Hey All,

You'd need to be a lot deeper in the competitive surfing weeds than I am these days to have seen, live, the bungled hit job Erica Maximo of Portugal laid on Australian Willow Hardy during a four-surfer repercharge heat at the recent ISA World Junior Championships in El Salvador. The set-up is a little complicated, but basically time was running down and Hardy needed a low score to advance. Maximo herself was out of contention, but her teammate would be eliminated if Hardy got the score, so Maximo decided to sabotage Hardy final wave and take the interference, to ensure her friend would advance. The result was a squalid bit of surf comedy. Maximo, paddling out, turns around and sneaks into the wave behind the already-riding Hardy. Maximo rides prone for a bit, stands, and immediately shoves and bumps rails with Hardy, who is now hopping and turning as she looks for the score; Maximo then leans forward and yells something at Hardy. A few moments later, falling off her board, Maximo reaches out and tries to pull Hardy's leash. The Aussie, somehow, remains unfazed throughout. The response was swift. Online uproar, public shaming, official statements, DQ for Maximo, followed by her tearful Instagram apology.

If you're jaded enough to see humor in this woeful little pas de deux, as I am, do we also agree that the best part is the announcer, lashed to surfing's Wall of Positive Noise (or Positive Void, in this case), absolutely refusing to call the action? 

"Blue up and riding, 45 second remaining." Mayhem onscreen—silence on the mic. Time passes.

"Thirty-five seconds." More dead air.

"Twenty-five seconds." Continued silence as the rides finally plays out, with Hardy stepping off her board, turning, and flipping off Maximo. She got the score. Her result helped push Australia to victory in the Teams competition.

Encyclopedia of Surfing

What would Peter Drouyn think? More specifically, how would he score it? Drouyn is remembered today for many things, and although I wish his actual wave-riding were ranked higher among his achievements—for five or six years, beginning in 1966, Drouyn was a dark horse contender in any robust world's-best-surfer debate—I suppose his greatest gift was to promote surfing's one-on-one competition format. You silverbacks out there will recall that this happened in 1977, at the debut Stubbies Pro, held in fantastic overhead point tubes at Burleigh Heads. What you may not know is that Drouyn had what he thought was another ace up his kimono: Contact surfing. "We're gonna see guys trying to make it through to the next round any way they can," Drouyn said to Phil Jarratt before the Stubbies contest while discussing the new "effective cheating" rules Peter had just unveiled. The conversation continued:

Meanwhile, the judges are still awarding points for surfing, the same way they would in a standard competition.

It’s surfing in two categories, yes—physical and creative. The cheating rule is there to give the contest character.

By "character" you mean . . .

A bit of bloody flair. Something more concrete than what you get in a regular contest; some contact, physical and mental. The surfers need to vibrate off each other in a way that the judges and the spectators can really feel and appreciate. Like in boxing. Allow the surfers to touch each other. Encourage it. Let my opponent look at me and say “Fuck you,” or ”I love you,” or “Let’s fight it out to the end.” Let’s have some contact.

Peter Drouyn
peter drouyn, kirra, dick hoole

But surely you’re not suggesting that surfing is a real contact sport?

Phil, it can be. I feel it’s the only way surfing is going to become a big money sport. Contact both physically and mentally. A blow must be thrown. I mean, I can dance around a ring for my whole heat, showing style, but what’s the judge going to say? "Oh, Drouyn's got a lot of style. He would have done well if there’d been a fight." There must be contact in surfing. A guy can actually whip his opponent off the wave, and they come onto the beach and have a fight if they like. That’s okay. We won’t give any bonus points for it, but the important thing is that they can beat each other up.

One-on-one heats were a hit, contact surfing was not, and I think we all agree that was the right way to go. But credit Drouyn for keeping things interesting and entertaining—for always giving us, as promised, "a bit of bloody flair."

gavin rudolph, pat flanagan,

Speaking of flair, I spent part of last week working on a new clip for South Africa's original WCT pro Gavin Rudolph (which includes, charmingly, possibly the smallest J-Bay waves ever filmed; 15-year-old Rudolph is so talented he makes those knee-ticklers look super fun), and that led me back to the 1971 Smirnoff Pro-Am. Gavin took the win, and if there's a bigger upset victory in the history of pro surfing, I don't know about it. Gavin was 18, just four-weeks out from his mandatory South African Defense Force service, on his first visit to Hawaii. He rode Sunset for the first time, on a brand-new board, the day before the Smirnoff. He finished runner-up in his six-man prelim, runner-up again in the semifinals, and paddled out for the final, with Sunset holding steady at 8-10', against an absolute murderer's row of North Shore veterans, including Jeff Hakman, the Aikau brothers, Ben Aipa, Bill Hamilton, and Owl Chapman. Nobody would have held it against Rudolph had he simply disappeared for the 65-minute heat. Instead, he calmly put himself in the lead during the opening minutes, kept his nerve, and closed the door by shouting Hamilton off the wave of the day to nail a perfect score. As SURFER put it, "Gavin was one notch fuller-on than anyone else."

Or as Rudolph himself explained, "The other guys surfed Sunset like it should be surfed, where I sort of surfed it like it shouldn't be surfed, but should be surfed, you know what I mean?"

gavin rudolph, smirnoff pro, 1971
gavin rudolph, sunset beach, smirnoff pro, 1971, dan merkel

Would the 1971 Smirnoff be even more memorable had Gavin, after his perfect score, paddled back out and said, "I love you" to BIll, and if Bill had responded by chasing Gavin to the beach for a bit of Freddy Blassie-style "contact?"

Again, I think not. Here we are 50-something years later having a laugh at the idea—but we're also fascinated by an Instagram clip of two young CT hopefuls going at each other just as Drouyn envisioned in 1977, which maybe doesn't prove his point, exactly, although I'd say it pretty strongly makes the case that surf competition by and large remains, as Peter suggests, a quart or two low on flair.

That said, I'm looking forward to the Teahupoo contest this week!

Thanks for reading, and see you next Sunday,


[Photo grid, clockwise from top left: 1971 Smirnoff competitors—left to right: Ryan Dotson, Owl Chapman, Ben Aipa—by Art Brewer; Eddie Aikau at the '71 Smirnoff; Peter Drouyn; Gavin Rudolph at J-Bay, by Dan Merkel; pro wrestling in the 1960s; Erica Maximo in white, Willow Hardy in blue, 2024 ISA World Championships. Hardy on the first day of competition at the ISA Juniors. Drouyn kissing his mauler before the '77 Stubbies, photo by Martin Tullemans. Drouyn at Kirra, photo by Dick Hoole. Gavin Rudolph surfing Cape Town, photo by Pat Flanagan. Gavin winning the Smirnoff, surf shot by Dan Merkel]