Unlocked: Albee Layer Speaks His Mind In His SEOTY Entry, ‘Delirium’
Come for the double rotations, stay for Albee’s existential thoughts on surfing and life.
Few people polarize the surf world like Albee Layer.
Some fans adore the Hawaiian’s candor and willingness to call out perceived injustices in the surfing world. Others see him as a bit of a whinger, using any excuse to get on his social media soapbox and complain.
Albee creates a similar division amongst his pro surfing peers.
From Kelly Slater to John Florence, many of the world’s best have lauded Albee’s contributions to surfing both in the aerial and the big-wave realms. Others believe that spinning as fast as humanly possible is pushing surfing away from its core and toward an undesired, gymnastic future.
Albee’s stance on the matter is clear.
Whether you agree with Albee or not, you have to respect a person with a clear point of view. Albee calls things as he sees them, paying no mind to politics or self-preservation. This sort of conviction has become rarer and rarer in a world that rewards — or at least does not punish — toeing the party line.
In his Stab Edit of the Year entry, Delirium, Albee grapples with the idea of dedicating his entire life to surfing, only to see his achievements forgotten or ignored by the Pro Surfing Machine.
“What is even the point of surfing?” Albee asked, semi-rhetorically, in our chat about the film.
Watch here, read below, and let’s decide together.
Stab: Hey Albee, loved your straight air to open the film.
Albee Layer: I did that for you guys [laughs]. I know who’s judging this thing.
Roughly 80% of Delirium is filmed in Maui. Was that a conscious effort, or are you just more selective about traveling these days?
More selective about traveling. I get anxious when I travel and covid just made that worse. I also hate crowds, and I hate putting out clips from places that everyone else goes to, so I never want to go to ‘renowned’ surf destinations.
Speaking of which, tell us about the session at Freight Trains — you had a pretty funny Instagram post about it, and I think there’s only one or two waves from the session in this edit.
I was excited for that swell, because I figured I’m like 31 now. I thought I was a well-respected member of the Maui surf community. But then I paddled out there and that was clearly not the case. I had a full-on mental breakdown. When I say that, it wasn’t like I just got pissed and went. I actually really freaked out. Like I retreated into myself for weeks.
What do you think sparked that?
I tend to spiral into negative thought patterns pretty easily — especially after the head injury I had a couple years ago. But this time I just started thinking, ‘What is even the point of surfing?’ I swear it’s the most selfish act in the world. I don’t think anyone is contributing that much to the world as a surfer, besides maybe two or three people. It just feels like surfing rewards being a dickhead more than having mutual respect for other people. That said, I do think people are a better version of themselves after they surf, so it does serve an important purpose.
You brought up your head injury before, and in Delirium, you literally burn an image of your brain. It reminded me of another edit that you put out where you burned some trophies. Do you feel like you’ve been burned by surfing, or the surf industry, or the surfing community?
I don’t know, that sounds a little dramatic. I’ve had a lot of opportunities that other people haven’t had. I’m not gonna sit here and complain about a career in pro surfing — nobody gives a shit [laughs]. I was told ‘no’ a lot in the surf community, but a lot of people said ‘yes’ to me as well.
As for the burning — with the trophies it was about me moving away from competition and onto something else. And with this one, it was about moving on from my fucked up headspace.
You also seemed pretty bummed about not getting an invite to the Vans Pipe Masters. On Instagram you wrote: I’ve spent most of the 31 years of my life giving every fiber of my being to this sport and it still likes passing me (and a few others) over every chance it gets.
That’s just something I’ve always wanted to do — surf Pipe in a contest where I can actually get waves. And then they set it up so you can do airs as well, and I’m like, ‘Holy fuck, you could do a good air out there.’ But then I wasn’t a part of it. And it’s not because of my surfing — I know I can do everything they want to see out there. So it must be something else that’s keeping me out. There’s just a lot of intricacies in the surf world, and I’m getting more and more sick of it as I get older.
Talk to me about the direction of this film — the narration and cutaway scenes. What’s the meaning behind it?
The theme is actually from Greek mythology. Have you ever heard of Sisyphus? Basically he cheats death a bunch of times, and the gods condemn him to push a rock up this hill every day, only to have it roll back down again once he gets close to the top. That’s sort of what surfing feels like sometimes.
Every time you accomplish something, the finish line just completely moves. Every time I’ve gotten a new trick, it’s like, ‘Well, what if you did this? What if you spun one more time?’ Or you finally get the wave you want at Jaws and it’s like, ‘Now there’s a bigger one.’
John Florence got into that a bit in our recent interview. He said, “Everyone’s doing huge backflips and alley-oops nowadays. You can pump down the line on a five-foot wave directly into the wind and fling yourself maybe 50 times and then you land one.”
That’s just John being old and lazy. He’s just a grumpy old man [laughs]. I was just with him, and I was giving him shit. He told me, ‘I like watching turns now.’ I was like, ‘You’re just fucking lazy now because it hurts to do airs. But you still wanna do an air as bad as ever.’
In Delirium you landed a couple double-oops and tried a couple double backside spins as well—
[Albee interrupts] That was a huge failure, not landing the backside double.
But…you’ve already done it. I mean, I get it. You want to make another double-spin like the rest of us want to make another barrel, but it doesn’t really change anything if you do.
It does though. I want to normalize that shit. The double-alleyoop is normal to me, and now other people have started doing it. And that’s cool — it’s like a new trick people do now.
Do you have any other NBDs in mind that you really want to land, or are you more focused on normalizing the moves that you’ve already achieved?
I still have a couple new tricks that I want to do. I really want to make a double backside rotation where you spin around two full times and land forward again. I also want to make a double-alleyoop with a grab. It would be really cool to do it stalefish — I know it’s possible.
You also have a section in the film that’s strictly turns…
That was actually the last part that we filmed, on the first swell of this winter. The editor of the piece hit me up and was like, ‘If we could have two more minutes of surfing, that would be awesome.’ I wasn’t specifically aiming to do turns, but some days it’s just not really good for anything else. And in my old age I feel like I’ve slowly gotten better at them.
Speaking of things you don’t particularly enjoy, you did travel away from Maui once for this film. I won’t ask you exactly where you went, but the song provides some hints. What made you want to go somewhere so…cold?
I don’t like going to tropical places. I love the cold. I love places where there’s no crowds. And I’ve been to this place a handful of times before. I’m friends with some of the locals, and the forecast looked good, so it was an easy call.
The ender clip in that section is one of the most complete waves I’ve seen surfed in a long time. How did it feel?
That day was really special. We only ended up using like three clips, but I probably got like 10-15 super fun waves with barrels, turns, and a couple airs.
Well, the Stab Edit of the Year window is closing soon — what are you gonna do if you win the $2,000 Bitcoin?
Probably invest it in Ethereum. Isn’t that doing even worse?
I hope you’re not in FTX.
I honestly don’t pay attention to that stuff. I’m not really in that world. I’m looking good though, ‘cause I’m basically a full-time editor now.
Oh yeah, what else have you got in the works?
Well, I’m making a SEOTY entry for this local kid Kai Paula [of Stab Highway CA fame] and Torrey [Mesiter]. Both of them are gonna be pretty fucked up. When’s the deadline again?
Oh, shit. I’ve got some work to do.
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