SUNDAY JOINT, 10-21-2018

Hey All,

“How to Turn a Circus Into a Riot,” last week’s History of Surfing chapter, was smartly followed up with a fine oral history on the ’86 Op Pro riot by Ben Marcus. This story never goes away because professional surfing continues to make a lot of the same mistakes that led to that afternoon of fire and violence. Stop bringing surf competition to the masses, for starters. They’re never going to get behind it, and it tends to make the sport look ridiculous. In extreme cases, like with the ’86 Op Pro and the 2013 US Open, it can do actual physical harm. Get away from the crowds. Let fans watch on their computers and phones. There will never be a riot in Teahupoo, or Cloudbreak, or even Pipeline.

It is taking me literally years to roll out all the History of Surfing chapters, for which I apologize, and thank you for your patience, but at the same time it often feels like the whole project is in fact moving too fast. For example, Brad Gerlach got just a passing sentence or two last week (“a flamboyant San Diego County regularfooter with a smashed-in nose and a wicked forehand top-turn”), and I so wanted to hit the brakes and spend some time on the 1985 Stubbies Pro.

The Oceanside Stubbies, not the Burleigh Heads Stubbies. Brad was 19, and it was his first world tour contest. He came flying out of the Trials, beat ’84 Stubbies winner Shaun Tomson in Round One, and just kept going. I was on the beach on finals day and remember thinking that Brad was going to crack at some point. But no, he just kept winning until he met world champ Tom Carroll in the final. “The crowd was behind Brad, of course,” Bill Sharp wrote in Surfing. “But you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone to have given even 10-to-1 odds on him beating Carroll in a best two out of three final.”

Brad dusted TC two straight.

I watched every wave and the thing was never in doubt. I think Brad was having an out-of-body experience. Zero nerves. Pure aggression and focus and flow. I don’t think he found that level of comfort and dominance again, to be honest, even when he finished runner-up to Damien Hardman for the ’91 world title. But he positively glowed that afternoon at Oceanside against Tom Carroll, and it was amazing to behold.

Thanks for reading, and see you next week.


[Photos: Robert Beck]