHS and I used to just slow-mo all the top boys of the time, watching all the different elements of their style, trying to replicate it. I used to be fanatical about it and to be really into surfing in the UK, you have to be. I was lucky enough to get away to Indo and Australia when I was young and surf every day with the best surfers in the world. If you’re going to learn to surf good, you’ve got to get where the best people are. That way you see the level and it gives you inspiration.
WL: Tell me about your frontside rodeo thing, did you ever land one of those?
RA: I’ve had some that are a bit sloppy, but the ones I got on film are as good as the ones I didn’t. I haven’t really tried much of that stuff recently really. Because you’re smashing all of your equipment and ruining yourself a little bit. If I was trying to film a part I might start trying to do stuff as mad as that again. But if I’m just going for a surf, I just want to go out, do some nice turns, cruise, do some nice airs on some nice air sections. Also, in the UK, where am I going to try something like that? When it’s fat, it’s physically impossible! With like half of the stuff I know how to do on a surfboard, 90% of the time in the UK there’s not even a fucking section that allows you to even attempt it. We just don’t have those top to bottom waves here and that makes everyone surf more lateral. It’s inevitable.
WL: For a while, you had pretty lucrative sponsorship deals with Billabong and Monster. When did they come to an end and what happened?
RA: Back when I was 26, in 2014 I think it was, I kind of backed out of the Monster deal. I was happy and they were really lovely people that I was working with, but because I was getting supported really well off Billabong at the time, I got to that point where I actually started to observe what I was advertising and I didn’t really want to continue the relationship because I didn’t feel comfortable advertising the product. I think looking back it was quite a bad business move, but on a personal level, I feel like I did the right thing. And then literally at the end of that following year I got dropped by Billabong and then it was all back to the start again really.
WL: What happened with Billabong?
RA: Well, I was just talking to them and they said they were keen to do something again and then when it came to it, the person I was working with just sent me an email saying ‘ah, they don’t want to pay you anymore.’ But you know Billabong at the time had been receding really badly. I didn’t feel like it was a personal move towards me, I just thought shit the whole thing’s starting to crumble a bit. And then anyone else I tried speak to afterwards wasn’t really interested in what I was up to.
I feel like anyone who surfed for Billabong before the company started crashing has sort of been stayed away from. You know like Laurie Towner… man you watch that guy in big waves it’s like all the other guys on the planet who are into big waves are watching that guy. He’s fucking gnarly. And that guy’s probably on some building site somewhere just getting by so he can go surf. Look at the whole industry man, there are guys on the CT without a main sponsor. It’s just different times to ten, or 15 years ago.
But I’m just as keen to surf as ever, I’m just not in a position where I can make money out of it anymore. So what do you do? You hunt it out for a while and then you get to the point where you just get on with other stuff. There’s other ways in the world to make money and wealth to me is more about my time; spending time surfing and skating and hanging with friends and family. You don’t need a lot to do that kind of stuff.
WL: I recently read an interview with you in an old Wavelength, back when you were 14. The interviewer asks what you’ll do if you don’t end up being a pro surfer. Do you remember what you answered?
RA: Probably pretty similar to what I just said.
WL: Yeah. You said: “Just be a beach bum like everyone else is!”
And then your dad said that maybe you’d also end up doing up Land Rovers as you were just getting into that, and that’s pretty close to what you are doing right?
RA: Yeah, the Land Rovers have always just been a hobby. I’ve always done ones up over the years. Even when I used to go away a lot I’d always have a project back home in the garage. And then when I used to get home, if the surf was shit, I’d go back in and spend a couple of days on a car and just get right into that groove. Obviously, when you’re a sportsperson everything is focussed on that sport all the time. So to have the break of switching to a completely different thing really refreshes you when you come back. I find resorting old stuff quite therapeutic.
WL: And finally, what advice would you give to groms trying to make a career out of surfing now?
RA: Well, I think now you’ve got to be naturally talented, you’ve got to put in the hard work and you have to be in it not because of something you’re going to get from it. It’s got to be about the surfing and the love for the sport and the love for getting better. I think if you’re using it as something to try and create wealth, you’re in the wrong thing. Like watch Italo Ferreira, he’s 110% stoked all the time. He just punts massive airs all day long. I mean obviously he’s the best in the world but I guarantee you, you take away the money from that guy and everything he’s got from surfing, I bet you that guy’s still at the beach surfing all the time. Basically, you should be like that guy.
Cover photo: Ben Selway