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We promise this won't (really) hurt.

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A Stab High Photo Essay

Yesterday was one of the most exciting days of my life, and I spent it sitting in a sweltering, overcrowded, under-wifi-ed wooden box, where on one occasion I was forced to pee into a too-small water bottle that subsequently tipped over and spilled through the cracks in the floorboard and onto Eric Geiselman's surfboard below. 

(Sorry about that, EG.)

Watching from this raised, and in that way, isolated, cabin, I was able to absorb the entire Stab High scene from above. There were the fans in attendance, some of whom seemed confused, while others were wholly attentive of every air, bog, and bobble in the pool. There were the lazy river lobsters, whose redness of complexion was the result of too many beers and not enough SPF. There were the event workers, from production to catering to Stab staff, who moved briskly and with conviction despite constantly being confronted with novel challenges (some idiot kicked over our satellite dish, which provided all of our internet capabilities! What to do?) Then there were the surfers in the water, who despite being in direct competition for a non-measly $25k, seemed just as cordial and carefree as a the lazy river folk.

Sharing the judges' booth with the likes of Aaron Cormican, Brett Simpson, Albee Layer, Shea Lopez, and Cheyne Magnusson only added to the experience. The excitement we shared when somebody went huge, the critical and nuanced debates we had regarding the difficulty and/or coolness of certain maneuvers, and the general shit-talking that took place in that glorified sauna only stoked the fire. Hopefully that came across in the webcast, as well.

The best part of the day, besides for maybe the afterparty and the little Ladybirds, was the men's final, which saw all six surfers collecting a big score on the right before the storm of the decade (or maybe the week, in Texas?) made its grand entrance, turning the distant sky black and the wind stiff and into the left, leading to the best and most consistently landed airs of the event, all going down in a 15-minute window before we forced to declare a winner and evacuate like cackling hyenas.

For lack of a better word, it was all just so fun

This is the story of Stab High 2019, as told by Tom Carey's glorious photos and contextualized by the head judge (me). 

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Eithan Osborne started the day with a 37/50 score for this frontside madonna (if you'd allow us to call it that). How he stayed focused on the task at hand, given such distracting spectators, will forever remain a mystery.

After sticking a flip so high that air traffic control officially considered him a collision threat, Kevin Schulz rode that orbital momentum into the main event, where he clicked 30-something-point scores on his right and left in the qualifier round, earning himself a finals berth and proof of not being a one-trick wanker.

Cross-board beacon Curren Caples landed the most stylish air of the event, scoring 40 points (the equivalent of 8s across the board) for a tweaked backside straighty (what some would call a 'method'). This isn't it, but it's not bad either.

Balaram Stack was the odd man out of a three-way tie for the last two qualifying positions. Because his 62 points were comprised of dual 31s and his competitors, Eithan Osborne and Kalani David, had higher single scores, Bal was barred from the final. Christian Fletcher and Bobby Martinez, who at the time of Balaram's heat were manning the commentator booth, berated the judges for this decision, saying that both Balaram's "sack tap" on the right and tweaked slob on the left should have been plenty to get him through the gates. To the judges' eye, Balaram tapped his shin more than his sack and the slob grab was technically unlanded, thanks to a nose-poke on his re-entry. Drama!

Cam Richards won the Stab High Monster Air for a spooky frontside straighty, which, had Cam not gotten stuck in the whitewater on his landing, would have netted the South Carolinian a score well beyond the actual. Stab High is a game of inches, and the judges are ruthless in their critique of a punt—even when it's six feet above the lip.
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Photography Jimmy Wilson

Ian Crane was as popular out of the water as he was in it, with both judges and fans rewarding him with a 69 for his efforts (yes, that was actually his qualifying round total).

This was Sky Brown's first-ever surf contest. As an amateur (what most people would call a pro) skater (/surfer), the 10-year-old showed unfathomable style and control in the air. Take this one above, where Sky popped off the sweet spot (no easy task in itself) and remained planted to her deck like a southern gent with a spitoon. Sky tied Sierra Kerr in the Ladybirds final, which led to a sudden death surf-off.

Before the Ladybirds' single-wave surf off, Josh Kerr's voice boomed over the loudspeaker. "Do a huge slob!" he encouraged his 12-year-old protegé. Sierra obliged, clicking a clean, dare we say staunch as fuck front-hand grab over the section, tapping her tail on the coping before riding out in style. Sky, who was awaiting her final wave against the wall, clapped her hands out of respect and, it seemed, genuine joy for her competitor's tough-to-beat completion (judges would eventually give it a score of 40/50—the highest score of the entire Ladybirds heat). We have to think that behavior is a product of Sky's years spent in the skatepark, where, unlike in most lineups around the world, there's a sense of communal camaraderie and same-teamedness. One person's success—whether that means nailing a McTwist or dropping in on a quarterpipe for the first time—is not considered the failure of another. Instead, it's typically met with tail clacks all around the park. To our eye, and granted that eye peers through a rosé-tinted lens, Stab High has created a similar relationship amongst the surfers. Everybody wants everybody to do cool shit, even if it's bad for them in the context of the competition. Anyways, despite also landing her air in the surf-off, Sky wasn't able to get past Ms. Kerr, who became the official Ladybirds winner and Princess of the Pool.

The Vans Acid Drop was supposed to go like this: each surfer would have two chances to land an acid drop off the first tier hanging off the pool wall, which was roughly four feet above the wave. Once every surfer had completed that (or been eliminated), we'd then follow the same logic through tiers two, three, and four, which became increasingly higher, then all the way to the top of the wall. But Harry Bryant didn't like this plan. He wanted to jump from the top immediately, and by the top we don't mean the top of the wall, but instead the top of the structure on top of the wall, which added at least another five feet to an already 10-foot drop (15 feet total, for those who failed kindergarten). Luckily for Haz, it was the board that blew out on impact and not his ankles, knees, or other necessary extremities. Still, makes for a great photo, doesn't it?

As one of three Stab High competitors to make the final in consecutive years, and having some of the most unique aerial options of all the competitors in the field, Ian Crane was a threat to steal the $25k and spend it all on condoms. Had Crane-o landed this full-rotation, backside indy alleyoop, it could have very well been the case. As it went, an insufficient lurch of the lip left Ian falling mostly out the back. He finished in fifth.

As the final transitioned from the right ramps to the left, a black chorus of cumulonimbus formed behind the great wall of Waco, adding a beautiful if ominous lighting to the Texan afternoon, but more importantly kicking up a brutish south wind, which blew into the ramp with daddy-filling-up-balloons determination. The surfers, most of whom stood with their right foot in the wax (or front pad), became giddy with anticipation, then proceeded to stomp air after air after air after air. Backside full rote. Fronstide slob. Backside one-footer. Then, Chippa, who needed something spicy to account for the right-hand score gap between himself and Kevin Schulz, threw a lien full-rote into the approaching gales, sticking to his board like a gecko and landing on the lower part of the transition. The judges agreed: it was the best air we'd seen in the final and probably the day. A score of 42, consisting of three 8s and two 9s, was ultimately delivered, pushing Chippa to the top of the leaderboard. Having already secured the lead, Chip then went through his trick catalog, including a stalefish full-rote (which was a little sloppier than the lien, hence its lower score), poked-out slob, and front-shuv—all of which were landed, but none of which beat the 42. Nor would anybody else.

As the skies darkened, crackled and popped, Matt Meola did everything in his power to defeat Mr. Wilson, including this upside-down something or other. Had Matt ridden away, the judges would have scrutinized all aspects of the air, including the height, grab, spin and landing, to determine if Matt had earned the 43 he required for victory. But our gut said yes.

But nobody did land the air they required, nor would they have a chance to on their bonus wave, as the incoming storm promised such threat that BSR's gracious owner and operator, Stuart Parsons, made the executive decision to get everyone the fuck out of the pool, and off the giant metal scaffolding, which looked more like a sadistic jungle gym than it did a viewing platform. Meanwhile on the shore, finalists scurried out of the conductive soup while Harry Bryant thrust himself fearlessly across the line, tackling has pal Chips Wilson, who had just won Stab High 2.0, back into the pool as a display of masculine affection. Not wanting to lose his paycheck, Chippa opted to throw Harry over his shoulder rather than being chaired up the beach himself. We think that image truly encapsulates the spirit of Stab High.
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