The Most Stylish Surfers Of All Time
We pay tribute to eight masters of the waves and their wardrobes
From left: Messrs Shaun Tomson, Mark Richards and Terry Fitzgerald, with unknowns, Oahu, Hawaii, 1973 Dan Merkel/ A-Frame Photos
I grew up surfing Malibu in the late 1970s. The top local surfers impressed me. They stood with hands in back pockets. They told stories with animated gestures, as if painting an imaginary canvas. They flicked bottle caps from beers. Only much later, when I saw 1960s surfing legend Mr Miki Dora in Surfers: The Movie (1990), did I realise that these guys – my heroes – had got it all from him.
What separates a surfing icon from those who follow? Originality and instinct. Toss in the ephemeral nature of the ocean, the laid-back atmosphere of the beach and you begin to see how the same guys who have it in the water, also have it on land. In fact, for most great surfers, there’s no separation between the two.
Here are MR PORTER’s nominations for the most stylish surfers of all time.
THE PIONEER: MR PHIL EDWARDS
Mr Edwards, Virginia, US, 1966 Lynn Pelham/ Sports Illustrated/ Getty Images; Mr Edwards, California, US, 1963 Jim Driver/ A-Frame Photo
Lauded as the original power surfer in the mid 1950s, Californian Mr Phil Edwards surfed with a straight back and legs bowed, his arms like a matador’s, his head cocked proudly, mightily. His style helped create the technique, image and language for surfing in America. He cranked his big board around and drew swooping turns that were widely imitated. One of surfing’s early pros, he was among the first to ride the Banzai Pipeline – often considered the world’s most deadly wave – and was also one of the first to lend his name to merchandise, including a signature board model with Hobie and a line of beachwear with Hang Ten, which would still look cool today.
THE VISIONARY: MR PETER DROUYN
From left to right: Messrs Peter Townend, Drouyn and Simon Anderson, Oahu, Hawaii, 1973 Jeff Divine/ A-Frame Photos; Mr Drouyn, Sydney, Australia, 1978 Art Brewer/ www.artbrewer.com
Mr Peter Drouyn’s CV is full of firsts: first to implement the man-on-man competition format; first to bring surfing to China; first to travel around with a board-toting caddy; and first to propose a highly detailed wave stadium, complete with leaping dolphins and a laser show. He was also an actor who wrote, directed and starred in his own plays. And he did all this in considerable style. In a photo from his trip to China, he wears a T-shirt turban-like around his head – a nod to Lawrence of Arabia. He added yet another first a few years back: on Australian national television he announced that he was living as a woman. “Peter’s gone,” she said. “My new name is Westerly Windina.”
THE ANIMAL: MR NAT YOUNG
Mr Young, Victoria, Australia, 1968 National Portrait Gallery, Canberra. Gift of John Witzig 2006 © Albert Falzon; Mr Young, Victoria, Australia, 1978 Art Brewer/ www.artbrewer.com
Australian Mr Nat Young showed up at the 1966 World Championships in San Diego, California with a 9’4” square-tail board he called Sam. It was about a foot shorter than the typical board of the time. He did not ride in the prevailing style, in which the board draws a straight line and the rider uses it as a kind of dance floor. Instead he heaved up and down the wave with great bursts of power and finesse. He won the event, thus kicking off the “shortboard revolution”, in which boards shrunk and surfers went wherever their minds could take them (it coincided perfectly with the LSD generation). Nicknamed the Animal, Mr Young was aggressive in the surf and supremely confident on land. He lived on a farm in Byron Bay, Australia, and shaped boards in the nude to get closer to the source. An author and a film-maker to boot, he also worked as a model in the 1980s and 1990s, appearing on the cover of men’s Vogue in 1989.
THE SULTAN OF SPEED: MR TERRY FITZGERALD
Mr Fitzgerald, Oahu, Hawaii, 1974 Dan Merkel/ A-Frame Photos; Mr Fitzgerald, Sydney, Australia, 1976 Jeff Divine/ Trunk Archive
Mr Terry Fitzgerald surfed with a low centre of gravity and a bow-legged stance, his blond frizzy hair like a lion’s mane, his hands clawed. He was “electroshock on a surfboard,” wrote journalist Mr Drew Kampion in Surfer in 1970. “He seemed to defy or ignore all previous surfing styles, traditions and mannerisms, and took the still-new short surfboard to its limit.” In the early 1970s, “Fitzy” founded Hot Buttered, famous for its surfboards with narrow, racy shapes and psychedelic airbrushes. One of the most photogenic surfers of his generation, he appeared in more than 24 surf films and countless magazines. He won contests in Australia, Hawaii and Indonesia and, in 1995, was inducted into the Australian Surfing Hall of Fame.
THE RUBBER MAN : MR LARRY BERTLEMANN
Mr Bertlemann, Oahu, Hawaii, 1973 Dan Merkel/ A-Frame Photos; Mr Bertlemann, after winning the Katin Contest, California, US, 1978 Art Brewer/ www.artbrewer.com
Along with his fabulous Afro, Hawaiian Mr Larry Bertlemann is famous for the “Bert,” a tight-arc turn in which he planted his hand and swivelled his hips. It became a popular skateboard move, made popular by the “dogtowners”, a group of southern California teenagers who brought surfing to the street. He was also known for being loud, daring and arrogant. “A truly gifted surfer,” wrote surf journalist Mr Phil Jarratt in 1979, “with an outrageously overblown ego.” At a time when surfers were suspicious of commercialism, he shamelessly pursued corporate sponsorship, his board bedecked in logos from Pepsi, United Airlines and Toyota. But, though he might have been difficult to listen to at times, he was spectacular to watch, all zigs and zags and flying limbs, hence his nickname, Rubberman. In addition, he was a progenitor of aerials, in which the rider launches off the wave crest then lands back on the wave face. In typical self-celebrating fashion, he called them “Larryials”.
THE PLAYER: MR BUNKER SPRECKELS
Mr Spreckels, Oahu, Hawaii, 1969 Art Brewer/ www.artbrewer.com; Mr Spreckels, Kauai, Hawaii, 1974 Art Brewer/ www.artbrewer.com
Mr Bunker Spreckels had much to celebrate. Heir to the Spreckels Sugar fortune, stepson to Mr Clark Gable, he was a teenage surf star who would soon come into a multimillion-dollar inheritance. He spun it into a surf fantasy of pomp and excess, travelling to the world’s best breaks with his gorgeous girlfriend, a personal photographer and a quiver of rocket-like boards. For a few years Mr Spreckels was surfing’s divine prince of darkness. He was a black belt in karate. He was an occultist. Mr Kenneth Anger was making a movie about him.
But things quickly spiralled into excess. There was heroin. There were handguns. In 1977, at the age of 27, Mr Spreckels died of a drug overdose. He is remembered as perhaps the most photogenic surfer of all time. In one shot he wears black bell-bottom trousers, a fur vest, studded bracelets. In his hand he wields a big knife. In another he stands shirtless, rifle in hand, a freshly killed antelope at his feet. Often dressed like a pimp, he created an alter-ego, The Player, and lived much of his life there.
THE GENTLEMAN: MR SHAUN TOMSON
Messrs Wayne Bartholomew and Tomson, Oahu, Hawaii, 1975 Dan Merkel/ A-Frame Photos;
Mr Tomson, Oahu, Hawaii, 1981 Jeff Divine/ Trunk Archive
Nineteen seventy-seven World Champion Mr Shaun Tomson’s best work took place in the tube, that little womb that’s created as a wave crest arcs over and down to the trough. He did not lock into a straight line like almost every surfer before him, but rather pumped his board up and down, his front arm like an arrow aimed for the bullseye, or, in surf lingo, “the exit”. Hailing from Durban, South Africa, Mr Tomson brought refinement to the sport. He spoke eloquently. He signed autographs thoughtfully – “Speed is the essence, power is the key, the tube is the truth.” In his post pro-surfing years he put his education and style to work, launching first Instinct and later Solitude surfwear labels.
THE REBEL: MR MIKI “DA CAT” DORA
Mr Dora, California, US, 1965 © LeRoy Grannis Collection, LLC, courtesy of M+B, Los Angeles; Mr Dora, California, US, 1961 © LeRoy Grannis Collection, LLC, courtesy of M+B, Los Angeles
Hailing from Malibu, Mr Miki Dora dominated the 1950s and 1960s dancing up and down the board in a skittish, cat-like manner that was both elegant and cool. He was surfing’s bad boy, both anti-commercialism and anti-contest. In the semi-finals of the 1967 Malibu Invitational, with thousands of spectators huddled on the beach, he took off on a wave, dropped his shorts and flashed his bare backside while riding the length of First Point. He then set off on what can only be called the greatest surf odyssey of the 20th century. Funded primarily through bogus credit cards, forged cheques and the kindness of bewitched, often deep-pocketed friends, Mr Dora gallivanted around the world riding the best waves, drinking the finest wines and living life on his own terms, all the while avoiding any semblance of “work”. His surfboard was his magic carpet and his wits were his wings, and from the late 1960s up until his death in 2002, except for a couple of brief prison stints, Mr Dora lived the endless summer lifestyle, defining what it meant to be a surfer.