Greatness In Two Leagues: WSL X NBA

Many years ago, there was a Surfline article comparing Kelly and Kobe. Not the comparison I made, but still cool to see surf media try to branch out.

There are really only 2 sports I follow closely. First, and probably the easier one to guess, is surfing. It’s been the sport and lifestyle my existence has revolved around and something I have known since the beginning of my life. I follow the sport in all realms-competition, trending surfers, the next big things, and anything else you can think of. I work in the industry, which also helps keep me pretty tapped into the latest and greatest. But the other sport I tend to enjoy watching and try to follow a bit is basketball. Now, it’s definitely not at the level of surfing. In surfing, I watch events from the QS and tune in when I can. This would almost be the equivalent of watching a G league event (at least at the QS1000s). But I do watch a decent chunk of hoops and do like to follow the NBA. There are so many great players (much like surfing) that it’s just enjoyable to watch no matter who’s on the court (with slight exceptions). 

I feel like I recall seeing this exact article, but last Saturday as I was milling around my house I got the idea stuck in my head. Let’s compare some of my favorite or most iconic surfers to those in the NBA. It’s pretty easy to draw comparisons in the sphere of elite athletes, as no matter how different the activity could be, the mindset and work ethic stays the same. Read below if you enjoy surfing, basketball, the NBA, the WSL, or none of it and just want to read some recent words from me.

2 GOATS- MICHAEL JORDAN AND KELLY SLATER

I could go into detail about the accolades of both of these athletes-but I don’t think I really need to. If you’ve had an ounce of interest in either sport of basketball or surfing-these are the two household names. Although their accolades are slightly different (Kelly being the leader by a mile of most world titles-Jordan not having the most titles but putting on crazy performances), the way they transcended the sport and have become larger than life is what puts them at GOAT status. Jordan blitzed the field on the court and then built one of the largest shoe empires in the world. Kelly was the first surfer to mingle with superstar status, collect the most world titles and wins ever, and still competes to this day at a high level. To me, their greatest of all time status is undeniable. 

2 PROLIFIC PLAYERS- KOBE BRYANT AND ANDY IRONS

On first glance, you may think this comparison might be linked to the fact that we lost both of these legends of the sport at an earlier age than we might have liked (both due to very different circumstances). As tragic of an ending both of these suffered, I think the thing that really puts these two icons in the world of comparison is how they performed in their respective jerseys. Andy and Kobe were both killers. No matter how nice they might have been outside competition or how close of friends they were with their opponent-when it was game time all bets were off. Raw talent mixed with this undeniable will to win made these two legends challenge some of the best athletes in their sport and come out on top. Both had an insane reign of dominance during some of the golden eras of their respective sports, and won’t be forgotten as they etched their names into the history books of surfing and basketball. 

THE GOATS OF THE PRESENT-LEBRON JAMES AND JOHN FLORENCE 

If you took a poll of 100 surfers and 100 basketball players and asked them who has been the most dominant player and surfer in the last couple years-you’d probably get ¾’s of the answer to sound like this: Lebron James and John John Florence. While it’s hard to compare the household nameness since basketball has a much broader audience-you’d be hard pressed to meet a surfer who doesn’t have JJF in their top 5. Both are super likeable and have put on jaw dropping performances over the last couple of seasons. While Lebron has more competition success, John John is no slouch and has dropped some of the gnarliest freesurf clips and insane, full production movies of recent memory. As well as becoming a back to back world champion-which is no easy feat in the world of surfing. . At the start of the WSL and NBA season, no matter what’s going on in either league, one question is always posed: Can they win another?

UNDENIABLE ABILITY (WHETHER YOU LIKE IT OR NOT) KEVIN DURANT AND GABRIEL MEDINA

In every sport, some off the field (or court [or surf]) antics can really make fans have a bitter taste in their mouth. I can’t think of two more perfect people in their respective sports for this than Kevin Durant and Gabriel Medina. Medina has been heralded as one of the greatest competitors since Kelly Slater. Some seasons, NBA analysts will claim Durant is the best player in the NBA. Both have less than ideal ways they have gotten to their championships-but you would have to be a casual fan or in denial to not believe these two are not some of the best in the sport. Whether you like it or not KD and Medina are here to stay and push the sport like the people before them did. 

THE BEST TO NEVER WIN THE CHIP- ALLEN IVERSON AND TAJ BURROW

Always the bridesmaid, but never the bride. These two are heralded as absolute legends of the sport, but will always have a chink in their armor of never winning a championship. Most fans can overlook it for the sheer impact both these athletes have had on their sport, but you have to think that it’s gotta hurt that both have gotten so close but never tasted the number one spot. 

X FACTOR THAT DOESN’T TRANSLATE TO WINS- RUSSEL WESTBROOK AND JULIAN WILSON

Much like the two above, Julian Wilson and Russell Westbrook have explosive styles during their time of play. Heralded to both be future champions, things just haven’t worked out. Julian has gotten so close he could taste it, Russell has almost made it many times. Both have put out crazy highlight reels and stats in their careers, but these accolades and numbers have not equaled a championship-yet. Julian has tapped out, but with Russell’s new teammates, I think his time is now. 

CONSISTENT EXCELLENCE- TIM DUNCAN AND MICK FANNING

The players favorite players. It seems like a lot of the current crop of top 10 surfers would cite Mick as one of their favorite surfers-thanks to a combo of solid foundational technique and competitive prowess. To be honest, I’m not sure how Tim Duncan’s peers viewed him, but the bond he had with his team and coach led him to 5 championships, all from pure fundamentals and a keen understanding of the game of basketball. Like the title says-these two just produced consistent excellence throughout the length of their careers. 

THE GREAT WITH ONLY 1 CHIP- DIRK NOWITSKI AND PARKO

One is better than none. Two top level performers of the 2010s and both retiring around the same time, Parko and Dirk both were considered masters at their strong suits in the sport-but the elusive world championship win had eluded both for a large chunk of their career. There are plenty of players that never win a championship, but the willpower of both Dirk and Parko is what drove them both to their maiden victory. Funnily enough-Parko would end up defeating Kelly Slater to earn his world title, while Dirk and his team defeated the red hot Miami Heat-led by Lebron James.

More Kobe. The time he spoke with the USA Surfing Association in leading up to the Olympics.

378 SURFS

THE PHOTO THAT MARKED SESSION 366.

It was the tail end of December of 2019 as I was chopping it up with my fellow Catch Surf Sales Associates at the Laguna Store. I could be found here one day on the weekend (typically Saturdays) stamping sticks and selling softies. I am not one to make New Year’s resolutions, as it always just seemed like another year with a different 4 digit number attached. On top of this, I never thought I didn’t already surf a bunch. Ask most of my friends and they have no problem vouching for my froth: subpar conditions can’t stop me if I want to go surf or have excess time to do so in the day. It’s just been ingrained in me that a surf at some point during the day makes the day a whole lot better. So as I was shooting the shit with one of my coworkers, I had somehow come up with the idea to try to surf everyday as a New Year’s challenge of sorts. Plenty of people surf everyday, believe it or not. I wouldn’t say a lot, but you hear stories of people surfing consecutively for years. Inspiring shit. And me typically surfing when I can didn’t seem like a tall task to try everyday.

I had leaked my resolution to others and a common problem was brought up: I like to do things that might not be close to an ocean. I immediately remembered I would not be surfing Coachella weekend, and other events that could pop up during the year could derail me from this goal. On top of this, I anticipated going back east at some point, and there are not always waves in NJ. So we settled for the next best thing: surfing 365 sessions (it was a leap year, so this became 366 funnily enough).

The stage was set. I had to surf most likely every day and more common than not twice some days to achieve this goal. Now mind you, if the waves were good and I had the time I was no stranger to putting up three sessions in one day. But as I become older and gain more responsibility at work and with life in general, these were less frequent than you would think. But still prevalent, especially in the summer with fun south swells and warm water temps. I would catalog my sessions in a google doc, eager to compile the data at the end of the year. To also up the ante, I decided to track “good” surfs and “bad surfs”. This is the data that has the grayest area. What is a good surf? I definitely know what a bad surf is-everyone does. But what metric would we hold accountable for this. And what counts as a session? Let’s break it down real quick.

A session was pretty simple- 3 waves or 10 minutes. I had a couple of these, but the bulk of my sessions were 30 minutes at least. On top of this, if I had been out of the water for close to a half an hour before going back in, this would count as two. To some this might sound strange. But let me paint a picture: you are surfing Lowers, packed some snacks, maybe two boards, and a lot of water. For me, many times I find myself peaking early or late, having a great start or great ending on my Lowers sessions. I split sessions up because if I did two 1.5-2 hour shifts on the cobbles, one would most likely be better than the other. Often I would be switching boards as well, so that clearly must be another session. I would say the bulk of these split up sessions come from Lowers or an all-day beach day in Newport that involved a couple quick dips.

Now for the “good” vs “bad” surfs. First, we need to consider the conditions (something which I stupidly thought did not need to be logged in my spreadsheet). A good surf in subpar conditions might be below average in really good surf. As a surfer who spends a lot of time in the water, you know what feels good versus what doesn’t. So here’s how I logged it: if the waves were below average, a good wave could be one good turn or a tube or an air. When I say below average, think of gutter surf. Really bad waves. The bar is incredibly low. As waves got better, the same still applied for the most part. As long as it was deemed a tube, a tube gave any session gave it a mark to enter the “good pile”. Not every session you luck into a barrel. For me, airs were the same although I know the difference between a shitty low air and just a low air. For turns, one hammer turn or a two turn combo would suffice, and if I could rattle off 3 decent turns on a wave the deed was done.

Now that the details are ironed out, let’s talk about the end product and what I learned. I ended this crusade on December 15th. I was unsure if I would finish early. At my best, I was 20 surfs ahead of schedule. At my worst, about 15 surfs behind. Digging out of that hole was a grind. But you can essentially match up your session number with the literal number of the date. December 15th was 350. I always knew I would get to 366. Even if I had to do triple sessions over the weekends and sacrifice surfing fun and good waves. I am glad I didn’t have to. While at some moments it was rather tiresome, we got there. Here are the takeaways I got from a year spent in the salt.

DO USE THE CAMS-DON’T TRUST THEM

In the digital world we inhabit, there are so many resources at our disposal to make getting a fun surf easy. The most obvious are the Surfline cams. When I wake up, the first thing I do is check surfline. I roll over post-alarm and pull up Surfline and start cam surfing. Where I live, there are 25 surfline cameras within a 5-10 minute drive of my house. Now when I say DO use the cams, this is to see some factors that would help you decide on whether or not you want to surf. Wind and tide are the easiest two. Too high? Wait. Wind up? Sleep in a little and surf when it’s more sunny. We wake up early to catch glassy conditions- if the winds up the session already has a damper on it. Unfortunately, I surfed many onshore mornings and sometimes they are fun, most times they are not. DON’T trust the cams. There have been so many sessions where the cam looked average to below-average and it ended up really fun. There are tons of blind spots for the cameras so if you surfed yesterday and the report is similar, trust your knowledge over the stream. 

A SURF TO START THE DAY JUST FEELS RIGHT

No matter how bad the waves were, how cold the waves were, how crowded the lineup was, it always feels good to get wet. When there is swell on tap and you have been surfing a bit, the allure of a shitty session has a little less power. But if you’ve been out of the water for a while or just are a little stressed, getting a rinse in is essential. If you work all day, wake up early and get on it. Start work early and can’t get the dawnie? Go out for the last hour and watch the sunset from the water. I know most surfers can back me up on this one.

HAVE A DIVERSE QUIVER-SURF DIFFERENT WAVES

Now, I know not everyone has a quiver of boards. But hear me out: there are essentials boards to have to make surfing more frequently way less of a chore. Obviously, when the waves are good, you need a proper shortboard (if that’s your style). But in most cases, the waves are more often poor than pumping. So, you’ll need some boards that inspire you when the waves look pretty shitty. A fish can do wonders for your surfing. I once wrote about how a fish can help your surfing (read here). But as far as getting out when the waves aren’t looking too hot, the fish is the go-to route. Something flatter, with more foam, and less fins typically is the formula for fun when the waves are dribbly. Another good addition to the quiver is a soft top. Riding soft tops is just more fun. I don’t know what it is about it, but it is not hard to go soft. Whether it’s packing walled closeouts or just cruising, softies bring a smile to your face. Surf different waves on different boards. Nothing gets more tiresome than surfing the same kind of wave. Hunt some tubes. Cook some turns. Try to launch some airs. Keep it spicy. You have to if you want to put up numbers. When you get tired of a board, try it at a different wave. When you get tired of a wave, try a different board.

THE BEST WAY TO BECOME A BETTER SURFER IS TO SURF

You can workout, study surf clips, or do whatever you might think will improve your surfing. But when it comes down to it: the only way to get better at surfing is to surf. I think a lot of skill just comes from comfort standing up on the board. And every surf you’ll at least stand up. I’d be gassing you up a little if I said you could progress your surfing by surfing shit waves. You can, but it’s hard to work on open face carves when it’s 2 foot and walled. You can learn a lot just from drawing different lines and different boards and conditions. But surfing when the waves are fair to good is definitely when you get the best return on investment. But like I said- surfing in general will excel your ability on the board.

SURF WITH FRIENDS BUT ALSO SURF ALONE

Surfing with friends is almost always more fun than surfing alone. Having someone to talk to in the lineup, split waves with, and can see your sick ones is what surfing is all about. I am lucky to have a ton of friends that surf and live within very close proximity, so it isn’t that hard to link up with some friends for a surf. It is a little tougher with my early bird schedule and before work surfs, but when it’s warm and the waves are good almost everyone is on board. However, sometimes the solo session is warranted. There is nothing quite like scoring waves by yourself. As this doesn’t happen often in California, there are still pockets of time that you can sneak out for a session of fun wedges with just your lonesome self. Surfing alone gives you a lot of time to think, which can be good and bad. But sometimes I really like just waking up and enjoying a quiet morning of surf. Don’t worry- if I don’t know you I’ll still talk to you in the lineup. But sometimes silence is golden.

That’s it. There’s probably more, but I will spare you the time I have already made you lose. I encouraged anyone who would like to surf as much as they can in 2021 to do it.

I SURF BECAUSE…

Parallels with one of my favorite surfers.

Now I am aware the title is rather cheesy, but let me explain. I surf quite a bit. Almost every day if I am lucky. And if you follow me on Instagram, you watch me surf quite a bit via the Surfline cams (sorry). But it’s not easy. Well, sometimes it’s easy. When the waves are pumping, I am sold on the idea the night before. Sometimes even days before. I check Surfline so much that I am always tapped in to what the next couple days will bring. If it really looks good, I go to bed excited. When I was younger, I often had trouble going to sleep in anticipation of swell (a feeling pretty similar to christmas, as waves on the east coast are far less abundant than that of the west coast). When the forecast looks good, it’s not hard to go surfing.

But back to when it is hard to get in the water. When the waves are small. When it’s windy outside. When your boards are dinged. When the waters cold. When the air is cold. Blah blah blah. There are so many more reasons as to why I shouldn’t surf than why I should. But for me, I never had a problem overlooking all of these negative factors. I just loved to surf. Day in and day out. I think it stems back to being wave starved on the east coast. But even when I am home, I am chomping at the bit to get wet. It’s just ingrained in my brain at this point. Surfing = fun. Who doesn’t want to have fun?

But, contrary to popular belief, surfing is far from fun sometimes. Bad waves, eggy crowds, or just not surfing up to your usual standard can bog down any session. Sure, all it takes is one wave to turn that frown upside down, but I’ve had sessions where even an immaculately surfed wave couldn’t make me forget the 30 waves I surfed horribly. 

I am sure people from the outside looking in wonder why I (and everyone else who surfs before their work, surfs instead of other obligations, or just is surf obsessed) surf so much. Especially those who hear me say “yeah the waves were shit” upon exiting the water or getting home. There’s just much more to it than the actual act of surfing. Let’s let one of my (late) favorite surfers explain:

I never knew AI and I would have so much in common. First off, we’ve both lost to girls in a surf contest. While he has a little bit more pride in his stride considering he is a 3x world champ, it’s a commonality nonetheless. Speaking of girls, we hear Andy mention one of the reasons he started surfing was that it would get him chicks. Take it from me, it doesn’t. I mean, maybe the odd few, but no one cares if you surf. It’s sometime seen as cool, but who care? I too had all these illustrious ideas in my head of what surfing would get me. Girls, social status, “being cool”. But the thing surfing gives me is something that isn’t really tangible. And is by far the most important thing I get out of hopping in the water.

The 3 minute piece ends with “I surf because I am always a better person when I come in.” Let me preface this real quick: this is not how it used to be or how it always was for me. If you knew me in my younger years and even on a (now extremely) rare occasion at the age of 25, if I had a bad surf you can tell. Before I went away for college, I really would act like a girl. After I landed at school in California, I knew I had to grow up. These temper tantrums would look foolish. But it still was really easy to tell how pissed off I was after a shit surf. A bad surf put me in a terrible mood twice as potent than when a good surf put me in a happy mood. But as I grew older, I soon realized how to just kick this embarrassing habit and enjoy surfing for what it is.

Long story short (kudos to you if you’ve made it this far) surfing makes me a better person. I don’t particularly know how or why, and I feel like many others would agree with this strange phenomenon. I mean hell, even Andy felt the same way. I just look back to times where surfing wasn’t as prevalent in my life or I couldn’t get a session as easily and correlate it to that being the source of my problems (or the reason my problems felt little relief). Sure, my demons aren’t anywhere near the magnitude of the late Andy Irons or others in this world, but everyone has their own problems and down days. It’s not always sunny. But for me, the ocean is the only way to rinse them off and part the clouds. And I am fortunate to now live in a wave rich environment where it isn’t that hard to get wet. Having a good session at this point is just the icing on the cake.

HAVING A FAVORITE SURFER

Having a favorite surfer (or athlete, in any sport) is something really cool. It’s someone to root for during contest time, study their movements, and try to figure out as much as you can about that one person. If you could do what they do even with an ounce of similarity, you’d be able to sleep great that night. While you obviously could work on layup packages similar to your favorite point guard or practice dribbling like your idol, I feel like surfing is one of the sports where you can really try to follow in the footsteps of your idols. There are enough factors to get you closer and closer to your dream. Sure, you can wear the same kicks as your favorite all star, but it won’t dramatically affect the way you play. Jump on a surfboard similar to your idols and you will be forced to draw lines that are dictated by the piece of foam. Then, you need to watch all your favorite surfers movements in hopes of imitation. If you look up to the same surfers as me, it is pretty obvious we will never replicate their form, as they are of the highest caliber of surfing. But we can try! Here are 4 guys I’d love to surf like (and sometimes try my best to do it): 

ETHAN EWING: HOW TO SURF

In 2020, Ethan Ewing is the surfer I would most want to imitate. With immaculate railwork, massive spray, and a relaxed style reminiscent of the surfer below, he embodies what my surfing goals that will never be. I’ve backed EE for some time now, and he is finally getting the recognition he deserves. (Mick ain’t too bad to watch either). 

ANDY: THE ONE

Andy was one of the only surfers that could consistently give Kelly Slater a run for his money during his heyday. Never backing down from a section and charging massive waves Andy had no fear. Next time I shy away from a section I’ll think how Andy will surf it and go full commitment on the next. 

BOBBY: BACKHAND ATTACK

One of the best backhands surfing has ever seen and one of the standout surfers from a wave that shaped my surfing (Rincon), Bobby Martinez surfs so tack sharp and is loyal to the rail. Jamming in 2-3 turns where most could fit one, Bobby surfs incredibly light, powerfully. 

MEDINA: THE FLY BOY

While Ethan is my surfing goals, it sure would be cool to be able to surf like Medina. One of the best tube riders in the sport, highest flyers, and has a razor sharp forehand and backhand. While people hate Medina for his out of the water antics and competition tactics, denying his ability would be pretty kooky. 

Meet Your Next Surfboard

Besides Asher Pacey, this is the benchmark for high performance fish surfing (Asher’s boards have a lot more high-performance attributes to them, whereas Burch rides more traditional fishes, what I am trying to get you on).

To keep something fresh, sometimes changes need to be made. Mindset, environment, etc. The list goes on and on. Some people might fear change. This is definitely a problem, considering no man or woman has achieved greatness by staying stagnant or true to their routine for too long. Sure, having something dialed feels good and if they are good habits and routines keep them going. But the old saying goes “variety is the spice of life”, so incorporating things outside of your comfort zone is essential for development. 

Hard cut. 

Everyone should own a fish. And no, not a gold or beta fish. A surfboard fish. It can be a twin fin or a quad fin fish. Ideally, start with a twinnie. If you happen to be my friend and ever talk about what board you want next, you’ve heard of this spiel. Unless you have a concrete image of the board you want, I always recommend a fish. A fish is classic. A fish has truly lasted throughout the test of time, and are having a huge resurgence. You probably see just as many fishes as shortboards in the lineup of recent (especially back home, where waves are tiny and weak).

There are two main reasons I recommend someone starts riding a fish. The first one is that it gets you in the water when the waves don’t look that fun. Personally, I think fishes tend to almost work best on medium to bigger canvases. It’s hard to fit such a wide and voluminous board in such small curvers. But having a short, wide, chunky twin fin fish can get you out there when it’s two-feet-and-firing. The glide these boards give you is unlike any other. The fish can help get you in the water when it is tiny. Take off and instantly you get a burst of speed. Catching waves is also a breeze, and you have to catch small waves first before you can surf them. Also in the bad wave spectrum, super fat reform waves are also the bread and butter for a fish. Generating speed easily and having the float and glide to get back to the power source or hop to another power source on the same wave are how the fish fries fat waves. A low rocker and middle to front of the board wide point help you catch waves and glide effortlessly. 

Now on the other hand, owning a fish and riding it in both good waves and bigger waves can really open a new realm to your surfing. Riding different boards forces you to draw different lines. And the line you can draw on a fish is a fast one. Whether it is highlining a section instead of going low or getting in front of the wave before burning speed going back to the lip are things a fish is more conducive to rather than your standard shortie. Since the board isn’t as sleek as your regular shortboard, having a bigger more slopey than steep wave really grants you a blank canvas to paint upon. Riding a fish in these waves makes it really hard to get back on a regular board afterwards. And I know I am not the only one who feels this way. 

The lines you learn to draw on your twinnie can really open up new routes and ways to plane when you hop back on a shortboard. Also in this same realm, getting the feel of the twinnie and then hopping to a quad fish will just elevate the ability to rip the same lines. Currently, I am stuck on quads. The amount of speed you can generate is incredible, and works quite well at walled beach breaks or gutless reforms (unfortunately the bulk of what I surf). Surfing your shortboards with the same flow and routine you might on your twinnie will eliminate extra pumps and help you draw cleaner, smoother lines. You will learn how to ride the contour of the wave for speed instead of hopping around pumping. In surfing, speed is your best friend. So gaining it effortlessly is always an added bonus. 

If you don’t have a fish yet in your quiver, get on it. This is for my friends on both the east and west coasts. Getting those sneaky fun sessions when no one is out (almost impossible in California but very apparent in New Jersey) really keeps the stoke high. The days when you don’t expect a surf and end up scoring a fun little 30 minutes or hour are when you leave the water with the biggest smile (only tied with when the waves are absolutely cooking). I know, surfboards aren’t the cheapest things in the world. But next time you are looking to grab a freshie, looks towards the fun twin finned fish to round out your quiver.

This is more realistic: smaller waves with no push featuring Mr. Burch.