Observations Part II: Brendon Gibbens
From the Stab 2013/2014 Big Book: Made in Hamburg! Of all the self-made sonsabitches, ain’t nobody quite like South African Brendon Gibbens… Interview by Craig Jarvis | Photos by Alan Van Gysen I remember the first time I saw Brendon Gibbens’ short for Innersection, the Taylor Steele vid part contest. I was jaded with it all. Jaded with surfing, […]
From the Stab 2013/2014 Big Book: Made in Hamburg! Of all the self-made sonsabitches, ain’t nobody quite like South African Brendon Gibbens…
Interview by Craig Jarvis | Photos by Alan Van Gysen
I remember the first time I saw Brendon Gibbens’ short for Innersection, the Taylor Steele vid part contest. I was jaded with it all. Jaded with surfing, bored with video clips and DVD releases, fed up with the state of surfing in South Africa and the cycle of stagnant competition. When I downloaded the clip it blew refreshing. Like listening to Sonic Youth or The Velvet Underground for the first time. Something different, something that actually made you pay attention.
There were massive forehand reverses and there were huge backhand airs. There were giant barrels and a surfer charging. Some big crashes and a South African surfer trying some amazing shit. A different approach! Everyone loves a different approach. I felt I needed to tell the world about this young man and what he had become.
In a previous life as a mag editor, Brendon Gibbens was a name that often came across my desk. He was a nice, smiling kid. Small. Quiet. But with big turns. He had parents who were attentive at events, but were relaxed about competing, preferring to give their son love and support than they were on arguing with the judges, believing that they have the new Jordy Smith. BG used to surf hard and always seemed a little different to the young kids, with reservation, maybe. A little timid.
BG did great at the junior events, getting a few finals, winning a few events and titles with big smiles, and generally clocking on a well-worn trajectory that would lead to WQS doldrums, as it does to pretty much everyone who ain’t Jordy Smith.
Then he quietly dropped off the radar. And you know what happens then. You’re gone. The rest of the hopefuls fill your vacancy and there isn’t a soul on earth who cares about your disappearance. But BG was (and is) still young, 22 right now, and has a lifetime of reinventions ahead of him. And he came back without any fanfare and dropped that clip on Innersection.
It was stupendous and it was different. It took many people by surprise. It was the sorta stuff Jordy brings out, and it encapsulated the great divide between Jordy and the rest of South Africa. BG wasn’t on the Jordy level, but he was by far the next best thing to stand on a surfboard and he wasn’t doing it by making C-grade iPhone clips and embarrassingly self-promoting himself.
BG is a popular kid and people really embrace something that is unique. But despite the muscle of a nation behind him, it was to no avail, really. I bumped into Brendon just after the final votes were tallied and he was stoic about it, totally zen.
“It was a simple numbers game,” said BG. “When America start voting for their boys, we’re out the game.” USA has an estimated 3.3million surfers, Australia has an estimated 2 million. South Africa ha somewhere between 40 and 80 thousand surfers, and most would tend to believe the number being closer to the 40k mark than the 80k mark.
But Brendon had found an angle and soon he was self-editing and mixing, adding in the tunes, lashing the medium with class and style. When he loaded each taster up and delivered it to the world, his surfing began to speak globally.
BG is thankful for those early clips and all the hard work he put into them. “Although Internet content gets forgotten so quickly, they did kick-start my career,” says BG. “Releasing them channelled some attention my way.”
They definitely did. Enough attention was being handed out for Stab to take note and to choose our favourite Hamburg-born South Africa surfer. Dark of hair and boyishly handsome. Painfully polite. It’s a “hello” instead of a “howzit” and it’s a “thank you” instead of a “shot my bru” it’s a “I’m well thanks” instead of a “lekker, ekse. One time.”
Stab: Performance surfing needs the right direction to evolve.
Brendon: I don’t have anyone forcing me to surf contests or whatever. I surf, I get exposure, I have loads of fun along the way. I used to surf contests, but my interests have changed. Some people might think that the lifestyle of surfing events is cool and who am I to knock it? It’s just not for me. What I am doing now is very satisfying.
It’s good to travel, but coming home is the best. Cape Town is the best place in the world. I’m biased like that. I was born in Hamburg. My Dad was transferred there and my parents lived there for 10 years. I came to South Africa when I was five. Now I travel quite a lot.
The world, as they say, is your oyster. Lever it open, swallow it whole! If I didn’t surf I’d try and pursue some sort of career in the music industry. That’s a world that seems pretty interesting.
What’s your biz card say, figuratively, I mean. I know you don’t carry such an archaic thing… I guess I’m a professional surfer. Although, I’m not such a fan of that term. It’s quite vague. It’s not really me.
There are good surfers the world over. The best is Dane Reynolds. I travelled with him a bit. Not that much, but it was totally inspiring. His surfing is by far the best. His performance surfing is the pinnacle. I really admire him and what he does but I don’t want to emulate him. I want to do my own thing. Be myself, you know?
Surfing is everything. If you don’t surf you’re out of the race. But there’s a lot more to life than just surfing. It’s a fun and healthy recreational activity that is special to me, but I definitely don’t think that people who have never surfed before are missing out on life. Neither of my parents has ever tried surfing and they’re content. They’re cool and they’re well-adjusted.
We like to watch good surfing. Nothing more, nothing less. It sounds silly but I think of surfing as an art. If you’re entertaining to watch, then you’re good.
Surfing is riding waves and it is also being a surfer and doing all that stuff that happens in the real world, playing the part. The thing I love most about surfing is purely the action of surfing. Everything else is secondary. I see some people who claim they love surfing but they are almost more in love with the fact that they are a “surfer” and are part the surf culture as opposed to going surfing. I don’t have anything against that but I’ve never really understood that mentality.
Surfing needs to have power to be exciting. Y’think? I like the way Connor Coffin surfs. He’s a good representation of power surfing. I think that ones style is dependant on your phyique as well as the waves you grow up surfing. He’s pretty stocky and I guess has grown up surfing Rincon so I’m sure that the combination has moulded his style.
Five friends and a boat. Conventional. I’d just do something like go to the Mentawais. I’d take five of my friends from home, they’d be psyched on that idea and it would be a treat for them. You know what, in all honestly, I’d rather just drive around South Africa in search of waves, it gets pretty mental here. Sometimes way better than boat trips. It’s uncrowded. Don’t tell anyone.
Stress is a killer. It can make a strong man weak. Tell me about stress. Just organising things in general stresses me out. I like having all my ducks in a row and as soon as that doesn’t happen, I get a little bit stressed. I’m fairly relaxed most of the time, I never really freak out or anything like that. It’s not my strategy.
It all gets a bit much some times. Listening to music usually pacifies me.
There is always going to be another wave, but there are still taxes and then there’s death. I’d like to think that there is some sort of utopia or heaven after death but that seems just too far-fetched for my beliefs. Maybe my views and opinions will change as I get older, but right now, I think that one is meant to enjoy life and then kick off.
Money makes things easier. You can do a lot with piles of the stuff. Having money can definitely make for a comfortable existence, but some of the shit people do to obtain it is totally mind-blowing.
In a world before the Internet people used to read books. How about you? I don’t really read novels. I can see myself getting into that at a later stage, but right now, I mostly spend hours reading stuff on the net. Just researching different characters from different fields.
Good surfing changes constantly don’t it. I’d like to work on my carves. A good carve looks amazing in my opinion. Flow definitely works hand in hand with carves, so I’d like to improve on those two.
The lack of crowds and intensity in the surfing scene in South Africa is contrary to a successful surfing career. It’s definitely good to get away and to travel overseas for extended periods of time. Permanent emigration might be a bit extreme, but I doubt hanging in South Africa will boost my career.
Dress smart and doors will open for you. Ah, anything can be cool. It depends on the person more than the rags.
The world looks for the coolest person and when that person comes along they adore, they fawn and they sycophantically flatter. Sometimes the world gets it wrong. Sometimes the wrong person gets chosen, and good people get relegated. Everyone is unique. Sure you get the favourites like Dane, Jordy, John John etc etc, but as I said, I think surfing is more like an art. It’s a personal expression of ones self and I don’t know what criteria you can compare someone to in order to claim that they have the whole package.
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