Nine Inspirational Surfers Everyone Should Know

So, before we get started with this list,

I just want to say a few words about it.  This list is comprised of the surfers who have and still are greatly inspiring to me as a surfer.  In this list there are world champions, rebels, hell-men, and soul surfers.  Above all, they are legends, people whose accomplishments will leave a lasting mark on surfing for many generations to come.  This list unfortunately does leave off many surfers who are very deserving of recognition, but hey, it’s a 9 person list, and we don’t have all day.


Robert Kelly Slater



C’mon.  Did you really think he wouldn’t be here.  Of course you knew, which is why he is here first.  11x World Champion, 54 career elite tour victories, youngest world champ, oldest world champ.  In my opinion, he is the single most dominant athlete ever.  His ability to pull out victories in the most intense of situations makes him extremely dangerous to any competitor that paddles out along side him.  Think about this for a second.  There are surfers who have worked their way through the lower ranks, made it to the World Tour, gotten completely smashed by Slater, and have retired or gotten knocked out of the ranks, that weren’t even born when Kelly won his first world title in 1992.  Oh ya, and he dated Pamela Anderson, Gisele Bundchen, acted on BayWatch (maybe not one of his finer moments) and won the Eddie.  Legendary.


Andy Irons


An amazing surfer taken from us too soon.  Andy Irons surfing style was a thing of grace.  I remember seeing footage of him surfing 8-10′ waves like it was some 2′ beach break.  That’s actually why I picked this picture to put up of him.  Trust me, that wave is way heavier than you think, and yet he is standing tall, relaxed, and completely in control.  His competitiveness brought him multiple World Championships (3 actually), he is the only surfer to have won an event at every stop on the ASP calendar, and he was the only person to ever rival Kelly Slater.  His untimely death left a gaping hole in the heart of surfing.


Mark Occhilupo (Occy)


Occy’s backhand surfing is timeless.  I’m pretty sure he is the reason they invented the backhand bottom turn.  But the real reason I put Occy on this list is because of his comeback story which I first learned about in 1998.  Occy qualified for the ASP Tour at the age of 17, and during his first years on tour, he took it by storm.  His battles against former World Champion Tom Curren were amazing.  But, by the early 90’s, he had burnt out.  He was depressed, fell in with the wrong crowd, gave up the tour, and started a life of partying.  At one point, Occy had gained 75 pounds, and spent most of his days sitting on his couch.  Then, in the mid 90’s he decided to turn his life around.  He cleaned up his act, trained hard, and re-qualified for the ASP tour.  In 1999, Occy won his first (and only) World Title at the age of 33.  I know, I know, not the most heart wrenching story ever, but I’ve always thought it pretty inspirational.  And, if you have ever seen an interview with him, he’s pretty much the most likeable person ever.  If I could pick one person on this list to hang out with for a day, definitely would be Occy.  Also, if you have never seen him in the movie North Shore, he’s epic.

Miki “Da Cat” Dora



To me, this guy was about as cool can be.  You’ve probably seen him in “The Endless Summer” or “Beach Blanket Bingo”, or any one of a number of older surf films.  In the 50’s and 60’s he was the surfer at Malibu.  He was the original surf rebel.  Or at least he tried.  Miki Dora never really wanted to be the icon that he was, although being in movies didn’t really help his cause.  It’s like he was too good and too cool for people not to flock to him, even though the attention was always unwanted.  In the mid 70’s fed up with it all, he left the public surf scene, and traveled the world, living where he could, and just surfing.  He was able to get past it all, and just follow his true love.


Dane Reynolds

Reef Hawaiian Pro

Definitely the youngest surfer on my list, Dane is, first and foremost, one of the most talented surfers of this generation.  His ability to blend innovative, radical, above the lip surfing with the power surfing of generations past shows how truly remarkable he is.  Kelly Slater, upon meeting him when he was a grom, thought for sure he would be a multiple times World Champion.  Problem is, Dane hates contests.  Actually, he pretty much hates the spotlight at all.  With the exception of the occasional wild card spot given to him by his sponsors, he completely quit the world tour.  And who can blame him.  He travels and surfs still, works on his blog, and drinks beer.  I’d take that life.


Jeff Clark



So picture this.  45 degree water.  45 minute paddle out in a thick wetsuit, on a big board.  Dangerous currents and rocks just below you, and massive open ocean waves.  Oh, and throw in a few great white sharks.  Would you surf there alone?  Well that is precisely what Jeff Clark did for years.  I remember the first time I saw a photo of Mavericks in a surf mag in the 90’s, and thinking wow.  Never, ever will I do that.  And then I find out that this kid started surfing this place, by himself, at the age of 17.  Mind.  Blown.  The best part about all of it, is that he never did it for recognition, fame, money.  Nope.  He surfed out their because he enjoyed the solitude and the challenge that being a 1/2 mile offshore riding monster waves brought him.


Pat O’ Connell



You’re probably thinking right now, how did this guy make the list.  Well, I love Pat O’ Connell, and this is my list.  I remember the first time that I ever watched The Endless Summer II, and wanting to be just like him.  Sure, he surfs great, is in the Surfing Hall of Fame, and competed on the ASP Tour for years, but he just always seems like he is having more fun than anyone else.  And isn’t that what it’s really all about?  He always seems to have this level of stoke about every wave, and if we could all be a little more like Pat, the world, or at least the water would be a better place.


Greg Noll



Da Bull.  This guy is so legendary.  Greg Noll pioneered big wave surfing in the 50’s and 60’s, charging giant, sometimes never before ridden surf on the North Shore of Hawaii.  Seriously look at the picture above.  He is a big man, holding a huge board, about to paddle out into monster surf.  You see that leash?  No?  Because it isn’t there.  There are many others of his generation that definitely deserve credit for what they accomplished for surfing, but no one did it better than Greg Noll.  They were surfers, waterman, and above all, just didn’t care.  If you have never seen an interview with him before, you have to check it out.  He’s just so classic, always speaks his mind, and I for one would love to have a beer with this dude.


Duke Kahanamoku



The original ambassador of surfing.  I don’t think surfing would be what it is today without this man.  Born in Hawaii in 1890, he was an olympic gold medalist in swimming.  He was loved in Hawaii, and was exactly what our sport needed.  After his time in the olympics, he would travel around for swimming exhibitions.  In 1914, during a swimming exhibition in Australia, Duke went to a hardware store, bought a piece of pine, fashioned it into a board, and surfing has never been the same since.  They even have a statue of him at the beach in Australia where he first introduced them to surfing.  Here’s a fun fact for you next time you’re complaining about carrying your board.  Duke, like most Hawaiians, started surfing on wooden boards 12+ feet long, that weighed over 100 pounds.


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