The Ten Biggest Things from Surfing and the Internet This Decade

27 Dec 2019 3 Share

Mike Jennings

Senior Writer

This is a thing that actually happened? For real? Photo: WSL

This is a thing that actually happened? For real? Photo: WSL


This Decade In Surfing, 2010-2019

Hey everyone, my name is Mike. I write a list every Friday right here that takes in the biggest things from surfing and the internet that happened that week. But because this is the last friday of the decade, I thought I may as well do a list for the 2010s instead. And I have to tell you, compiling a list like this has made me search within myself, it has made me stare in the mirror ask some questions. Questions like: "Why on earth would you set yourself the task of doing a This Decade In Surfing list, and then limit it to ten?" "Do you know how many more things there were in this decade than ten? It's lots of things!" "What is wrong with you?" And, finally, "Are you going bald?" (Yes!)

This list, it must be stated, was written by one person, and without consulting anyone, so it is in no way definitive and is likely missing a lot of important things – some of those things I know are missing and, like a baby trying to stuff a square block into a circle shaped hole, I can't work out how to fit them in and it's making me cry in confused frustration. Things like, ahh, John John (how does John John not make this list!?) and Instagram (the most influential medium in surfing this decade), Owen Wright's comeback Snapper win (tears, tears for all of us!) Dane Reynolds and his Marine Layer (the greatest independent surf website ever), the death rattle of print surf mags (hang in there, guys!), Steph Gilmore's record tying World Title (she's the GOAT) and the losses of Australian icons MP and Midget amongst others (Rest In Power). To anyone who wishes to tell me this list is dumb, and wrong, and I'm an idiot, I'd just like to pre-emptively reply, "I agree!" "You're right!" "And for sure I definitely should have had Paul Fisher and the Mad Hueys doing the Harlem Shake in here! How did I miss that?!"

Anyway, here's the ten things from surfing and the internet of the decade that was the 2010s. 

10. Mick's Snake

In the era of internet web clips that break the internet, this one did the best job at breaking it. It's kind of ironic that it took the ultimate competitive pro – in some ways the antithesis of the free surfers who made the internet their playground over the decade – with a little help of a discovery of a secret, perfect point break.

9. Kelly Unveiled His Wave Pool

Sure, Adriano De Souza had just won his first World Title, but what the hell, why not drop perhaps the most era-defining image in surfing this decade? That of Kelly smiling like Frankenstein probably did as his monster comes to life before him (I haven't seen or read Frankenstein, gonna assume he looked like Kelly). Wave pools that could possibly make a perfect tube had been talked about in the space of dreams and fantasy for a generation, but did anyone think that Kelly would actually just go ahead and do it?! Crazy.

8. The Retirements of Mick and Joel

It’s hard not to put Joel’s 2012 World Title in here, nor Mick’s epic 2013 win… nor that heavy Pipeline day where Mick surfed for a World Title beneath the weight of his brother’s passing. Big, big moments… but perhaps encapsulating it better than all is the fact that after huge decades at the top of the sport these champions went out on their own terms. I’m not sure we’ve seen surfers project their retirements the way Mick and Joel did at different ends of 2018 (Taj says hello). And for the first time, it allowed the surfing and sporting worlds to give its champions a send off they deserved.

7. Kelly Slater left Quiksilver

This departure of Kelly from his career-long sponsor also marked a strange new era that could maybe define the decade – surfing's slow move away from the dominant three big surf brands and their lessened importance in driving the culture. The day before this happened, it was impossible to imagine what Quiksilver could even be without Kelly Slater as its face. And perhaps more importantly, it was impossible to imagine Kelly Slater without a Mountain and the Wave sticker somewhere on his board or person. Separating the two was ridiculous – but today pro surfers are increasingly having to find ways to forge careers without the surf brand they're married to making up their identity. And under this decade's new pro surfing regime of the WSL, that's become the norm.

Personally, my favourite part of this was the fact that the news of it broke on April 1 – you know, April Fools Day. Most of us who report on these kinds of things on the internet for a living assumed it was bullshit. Boy, were we wrong.

Quiksilver made a video celebrating their history with Kelly titled, See You In the Line-up. That video has since been deleted from all YouTube Channels, but there is a lego version of it here, which might somehow be better?

6. Gabriel Medina and the true Arrival of Brazil as a Surfing Powerhouse

In 2011, Stab Magazine – back when they did print issues – gave out end of year awards. They gave Adriano De Souza an award for being the first ever Brazillian World Title contender. He finished 5th… FIFTH. Think how odd that sounds in 2019; one Brazillian scratching into the top 5 was a noteworthy achievement that warranted an award.

In that same year, a little known 17 year old named Gabriel Medina qualifeid for the tour and went on to win two events from his first four as a full time CTer.

Gabriel then won the Title in 2014, and, four minute mile style, the barrier was broken. Adriano De Souza won in 2015, Medina won again in 2018, and Italo Ferreira ending the decade wth a Brazilian win in 2019. That's a ridiculous (*counts on fingers*) four of the last six.

Will this be looked back on as a golden era of Brazillian competitive surfing led by Medina, or is it just the new normal?

5. Code Red 2011 and Fiji 2012

The days the ASP/WSL didn’t go, but the big wave surfers did. And when they did the world watched in absolute awe. How many magazine covers, how many clips, how many eyeballs watched these two events go down as they happened?

4. Equal Pay and the Sheer Dominance of the Big Three

Surfing doesn't have a great history when it comes to female representation and support. Just ask any of our greatest women surfers from the 90s – or any other era, for that matter. And, actually, just have a look at this list of this decade's most significant moments. So it's very exciting to see things put in place that will correct this poor course we've been on, like the announcement the WSL made in 2018 that they would award equal pay for men and women surfers for “every WSL-controlled event in the 2019 season and beyond".

This news brought a lot of comparisons to the world of tennis and their grand slams, but this was bigger and better than that because this brings an equality of support where it's needed most, junior and qualifying events where athletes' careers are built and broken. But if we're going to look to tennis for a positive similarity, there is another parallel we should make note of: The star power and dominance of a big three. Every World Title this decade was won by either Steph Gilmore, Carissa Moore, or Tyler Wright (four each for Steph and Carissa, two for Tyler, but those were back to back which is a feat worthy of elevation). These three have absolutely owned every part of women's surfing finally getting the respect and admiration it has deserved for generations. When we think of any surfing of the 2010s, they should be front and centre in our minds.

3. Kelly Slater Won His Tenth World Title

Slater did go on to win his eleventh World Title in this decade too, which if my maths is correct, is more than 10, so probably actually more significant... but number 10 had a feeling that'll never be repeated. The fact it came the same week we learnt of the tragic death of Andy Irons made it perhps the biggest week in surf culture history.

2. Mick Fanning and the J-Bay Shark

A shark. A SHARK! A freaking shark got tangled up with Mick Fanning, Australia's most popular surfer, in the middle of a freaking J-Bay final! It's hard to fathom just how ridiculous an incident this is. It's worth remembering, too, that his competitor in the final, Julian Wilson, paddled towards Mick – who Julian thought in the seconds a wave popped up between them was gone – to try and save him. You get goosebumps just thinking about it.

1. The Shock Passing of Andy Irons

I'm not sure we'll ever see a bigger, more devastatng moment in surfing than the day we learned that three time World Champion Andy Irons had tragically passed away. It tore apart the surf industry and forced years of finger-pointing and introspection but mostly sadness. Like a lot of things in surfing in this past decade, Sean Doherty summed up the feeling of the moment most accurately – this paragraph coming from one of Surfing World's special Andy Irons issues:

"While Irons had lived like a rock star, surfed like a rock star, and had even riffed about the “rock-star ending” in interviews, few imagined it would actually end the way it did: the most incandescent surfer of his generation, a guy with a huge appetite for life, found dead in a Dallas hotel room, nowhere near his Hawaiian home, nowhere near his wife and unborn child, nowhere near anything. It was a bolt of lightning from a clear blue sky. It seemed like twisted satire. It still does today. It was an unfathomably sad and tempestuous time that split surfing into two camps: those who wanted a legend, and those who wanted answers."

And that was this decade in surfing. Have a safe and happy New Year's, everyone. See you in the 2020s.

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