The weird thing about the top pro surfers in the world is that they are corperations unto themselves yet most of the marketing by the companies they represent promote a relaxed, free spirit endless summer type lifestyle. In France and Portugal, the contest sites are arranged so that they are separated from the public, even from the VIP area at the contest site. They have dedicated parking and locker rooms and areas to hang out, separate from everyone. Not even the owner’s of the WSL can enter the locker room. But in Hawaii, by contrast, all the sponsors have houses along the beach and the competitor’s often walk up and down the beach to check in at the competor’s area and hang out in front of there sponsors houses. Honeslty, if I weren’t running a blog, I wouldn’t take a selfie with them because I generally don’t do selfie’s. But it is a polite way to say “hello” without making them defensive, as I realized in Portugal. Selfies literally and figuratively have a border to them. A start point. An end point. And no need to push the conversation further.
Beyond the contest site, you bump into the pros everywhere. Some fans I met at the contest site, Backdoor Niki for example, would have killed to be able to interact with Kelly Slater, but she never saw him. However, if she were just checking the surf on off days, she may have chatted with him, like I did. (He thinks California exiting from the union will never happen because of the shared borders with the rest of the states. I was too slow in my response to point out Canada and Mexico.)
At the farmers market, I bumped into Garrett McNamara. I think he still holds worlds record for surfing the biggest wave ever. He was buying frozen yogurt with his wife and kid. The young blond women with the frozen yogurt stand makes the yogurt with honey and her husband is a beekeeper. They moved to the North Shore from Massachusetts. She talked to Garrett and his wife about kids. Garrett turned to me and said, “hey, I remember you. Didn’t we chat at Nazaré?” We chatted about William Finnegan and pushing surfing’s smart surfers, instead of the party culture which neither of us have much against but it just gets old. I told him I loved his piece on Nazaré on Surfline (http://www.surfline.com/surf-news/breaking-down-portugals-most-dangerous-big-wave-lineup-spot-check-nazar_132286/) and he gave me his number and told me to call him when I go back.
And you bump into the pros in the water, everywhere. On a day in which Vland was not breaking properly but was breaking almost better than anywhere else, I bumped into Cortney Conologue. Big wind peaks were scattered about. They’d appear on the horizon, look like they were going to break on my head, then shift away. I was having trouble finding a rhythm. I was constantly paddling for waves while looking over my shoulder to make sure none were going to break on me, hold me down. When the wind kicks a swell up like that, the ocean looks dark, the shore a long ways away. We’d been out over an hour. She was picking off waves relatively easily. In between sets, I asked her why she was on the North Shore. Her season was over. As much as she may like the other surfers, she’d been on the road most of the year and it was almost Christmas. She said, which I had no idea, that she was contractually obligated to be there by her sponsors. That most of the pros who were not competing had the same rider written into there contract. As she was speaking she yelled, “What” I said. “A shark just swam under me!” “No Way?!?!?” “Yes,” she said. “That was freaky. That’s never happened to me before.” I showed her my toe, where it was bleeding a little bit from where I kicked the reef. “I’m going in” I said. “That” referring to the trickle of blood “is probably what its after. It wasn’t that big though.” I paddled against the current to the inside, picked off a wave and went to shore to get a beer and watch.