Is This Man the Coolest Surfer Ever?

Surfing’s primo historian names his #1
By
Staff Writer

Jeff Divine

Surfing’s always been cool, right? (It might be considered the opposite of  in-line skating, which was once cool and now most definitely isn’t. See Majka Burhardt’s personal confession here.)

If surfing is supremely cool, we should care who the coolest surfer in history was, shouldn’t we? That person must be really cool.

Surf writer Matt Warshaw would know. A semi-retired hard-core short-boarder and former world-ranked competitor (regularfooter) himself, Warshaw is said to have written “more cogent words on the sport than any other human”—including both The History of Surfing and The Encyclopedia of Surfing.  When Surfer (on the occasion of The Encyclopedia of Surfing going digital) recently asked him about surfing cool, and cool surfers, we paid attention.

First off, Warshaw approached the subject in general with some cultural detachment (which was cool).

“Surfers really just did one cool thing, which was to be counterculture with a smile. To be really for something and not especially against anything; to be counterculture and athletic at the same time…. “Cool” is one of those words that makes my head hurt a little, trying to think of what it actually means, but yeah, surfing was cool for a while there…. And when surfing wasn’t cool anymore, it became, and will forever remain, one of the great marketing mother-lodes of cool.”

OK, not always cool. But regardless of the ebb and flow of surf chill, and wherever we are with that now, is there one surfer cooler than the rest? Yes. This guy. He certainly looks the part.

“Barry Kanaiaupuni. He surfed exactly the way he wanted to surf, which was like nobody else. He won contests, but didn’t really care about competing. Never looked to be hero-worshipped but was good enough to accommodate it. I saw an old interview clip with BK recently, and he was laughing at himself, saying he raised his hand on the beach at Waimea the morning they were trying to figure out if they should hold the finals of the Smirnoff, when the surf was like 40 feet. Greatest power surfer of all time, and he raised his hand and said he didn’t want anything to do with those waves. He got voted down, shrugged, went out, caught the bomb of the day, and got annihilated. Listening to him recall that episode, I had the same thought as when I watch clips of him surfing: that this is the coolest man to ever set foot on a board.”

Read the whole interview here.

And, if you haven't heard about it yet, Warshaw plans to put his entire Encyclopedia—the "greatest collection of surf matter on the planet"—up on the web. Yes, right here, for all of your procrastination/day-dreaming needs. Check out his Kickstarter video describing the project:

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