Hey All,

“How to Turn a Circus Into a Riot,” last week’s History of Surfing chapter, was paired nicely with Ben Marcus' excellent oral history on the 1986 Op Pro. This story never goes away because professional surfing continues to make a lot of the same mistakes that led to that afternoon of fire and violence. Stop trying to put surf competition in front of a bored overheated beach audience, for starters. They’re never going to get behind it, and it tends to make the sport look ridiculous. In extreme cases, like with the ’86 Op Pro and the 2013 US Open, it can do actual physical harm. Get away from the crowds. Let fans watch on their computers and phones. There will never be a riot in Teahupoo, or Cloudbreak, or even Pipeline.

What an absolutely cursed day that was in Southern California. About three hours before the riot, Aeromexico flight 498 collided with a small plane over Cerritos, killing all aboard both, and 15 more on land as well.

Scrolling through Ben's oral history for an excerpt, I found this quote from Steve Pezman, who was then publisher at SURFER. I remember this well because I was the associate editor at the time, and had done the contest write-up.

Op was our biggest advertiser. Op CEO Jim Jenks called me to his office. He asked why I ran the story, and then told me, "If a friend sees that you are standing on your dick, he doesn’t publish photos of it. He taps you on your shoulder and whispers, ‘Jim, you’re standing on your dick’.”

Leaving Orange County a few years later, and the sausage-making closeness of the entire OC-based surf industry, was possibly the best decision of my life, at the very least Top Three.

Encyclopedia of Surfing

Encyclopedia of Surfing

Encyclopedia of Surfing

It is taking me literally years to roll out all the History of Surfing chapters, for which I apologize, and thank you for your patience, but at the same time it often feels like the whole project is in fact moving too fast. For example, Brad Gerlach got just a passing sentence or two last week (“a flamboyant San Diego County regularfooter with a smashed-in nose and a wicked forehand top-turn”), and I so wanted to hit the brakes and spend some time on the 1985 Stubbies Pro.

The Oceanside Stubbies, not the Burleigh Heads Stubbies. Brad was 19, and it was his first world tour contest. He came flying out of the Trials, beat ’84 Stubbies winner Shaun Tomson in Round One, and just kept going. I was on the beach for finals day and remember thinking that Brad was going to crack at some point. But no, he just kept winning and next thing we knew he was matched in the final against reining world champ Tom Carroll. “The crowd was behind Brad, of course,” Bill Sharp wrote in Surfing. “But you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone to have given even 10-to-1 odds on him beating Carroll in a best two out of three final.”

Brad dusted Tom in two straight.

I watched every wave and the thing was never in doubt. I think Brad was having an out-of-body experience. Zero nerves. Pure aggression and focus and flow. I don’t think he found that level of comfort and dominance again, to be honest, even when he finished runner-up to Damien Hardman for the ’91 world title. But he positively glowed that afternoon at Oceanside against Tom Carroll, and it was amazing to behold.

Encyclopedia of Surfing

Encyclopedia of Surfing

Thanks for reading, and see you next week.


[Photos: Robert Beck, Mike Balzer]