Are Surfers Smart?

posted by / Magazine / August 14, 2014

JW14FJ5D0336John John Florence, one of the smartest men in the world. Photo: Jimmicane

Dumbass Geniuses

Surfers — as a group, a demographic, a family or even a tribe, depending on how high you are — are stereotypically stupid. We are carefree, easy-minded beings who lack motivation and are gluttonous for a good time. Our critical thinking skills are figured to be similar to those exhibited by a cardboard box stacked high with grapefruit, but it’s OK because we grow our hair long and have great f–king abs. This is a cute way of thinking. But it’s wrong.

Surfers — as a group, a demographic, sometimes a family and definitely not a tribe — are wildly intelligent. Some of us verge on genius. An established surfer could sip martinis with a renowned geologist, an avant-garde psychologist and a high-rolling financial advisor, and very well be the brightest in the room. It’s just that, unlike his distinguished peers, the surfer chose to pursue knowledge in an unpopular and mostly arbitrary subject.

But, still, we’re smart. Think of your brain as a shopping cart. Think of the world as a store. You choose which aisles you walk down, just like you choose which school you attend and the courses in which you enroll. You pull products from the shelves of the store just like you pull books from the shelves of a library. And over time, your brain cart becomes filled with items, filled with knowledge. The only issue is that it’s stocked with chocolate chip cookies and Mickey’s malt liquor, while other, nobler carts are full of brown rice and skim milk (accountants, I’m looking at you).

On our cookies:

Have you ever seen a photograph and exploded with ideas? Course you have. You’ve seen an image of a brown, roping lefthander and instantly — almost subconsciously — recognized that it’s Mundaka. And you know that Mundaka is in the Basque Country. And you remember when Bobby Martinez won the WCT event there. And how they toss the winner off the cliff into the water as part of the ceremony. And you think about Andy Irons’ tubes there in Taylor Steele’s Trilogy. And that “Wolf Like Me” song that soundtracks Andy’s greatness in said film. All these thoughts within half a second of gazing at a small, inky depiction of the sea. Same goes for G-Land, J-Bay, D-bah, P-Pass and probably not T-Street (unless you’re from San Clemente). That’s called knowledge. You’re brimming with it.

And how about the act of catching a wave? You know, seeing a wall of moving water that 85 percent of the world would be terrified of and reacting by paddling at a controlled speed to meet it at its zenith. Consider all the nano-decisions that factor into that. All the subliminal comprehension. You understand the ocean — the biggest f–king thing on earth — in a very complex way and that’s something that very few people will ever experience. According to Harvard’s own developmental psychologist Howard Gardner, that’s called “naturalistic intelligence.” Check it off the list.

Now think about a good businessman. Think about how he knows exactly what to do or say in every meeting, no matter who the client. Think about how you ride a wave and how it’s not any different. Like a person, every peak is a unique expression of energy, another snowflake in the blizzard of possibility. And you can read it like a damn book. You know where to do a turn. Why to do a floater. How to do an air. You’re able to perceive every opportunity and you know exactly how far to push things. That’s called savvy, and you’ve got enough to make Mark Cuban look like a fool.

However, there are no P.h.D.s awarded for surfing. No Surfing Nobel Prize. Sad, but true. Because no matter how knowledgeable, naturalistically intelligent or intuitive we are, none of it is conventional. It’s too far from the beaten path, too obscure to matter. We won’t be saving the world, but the same could be said about a prosperous stockbroker or insurance salesman. And you might as well get barreled while not really mattering, right?

So think of your brain as a shopping cart. And know that it’s filled with a vast net of surfing knowledge, along with ice cream sandwiches, condoms, chicken wings, potato chips, cheap rum and everything else that makes life fun. Laugh at the people who’ve filled theirs with boring intelligence. They’ll be laughing right back at you. Mostly because you’re barefoot. —Brendan Buckley

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  • Chris Stevens

    Totally agree! Just because something isn’t conventional or ‘normal’ doesn’t mean it is any less valid. The fact we have all chosen to surf and indulge in a better work/lifestyle balance surely makes us even smarter?
    Just because we don’t wave a piece of paper stating our ‘intelligence’ doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

  • JBK

    Good read, thank you!

  • surfgush

    Props. Good Stuff!


    Absolutely loved this! Great literary style, so well written.

  • bull

    bull shit

  • Teddy Allen

    sorry, pattern recognition and reflexes don’t equate to being geniuses…Besides, anybody with one brain cell would never buy a pair of swim trunks for more than $35 anyway. There goes your argument. Entertaining metaphors throughout the writing though!

  • cow

    Really insightful. Thanks!

  • Plak

    I love the way it was written, but the argument isn’t really well constructed.

  • oregonisradical

    Just because you say it, doesn’t make it true. Anyone who walks around using the excuse that a degree is “just a piece of paper” obviously lacks or lacked the discipline and mature insight to get more from their education that “just a piece of paper”. Further, “pieces of paper” with good marks demonstrates ones ability to learn and deliver a product that is sought after. On one hand, people may scoff at that skill, calling it “taking orders” rather than independent thought, but anyone who has done it knows one aspect of intelligence is efficiency. Of course there are many intelligent people without degrees, but excelling at recreation does not replace or equate to excelling in a classroom.

  • Rob

    But most of what you define as intelligence derives from experience, exposure, practice, athletic prowess and reaction time

  • Einstein

    “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

  • SchlippyDippsNipSlip

    What a lazy article, you can literally apply this theory to anybody who is good at any activity. it has less to do with intelligence and more to do with work ethic and drive, the best surfers got that way because of the hours and commitment they put in not just an inherent ability to read a wave. This sounds more like an author trying to justify surfing all day to his parents instead of putting in an honest days work

  • Ely Cresencio

    The article justifies that surfers are intelligent because studying and understanding the ocean must require some intelligence. That argument is only true for people who does nothing but surf. For most of us, surfing is a just a sport, a hobby. If I must say it – a weekend diversion from our boring weekday life spent mostly in work. As such, we have our other vocations that obviously require some intelligence – medicine, architecture, fine arts, business, every known demographics. So are surfers who mostly have day-jobs intelligent? The answer is the same as to the question, “Are humans intelligent”? So there is no need to even ask it, much less, answer it. The one who wrote the article is the one who apparently lacks the intelligence to realize that.

  • How many fingers do you have?

    A plane crashes on the border of Canada and Mexico… Where do you bury the survivors?

  • dumbbaldor

    I agree with your post up until the last sentence. When someone reaches the level Kelly, Jordy, Joel, ect. they have replaced and equated excelling in a classroom.
    Also would you rather be a surfer with passion for life and less money or an engineer that sits in an office all day just so they can go drink their weekends away.? I’ll take surfing but some might go for financial stability. In the end of the day you should just realize if you are happy than you are doing something right. Who cares what someone bored enough to try and evaluate your life thinks.

  • surferwithajob

    Agreed. The article added no value and was a complete waste of time. What shitty content.

  • Los Aticos

    There is a rapping surfer in HB that goes by Mensa.

  • cocoaine

    John John can not speak an entire sentence without saying “its like, um” Its embarrasing!

  • Bonzer


  • mv


  • Gerhard Botha

    Surfers are not intelligent. All over the world I see grown ass men still behaving like teenagers, 30 something men driving broken dirty cars and still believing that riding a wave is more important than work/life that require sacrifice. Its pathetic to hear those men build sentences like a twenty year old. When weed and partying are viewed as the norm, then how can that be intelligent?

  • brnaia

    You’re kidding, right? Please be kidding.

  • The Smart Sage

    Surfers are unequivocally stupid – period. They can also be classified as amazingly self-centered. The parents who spawned these half-wits are as much to blame as anyone. F*ck ’em all.

  • Dude

    You got to be pretty dumb to believe this article.

  • yew’in

    schlippydippsnipslip, simply jog on…
    Cheers for the read, yew!

  • Drew Prez

    I think that many surfers are intelligent and respect those that were able to stray from the standard education -> job mentality and made it pro or getting by in the industry (as for the bums, not so much), but I can’t blame the general public’s perceived perception of surfers as unintelligent when most pro’s can’t even put an intelligent sentence together. I honestly think the WCT should provide speech classes to those that are interested, it could go a long way. I was watching a surf video the other day and my roomate who doesn’t surf commented, “These guys all sound like they’ve been dropped on their heads a few too many times.” I was a bit embarrassed but couldn’t argue against his point…

  • Refrus Ruofefil

    Are surfers smart? Should it matter?

  • Refrus Ruofefil

    smart… a retarding and limiting word

  • elcorreolas

    surfers are a mix of every walk of life with one thing in common, we love to surf and when the waves are good you will find us in the water – having fun surfing!

  • Tedzilla

    Smart or not… we’re fucking pricks. Just look at these comments.

  • Toobs

    I strongly disagree. This article was not “lazy”, nor do I think his intentions were to provide kids with an excuse to use with their parents. It was a well-written, well-thought and creative piece for surfers and non-surfers alike. Perhaps you shouldn’t criticize the author’s content and intelligence with your shit grammar. Go back to school. Reading/writing Facebook posts does not make you intelligent.

  • John

    your more stupid than a piece of shit hanging off of putins asshole…

  • john


  • Teddy Allen

    Wow, maybe you’re the real genius here since you are able to test IQ from turds dangling from a grown man’s sphincter. I am not quite sure why one would want to do that, but hey, who am I to judge. Just out of curiosity, exactly how did you manage to do that? Is it like a litmus test from Chemistry 101?
    In your opinion, how does my intelligence compare to a tinkle dripping from Putin’s winkle? (I am assuming that you tested for that too since you were already down there..) I hope I am at least smarter than a piece of dung from Kim Jong-un. But, I doubt that I am smarter than waste (solid or liquid) from Goodluck Jonathan, I mean, really, with a name like that how could I be?…how could anybody?
    Honestly, though, if you are going to call people out about their intelligence, please know the difference between “your” and “you’re”. You’re the one who wrote your. Now, that is mean. I am just confusing you now.

    Did you see Snowden on your visit with Putin? I bet his turds would rank really high in YOUR turd analysis. I better let you get back to work…I hear it is a dirty job, but, somebody has got to do it.

  • Teddy Allen

    How do you drive a broken car? In my book if you can do that then yes, YOU ARE A GENIUS!

  • Eric Dover

    what “normal” people don’t understand , is that their pursuit of life in just as much a dead end as anyone else’s . In my dead end id rather surf and explore. Rather than be subject to the mundane. My personel freedoms are more important than a house or a job. a mortgage or reproduction. The ego loses when I paddle out. Its just me and the surf, no audience, just pure love. love is the genius. so when your alarm clock goes off and you “have” to something . Remember the best excuse is to judge the other guy who relishes in his love. your job is a joke , that woman you married uses you for money , that dog you have as a pet, is an anchor to land. When I paddle and catch wave then paddle back out to get another , that is the representation of life itself, A circle . I create nothing with my act , the nothing that I am.

  • nomadickauai

    I enjoy your writing Brendan – and agree completely. After moving to Kauai from the over-ambitious, ego-filled career chaos of the mainland, I too am convinced that some surfers are the most intelligent people in the world. They effortless tap into a secret that most people spend their entire lives in fruitless pursuits to obtain. My conciousness is always expanded when talking story with a surfer after an epic day on the water. True genius is found in the silence of the mind – the natural state of being – one with a massive energy. Alive.

  • durrderrderr

    No one cares what you see. Categorizing surfers as “intelligent” or “unintelligent” is just stupid, there are plenty of surfers in both categories. Sure some surfers smoke weed and sit around all day, you would not be hard pressed to find plenty of none-surfers doing the same. Also being lazy and stupid are not the same thing. In someone’s eyes you will always be viewed as an idiot, so just do what makes you happy.

  • DMalcolmCarson

    This article pretty much answers it’s own question in the negative.