Does it really matter what one rides or who pays the bills when they cast a pleasing silhouette like this? Not really, but we thought it was worthwhile to explore a little deeper.
Bohemian Rhapsody In The South Pacific
Unpacking the curious existence of the modern day surf ambassador.
We’re here on a strike venture in the South Pacific, chasing blips with two faces from the outer rim of commercial surfing. You haven’t seen them on the webcast or in any kind of high performance feature film. They’re professional surfers – in the sense that they’re paid to do it – but they’re part of a new generation; creatives, multi-shape enthusiasts… ambassadors. Stab’s been invited along to find out what ‘ambassador’ even means in surf in 2017, and whether these cats are all aesthetic, or the arrowhead of surfing’s cultural liberation.
On board this vessel, adrift in the Fijian atolls, is Byron Bay twin fin guy, Torren Martyn, Californian shaper-slash-surfer-slash-artist, Tyler Warren, and an entourage of lensman. Why would the profit-starved surf industry be down with dropping several K’s to put non-A-listers on a boat in tropical perfection? Uh, times have changed y’know – people dig the other sides of surf! Big biz know that while the majority of the market still have affectionate eyes for the Johns, Kellys and Danes of the world, alt-surf darlings like Rasta, Ozzie, Knost and their ilk have a take on waveriding that is just as powerful when it comes to getting more people on boards (and spending more on surf goods), as their big name counterparts. After years of head scratching and broken bottom lines, marketing teams have figured it out: Things can get too supernatural (and thus unattainable) in the top tier, and the average warrior still wants to relate to what they see splashed across pages and pixels. It’s the same reason people are into amateur porn: Relatability.
“I’m not out there trying 540s,” grins Tyler. “If I could, I’d love to, but I haven’t figured that one out yet. I’m into smooth surfing. I don’t really care what people are riding – shortboards, longboards – as long as it looks good, I’m stoked on it.” It’s a sentiment echoed by a lot of surfers who don’t have access to consistent world-class conditions, and who recognise that the only way they’re going to enjoy knee-high summer soup, or a soft running pointbreak, is by riding different silhouettes. But for some boards, like the twin fin, with performance characteristics that have blazed forward since their resurgence, you can slide into a wave like Cloudbreak and dance in the pocket similarly to any modern thruster. It’s just a slightly different take… a little less knife, and a lot more butter.
Tyler ‘Pickle’ Warren grew up in Dana Point, CA. Starting out on longboards, he carved up a log for Alex Knost when he was just 15 years old.
Tyler’s been turning blanks into works of art since his mid teens. He looks fantastic on any board from any era, and greatly helped reignite love for the mini Simmons keeled-twin, drawing gorgeous lines on that self-shaped 4’10” ‘Bar Of Soap’ at Lowers half a decade ago. With a non-discriminating attitude, and an acute appreciation for surf history, Tyler is reserved in the water – though, if you find yourself next in line and a bump approaches, he’ll be happy to provide encouragement. He’s a creative man, handy with brush or pen, and Billabong have him on their payroll for all of the above reasons.
When probed on his inspiration, along with the modern guiding lights of Tom Curren and Kelly Slater, Tyler pays homage to golden era greats like Phil Edwards, Michael Peterson, Wayne Lynch and Gerry Lopez. He gets a kick out of absorbing wisdom from surf vets, often collaborating on board projects. A touch over 30, he’s ridden a wider variety of foam at more lineups than most, and he’s here to add the Fijian notch to his belt.
When asked back at the resort how his hand shaped creation had performed, Tyler said he would have preferred a little more length for that size, but the 6’4” twin rode better the rounder the wave. Cloudbreak’s west bowl had him covered.
A long way from his caravan in Byron Bay, Torren was the lineup’s most enthusiastic throughout our time in Fiji. Even when the swell built, capping Cloudbreak’s intimidating second ledge, you’d expect to see his distinct faded-sweep-to-high-line on most sets. “The odd one felt a bit chattery,” he said reviewing his craft. “You can get that wind up the face, but when it was going through its rails and transitioning it felt really good.”
Torren Martyn is a model Byron Bay citizen. A 27 year-old who, after becoming disenchanted with the initial competitive direction of his surfing, took a year off before rekindling his romance by steering logs and discovering the joys of the two-finned surf craft. He tried his hand at city life, hated it, and moved back to his hometown to take residence in a caravan, preferring the simpler existence and longer rides of the New South Wales north coast.
“My perspective of good surfing has definitely changed over the years,” Torren says. “People develop certain styles based off their favourite surfers and I guess with the realisation that style really isn’t you, you burn out – well, I feel like I did, anyway. I got to a stage in my life when I was like 21 and I just stopped surfing for a while, like nine months or so, which is like the same transitional period in your life when you finish high school and start to travel and learn more about yourself. You stop doing what your friends or other people are doing and start to make your own thing.
“Similarly to when you’re learning to sing or be a musician, you’re relaying what you’ve already seen or heard. It’s not until you get more confidence about yourself and step away from doing covers of other’s songs and into taking your own approach – I believe surfing’s sort of like that, in a way.”
After his successful Lost Track trip around Oz, where he proved the worth of his approach, the heads at SurfStitch decided they’d write him up a contract. To them, he’s the ultimate package; surfs well, relates to the thriving barefoot demographic, and consents to having his photo taken dripping head to toe in next season’s surf wares. It’s the small price he pays to travel the world and surf waves like Cloudbreak.
Unlike the competitive guys, freesurfers are able to carve out their own approach. They can ride whatever they want, however they want, but they’ve still gotta make a living doing it. As lifestyle figures, that means creating content and selling product. They have to connect.
Well-versed in the many colours of surfing’s extended history, Tyler Warren handpicks the elements he enjoys and stirs in with his own personal flavour. Mastering a broad spectrum quiver means he’s got everything from knee-high to Cloudbreak wired. “Everyone has their own style,” he says. “I think I just bring a different side of it to the table that they (Billabong) obviously want and need.”
The Curious Concept Of Professional Surfing
“It’s sort of a weird situation,” Torren explains of his new deal. “There’s a contract in writing; content producing, sharing, brand representation, that kind of thing. But I don’t have to put any stickers on my board and I can work with other brands and do other trips. I can pretty much do what I want throughout the year.” Which works fine for the gent whose board displays the recognisable Electric visual bolt, and whose distinctive lines can be seen drawn on the most recent reels of low-key sustainable brand Need Essentials. He goes about his business, whether it be spreading ink on canvas or tearing down sandy pointbreaks, gets a call, and jumps on the next plane to anywhere. Torren’s vid pal, Ishka Folkwell, also scores a boarding pass in exchange for an edit that can be released via the company. A symbiotic relationship where everybody wins.
Why does Torren believe the company might view a mainstream surf outsider like himself as a valuable marketing asset?
“I guess they’re looking for something they can use to appeal to quite a few demographics, not just the main brands. Companies these days are looking for more than just a surfer. You see a lot of brands using ambassadors for artworks, campaigns, and surf shoots. I guess to be able to use the individual as much as they can, where they can, to maximise their opportunities. They’re getting a bigger package.”
“Everyone has their own style, I think I just bring a different side of it to the table that they obviously want and need,” says Tyler, whose relationship with Billabong bears a similar level of flexibility to Torren’s commercial partnerships. Whether it be competing at logging expos, designing product or jumping on a last minute strike, his six-year relationship with the company grants him the freedom to do what he digs and still pay the rent. “They just liked me for who I was and never tried to change me,” he explains of his agreement. “They took what I did as far as art and surfing goes, and helped push it. I like to have ideas and bring them to life, whether it be through art, drawing, painting, surfing, shaping. I’d say I’m like a designer in a way, a creator. But I also love surfing. It’s fun to put your product to use and try it all out.”
You’d expect, being a creative chap on the fringes of the surf scene, yet under the wing of the most recognisable logo in the surf industry, that Tyler would experience friction when it comes to required attire. But it’s been a breezy affair.
“I’m picky with what I wear, like colours and shit. So, thankfully they haven’t made me wear too much horrendous stuff. A lot of the gear I do have to wear sits well with me – it’s not too awkward. I think it has to do with the fact that they know what I like. When they’re developing a collection for more ‘alternative surfers’ (laughs), not running floral pink mixed with hibiscus flowers or something.”
In addition to his twins, Torren had a 5’9” quad on hand, which was put out of action early on after receiving a low tide nose job at Restaurants one evening (the culprit may or may not work for Stab).
“I had this 6’0 swallow tail, a fishier short board with a twin and trailer that I shaped,” said Tyler. “While I pretty much rode the orange board until the last day, I tried the little board at Restaurants and wish I took that out on the big day – it was just more of a modern shape with a single concave, just a little grippier and zippier.” Evidently the last-minute, longer shape felt at ease on rail.
We’ve come to the South Pacific in late January, which is considered offseason in this part of the world. Fortunately, that means the lavish Island resorts of Namotu and Tavarua are empty. Apart from a handful of tourists, locals and resort staff, the world’s most frighteningly perfect coral atoll is deserted. But the forecasted and unseasonal energy that drew the entourage here is beginning to show its face. Sets have doubled. Four to six has become eight to 10 and it’s very, very clean.
Torren unsheathes his longest craft, a triple-stringer, channel-bottom twin fin. Six foot and six inches of foam cut by shaper pal Simon Jones of Morning Of The Earth Surfboards. He has a four-board quiver on hand, but after a few head-high warm-up days, he knows he’s going to need the extra length at this size to keep up with Cloudbreak’s break-neck pace.
“I’m not riding a twin fin just to ride a twin fin,” he replies when asked about his board preferences. “I just started riding them and it feels good. They’re working and I’m feeling comfortable on them.” Watching him swing in on the larger of the sets, scoop heelside and jive across the lip line with his signature casual demeanour, it’s clear he’s got the board dialled.
“I definitely think its a different sort of read, but they’re quite big fins and the outline of the board’s not too dissimilar,” Torren says, discussing the comparison between modern twin and thruster boards. “I mean, there’s a difference between these boards and a fishy swallow keel with big templated fins. It is a different sort of surfing and when you’re used to the different lines, you can put yourself in different spots. I’m sure if I was riding a thruster to start with then jumped on a twin, I’d notice it, but having been riding them for the last few years it’s been a more subtle transition.”
The world deserves more high line double-page spreads.
Plight Of The Modern Brand Ambassador
Surfing seems to be one of the most polarising sports in existence. Perhaps it’s the individualistic nature, the many different ways one can approach surfing that divides opinion. Just look at someone like Gabriel Medina, or Alex Knost – people either love or despise them. Out on the fringes it can be just as heated, as Tyler and Torren know.
“Anything that is different or new or unfamiliar is always a target,” states Torren on the matter. “Surfing’s not a team sport and everyone’s an individual, that’s a target in itself. Like doing anything different. Like the kid in school who got picked on for being different, it could be riding different boards and things. It’s not just in surfing, it’s in people in general.”
“You could go play basketball on a court with four walls or go to Fiji and get barrelled in a beautiful place,” says Tyler. “I think when you’re getting to go to all these beautiful places, it’s easier to attack you or something. I mean, you’re doing probably the best job in the whole world so you don’t really blame them for pointing fingers, being jealous and whatever.”
After sharing a clip of Torren dancing along a double-overhead Cloudbreak number, we dive into the Stab Disqus forum to review the commentary. A few digital punches have been thrown (something along the lines of “snapping those little jive hands” off his wrists…), which Torren takes with a grain.
“Oh yeah, I get cooked all the time,” he laughs when asked about his experience with the forum. “But sometimes there’s some pretty classic comments on there. I don’t take it too personally.”
“Yeah they’re taking the wind out of people’s sails and stuff so it’s pretty funny,” says Tyler. “It’s just a bunch of faceless people who probably can’t surf very well (laughs). They just have a big fat opinion with no background of anything. So I don’t really care too much about it – I think its pretty comical.”
When Torren Martyn fills out his airport departure card he scrolls the words ‘Swimming Instructor’ in the occupation box. Is it his humble character, the avoidance of red tape, or an indication of the murky nature of modern professional surfing?