The 6 best aerialists who (really) charge, with Matt Meola
Words by Morgan Williamson Maybe it’s in the water, maybe the wind… but Hawaiian surfers possess a special quality. A variety we don’t see so predominately in other coastal regions. Only a handful of surfers have bridged the gap between aerial specialist and big wave charger. Not all these cats are Hawaiian, however the majority of guys […]
Words by Morgan Williamson
Maybe it’s in the water, maybe the wind… but Hawaiian surfers possess a special quality. A variety we don’t see so predominately in other coastal regions. Only a handful of surfers have bridged the gap between aerial specialist and big wave charger. Not all these cats are Hawaiian, however the majority of guys doing both with top game come from the great island chain. “I guess it’s part of being from Hawaii, you have to surf all conditions to make it,” says Matt Meola, a gent who pigeonholes this genre like brass teeth in a lock. But what do all these surfers have in common? Does a motif reside in personality or environment? Is it anything at all? Where there’s a shovel you’ve got to dig…
1. Albee Layer
“Albee Layer is a machine,” Shane Dorian says of Albee’s surfing at Jaws. “He picks off tons of waves on the west bowl. He has such insane positioning and gets some sick barrels.” The evidence is there. The range shown in Attractive Distractions by the Maui charger was on point. “I grew up with Albee and he’s always been a risk-taker,” Mr Meola tells us. “He charges way harder than me and he’s a few years younger. It was good growing up with him, because like, everything he did, I’d have to do too… next thing I knew we were surfing Jaws. He’s nuts. Back when I was 17, Albee and my buddy Marlin got jetskis. We never had big plans to use them at Jaws. One day, there was a huge swell, and they came in and were like ‘We just surfed jaws.’ I guess some of the local lifeguards were launching at the same time as them and asked ‘hey you guys want us to tow you in at Jaws?’ So they went, and once they came back and said they’d caught waves out there, we were like ‘uh oh, we all have to do it now.’ All of a sudden Albee, Marlin, Billy Kemper and I were like this little tow team, every big swell we’d be towing in. Then the next thing we knew the tow-ins were over and we started paddling.”
2. John John Florence
John John is one of the most well-rounded surfers to ever live. His skill is transparent, and there’s no conditions that he won’t excel in. “He’s a freak, he can do anything,” says Matt. “I’m sure if he wasn’t surfing he would be good at whatever he was doing. To him I feel like there is no categories of surfing. John’s mindset is if you’re a surfer, you do it all. It doesn’t matter what the conditions are, you just go out and ride the waves.”
That’s John John on the inside, and Kealii Mamala on the outside. It’s an outer reef in Hawaii, the kind John regularly surfs but doesn’t make a big deal about. And you can attribute the quality of the shot to the fact that Damien Robertson hiked up a mountain and shot this from 3.2km away.
3. Nate Fletcher
Nathan Fletcher and an illegally surfed wave (with good reason) as per the French Government’s ruling; Code Red, Teahupoo. Photo: Brian Bielman
“Nate’s one of my heroes,” Matt says. “Him and Bruce were always doing huge airs, they were my heroes growing up. I didn’t even realise he was a big wave surfer until I started surfing big waves. Then I saw some of the shit he was doing. The guy’s always paddling into the gnarliest spots. When I saw that I was like ‘woah, he’s even more my hero now.’ You can tell, it’s in his personality, he doesn’t give a fuck. When they were gonna do that Red Bull Jaws paddle contest, everyone had to take these portrait shots. It was super professional. I was there when Nate was getting his picture taken. And the guy was like ‘hey can you take your shirt off and take your cigarettes out of your front pocket?’ and he said something super funny like ‘What do you mean? I’m a hairy animal, this is who I am.” He’s just one of those guys who’s raw, he’s himself and I think surfing needs more of that.”
4. Mason Ho
Mason, timewarp at Waimea. He somehow brings his pleasurable enthusiasm to serious situations. Photo: LASERWOLF
Mason has a spiritual belief in pleasurable solutions, evident in his surfing and his demeanour. “He’s kind of like a John John strain,” Matt tells us. “Except he looks like he’s having more fun than anybody. I guess it’s part of being from Hawaii, you have to surf all conditions to make it. Mason’s just kind of good at everything. He’s one of my favourites to watch surf.”
5. Josh Kerr
Not all jumps and spins, sometimes Josh bare-knuckle boxes heavyweights. This one, at Todos Santos. Photo: Damea Dorsey
Kerrzy is undisputedly an air boss, as per the various aerials he’s invented and the Air Show World Championships he’s won will attest. But, his big wave game goes criminally unnoticed. When it’s pumping he’s always out there. He even competed in this year’s Quiksilver Ceremonial BWT event at Punta de Lobos in Chile. “When people think of him, they always see him as an air guy and a small wave contest guy,” Matt says. “But, I feel like his strongest point is in his big wave surfing. He gets overlooked. You watch him surf Pipe and all the gnarly waves and he’s always a standout guy. People don’t even realise it, it’s kind of lame. I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves for big wave surfing.”
For all his tech above the lip, Mr Kerr still plucks the classics as well as most. A beautifully drifted slob, North Point. Photo: Bosko
6. Kai Barger
“Kai and I are really similar,” Matt says. “We’re roommates. We live right next to Jaws and every time there’s a swell we’re both like looking at each other, like ‘oh no, this is happening again,’ all stressed. I think just growing up in Maui, you have Jaws in your backyard so eventually you’re going to end up surfing it. It’s funny, Albee gets super psyched when a Jaws swell is coming, and when there’s no waves at Jaws, he’s like all pissed off. Whereas Kai and I are kind of the opposite, we get relieved when the waves get a little smaller. Maybe it’s like the goofyfoot thing, it’s just sketchy being backside out there. It’s our backyard though, so we gotta show face. Kai’s another one of the Maui boys, when the waves aren’t good at Jaws they are good for airs. Growing up on Maui kind of sculpted the way that we all surf.”
It is curious, the Maui crew really aren’t known for their turns. It’s all heavy barrels, big waves and petrol price airs (real high). Maybe it’s the result of extremist personalities; full speed ahead with no time to slow down. The result is an aggression in surfing that’s a true viewing pleasure.
Honorable Mention: Shawn ‘Barney’ Barron
Well, you can’t write a piece about aerial innovation and big wave surfing without mentioning the late, great Barney. Shawn helped pioneer the aerial revolution. He may have not been tracking down the biggest swells and chasing them across the globe, but if Mavericks was doing its thing, he was out there ruling, guaranteed. He’s a spirit thats truly missed in the surf world.
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