Art Of Tow ft Kai Lenny, Lucas Chumbo + Nic Von Rupp - Stab Mag

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"I think the next era, the next phase, is the turns, the performance, the aerials, riding a 60-foot wave like it's a six-foot wave. I think if that becomes the approach, only the legit guys will end up existing. I mean, I'd love to see what a John John Florence could do on a tow board. You know what I mean? He's the best in the world. I often do think that these guys ... If they just spent a little bit of time ... And this is like the Gabriels of the world even, or even the Italos or just whoever. If they spent a little bit of time just getting the confidence on the training side of things so they have that mental fortitude, like, "Hey. If I'm in this position, it's all good," it'd be unbelievable what these guys could do on a tow board and what they could do on these big waves. So hopefully one day they'll take that interest and they'll call me up for a sesh," says Kai Lenny. Photo from Red Bull Content Pool

Art Of Tow ft Kai Lenny, Lucas Chumbo + Nic Von Rupp

Are the best tow surfers in the world its biggest detractors?

Words by Ethan Davis
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Editor’s note: The Tudor Nazare Big Wave Challenge 2024 might run in as little as 8 hours from writing. Watch it at the link above.

Anyone can grab a rope. 

Tow surfing cops a lot of flack. Rightfully so. There is a legitimate problem of making big wave surfing too accessible to too many people. If Mark Zuckerberg claiming he surfs 15-foot waves, like he did recently on the Lex Fridman podcast, isn’t enough to make you throw up a little in your mouth and hop off the bus, then try disgraced WeWork CEO Adam Neumann, who refuses to be burdened by “paddling out”, using a jetski to navigate the mammoth walls of Montauk on loop. 

“‘The way I surf, I don’t have time for paddling’,” he told a colleague. Instead, he would hop on a chauffeured Jet Ski. Some surf spots in Hawaii even forbid the practice, but Adam would hire local surf coaches who knew how to skirt regulations,” wrote the NY Post. 

But that’s just one leg of a dog riddled by fleas. 

“With a jetski, you could barely be able to surf a six-foot wave and then go get a 60-foot wave and win an award and get a hundred grand or something,” says reigning Nazare tow challenge champ, Kai Lenny. “Towing is a shortcut. We all know that. I would probably tow my grandmother into a big Nazare shoulder,” quipped Nic Von Rupp. 

If Nan’s towing Naz, it’s probably time to redefine ‘extreme action sports’. 

2023 Stab Surfer of the Year Nathan Florence said it nicely: “I feel like over the last 10 years, some of the gnarliest waves ever have been ridden at these slabs, and few were celebrated the same as a crazy Jaws or Nazaré ride. That’s funny to me, because 90% of surfers at those spots fear these heavy, shallow waves, where you need to be so technically efficient and smart with your choices to surf them. To me, that’s the pinnacle of what heavy water surfing is. It’s not so much about the height of the wave, but how shallow and technical the barrel and drop is. How much water is in the lip of the wave. How big the barrel is. How risky it is to fall.”

So where the hell should tow surfing belong in our crabby little culture if even the best guys in the world at doing so often detract from it? I called them to change my mind.

And they did a little. 

“I compare it to snowboarding, there’s the Jeremy Joneses’ who’ll hike the entire mountain, and then they’ll ride that one run down. That’s like paddle-in surfing. Then I look at someone like Travis Rice, who takes a helicopter to the top and does a bunch of different runs and does maneuvers, and his goal is performance-based, and it’s not so much the climbing the mountain, it’s just the ride. I don’t think one is worse than the other. I do think tow-in surfing just has the ability to push the performance boundaries beyond what we thought is possible.” 

Kai Lenny

Here’s our very pretentiously titled piece called “the art of tow” featuring big wave specialists: Kai Lenny, Lucas Chianca and Nic Von Rupp. 

One of many learnings from 2023 was that specialty events can be incredible.

Watch The Tudor Nazare Big Wave Challenge 2024 here (if it runs).

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