The Ten Biggest Things from Surfing and the Internet in 2020

1 Jan 2021 0 Share

Mike Jennings

Senior Writer


This Year In Surfing, 2020

It's the 52nd This Week In Surfing column/blog/listicle for the year. So, as is tradition, rather than looking at the last week of things that happened in surfing on the internet, let's look back at the whole cursed year of 2020 and count down the 10 biggest things that happened in surfing on the internet. Like I said when we did this last year, and the year before that, and the year before that: this list is the work of one person, who consulted no-one before hitting publish, so it's probably missing some giganticly major stuff (like Dane Reynolds' new website, or the alarming number of surf figures going anti-vax and QANON, or the freaking bushfires that devastated so much of the Australian coasts, or the passings of iconic legends in Aus surf culture like Bob Cooper, Shmoo and Marti Tullemans, or perhaps just any of the hundreds of hours of footage from YouTube surf vloggers that flooded the internet in 2020. So please don't hesitate to hurl any missed suggestions or personal vitriol in the comments! Thanks!)

10. Two Fresh Contenders For Best Wave Pool in the World

While 2020 halted the trajectory of so many things in the surfing world, wave pools weren't one of them. URBNSurf Melbourne became the first wave pool in Australia that opened its doors to the public, and also played a major role in getting a whole city's surfers their first waves after the longest and toughest covid lockdown in the world. But it was footage of two other pools that did their best to break the internet in 2020.

In early December, Surf Lakes – the Mad Max-looking plunger powered wave pool up in Yeppoon, Queensland (eight hours north of Brisbane) – released a 13-minute doco from their latest R&D session that showed mega improvements to their pond and its various breaks. Most notable was the sheer power of one of their slabs, snapping boards and providing serious-looking tubes. The doco was accompanied too with the news that the pool will likely become more than just a research and development test facility, and may one day soon be open to the public. Epic.

And before that, Wave Garden opened a fresh pool in South Korea, of all places, that looks to have the same Cove design as Melbourne's URBNSurf, only longer, with nicer looking tubes, and an added air section. Calfornian Jacob "Zeke" Szekely put the pool through its paces in September.

9. Teens Jackson Dorian and Sierra Kerr Leapt New Bars

Jackson Dorian, son of Shane, and Sierra Kerr, daughter of Josh, dropped perhaps the most jaw-dropping aerial displays we saw in 2020. Both were all wave pool edits out of the Waco, Texas tub, that provided just so many WTF moments. The way Jackson tweaked and controlled the air at 0.18, the madonna (I think, correct me skaters) air he did 0.25, how inverted he gets at 0.40, the heeeeeiiight and rotation at 0.57, the projection at 1.32.... I'll stop there. The best part of either clips though? The brevity.

Reminder: These two are just 13-years-old.

It gets you thinking – kids growing up in the wave pool era, with unprecedented access to them via their family's place in the industry... just how big are the leaps the sport will see in the next decade be?

8. John John, Taj and the Great Surfer Sponsor Exodus of 2020

Early 2020 surf internet was marked by movement out of the water as much as it was in it.

First in January we had the most high profile surfer in the English speaking world, John John Florence, part ways with his big money sponsor Hurley, whom he'd been with since 2013.

Then we had Aus surfing icon Taj Burrow part ways with Billabong just a week later, breaking a partnership so synonymous it was hard to imagine Taj riding a board without a Bong logo on the nose.

"After 25 of the greatest years with Billabong I’ve decided to move on," wrote Taj in his announcement on Instagram. "As a grom Billabong had the sickest team and made the best movies. When Jack Mccoy brought Occy and Luke Egan to my hometown to film Bunyip Dreaming i was obsessed. At 16 they offered me a deal, I was the happiest kid on Earth!"

These weren't the only sponsor changes this year either. 

As early as Feb, this was our list of high profile surfers that had parted ways with their employers in 2020.

Taj Burrow (Billabong)
John John Florence (Hurley)
Rob Machado (Hurley)
Nikki Van Dijk (Rip Curl)
Lakey Peterson (Hurley)
Michel Bourez (Hurley)
Matt Wilkinson (Rip Curl)
Alana Blanchard (Rip Curl)
Jesse Mendes (Quiksilver)
Dusty Payne (Volcom)
Eli Hanneman (Hurley)

Did I miss anyone?

7. Kale Walsh's Soft Serve

Every year a young surfer stamps their arrival with a thumping, stomping, banger of a surf clip. In 2020 it was West Aussie Kael Walsh and this monster of an edit – Soft Serve, released in July. Here's what I wrote about it in This Week in Surfing back then:

There’s a smooth stomped backflip here... and it wouldn't even be in the top 20 most impressive clips in this video.

With Soft Serve, 20-year-old West Australian Kael Walsh has dropped perhaps the best surf edit of the year so far and announced his arrival as one of the world's premier freesurfers in the Dane Reynolds, Noa Deane, Mikey Wright mould.

Over 12 minutes, the vid features four significant West Aus swells and two trips to Indo, with cameos from Taj Burrow, Jay Davies, Mikey Wright, and Joel Paxton. Wade Carroll, who you might know as the guy behind Mikey Wright's best clips (Root, Rage) kills it behind the lens and on the edit, with some help from an A-grade soundtrack (Breeders, Mudhoney, UMO, the Cure) and some significantly pumping West Australian tubes. But, of course, it's Kael's surfing that makes the impact. Awesome tubes, big airs, powerful turns – surfed with the sort of full throttle West Aussie demeanour that makes you accidentally swear under your breath as you watch. It's unreal.

6. The Last Man in the Mentawais

When the Covid-19 pandemic shut down surf tourism, amongst everything else in the world, the Mentawai Islands were relatively abandonded and left unsurfed. That's the fun thing about the ocean, regardless of what's going on in the world, it's just going to keep on producing swells that wrap around islands and create perfect waves whether you're there to surf them or not. 

Talented Costa Rican sufer Anthony Fillingim just so happened to be stranded in one of surfing's most formidable playgrounds when the world fell apart. And it just so happened that the Mentawai Islands pumped – like, best its been years style pumped – during that time. It was surfing's version of a lived childhood fantasy.

5. Mav's Best Day in a Decade, and A Banner Year for Big Wave Surfing

We could have also titled this someting along the lines of Kai Lenny cementing himself as the world's premier big wave surfer. While professional surfing in general was put on hold, big wave surfing had jaw dropping events all over the place, and the performance of Lenny was a constant at nearly all of them. But we'll headline them all with Maverick's and its best day ever. Culturally, historically, Mav's is as legendary as it comes in big wave surfing. The place even has a Hollywood movie about it. So when a guy who's been documenting every big session there for 30 years calls it the "best dawn-to-dusk big-wave paddle day ever", you've gotta stand back for a second and say, "Wow." Or maybe, "Woah." Or whatever you feel like saying. But you should say it!

4. Wade Goodall Made the Second Best Surf Movie of the Year

To put it simply, Wade Goodall rules. Always has. So it's no surprise that when he put all his creative energy into a major surf movie project, with the backing of his sponsor Vans, some help from its formidable surf team, and with the guidance of filmmaker mate Shane Fletcher, that the result is bloody unreal and one of the true shining highlights of a year that needed them. Sean Doherty's review of the film is going to sum it up better than I ever could, so I'm just going to rip the last three paragraphs of that and put them right here:

"I’m happy for Wade. Talking with him last year, the chance to not only make this movie with total creative freedom, but to finally showcase his own surfing on a big stage seemed to be weighing heavy on him. Wade’s one of those guys blessed with almost limitless talent, but with a more limited supply of self-belief. He’s long been his own toughest critic, but he’s put a flag in the ground here with his film. It’s something remarkable. That P-Pass smile will be hanging around for a while.

Pentacoastal however might also be the last film of its kind.

The big budget, ensemble cast independent surf film went the way of the dodo with Dear Suburbia almost a decade ago. The GFC took care of that. The big budget, ensemble cast brand film… well, Pentacoastal might be the last of those. Vans might well have been the last surf company with a marketing budget extending beyond a five-minute sizzle clip. The surf industry will wheeze for years after the pandemic. Austerity will rule and flying surf stars around the world to shoot will seem like a decadent luxury from a decadent time. The idea itself of paying surf stars to surf is beginning to feel anachronistic. It feels like the sun is setting on the age of the sponsored surfer. And if that’s the case, the fact that it’s Wade Goodall who’s had the last say in all of this is poignant."

3. Morgan Cibilic and Vaughan Blakey Made The Best Surf Movie of the Year, of the Last 5 Years Even

Remember when surf videos were fun? Stupid, and fun? In 2020, a Rip Curl Search movie called Postcards From Morgs remembered. 

Making use of a couple of things – a world restricted to no travel, a relatively unknown rookie CT surfer on the team with no CT to be a rookie on, and a creative decade-long magazine editor, free from mag commitments to write creative surf movies again – to make the best surf video in recent memory. At least it was the best surf video for fans of Australiana-soaked, taking-the-piss surf culture a lot of surfers grew up with and were enamoured by.

2. No World Champs and Everything the WSL Did and Didn't Do in 2020

Here's a reminder of just how long 2020 was: Sophie Goldschmidt only stepped down as WSL CEO in mid January. I could've sworn to Huey that was about three years ago and not within the last 12 months. On January 14 the WSL announced shiny American Erik Logan as its new CEO and, gee, what a first year on the job.

"With the WSL now ready to become a more focused content and media company, the Board and I have mutually agreed it is the right time to make a change,” Goldschmidt said in the press release announcing the change. A Content and media company? Odd for an organisation called a League, that's purpose is hosting sporting competitions, but whatever.

Then the WSL had to cancel the Championship Tour and the Qualifying Series due to COVID-19. And for the first year in the history of the WSL (or the ASP, or the IPS, or the Smirnoff World Pro-Am Surfing Championships), surfing went a year without crowning a World Champion. As far as I can tell, it's the first time we haven't had one since the International Surfing Federation held single event World Surfing Championships every two years (1967, being the year there was no overlap withthe Smirnoff Pro Am).

2020, the year surfing went without a World Champ.

Theeeen, in July, the WSL announced the biggest changes to pro surfing since the advent of the Championship Tour. Pipe to start, and Trestles to finish in a one-off playoffs finals type series etc..

Theeeen, the WSL started the 2021 season amidst soaring pandemic numbers in the US, which saw the CEO contract the virus and shut down the Pipe Masters for 5 days.

Talk about a roller coaster of a year. The most revealing thing, though, was that a year without the WSL gave us an insight into what the surfing world and our individual surfing lives looks like without a peak pro surfing/sporting body: Pretty much the same.

But as far as surfing on the internet goes, boy oh boy did they provide some fodder. I'm not sure it was the "content and media" the "company" had intended though.

1. The Aussie Winter Swell and that Chris Lougher Deadman's Tube

If a session was to ever be described as breaking the internet, this one was it. On Wednesday July 15 the swells aligned for Deadman's – the infamous heavy spot at South Manly in Sydney. Incredible waves were ridden, crowds gathered on headlands, and videos went viral.

"This was hands down the best wave I’ve ever seen ridden in Sydney," says Spencer Frost. The filmmaker camped up over a kilometre away on Queenscliff headland with a 1600mm lens to capture the action. And when underground local charger Chris Lougher pulled into the wave of the day, Spenny had the perfect shot.

The screenshots posted to Instagram that day had some calling it the best wave ever surfed in a city with a long storied history of waveriding.

This wasn't the only epic wave ridden on the Australian East Coast during the winter of 2020. But it exemplifies it better than any other could. An underground surfer, not being paid to surf, getting the wave of the day at his local break, and shunning the limelight that would come with it.

Bonus... The Rock Off Seen Around the World

At the other end of the spectrum from the Aussie East Coast's awesome winter, this poor soul and his attempts at rocking off where he shouldn't.

Bonus bonus... Kelly Slater Sprints Up the Beach

As I searched the internet for valuable new surfing content that had been uploaded to the internet each and every week, I once spotted this YouTube clip, titled: Kelly Slater Sprints Up the Beach. It was uploaded in August 2020 by the International Surfing Association's official YouTube account.

The title was interesting. "Kelly Slater sprints up the beach." "This could really be anything," I thought.

"Kelly Slater sprints up the beach," I repeated in my mind.

"Kelly Slater sprints up the beach," I said it aloud, to the empty room around me.

"Kelly Slater sprints up the beach," I typed it out in a blank document, just to see what it felt like.

"Kelly Slater sprints up the beach"

I finally gave it a click, and guess what... it was a video of Kelly Slater. Sprinting. Up the beach. 

Thank you, ISA. Thank you for finding these 55 seconds from the 2019 ISA World Games and uploading it to YouTube. Thank you, dear internet, for being so aggressively bizarre, always. See you in 2021.

And that was this year in surfing. Have a good new year everyone.

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