In Defence of Diversity.

In defence of diversity.

By Hugo Faustino

Bodyboarders born this century might find it hard to believe there was a time in our history when riders had their own unique styles and techniques. I’m old enough to remember that almost everyone had their own instantly recognizable way of approaching and expressing themselves on a wave which I feel is missing in today’s bodyboarding landscape.

While there are obvious differences between each rider today, they mainly occur within a specific frame. What I’m talking about is real and expressive individuality. Style variations so pronounced that you would associate them instantly with the rider.

These weren’t flaws, bodyboarders still knew what style – and what good style – was, but the definition was definitely more wider and more fluid. Did it looked forced? Was it done in the right place? Was it done with the flow of the wave? Was it a good execution? People knew that Stewart’s carving was beautiful but also acknowledged Brian Wise stalls, Tamega’s off the lip spins, Ben Hollands fast surfing, and the unique Hawaiian approach to riding.

These were divergences that allowed for unique, recognizable and unpredictable surfing.

I was discussing this with a friend not long ago. He phoned me and we spoke a little about bodyboarding aesthetics. He’s a bodyboarding judge and he admitted he was bored with current riding, which he considered monotonous and repetitive, and could only be turned on by old videos.

Deep inside we all know that something is not right as demonstrated by general lack of interest in new generation riders. I believe that the reason is because they never bring anything new to the table. Constrained by oppressive standards of riding – the style police, young riders  suppress their own peculiarities, they will never be able to be good as the models they imitate. That’s why we all look to 40 year old bodyboarders as our role models in riding, because the original is always the best.

This uniqueness in styles really stood out to me when I watched a video of the ISA 96 world games final. What I noticed the most was the difference between each rider’s surfing. The final featured Aussie style lord Bullet Mckenzie, South African hellman Neal Stephenson, Puerto Rico ripper Luis Benitez, and of course multi-title winner, Brazillian Guilherme Tamega. The conditions meant that Bullet was lacking some of the juice he needed to really express his riding, but there were glimpses of his trademark style. Benitez looked comfortable with the conditions, very loose and with a latin approach to the waves. Tamega of course looked determined and effortless. 

The rider who stood out the most to me however was Neal Stephenson. He was an amazing rider that surfed really well, big or small stuff. I had previously only seen videos of Stephenson going big in Pipeline, but he was ripping the small stuff with characteristic execution. However what is most notable about his style is his front hand placement. It sits almost squarely in the centre of the boards nose! It is highly doubtful that he would be able to get away with that kind of style today without copping some serious critisism. For me though, this style suited him, was functional and made him look more, well, Nealish. 

Style is a subjective perception that functions much like a narrative. Australian domination in the last 15 years created an Australian narrative of the sport, something often referred to as “Aussie style”. All good perhaps, except for the fact that it became so dominant that imagining anything outside of that box became impossible.

What many may consider a flaw to the accepted archetype of riding, was just an idiosyncrasy back then. The notion that all physiques are different and may potentially have something different and exciting to add to the sport. Was it better? I think so.

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