Kolohe and a smile holding back one thousand tears. Photo: WSL/Scholtz
Why Can't (Male) Californians Win On The CT?
Bob Martinez and Taylor Knox scratch their heads.
No Californian surfer has won a Championship Tour event since 2009… unless her name is Courtney Conlogue, Sage Erickson, or Lakey Peterson.
Which is to say, California has had zero male CT victories in the last seven-and-a-half seasons – that’s eighty-eight contests -- and counting. Bobby Martinez was the last Golden Stater to receive a bubbly facial, Teahupo’o 2009.
It’s also worth noting that there hasn’t been a (male*) world champion from California since Tom Curren in 1990. *For the sake of not having to qualify every future statement with the term “male”, let’s assume everything I write from this point referring to the hairier sex.
California is widely considered (mainland) America’s hotbed of surfing talent. This makes sense, considering its Shred-O-Meter rating (measured by wave consistency x wave quality x warmth) is the highest, and its year-round surfing population the densest, in the Lower 48.
This is when all the old, bald guys from the east coast start screaming: “BUT KELLY IS THE BEST SURFER EVER AND HE’S FROM FLOOOOORIDUHHH!”
Cool it, Mr Clean.
Kelly is either an outlier or an alien. No matter which way you slice it, his home state/planet was never going to stop him from becoming a champion. I’ll give you the Hobgoods though. Those dudes are legit.
But California is the epicenter of world class surfing in mainland America. Since 2010, the Golden State has produced twelve world tour surfers, while the east coast has had only five (and all of them from Florida). Yet somehow, in the past seven seasons, the Bear Flag has failed to soar over a CT podium.
And it’s not that Californians have done that poorly in competition. Kolohe and Nat have made three CT finals apiece (and lost them all), Conner and Kanoa both made one last season (lost, lost), and even Dane Reynolds, the anti-contest king, had a couple runner-up finishes in his CT career.
That’s 0/10 attempts for Californians in CT finals between 2009 and today. I might have even missed a couple in my research.
So this made me wonder, what’s going on with Californian surfers? Why can’t they win a title, let alone one goddamn contest?
I outsourced my concerns to two of California’s finest ex-competitors (CT-winners, both of them), Taylor Knox and Bobby Martinez. Their answers were divergent, but interesting nonetheless.
Stab: Hey Bobby, how’s it feel to be the only Californian to win a CT event since 2009?
Bobby: Am I really? Damn, that’s a long time. That’s really weird no one else has won one since then.
Well, it’s true! Tell me about what it takes to win a CT event… did you feel invincible every time you won a comp, like your skin was made of Firewire proteins? (Bobby won four events in his CT career)
You know, the times I won, it just kind of happened. I wasn’t really thinking or feeling anything. The times when I was feeling really good before a contest were the times when I would lose out early. For me, it just happened when it happened.
Why do you think Californians have had such a hard time winning in recent years?
Surfing is weird, like, you don’t always get the same opportunities as the other guy in your heat. There were a lotta good surfers who should have won events when I was there who didn’t. Taylor Knox was an amazing surfer and he never won any when I was there. So there’s definitely some luck involved, along with other stuff.
I know how the ASP (Editor’s note: LOL) is… they like to favor certain guys all the time. You kinda always know what’s gonna happen. I mean, I don’t watch the contests anymore but from what I hear it’s the same shit every time.
Do you think Californian surfers are good enough to win events? Titles?
California doesn’t have the best surfers in the world right now, but they’re good enough to win events. Wait… who’s on tour again?
Kolohe, Conner, Kan—
Well, you know Kolohe and Conner, they might not be on the same level as John and Gabriel, but they could definitely win an event. A title? I’m not sure. I mean maybe, why not? [laughs]
Isn’t Bobby’s blissful ignorance of today’s “fucking dumb wannabe tennis tour” the most endearing thing you’ve read? Here at Stab, we commend those who uphold their core values, and in that way, Bobby is revered like a mocha-toned deity.
Now to Taylor Knox.
Stab: TK, tell me, what’s a kid gotta do to get a W around here?
Taylor: Well, it’s not easy. (Ed.: Taylor’s only CT win in his decades-long career came in Brazil in 1990-something.)
Yeah but, everyone’s doing it! There are seven winners in seven events this season. Why aren’t any of them, or one since Bobby in 2009, Californian?
You know, I think it might be part generational. The Momentum generation was a really big one for California, but after that it was more lone wolves, like Dane or Bobby, and no one really had the competitive fire to commit to it 100 percent. Maybe for Californians, they just had it too easy. They didn’t want to grind as much.
Do you think that’s the case with today’s Californian CTers?
You can tell that Kolohe really wants it. He’s putting the work in to get there. He’s already had a few finals, so it seems like it’s just a matter of time before he gets a win. And when he does, that’s when we’ll see his true colors.
What do you mean?
When somebody gets over the hump of winning their first contest or world title, they’re either like Yeah I won one, cool, and then there’s another type of person that says Aw, I love the taste of that, I want more.
And what about world titles? What’s it take to win one of those?
You need to be a legitimate threat at every wave on tour. It can’t just be like Oh, he rips at Lowers or He’s so gnarly at Chopes. To win a world title, people need to be afraid to come up against you at every event.
So it’s about building that psychological advantage over your competitors?
Yes, but also with the judges. Even though judges are supposed to be impartial, they’re also human. So if you have them thinking Damn, this guy is so good out at Cloudbreak, it’s more likely they’re going to reward you.
Do you see any Californians with the ability to win a title in the next five to ten years?
I know Kolohe is committed to winning a world title, and it could happen, but he’s got his work cut out for him. I’m also looking forward to seeing Griffin Colapinto on Tour. There are a few others names I don’t even want to say, because they’re so young, I don't want to mess with their heads. I see a lot of great surfers in California, but do I see the guy who’s ready to win multiple world titles? Ehhh, not yet.
Taylor’s informed analysis, when held in comparison with the laissez-faire attitude of Mr Martinez, is alluring. Consider the differences between Taylor, an incredibly talented and motivated professional of twenty years, and Bobby, an incredibly talented but not the most motivated professional of six years, and then consider their number of contest wins (Taylor: 1, Bobby: 4).
In theory, if there existed two ability-similar surfers, and one put in twice as much effort and thrice as much competition time than the other, he should have significantly more victories. As it were, Bobby and Taylor’s careers went in the exact opposite direction.
The takeaway? The best, most committed guys don’t always win. The fact that a Californian hasn’t stormed a podium since 2009 is probably more bad luck than anything else, especially given the fact that they’ve had (at least) 10 final berths in said window.
But how cool would it be, in a crazy twist of fate, if Kolohe (or Conner or Kanoa or whatever) went on to win next week at Lowers? As Bobby told us, our sport is, ultimately, weird. And I’m a sucker for surf kink.