Stab Magazine | The 10 Most Viral Surf Moments Of 2016

And The Winners Of The Vans Triple Crown of Surfing Are... Watch The Pick-Up Episode 5, Presented by Vans, To Find Out


The 10 Most Viral Surf Moments Of 2016

Because if it didn’t get posted on Instagram, it didn’t happen…

style // Dec 30, 2016
Words by stab
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Sure, we could run a list of our most-liked or most-played Instagram posts but that really isn’t the point here (Jamie O’Brien spinning inside a hamster wheel at Backdoor takes both titles FYI). You could call this the social media relative of the most-read stories of the year, more thumb twiddles less click-throughs. What we’re looking at here are the kind of news events that are powerful enough to drive people to slide into their favourite app and hit that share button. Laid out chronologically below are our subjective picks for these moments, for your reflective entertainment. 

When John Florence Won The Eddie

First up for the year’s most viral moments occurred during that exceptionally large El Nino #brockswell, when the ninth Eddie ran and John Florence took his first win of the year. Waimea Bay had been maxing all day in what the WSL was calling “unquestionably the most competitive Eddie in history.” It was an entertaining spectacle for anyone following on their smart devices, made even greater when Mr Florence secured victory, the youngest man ever to do it, and as a result Instagram rained with tributes.

John Eddie

Albee Layer’s Jaws Barrel

What a day February 25th, 2016 was for a surfer in the digital age. While the people’s fave, John Florence dominated Waimea’s most prestigious event, over on the Island of Maui, Albee Layer, who’d forfeited his invitation to the Eddie, was on the inside bowl at Jaws riding out of possibly the deepest barrels ever at the iconic stretch. The footage of his feat surfaced later that day promptly bumping Mr Florence down the feed as it gathered its own snowball of engagement.

When Taj Burrow Retired

It was during a webcast interview at the Margaret River Drug Aware Pro that Taj Burrow announced his imminent retirement from competitive surfing. “My heart’s not in it anymore,” he told Stab prior to the broadcast. Being such a likeable surf gent, respect and appreciation posts saturated the digital airwaves the day he broke the news, but it was his final heat, a nail-biting match up with John Florence in exceptional Cloudbreak conditions, when things really lit up. Taj called it one of the best heats of his life.

Taj retires

Taj last heat

The Red Bull Cape Fear Got The Green Light

Remember earlier in the year when they ran that contest at that disgustingly heavy ledge in a freakish, record breaking swell in Sydney? Remember how you pretty much expected someone to die or get maliciously wounded during a live broadcast? Well you’ll also remember seeing images of those brown beasts filling the feed for weeks surrounding the event, particularly a few wipeouts that appeared to precede certain death, but miraculously didn’t.

Cape Fear

Mick Fanning Returned To J-Bay, And Won

Since June, 2015, Mick Fanning’s been surfing’s most talked about figure. The shark incident would have topped last year’s edition of this list, however it was his triumphant return to Jeffrey’s Bay that had everyone’s thumbs tapping in 2016. Not only did he overcome his understandable fear of another encounter, as well as an ankle injury just prior to commencement of the event, he surfed like an absolute deity and won the whole damn thing. From top to bottom silk freesurfing to high velocity combinations on that magic blue board, he had the entire surfing world’s support behind him.

Fanno Jbay

When Julian Wilson And Matt Wilkinson Called Out The WSL Judges

Fast forward to Lowers where things are just starting to heat up in the title contention arena, Matt Wilkinson’s momentum has began to slide and the door swung open for those in striking distance of the yellow jersey. Tensions rose as a few hopefuls were narrowly bumped out of competition by controversial judging decisions. Disappointed and frustrated, a number of surfers including Jules and Wilko aired their disagreements via Instagram spearheading a swarm of hashtagging (#corruptjudgeswsl, #w$l, etc) and opinion sharing from the likes of Matt Meola, Tom Carroll, Kelly Slater and more. The WSL opened their rulebook, directed attention to the fine print and within weeks most of the posting had been edited or removed.

WSL Corrupt

Jules Wilson Corruptwsl

Stab In The Dark Starring Dane Reynolds

We wanted to answer the question of whether it’s possible to call a surfboard, or a shaper, the best in the world. Planting Dane Reynolds in South Africa with 13 unidentifiable surfboards from the greatest shapers on planet earth, the results were bound to entertain. Dane’s brutal honesty and exceptional understanding of the craft made for an experience that was as thrilling as it was educational. Removing* his supporting shaper from the mix added credibility to his words and the world ate it up.


That Shark Cage Incident

Stemming from a youtube upload that eventually clocked play counts exceeding the 20 mil mark, the short video featuring a great white driving its way through the metal bars of an (occupied) diving cage stole the Instagram limelight for over a week. It was just so frightening real. The cage diving industry has likely felt the backlash ever since, though, according to the original video, the shark wasn’t trying to make a meal of the solo diver within, instead “lunged at the bait, accidentally hit the side of the cage, was most likely confused and not able to swim backwards, thrust forward and broke the metal rail of the cage,” supposedly suffering minimal injuries as a result.

When John Florence Won The World Title

The people’s champ, thanks to the handy work of rookie Conner Coffin, secured an unbeatable amount of points on the leaderboard to clutch his first world title. Never before has the world read the words ‘humble’, ‘hardworking’ in so many Instagram captions on the one day – all valid remarks. It was one of those victories that garnered tribute posts from pretty much every key player in the surf scene. Title victories deserve a social victory lap, this felt as though it deserved a little more.

John Wins Title

Albee Layer Landed A Backside 540*

Landing the first ever backside double spin on a surfboard understandably earned a place in a few lists this year. There’s two main reasons the thing went viral socially; the fact that it was freakish to look at no matter what screen size you were viewing, and the controversial naming of Albee’s world first. Was it a 540? 720? Or what Tony Hawk later called an ollie 720 to revert? Either way, he spun around a bunch in the air and it was wild.

Dane Reynolds’ Dropped Chapter 11

There were just so many levels to Dane Reynolds’ masterpiece and a multitude of reasons why the internet loved it. Kelly Slater said the film “proves he’s the best talent to ride a surfboard,” and that “Dane puts truth where other people can’t seem to put it or are uncomfortable.” The world adores Dane’s raw honesty, it’s refreshing and this feature was brimming with it.

Chap 11

Special Mention: First North Shore Sunset Of The Winter


Special Mention: Christmas Day Spent With Mason Ho And Jamie O’Brien


Comments are a Stab Premium feature. Gotta join to talk shop.

Already a member? Sign In

Want to join? Sign Up


Most Recent

Full Moon Surfs, Impassable Puddles, And A Few Nights Spent Sleeping In A WSL Commentary Booth

A reader-submitted collection of nonconformist surf stories.

Jan 27, 2023

Carissa Moore And Finn McGill Are Your 2023 Vans Triple Crown Of Surfing Champions 

They both pocket $50k and tickets to this year’s Vans Pipe Masters.

Jan 27, 2023

The Pick-Up, Presented By Vans, Episode 5

Mason Ho helps us ring in our final week on the North Shore.

Jan 27, 2023

Goofyfoot Brazilian World Champion Stars In Stab’s Biggest Board-Testing Franchise

Can you guess who?

Jan 26, 2023

Surf Community Rallies To Raise Funds For Eddie Winner And On-Duty Hawaiian Lifeguard Luke Shepardson

Because it's the right thing to do, of course.

Jan 26, 2023

Interview: Caity Simmers On Machete Wars, Rihanna, Personal Project Problems, And The Rise Of Female Surf Content. 

A toast to ‘Toasted.’

Jan 25, 2023

Stab Surfer of the Year: Creed McTaggart, Albee Layer, Laura Enever, Dane Guduaskas, and Selema Masekela

Day 8: "65 years young and charging just as hard as ever at Pipe, Backdoor,…

Jan 25, 2023

“I’m Not A Big Wave Guy”

How Kai Paula accidentally made his mark at Jaws three weeks after surfing it for…

Jan 24, 2023

Everyone Went.

A toes in the sand, phone in the lagoon account of the 10th Eddie Aikau…

Jan 24, 2023

Breaking: Another CT Rookie Injured Before First Event

Sophie McCulloch pulls out of Pipeline due to Snapper Rocks snafu.

Jan 23, 2023


Watch: ‘Toasted,’ By Caity Simmers

Your favorite surfer directs, edits, and stars in her first feature film. 

Jan 23, 2023

On-Duty North Shore Lifeguard Luke Shepardson Wins The Eddie Aikau

Local man prevails over 39 big-wave heavyweights at 29ft @ 19 seconds Waimea.

Jan 23, 2023

The Eddie Aikau Invitational Is On

Grab a beverage and enjoy surfing's Super Bowl Sunday

Jan 22, 2023

The Women’s CT Is About To See A Generational Shift 

Only three women have won a Title in the past 15 years. Here's why that's…

Jan 22, 2023


“One For Marcio” – Albee Layer’s Tribute To Mad Dog

Imagine treating 30ft Jaws like Backdoor.

Jan 22, 2023

Stab Surfer of the Year: Noa Deane, Jamie O’Brien, Parker Coffin, Cliff Kapono, and Brendan Buckley

Day 7: "It's like he feels more comfortable when it’s as gnarly as it gets."…

Jan 21, 2023

Five Reasons Why The Eddie Still Matters

With better waves around the world and likely no prize money, why is The Eddie…

Jan 20, 2023


The Pick-Up, Presented By Vans, Episode 4

The science behind morning sickness, Sunset sliding with Noa Deane, and bailing on a President…

Jan 20, 2023