March ’06: Seven Days With Surfer Dane Reynolds

posted by / Magazine / February 14, 2006

Dane Reynolds can’t hold back. It’s all just flowing, without hesitation, and I’m only retaining snippets of it without a tape recorder. Bummer. He begins at the top: “What is it with wheelie airs these days?” Dane asks, referring to the seven-time world champ’s current launch of choice. “They’re the ugliest things ever — and way easier to do.”

On the WCT judges: “Those guys don’t have a clue what a good air is.”

The X Games in Puerto Escondido: “That was horrible if you ask me — even Huntington was better. Who wants to watch a bunch of guys disappearing and reappearing a few seconds later? People want to see us punt.”

His grueling world travel schedule: “It can get kind of ridiculous at times. I mean, I was in West Oz this summer, about to score the waves of my life, and they made me fly to flat Tavarua to model boardshorts. I was, like, ‘Are you kidding me?’”

And going home: “I gotta get my own place. Every time I come back from a trip, all the neighborhood kids are riding my boards, my brother’s sold all my wetsuits and my dad’s wearing all my clothes.”

These aren’t a few months’ worth of random outbursts filed each time Dane’s feeling surly. They’re just casual conversation — offered only 15 minutes into our drive up to an isolated Central Coast beachbreak. Dane’s sitting shotgun in my {{{Sienna}}} surfmobile/family wagon and his Ventura surf partner since Day One – Kai Ellison – snickers lazily in the back at every one of Dane’s zingers. He’s clearly heard them all before.

But I clearly haven’t. In fact, as we fly past Santa Barbara and around Point Conception on this crisp, early November morning, I can only listen slack-jawed — flashing back to the days when Dane was the town’s supergrommet — a quiet, reserved kid with the nickname, “Beaver.” Ever since he moved to the area from Bakersfield at age 10 and started riding the inside reform at his local spot, Dredge, Dane progressed at hyper-drive speed. After his first six months, he caught the eye of Al Merrick and scored a board sponsorship with Channel Islands. He soon dominated the amateur surfing ranks and, despite barely missing an NSSA Open Men’s national title at Trestles two years in a row, set a performance standard that sparked one of the most aggressive and high-stakes bidding wars the American surf industry’s ever seen. “He’d be down at the Open Season contests,” remembers NSSA executive director Janice Aragon, “and his phone would be ringing constantly — team guys trying to schmooze him. It was out of control. At one point, I was, like, ‘Dane, maybe you should just turn your phone off.’”

It’s been a little more than two years since all of that craziness, and it’s only gotten crazier for the supegrommet-turned-superstar. Unless you’ve been searching for iceberg pointbreaks in Antarctica over the past 24 months, you’ve probably noticed that Dane Reynolds is everywhere. He’s the most visible non-WCTer on the WCT, scoring four wildcards this year and instilling fear in every vet who draws him (Just ask Luke Egan and Dean Morrison). He’s the big bazooka in Quiksilver’s Young Guns campaign, showcased in every form of media short of his own action figure (which we’re sure is coming soon). And, as evidenced from his top billing in movies like Campaign and Campaign 2 and praise from Slater and Andy Irons, he’s widely acknowledged as one of the best freesurfers on the planet. “Dane is a classic example of function-first surfing,” says Slater. “He knows in his mind what he wants to do and does it without thinking about mechanics. His approach is totally natural and he does what he thinks/sees. Dane has a huge career ahead of him.”

All this, and he finished 167th in the 2005 World Qualifying Series rankings, just behind South African upstart Damien Fahrenfort. All this, and he’s yet to compete — or even make much of an impression – on the North Shore. Says Dane: “I keep hearing that I need to step up my Hawaii campaign this winter. Whatever that means.”

What it means is that Dane Reynolds has gotten more notoriety from his sheer freesurfing talent than perhaps any other surfer in modern times. He’s practically ignored two of the most crucial components for world surfing dominance (big contest wins and prime time heroics on the North Shore), and still has the top dogs singing praises and the pups emulating his every air variation. Not a bad start for a kid who — less than 10 years ago — knew a lot more about roller hockey than he did about the ocean.

“There’s the bar right there. See it?” Dane points to a washy reform peak {{{100}}} yards down the beach. “Good punt sections on that one, but it’s too big today.”

He’s right. What was knee-high and weak in Ventura is well overhead and lighting up the outside sandbars north of Point Conception. The reform’s the real point of interest, but even that’s washing through. It seems like there’s always a lot more swell up here, which is why Dane makes a habit of sneaking up to this long, lonely stretch of beach when he’s home and conditions allow. But since extended homestands are rare occurrences these days, those private solo sessions are getting fewer and further between.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in our {{{90}}}-minute drive north, Dane’s an equal-opportunity basher, saving the heaviest criticism for himself. He’s a self-described wave repellant, (“I’m the exact opposite of a magnet.”), loves to recount his worst sessions (“We had 40 minutes of perfection last week in Morocco, and the best I could do was ruin a barrel and break my board.”) and says he’s never done anything to make him want to claim a wave — unless, of course, he thinks he spazzed out so hard that he has to go into a self-mock poo stance. “Which is the only time I’ll do a wheelie air,” he adds.

Speaking of wheelies: Slater and Quiksilver’s Todd Kline call as we’re checking it. They’re in Brazil, drinking a few cocktails and killing time before Slater clinches his seventh world title. Kelly and Dane exchange courtesies, rap about Morocco for a while and then relate on a session they had in Japan at some sketchy slab they dubbed “Mothra.” They carry on for a few more minutes before Dane closes with a simple, “Good luck in the contest,” as if Kelly were at some NSSA Gold Coast event at Port Hueneme.

The oversize beachbreak looks like a lot of work, but the long drive and promise of a breakfast burrito at his favorite nearby taco stand has us suited, waxed and darting across the dunes to an audience of one, Filipino fisherman.CONTINUED…

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