Those who question evolution should do what I did last weekend: Sit down — maybe bring a beverage — and watch, back to back, Bruce Brown’s The Endless Summer and Kai Neville’s Modern Collective. The contrast between the films is obviously blinding, but beneath it there’s a subtle similarity to take note of. In Bruce Brown’s film, the goal for Robert August and Mike Hynson — aside from traveling the world to follow the summer — is, as Brown so eloquently narrates in his charming tenor, “to ride as close to the curl for as long as you can in a stylish manner.” Throughout the movie he highlights these moments, bookmarking when the fellows do something so advanced on the wave that it demands our close attention. It’s rad; they got all giddy for shredding too. And while I doubt Kai would say The Endless Summer was his inspiration for Modern Collective, he, like all of us, is enamored of the same dream as those early wave-riders: rip as hard as you can.
Today is the last day I’ll see this magazine — our somewhat annual assessment-of-the-performance-level issue — before it goes to print. And after spending the whole month analyzing maneuvers, innovation, and the current state of performance, I see a trend developing among members of what we internally call the De-Generation. They’re the group putting a face, a clip, a song and an attitude to this era — an era that follows several “High Performance” periods, a few “Progressive” ones, the “Momentum” decade, a very “Innovative” noughties, and that odd fitness spell from a couple of years back. They’re deeply under the influence, if you’ll pardon the pun, and it’s having an effect.
My revelation is this: I believe we’re harvesting a jaded generation — but I mean that in the best of ways. They’re so unaware of what’s supposed to be done that they’re becoming accidental revolutionaries. They’re Animal Collective — too good to define. Too strange to like. They’re finding passion in places we haven’t looked and losing it in places they’re supposed to care about. Some have lost the will to win. Some have found the will to create. Some shape their own shortboards and ride them to victory before they’re even legal to buy beer. Some don’t know when to say when, as they paddle into big waves that are not paddle-able (and make no mistake — big-wave surfing has its own crew of prog icons). They grab like snowboarders. Flip like skaters. Despise Jet Skis. Skip the North Shore. Move to New York City, but not for surf. It’s like nobody told them how to do this and the surf culture is benefiting from their unorthodox vision.
While contest announcers, magazine dudes and corporate execs dress up surfers in loud, neon hyperbole, these guys are spray-painting Baudelaire quotes on their car doors and trying things they didn’t even know they couldn’t do. Just look at this issue for proof. They are approaching the water backward, like Sonic Youth approached music — in reverse and never the same. They review the past and then quickly forget its limitations. I mean, in this age of mechanical reproduction, shouldn’t Andrew Doheny know better than to shape his own board for the contest? Shouldn’t Dion Agius know New York isn’t the place for an aerial-obsessed Australian to live? Shouldn’t Kai Neville know onshore waves suck? Shouldn’t Dane know he can afford more than an old Volvo? Shouldn’t Greg Long, Twiggy and friends know you can’t paddle into waves that big? The surf world has spent a long time telling these guys how it’s meant to be done — and lucky for us, they don’t listen to a word we say. —Travis Ferré