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.

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. 

QUICK CLIPS: Five <5 Minute Surf Clips to Froth Over (Throwbacks)

Sometimes the waves look terrible. But sometimes you also could just be itching so hard to surf, you just need that little extra nudge to get out there and tackle the high tide or wind chop. There are a couple surefire ways to speed up the process. One of the easiest? Slam a cup of coffee and get your froth on. Sometimes you might have already had a cup or two and don’t want to push it. Sometimes all it takes is the buddy system. Phoning a friend and hoping they can also look past the meager conditions or less than favorable factors. Once there is someone with you, they can either bath in the misery of bad surf with you or share in the score. Because you need someone else to back you up that the session was fun when the cams are blue.

If you are out of joe and all your friends are occupied or MIA, then there is only one last hope to get your energy levels up and take a dip. This is the surf clip. A surefire way to get you off your ass and in boardies or a wetty. Sometimes, it is matching a clip to the waves you are going to surf. Others, it is seeing your favorite surfer blitz waves to a classic tune. The frothiest of them all however is the vintage clips you grew up on. Seeing the nostalgia and also ripping from the past makes itch to surf to make the inner kid in you happy. While it is easy to get sucked into a time warp of vintage sessions, I like to keep it quick and get out of there after 1 or 2 clips. Here are 5 vintage videos to get the gears in motion. I will describe why I like them in a single sentence.

Taj Burrow in Stranger than Fiction = Future forward style over a song from Metric in pristine pumping surf, opening with a crazy alley oop lien grab.
Bobby Martinez in Mixtape = A fellow goofy foot blitzing sections and blasting airs to hip-hop.
Andy Irons in Campaign 2 = Charging backhand turns as hard as your backhand tubes, to a song everyone knows was in your section.
Dane Reynolds in Stranger Than Fiction = Absolutely ripping in mostly beach break conditions, making it relatable and not relatable at the same time.
Parko from Free as a Dog = Scoring offshore tubes with just your mates to a song you might have been dancing to at the local watering hole the night before the score.
 Bonus: Andy Irons in Campaign = Because every Andy video section is gold.