Who can deny a turn of such ferocity and grace? Photo: Brandon Ellis
The Most Unjustly Appraised Pro Surfers
According to the Stab staff.
A couple months back, I watched a Mason Ho edit from Ala Moana Bowls and was left with one thought: anyone who hates on Flynn Novak is a fucking idiot.
Let's forget for a moment that Flynn landed surfing's first true backflip (sorry, Timmy) and parted dozens of Pipe bombs throughout his career. Instead, I'd like to focus on the seldom-recognized truth that Flynn has one of the most corrosive forehand carves in surfing.
Ever. Period. End of discussion.
Flynn's a wiry guy, but he slices the water like scissors through gift wrap. Frictionless but engaged. Allow the turns above and below to serve as evidence.
To me, this is the most widely appreciated art in surfing, yet Flynn’s carves are largely ignored.
Now, the backflip. Groundbreaking the first time we saw it, still impressive all the times thereafter, but admittedly a bit redundant after 5+ completions. Which brings me to a point from several years ago.
This all started with an episode of ‘Fly Me To The Moon’, in which we asked some of the world’s most revered surfers and critics about air culture. In the piece, filmmaker and surf-culture-shifter Kai Neville said, “The flip’s amazing but...it’s not really where I’d like to see surfing going...people doing those kinds of moves.”
As a staunch proponent of progression and general "cool-kid" contrarian, Albee Layer took umbrage with Kai’s statement. His argument being something along the lines of: How can you hate on something that had previously never been landed, and is objectively more difficult than all of the "standard" airs in your films?
Albee's feelings were compounded when, in his next cinematic release (Cluster), Kai concluded the film with a flip of sorts by Noa Deane.
You can imagine how this boiled Albee's blood.
Which brings us back to Flynn: a man with a searing rail game, undeniable tube chops, and who landed flips better than Cluster’s closer a decade prior to its release. Nevertheless, from the brands to the media to the fans, Mr. Novak has always been portrayed as an outsider in our cliquey world of surf—kinda like Zoltan 'The Magician' Torkos, but to a much lesser extent.
In my eyes, this makes Flynn one of the most unjustly appraised pro surfers of the 21st century.
Let me clarify that phrase real quick. Being "unjustly appraised" is not the same as being "underrated". I’m talking about people who’ve been actively crueled by the surf industrial complex, rather than those who've failed to receive due recognition.
I brought this concept up to my coworkers’ and asked them to name some other surfers who'd fit into this category*. Below is a more-or-less unedited email thread between the Stab Staff. Let's pull on it and see where it leads.
*some of our staff did go the "underrated" route, which is fine
Shinya Dalby - Creative Director
I'm not the biggest fan of his style, but he is really great at riding surfboards. Matt had a strong junior career, where he used to towel up guys like Noa Deane and Creed on the reg. Sadly he made very little impact on the big boys tour, and you know how the rest goes. He is still surfing skitz, so it's hard to comprehend that he can only scrape up Peak at this point.
Yes, he is a friend of Stab, but I truly believe he has to be one of the most underrated surfers in the world. Coby is an NZ-born Gold Coast local who grew up through the era of Jack Freestone, yet somehow never got picked up by a major player in his youth – or ever. Bad timing? Maybe he started to break out after the surf industry was crumbling, who knows. He throws down pretty hard, and does it all on self-shaped surfboards.
Sam Mcintosh - founder, president, publisher
This one is gonna sound strange because they’re so mainstream, however, Meola and Albee came to power in the golden age of the surf industry.
They were always outsiders. As complete innovators, they really should have commanded more financial attention. When you consider how good surfers are at mimicking performance, how is it that Albee is the only man to make a proper, no-grab double-oop? I know you will say the wave, but how have no Brazilians, no Indo groms, no one else have landed a 720?
Kirk Flintoff is fucking incredible backside at Solander, also. Truly groundbreaking.
Ashton Goggans - Stab's Morgan Freeman equivalent
Pete Mendia: Best man-hacks ever. Still has em in his late-40s.
Shaun Manners: I feel like a lot of people write him off as being a sort of hipster-y flash in the pan talent, but he’s got more grit than half the CT and is gnarly in everything. His Rage 3 ender puts him in the convo for best air ever done, and that Gnaraloo elevator drop last year was one of the most psycho waves ever ridden.
Danny Johnson - Senior editor/creative director
My answer is modern era Kelly. His surfing is still so mind-blowing and he’s endlessly rinsed by everyone all the time.
I’d also like to mention Luke Davis. I think he rips, charges, and has great style but the general surf public is so incredibly conservative that he was pretty heavily hated on.
I also think Cam Richards’ career trajectory was skewed after he was pitted up against Dane at Trestles. Wasn’t really his fault, it was just a silly popularity contest that he happened to be good at playing and then he came up against our lord and saviour.
I love this angle for an article, but I would argue that Flynn Novak had a really good run there for a while in the surf media especially given that he didn’t have solid sponsorship and the opportunities that flow on from that. He was everywhere for a while wasn’t he?
I also wouldn’t count him not having solid sponsorship as being unjustly appraised by surf culture/media. I think the reason he didn’t have sponsorship is obvious. He has uninspiring taste, hence renaming a trick after yourself. No one’s calling backflips Flynnstone flips and he’s no one’s favourite surfer.
Whenever I hear surfers complain about lack of industry support (which I think Flynn has and guys like Albee definitely have phrased it like that), it drives me insane. I just see it as them taking zero responsibility for their personal lack of marketability or them not understanding the basics of how and why sponsorship deals happen.
The industry doesn’t “support" anyone. It creates mutually beneficial contracts to make more sales. If a company doesn't think they can align with you to make more money for themselves, then it’s up to you to change yourself or their minds.
I don’t think people care about tech. Even if Albee landed a 1080 it wouldn't have made him more marketable. The variables are so different in surfing that the invention of tricks is much greyer and doesn't mean much like it does in skating.
Or another theory: The reason Flynn Novak wasn’t sponsored is that his height is what makes him less relatable. Tall NBA players don’t sell sneakers and maybe tall surfers don’t sell boardies?
Whoops. I went too long.
Tom Bird - part-owner and Australasian sales
My criteria for ‘underrated’ surfers are as follows:
- Full package: excels in heavy, barreling waves and can still surf small stuff with flair
- Needs an ‘X-factor’, be it flawless technique, speed, variety etc.
- Not under the spotlight and perhaps recognised as a “CT” contender (yet)
So, in no particular order, the underrated or up-and-comers in my mind are:
- Parker Coffin
- Mitch Parkinson
- Liam O’Brien
- Cam Richards
- Miguel Tudela
These 4 guys could definitely mix it with the top guys in pretty much every condition, particularly either end of the spectrum.
Also have to add Mitch Ross in there. For the old dogs.
Brendan Buckley - Chief Intern
I was surfing Rocky Point one afternoon during the peak of the Chapelle Show era. Flynn Novak was out, trying backflips on every wave, and punctuating other people’s maneuvers with BYAHs in the interim. I found it amusing and it seared itself into my memory.
I believe he has a large stingray tattooed on his back.
BIG agree on Banting and Albee. Where do specialists fit in this? I’d put Meola as an air specialist and nothing more. Also, seems like there’s about 20 Tahitians who get psycho waves every swell and are largely ignored. Wouldn’t put them in here, but is it worth exploring specializations in a different story?
Wade Goodall is tempting, but at this point I think he’s so often rated as underrated that it balances out. So, I’m going to go full goofy foot pirate mode and say this fucking guy.
Reubyn Ash. Even though his name is only six letters long, I had to copy and paste it from YouTube because I can't bring myself to organize those letters in succession like that. Sounds like a porn star but is also a popular sandwich. To me, the Reubyn Ash dynasty is shrouded in mystery. Who the fuck was this guy? He's from the UK? Like, for real from the UK? If so, why is everyone else from the UK so bad at surfing? Are they bad at surfing or am I making that up based on what I see in France? What is this? Was Billabong even paying him?
He also had an Innersection part, but I'm not sharing it due to health concerns related to his song choice. My brain is stupid because airs but I would rather watch this tea drinking mother fucker surf than Parker Coffin or Cody Perkowski, if I'm being honest. I welcome anybody to unsheathe a sword and debate.
Taylor Paul - Elite travel agent
Whenever I see some crazy innovation that I ignore, I always say, "I can't wait till John John does it."
I also liked most everything Danny said. (Hi Danny.)
The marketability argument was stronger pre-2014, when mags and big brands really controlled careers and who's surfing got seen. But once Social took over it was no longer Stab or Billabong's fault that Zoltan Torkos wasn't taken seriously. It was Zoltan's fault. Because he had the same platform as everyone else and no amount of magic could endear the masses to a guy that tries kickflips on every wave.
Style matters. Vibe matters. Not being from Santa Cruz or Maui matters. Actual surfing ability doesn't matter as much as surfers think it should.
That said, I'm voting Zoltan Torkos. The guy does kickflips!
(I can't wait till JJF does them.)
Zack Raffin - Jr. Intern
Carlos Munoz. Dropped by Volcom/Redbull etc, he's still in the qualification picture nearly every year and has a polished, all around game that's hard to beat. The other Lowers popularity winner, he has to be the most successful/skilled surfer ever to come out of Central America, right? And a region with that much surf tourism and quality breaks you'd think brands would still want to capitalize, yet he has essentially no backing.