Stab Magazine | Stab Debate: Style Or Progression?

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Stab Debate: Style Or Progression?

We argue, you decide.

style // Jun 4, 2019
Words by Stab
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Stab High is on its way and what better time to argue about an age-old conundrum…

Style vs Progression! Which is more important—smoothly flowing into radical, if not exactly innovative, maneuvers or blasting skyward into something never seen before, even if the landing comes with a bit of lay-back-and-flail-to-your-feet?

On one side we’ve got big Mike C. Head judge (or whatever) at the upcoming comp. One of the few of us who can actually do airs. Because he’s young, rips, and doesn’t need to worry about the amount of force 220 lbs delivers to your joints upon landing. He’ll be evaluating the Waco carnage. Tossing out points, making the call. Deciding.

On the other there’s a man who could, occasionally, land airs when he was Mike’s age. Way back in 2003, when three feet out was the realm of kings. Before his abnormally late in life growth spurt. Before the injuries and alcohol packed on all the sexy mass he currently flaunts. Before the day both knees screamed as he bottomed out in the flats and said, “That’s it. I’m done. I suck at these fucking things anyway.”

One will be handing out trophies, the other delivering drunken screams from the poolside bar.

Are both opinions equally valid? Of course not. But we don’t want Mikey to feel bad about himself. So let’s all agree to pretend.

Scenes from 2018.


It’s a blessing that I have nothing to do with the judging criteria at Stab High. Spectating is far more fun than going to work and it’s far easier to spout your opinions when they won’t affect anyone’s reality.

Last year I’d’ve given the win to Chippa. Based solely off the shifty front shuv he hammered in an early round. That’s not how competitions work, and everyone would have hated me for it. But, like our readers, I’m embracing my criticize-rather-than-create role. Bitching about the result, no matter what form it takes, is great! Why bother building something of your own when you can shit on what other people kill themselves to realize?

Style and progression are, almost always, at odds. Style is important, but the flowing beauty of surfing comes from repetition. From practicing until perfect, dialing in hand and foot placement, pairing down movements until you’ve reached a point of gorgeous simplicity.

Progression springs from failure. Early aerials were wacked-out spazz-fests. The older among us will remember the surf industry hating on them in print. “It’s not real surfing. There’s nothing better than a stylish cutback…” “Airs are for kids. Men do turns.”

The latter statement is kinda true. Mainly because you’ve gotta learn ’em while your bones still bend.

But an air contest is all about progression. It’s the event’s raison d’être. Sure, no one wants to see guys falling all day long. But neither do we want to see day full of double grabs and frontside revs.

ScaleWidthWyIxMjAwIl0 Gambling Stab High

Does a soft board increase or decrease an air’s style?


It’s an interesting argument you’ve posed here—that by rewarding style, we’re ultimately rewarding conservative surfing.

You almost tricked me into believing it, too.

But the truth is, a crazy flip/spin/whatever takes just as many attempts to complete as a perfectly styled punt. Both require repetition, to use your word, the only difference is that surfers land a lot of their “fuck-ups” on the style attempts, whereas the progression moves are all or nothing.

An example: Slater’s double-spin in Portugal, circa 2014.

This was a groundbreaking moment in the sport of surfing. Not only was it the first time somebody had landed a double-rotation frontside air reverse, but it was done by a 43-year-old who, if we’re being honest, is not a technically superior aerialist. Incredible!

However, it’s not my favorite air of all time. Nor are any of the crazy rotations that Albee Layer, Matt Meola, Chippa Wilson or whoever else have pulled.

My favorite air of all time was performed by John John Florence, and it came in the credits of his feature film, View From a Blue Moon.

The air I’m referring to wasn’t publicly heralded. It didn’t break the internet. It didn’t even make it to the internet, as far as I know, which is why I’m forced to plug my own Instagram just to show it to the world, because it’s the only place I know where to find it (apologies for the terrible filming and quality).

To me, this air exemplifies true surfing mastery. It was high, controlled, and incredibly stylish. The landing was smoother than a baby dog’s tummy. It practically defied physics, the way he went one way and came back the other without a grab, wind, or straps to create resistance. It’s the type of punt that, if you gave everyone else in the world ten attempts on the same exact section, I doubt anyone could pull it off in an equally pleasing manner.

In contrast, I believe Slater’s air could be duplicated and improved.  

Point being: style is progression, and it matters.

ScaleWidthWyIxMjAwIl0 DSC 9285

Even a straighty can het a score, if it’s done just so. 


Looks who’s trying to be clever! The question is style or progression. You’re advocating for style and progression.

And, yeah, everyone is onboard with that, ya’ goofus.

I also admit that Slater’s 540 (that last half spin doesn’t count because he was in the fucking flats!) is still crazy. No one has matched it yet.

But if you’re saying you’d give the nod to someone for a JJF-quality shifty… there will be a riot in Waco. I’ll be the one to start it. I’ll steal a gun from a security guard and fire it into the air while reciting my grievances. The crowd will follow my lead and carnage will ensue. And it will be all your fault.

I get that judging is a balancing act. Stab High is about entertainment. No one wants to pay to see guys falling all day long. So slightly conservative, while still radical, is a must and should be rewarded.

But if one of the surfers feels magic under his feet, goes for something no one has seen before, and lands kind of whack… that should take the heat. Risk must be rewarded. If you’re uncomfortable with that you’re in the wrong profession. You should quit writing and start kissing ass in the hopes of, one day, climbing into the WSL tower.

The first person to do something deserves more credit than the first person to do it perfectly. Because the innovator proves it’s possible. Everyone else just builds on that knowledge.

Slater’s a perfect example. He may not be a “technically superior aerialist,” anymore. But he spent decades pushing the boundaries of the possible.

The barrel to air at fifty-two seconds (watch here) ain’t shit by modern standards. But in 1994 it was unbelievable. Not that you’d remember. I don’t think you were even alive yet.

dsc 2549 1

Yeah, well, neither was Eli Hanneman. And look at him now! 


Wow, now I almost want to blow the Stab High scores on purpose just to see your promised reaction!

Question: do you plan on choking the security guard out first, a la Harry Bryant, or will you just donkey punch the poor bastard and steal his or her piece? Also, what’s the plan when every Texan in the audience pulls out their concealed carry weapon and starts shooting at you?

Sorry, that was tangential.

The point is that, if it were up to me, John’s air could win Stab High over Kelly’s. However, despite being head judge, I don’t actually have a say in the scores. My role is to pass out beers and gently remind the real judges—who include Aaron ‘Gorkin’ Cormican (of Gorkin Flip fame), Jason ‘Ratboy’ Collins (of that air reverse at Steamer Lane), and another prominent, nickname-having punter who has yet to be decided—what airs have already transpired and how they scored, so that the experts don’t lose track of the scale.

Those guys will decide what’s hot and what’s not, and if I were to guess, the double-rotation would probably win over the shifty.

However, on the topic of sloppy landings, you’re a proper lunatic. Probably the same lunatic who actually thought this was a “make”.

At Stab High, we’re dealing with the best aerialists in the world, and they’re hitting the same, objectively perfect ramp every single time. There’s no excuse for rolling up the windows or landing on your ass, only to escape from the whitewater three seconds later. That wouldn’t count in snowboarding or skating and nor will it here.

You want full points, you’ve gotta stick it. And if you want the most points*, you’ll stick it with style.

Can we at least agree that Slater should have won that heat against Beschen? Also, I was born in ’93, so fuck you.

Now we want to know:

*Last year, Mason Ho got the highest score at Stab High for a massive, tweaked-out rodeo in the finals. He scored an 81/100. 

Buy Stab High tickets here.


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