Over the years there have been a lot of great surfers who were more or less specialists in one aspect.
Some have been expert big wave riders, others have been expert small wave riders and expert mid-size surfers.
For example, you have guys like Greg Noll who was famous for fearlessly surfing giant waves but was pretty much an average little surfer. On the other hand, there was the great East Coast champion Gary Proper, the dude could ride tiny waves better than anyone else. But he didn’t like fat people.
Many surfers are also remembered for parts of the surf that they were really good at.
Like David Nuuhiwa, who was the tallest noserider of the great noseriding era of the 1960s. Barry Kanaiaupuni was well known for his monster low turns at Sunset Beach on the North Coast.
Mike Purpus was well known for having “the best reduction in the business”. Billy Hamilton and Skip Frye were both respected for having extremely beautiful surfing styles. Gerry Lopez was the man when it came to pipe driving and was actually nicknamed “Mr. Pipeline”, taking the title from the great Butch Van Artsdalen.
There are also some who have been able to edit well whatever was thrown at them. They are special human beings. Kelly Slater would be the one that immediately comes to mind.
From the tiny ankle snappers of Cocoa Beach to the giant waves of Waimea Bay, Slate is no problem. Guys like Peter Townend, Jock Sutherland, John Peck, Michael Ho, Reno Abellira, Rolf Aurness, and Jeff Hackman are also on the dance card in this category. There is more, but my space is limited here.
To go further, there is an even rarer surfer breed that could be classified as “All Around Watermen”. These are guys who not only excel in all types of surf conditions but are able to do something else as well.
The first that come to mind are George Downing and Mike Doyle. These two guys were not only great surfers in all kinds of conditions, but they were world class paddle racers as well.
Doyle was known as “Iron Man” or “Iron Mike” for his prowess in surfing, canoeing, dory races, body surfing and swimming – all lifeguard stuff. In the mid-1960s, I thought he was the greatest big wave surfer, along with probably Eddie Aikau. He also invented the “mono ski”, which would later become the “snowboard”.
And then came Laird Hamilton. He’s the guy who took it all to a whole different world.
He’s pretty much directly responsible for bringing us the towed surf. This opened up the possibility of surfing waves that are much bigger than ever. Waves too big to paddle with a board.
He also took us to both stand up paddle surfing and foil surfing. Laird boldly went where no one had gone before. When they had vocabulary at school, they never gave him the word fear. He had none of that.
And the latest surftronaut is the amazing Kai Lenny. At just 29 years old this guy picked up where Laird left off and is going to new extremes in all phases of surfing. He is a total expert as a surfer, stand up paddle surfer, stand up paddle racer, windsurfer, kite surfer, foil surfer and probably every other type of surfer.
I am in awe of the guy. I see a video of him shredding all kinds of waves on all kinds of gear and it blows my mind.
It’s one thing to be good at one thing, but it’s amazing to be an expert at several things, all at the same time. People like Downing, Doyle, Hamilton and Lenny are great examples of all-around watermen who in their own pace and way have taken things to new levels.
I give them immense respect.