I have been known for running down the professionalism that has crept its way into the surfing world from time to time. I want to clarify a point. It’s not competitions that I find it hard to deal with and it's not the desire to win or surf your best, those are all natural and healthy things. What I do oppose is the bland sponsor controlled interviews and good behaviour.
Surfing is not a simple thing to explain, there is so much more to it than riding waves. There are many subtleties that just get ignored, that are not discussed. Bring back Bobby Martinez (possibly the greatest goofy foot ever), give Mason Ho a shot and, for the love of god, keep things exciting with a variation in personalities, let people say what they want and not just what they need to say to sell boardshorts or bikinis.
So this is my view, like it or not. Maybe I am a dino, soon to be extinguished by the new wave of quarterback jocks who all eat guava berries and Chia seeds (sorry Kelly), who are in bed before my 7 year old son and have subscriptions to ‘Mens Health Magazine’. What's wrong with the bad old days, what's wrong with some drama, with guys and girls who (and I am not saying this ever happened) got a little tipsy the night before their heat and missed it at the Quiksilver Pro. What’s wrong with Chris Ward?
Chris Ward is (and this is a fact) recognized by Matt Biolis (shaper/owned/founder of Lost surfboards) as the most talented surfer he has ever worked with. The list of surfers who have at one time or another ridden LOST surfboards is extensive and full of colour and fame. So to put things mildly, this is a massive statement.
How stoked we were to get a few words from someone who we have idolized surf-wise for a decade or more I can not convey. Chris Ward's section in 5”5 Redux on the MR single fin was one of the coolest things I had seen and inspired me at the time to look at fins and boards differently. It’s a bit dated now but check it out.
Now we all know how and what we are talking about it is time to ask Chris some questions. It is with shaky fingers that I type these words. After all, what would you ask Chris?
SB: Hey Chris, thanks for sparing us the time, you are literally one of our favourite surfers ever. When did you start and who got you interested in surfing?
Chris: I lived in Texas until I was six years old, my parents wanted a better life for us and had the opportunity to move to California. My dad worked his ass off to get us down to California so we could enjoy the lifestyle and everything that goes with it, so that was amazing for him and us.
When we first moved down, we ended up living right next to the stairs on the north end of San Clemente by the beach, and every time I went to school I would look at the ocean, I spent my whole first year on the beach with these twins, Georgia and Jolene Smith that kind of took me under their wing. They saw me out there thrashing around on this boogie board that my parents bought me from Thriftys (which is now Right Aid), I was trying to stand up on it. The thing didn't even have a hard bottom, it was just foam all over haha. They said, hey you should try a hard board and lent me one of theirs. I was out there for an hour trying to surf, which was really cool as they were pro's back then so it was really nice of them to let me use one of their boards. When I came in they asked me if I wanted one of their old boards, the thing was all orange and red and cool colours and I was super stoked with it. The first time I tried to surf it, I pearled a couple of times and ended up with cuts all over my body from wiping out all the time.
From then I started surfing down at the pier all the time which was a twenty minute walk from my house. Being a grom was a bit different back then, half of the guys out there were really horrible, we used to get our boards buried, thrown off the pier and sometimes get 'trash bagged'. We used to get hassled a lot, but a couple of the guys were really cool and would let me catch waves and tell me to paddle out the back with them and catch a set, y'know , pretty cool.
There was this one guy, Fred Dishman who kind of ran the pier back, then. Y'know. the guy in charge. and he used to make sure no one fucked with me so I could catch waves. He actually helped me get my first custom board which was a Brian Clark. It was a 5'2, really chippy and the raddest shape I had ever seen, when I was that age I was just super stoked. I surfed all summer, all year on that board and my parents bought me a wetsuit from Rockys Surf Shop. Then I started watching videos of Tom Curren and it really made me want to surf, just the way he made the water move, he looked so polished and natural, how he surfed just made it look so effortless, like watching a symphony in the water. So I got inspired by him and then I watched Matt Archibold and Dino Andino just tearing up every swell, they were just always there and ready. They used to tear up the town too (laughs).
SB: We would love to see you in a special WSL heat of surfing legends facing off against, well. Better to ask you. Who would you like to surf against and were in a heat? Obviously, it would be pumping.
Chris: Kelly Slater at Pipeline for sure. In a heat we surfed there before I kind of feel like I got the short end of the stick because I went on a wave before the heat started, we were just practising, trading waves. It was raining and the wind was super south and gnarly blowing up the face. He looked at me like I was a grom, like 'are you going', like if you don't go I am going to go and the wave was like super sick, gnarly Backdoor 'A frame' coming in. So I whipped it around underneath the lip and went, ended up faceplanting, knocked all the wind out of me and bodysurfed the rest, then the lip landed on me so I pretty much did a 'scorpion' on a huge 8ft Backdoor wave right before the heat started [laughs].
They didn't give me enough time to paddle back out before they started the heat, so when they blew the horn I was kind of at 'Gums' almost in the channel and kind of puking from the wave before. I had just surfed five heats before to get to the final and had just beaten Andy (Irons) so I was kind of running on adrenaline then. So yeah, I would like to have a heat against Kelly at Pipe but in perfect waves though. I would say 8-10ft Pipe, it's tricky because Kelly is good at surfing everything. I am not saying I would beat him but it would be a good match. He is kind of like my hero and he would also be the one for me to beat.
SB: How important is the equipment you ride, boards fins etc to your surfing?
Chris: Well, the boards are kind of like, 75-80% of your surfing, the rest is like from your stoke or your adrenaline but the board kind of gives you the stoke when you have a good one. If you have good ju-ju (stoke), good boards and a good attitude, then you can blow it up no matter what the conditions.
SB: What advice would you give to your eighteen year old self?
Chris: [chuckles] Well, kind of stick to your mission, keep searching for good waves, go on as many boat trips and surf trips as you can. That's what taught me, from when I was seventeen I must have gone on about 25-30 boat trips. I would say, go surf heavy waves, have a good attitude in the water, meet nice people around the world and leave a good mark wherever you go and make sure you 'pull in' when you are paddling for a bomb.
SB: Not including yourself, who would you say was the most gifted surfer of all time?
Chris: Hmmm, I would say Kelly really. I mean he has his own wavepool now [laughs]. No, I mean there really is no one who comes close to touching him as far as world titles, achievements and success. I used to watch Tom Curren a lot too and of course Andy and Bruce (Irons).
SB: I see that you are riding Watermark surfboards and fins now, can you tell us how that came about?
Chris: I actually ended up surfing a Watermark board that was not even shaped for me and it was really sick. Then I got a handful shaped for me and basically, three of them were magic. So we kind of did a bit of work together on some newer slicker shapes, started hanging out more with Ollie (Watermark) and we are taking it from there.The fins are amazing, and the boards that we are making using some of my own ideas with Alex (the shaper) are pretty sick.
SB: I want to to give a huge shout out to Chris for his candid words and for sparing little old us some of his time. Chris, in this man's opinion, is one of the most exciting surfers to watch in the water, either in a contest jersey or ripping the hell out of a world class wave on his own terms. His honest and unfiltered approach to the world is like a breath of fresh air in an industry that might seem a little stale and repetitive, and for those things we, sir, salute you.
This has been one of the most exciting insights into the mind of one of my heroes who does live up to the hype. Chris Ward.