“We’re Not Stuck In The ’60s!”
A conversation with Joel Tudor, on the ever-evolving traveling circus known as the Duct Tape, and the all-women’s Invitational they’re planning for the US Open this summer.
Mid-morning in Zarautz, Basque Country, and Karlos Arguiñano’s castle is bustling, people standing at the bar sipping espressos and enjoying pintxos, as the Vans crew shuffles in, photographer and team manager Nolan Hall, Mitch Abshere, artist Geoff McFetridge, and perhaps the only man who could bring together such an eclectic a group of characters from all corners of the surf world, Joel Tudor.
Having known Joel for the better part of a quarter-century now, the Zarautz Duct Tape Festival, the most current iteration of his Duct Tape Invitational, feels the most, well, Joel of any.
Building on to the 16-man invitational logging event now in its 15th incarnation, the Duct Tape Festival Zarautz marks the third to include board demos from Vans esteemed roster of surfer/shapers (of varying degrees of both talent and experience).
As Joel and I talked, we watched two of the event’s youngest invitees, 16-year-old Saxon Wilson, and 17-year-old Zach Flores, skate by, wide-eyed and psyched, the teenagers’ first time in Europe is one for the books, surely – not unlike the first trips Joel took here, as a 15-year-old, completely unaware the region would change his life forever. This is where Joel and I jumped off…
Stab: Tell me about your first trip to Europe, being, how old, coming over here?
Joel: I came here with Nat [Young] and Donald [Takayama].
The first year I went over for the Oxbow World Longboard tour. Then the next year I came over for the Biarritz Surf Festival, and that brought everybody.
But my way of getting here was pretty much the same as how these kids got to the Duct Tape today. I surfed in a Life’s A Beach contest, I did good and Nat saw me. He left the event, went home, called Oxbow and told them, “Hey you gotta get this kid over there next summer.”
So I came and I won. And I won the next year in Biarritz.
What was it like being that young and coming over with Nat and Donald, meeting Miki [Dora]?
Of all the trips I’ve been on, the stories that I have from those first trips, just… It was magic. I knew everyone through Donald, Donald was my chaperone. We went together, but that trip brought me a lot closer to all those guys.
I’ll show you a Dora picture you’ve probably never seen. [Shows photo of a tiny Joel sitting next to a grimmacing Miki Dora, both eating hamburgers under a shade.]
How’s that face of his?
He was eating lunch, and yelled at me, “Hey, Joel! Eat lunch with me.” We ate a burger, and my mom snapped a photo with that scowl-face of his.
But yeah. That first year in Europe…
I got there in a similar way that most of these kids got here: Someone with authority, who knew what good surfing was, saw me, and recognized it, and here I am today.
So when I stopped really competing, it was my responsibility to continue that.
[David] Nuuhiwa would always make a joke when I was younger, saying, “You’re taking the show on the road!”
Because they needed someone to pick it up and carry it forward.
It’s a show. We take it everywhere. It affects people. It makes it more valid, more people pick it up and do it. It’s great.
You’ve got some young blood in the mix this event. How’d you source the groms?
Zach [Flores] is amazing. Saxon [Wilson] smoked me last summer. He kicked my ass. We were paddling out in Virginia Beach and I just said, “Hey, I guess I’ll see you next summer.”
Seventeen-year-old Floridian Saxon Wilson, enjoying his first eastern Atlantic jaunt, alongside Joel and fellow Katin teammate Zach Flores.
How much heat do you cop for the selections?
People are always critiquing it.
I get mad when guys start questioning my, like, intentions. I just think, “Who the fuck are you? You don’t think I’m asking all these guys who the next kid is?”
I’m really diplomatic about how I invite people. I’m asking Al [Knost], I’m asking all the right guys who they think the next kid is.
People are always trying to call us out for overlooking someone. You really think I’m not paying real close attention to what’s going on? I’ve had so many people hammer me, just, “Oh, you gotta invite this guy! He’s the fucking man!
And of course, he gets smoked first round.
How did the board-building aspect get brought in?
Well, that all came, originally, from Al winning at Santa Cruz, on a board he made. Al won, and Burch got 2nd, riding one of his own boards, too. Then Tyler [Warren] went home and made himself a board for Salinas and won on that. So it was just sort of an evolution from that.
The boards these kids are riding in the events look insane.
These kids go to Australia, and they get their hands on boards there, then they come back and go to the Surfing Heritage and Culture Museum, and they have all these fucking rallies, and board auctions, and they walk into a surf shop and grab the rail of a lot of boards and just go: what happened? Did surfing go backwards?
What do you have up your sleeve for the next couple events?
We’re doing one at the US Open again, and it’s going to be all women’s. Exclusively.
Wow. That’s massive.
That list is gnarly. And it’s crazy how hard it’s been for me, because girls keep popping up all the time, just ripping. And so I have to be really selective. I also have to make sure to invite some of the older women, who paid dues for these younger generations to get there.
Seventeen-year-old Duct Tape rookie Zach Flores is as as stylish and smooth on his self-shaped logs as any of the event’s most seasoned veterans.
How would you feel about the WSL recognizing the attention the Duct Tape gets, and adopting some of the format for the World Tour?
I talked to the WSL and told them, I’ll help, but it’s my way or the highway.
Contests are becoming more and more removed. You have to connect with people in person.
We’re just trying to promote a style of surfing that’s totally valid, and happening everywhere. Because the WSL—they’re the absolute highest standard, but they are so out of touch with longboarding. They’re still geared towards relics from the ‘90s, leftovers, guys in their mid-40s, still trying to bash the lip. There’s no new growth.
Some of these kids [from the Duct Tape] are buying houses. We’ve built a platform where brands could pay attention to them, and started to pay them. And that, to me, is a huge accomplishment.
We’re still tied to the culture. It connects with people. We’re building boards, we’re living in cars so we can surf, it’s the image that built this. You want to bring it places and have it infect the area.
The other side is guys throwing medicine balls against the wall, getting yelled at by coaches, surfing the exact same boards, surfing the exact same way… It’s fucking jock. We let pro surfing get modeled after fucking golf. And not talking shit, but there’s no originality.
Winning World Titles helps. It helped my life, dramatically. It’s worth the time.
But winning a World Title now… I don’t know a single brand that if you approached them and said, I’m the WSL Longboard World Champ, wouldn’t go: “they have one of those?”
But if you told them you won the Duct Tape…
Oh, that’s unfortunately true.
That’s what we’re trying to explain to people. It isn’t just my opinion. And we aren’t going backwards and they’re going forwards. It’s just that we all believe that longboard surfing wasn’t shit and it should have never went away.
All of us suffered, and fought to see through the fog to realize: that’s the shit. That’s it.
It took forever, until guys like Al [Knost] came around. And Al fucked things up. In a good way. He’s the most copied surfer in surfing. All the fucking hipster Aussies in their shitty bands—all mini Knosts! His sphere of influence is amazing.
Now, these guys are all doing a dance and they’re good at it. It’s the fucking dance, and dancing’s the shit. All my friends who could dance always got so laid. Go to a club. It’s one of the earliest things that separated humans: Rhythm. Dancing is sexy. End of story.
The most ripped off surfer in the game, Al Knost.
We’ll be holed up in the Basque Country with Joel, Alex, Dane Reynolds, Tanner Gudang, and the rest of the Vans/Duct Tape crew for the next few days. There’s a fun pulse of swell in the water for the Invitational, and a fleet of eight beauties Dane, Alex, Tanner, and Lee Ann Curren hand-shaped for the your pleasure. If you happen to be in Europe, we insist you make your way here.
Keep it cutty, Stab.
P.S.: We hope you enjoyed our quick-strike to Waco last weekend. Is Mikey C. officially the foremost first-hand authority on wave pools in the surf journo game? (And is that anything to be proud of?)
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