“Surfers vs Apartheid” was last week’s History of Surfing chapter. The 1985 boycott of the South African pro tour contests was and remains the sport’s highest and brightest engagement with politics. And yes I know, the bar is pretty low. There are exceptions, but by and large surfers don’t join, organize, protest, march, etc. “We’re selfish,” as former world champion Nat Young said. “Surfing’s always been totally self-indulgent.” The whole point of surfing, you might say, is to disengage.
I guess that’s why, for 30-something years now, I’ve had warm feelings for Tom Carroll, Tom Curren, Cheyne Horan, and Martin Potter, the four surfers who pulled out of the ’85 South African WCT events. Sure, their motives may not have been entirely political. The season that year was a year-long marathon (21 events), and the South African prizemoney wasn’t even up to the mandated world tour minimum. The boycott episode is more complicated than what I present in History of Surfing. Nonetheless, all four surfers risked their world title chances by staying away, and all four (Carroll especially), were eloquent about the evils of apartheid. They took a stand. They broke from the official world tour line and threw a pretty damning light not just on the ASP but all of the pros who chose to compete in South Africa that year. In fact, maybe the boycott stands out in my mind because, to this day, no other pro surfers have done anything to match it.
Christmas prep had me on the run last week, but I set the eggnog down long enough to make this clip of Pipe charger Jon Damm, who I want to describe as “underground,” except he was among the most high-visibility man in the lineup for a few years there in the ’80s. I lost my mind upon first seeing Tom Boyle's cover shot of Jon on the May 1985 issue of SURFER. May your Christmas be as bright as this pic!
See you next Sunday.