The Ten Biggest Things from Surfing and the Internet in 2018

28 Dec 2018 5 Share

Mike Jennings

Senior Writer

Photo: WSL/Cestari

Photo: WSL/Cestari


This Year In Surfing, 2018

It's the 52nd This Week In Surfing column/blog/listicle/redundant piece of surf madness for the year! Hooray! We did it, guys! We really did it! Exclamation mark! And considering it's the last one of the year, let's not look back at the last week, let's look back at the whole year and count up the 10 biggest things for surfing and the Internet that happened. It should be noted that this list is the work of one person, who consulted no-one before hitting publish, so it's probably missing something giganticly major (like the first ever wave pool CT event, or Zeke Lau paddling over John John, or Kelly Slater being Kelly Slater), so don't hesitate to hurl hate and vitriol in the comments! Thanks!

In the non-dramatic order of one to ten, here we go:

1. Surfing Made History With Huge Equal Pay Announcement

When we look back at surfing and its evolution as a sport and culture, the peak surfing body's decision to pay men and women the same prize money, across all levels of surf competitions they are responsible for, well that will give 2018 a significant asterix in the timeline of our history. Here's what was written in This Week In Surfing in early September:

"Surfing doesn't have a great history when it comes to female representation and support. Just ask any of our greatest women surfers from the 90s. So it's very exciting to see changes like the one the WSL announced this week, that from 2019 onwards, the WSL will award equal prize money for men and women surfers for “every WSL-controlled event in the 2019 season and beyond”. It makes pro surfing a world leader in this regard, and shit, doesn't that just make you a little bit proud?

I wrote a thousand words on this when this news broke which you can read on Surfing World,  ... since then the newsy part of this story is in the reaction. Positive! Everyone is stoked, from mainstream news, to professional surfers posting their support on social media across the board, to junior and QS surfers who will feel the greatest ripple effect from this kind of change.

However, online comment sections have seen a pretty disappointing thread running through them on some sub-sets of surfing internet. It makes you wonder, really, if women pro surfers being awarded the same amount of cash as the men is something that makes you angry and upset, you might need to ask yourself just why and how you feel that way, and why that is something you care enough to argue about. I honestly find it very perplexing."

2. Steph Gilmore Won World Record Equalling 7th World Title

This should have been bigger news. Steph Gimore won the World Title again, her first since 2014 and in doing so equalled Layne Beachley's once unattainable record. Here's what was written in This Week In Surfing when the feat went down:

"It happened! Steph Gilmore is the 2018 World Champion, and also the ladies World Title record holder, equal with the original GOAT Layne Beachley. Seven World Titles. Seven! Seven World Titles in 12 years. Can you imagine if Steph was a sporting team, a sporting team that won seven championships in 12 years? It’s a truly astounding feat that deserves every inch of column space it gets in the world’s newspapers and websites this week, and then some.

Steph got the historic title at the year’s final event, the Beachwaver Pro Maui at Honolulu Bay, when the only woman who could go close to stopping her, Lakey Peterson, lost early in Round 2. It’s Steph’s first World Title since 2014, when she and Hawaiian Carissa Moore were in the habit of going year for year in the World Title tug of war following Steph winning three in a row at the beginning of her career in 2007, 2008 and 2009. In 2016 Tyler Wright finally came of age and posed a new threat to Steph’s chances of equalling the record, winning back to back World Titles. But this year Tyler Wright and perennial title contender Courtney Conlogue unfortunately missed most events due to illness and injury, while Carissa Moore and any other title contender other than Lakey Peterson failed to string together a consistent run of decent results. What we were left with was a supreme, stylish, graceful Stephanie Gilmore standing at the top of the world of surfing, who in 2018 under the coaching tutelage of Jake Paterson for the first time, became the year-long competitive juggernaut of old. Not to say Steph's old, Steph's only 30, and has plenty time left to knock up another couple shelves for more Title trophies. 

You bloody ripper, Steph Gilmore!"

Steph also starred in one of the best surf clip, a Morgan Massen edit from J-Bay:

"Stephanie Gilmore is time and time again the subject of the best and most aesthetically pleasing surf clips we get every year. Her style and grace puts her in the elite category there too, and the idea that she is perhaps the most stylish surfer on the planet, while also being the most competitive we have in action at the moment, is nothing short of astounding."

3. The Mick Fanning Retirement

One of the most underrated developments in the surfing world going on in the tail-end of this decade is the way we are retiring our legends. It's really the first time that we've been able to stop, notice and take control of the way we send off the surfers we've hero-worshipped over long and incredible careers. Mick Fanning's retirement send-off at the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach was an iconic day in surfing history that will be long remembered. Here's what I wrote the following day in This Week In Surfing:

"Like many around the greater Torquay Jan Juc area today, I'm feeling a little dusty. Actually, not a little dusty, a lot dusty. A sitting-at-my-computer-with-a-wet-towel-over-my-head-and-hope-I-don't-throw-up kind of dusty. And, again like many a surf fan on the Surf Coast Shire, I'm feeling emotionally and physically exhausted. I'm not sure what we'd all expected, but yesterday at the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach exceeded that with with one of the most intense and special atmospheres in surfing history.

As you well know by now, Mick Fanning surfed his final event as a full time competitive surfer. Ending at Bells, where he'd arrived back in 2001 as 19 year old wildcard.

Every time Mick entered the water, a nervious, anxious energy filled the air above the Bells line-up and through the crowd on the beach and up on to the carpark. Every heat could have been his last. Every heat closer to the end, closer to some kind of sense of legend or immortality.

When he beat Patrick Gudauskas in the semi-finals, that feeling thickened. Did we all dare believe? We did!

And two heats later, when I heard a huge cheer come from the carpark, and ran to see what was beaming on the big screen – Mick Fanning running down those Bells stairs, in the final no less, one last time – I had to suppress the lump that grew in my throat. 

Ronnie Blakey later said, jokingly, that perhaps every single event needs a staircase.

During the final I saw the teary eyes of Mick's mum Liz, his shaper Darren Handley, I got a text from Surfing World editor Vaughan Blakey saying that he was crying too. More interestingly was the text I got from my big brother, who'd stopped working on a building site in Melbourne to watch the heat on his phone. He's never met Mick, but he was crying too. This is how much Mick means to the regular old Australian surfing fan. This is how big this moment felt. 

Italo won, though. A couple of small sets as the clock ticked down to the final seconds of Mick's career had everyone willing the waves to be worthy of the high 7 score Mick needed to end this perfectly.

But Sean Doherty said it best, chasing a wave in the final moments would have been an undignified way to go out. And while the carpark, the Australian surfing public, all wanted that perfect fairy-tale ending, no-one could deny just how brilliantly Italo surfed. And when Mick Fanning went over to him, and embraced him, it felt okay. And when Mick Fanning said on the presentation stage just how stoked he was to see how much winning a first event was to Italo, how winning Bells was a dream come true, we celebrated. It didn't matter that we didn't get the fairy-tale. Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt. Today, absolutely evertything hurts, but it feels right."

4. The Andy Irons Documentary Rocked The Surfing World

“The lived truth of Andy’s story is carried by those closest to him, those who lived through it with him. It’s their truth before it’s anyone else’s, but they had to make peace with losing before they did anything,” wrote Sean Doherty in his title story from a special issue of Surfing World Magazine released this year. Eight years after three time World Champion Andy Irons died in a Dallas hotel room, the story of what really happened in the years beforehand was finally revealed in the tell-all documentary Andy Irons: Kissed By God. The film sold out cinemas all over Australia's coasts.

It was a landmark moment for our surf community, still coming to grips with the tragic loss of one of our champions.

“If it only helps one kid or changes the course of something for someone," said Parko about the documentary, "then it’s the right thing.”

5. The Parko Retirement/The Greatest Wave Ever Surfed At Snapper

It was a big year for our Parko. After allowing Mick the space to celebrate his retirement at Bells, Parko took Day 1 of J-Bay to announce that the Pipe Masters in December would be the last event of his own career as a full-time CT competitor. What came next was a half-year long touring party for one of our most loved surfers and world champions. By the end of it, it seemed Parko and those around him were just relieved it was all over. The highlight of the year though, was back when only parko knew that 2018 would be his last year on the CT. On the final day of the Quiksilver Pro, the WSL made the decision to move the comp site down to Kirra. Meanwhile, Snapper went ballistic and produced the best waves seen there in a long, long time. Your boy Parko pulled into a tube that many called the greatest wave ever surfed at Snapper, a shot of which nabbed two magazine covers. You can call that going out at the top of your game! You'd hate to be a WSL commissioner, though, wouldn't you?

6. Noa Deane's Clip Was Perhaps The Best of The Year

At the end of July, Volcom's prized freesurfer Noa Deane released a clip (by longtime collaborator Mikey Mallalieu) called Head Noise. It was very, very, very good. Here's what was written the week it came out:

"Not only does this clearly leap to the front of the pack as the best surf clip of the year, it begs the question: 'Is this the best digital surf clip of all time? Or am I just hyped up in the inital aftermath of watching it?' It's certainly up there, alongside a bunch of previous released clips by Noa and filmmaker/collaborator Mikey Mallalieu. Waking up and watching this before a coffee, through sleepy eyes, I screamed, "WHAT!" at my computer screen at the air he does at 0.52 (I've never seen anyone do that without the assistance of their hands?!). But the "WHAT" I screamed at my screen in response to the closer – the ridiculous ankle breaking alley-oop he lands at North Point – was even louder, and I fear I might have woken up some of my neighbours. And everything in between those two clips is A-grade.

What's most significant about this clip is that for the past couple of years there's been a relevant argument about how the best surfing is being done on the Championship Tour, that the likes of Gabriel Medina, John John Florence, Filipe Toledo and Julian Wilson have been landing manouevres and putting together combos in heat jerseys that are better than anything we've seen a freesurfer drop in an edit – that alongside Instagram has, for the last little while, made the freesurfer edit drop largely redundant, particularly as Mikey Wright pursues the CT life.

But Noa Deane's Head Noise takes back signifcant real estate for the relevance of the freesurfer in 2018. Fifteen minutes is a long time on the Internet, but this clip flies past with the pace of a country train racing a kid on a BMX. And as soon as it finishes you want to click play and ride it all over again. How many clips on the Internet – of any variety – longer than a minute, make you want to do that in 2018? The answer, today, is one. Noa Deane and Mikey Mallalieu's Head Noise. Bravo!"

7. Chippa Wilson's Clip Was Also Perhaps The Best of The Year

Chippa Wilson's video here for his tailpad company Octopus took out the coveted Best Short award at the Surfer Awards (formerly the Surfer Poll Awards, please change it back). For a surfer known for aerial innovation, it's wild that Chippa is still, after a near decade at the top of that area of surfing, is stil right there pulling out the performances of the year. And he's still surfing's most humble star while doing so too. Bloody good onya Chippa, ya bloody legend!

8. John John Florence's Clip Was Also Also Perhaps The Best of the Year

John John had an interesting year, coming off back to back World Title wins, he seemed a sure thing to take the 2018 World Title in a canter, he's been that good and was only getting better. But then his year started with some streaky results before injuring his knee in Indonesia, knocking him out of the second half of 2019. The title was gone. But that wasn't to be the end of his impact on the year, not by a long way. In September JJF released Spaced, and it was pretty damn mindblowing. Here's what I wrote about the clip on the week it came out:

"John John Florence Doesn't Need The WSL To Be The Biggest and Best Thing In Surfing

I'm sorry for saying that, WSL, I really am. But it's true. I mean, look, in the past week the WSL had a CT competition in a pool for the first time in modern pro surfing history, but the biggest news of those 7 days is this here clip, where Taj Burrow posted on Instagram saying it was the best surfing he has ever seen. The pool is nothing to sniff at, it was a big freaking deal worth thousands of words of analysis and thought and speculation of what it means for surfing, but then John John can release a six minute clip called Space, and we're all brought back to the simple basics of surfing that haven't changed since we first watched our favourite surfers on rewound VHS tapes... we just really like our favourite surfers doing mindblowing shit set to some music. John John gave us that this week, and despite being injured and not able to compete for World Titles on modern surfing's biggest stage, he can still take centre place in the spotlight of world surfing. I'm not sure anyone else on the CT has that power right now. Not even Gabriel Medina (and I'm Gabby's biggest fan). What a freaking star John John is. Actually on second thought, Steph has that power. Steph can do this too, in her own way. Steph and John John... surfing in the modern era is so freaking good, don't ya reckon?"

9. Medina Won His Second World Title (And The First Ever Wave Pool CT)

We can't have a top 10 things from the year of surfing without mentioning the Men's World Champ, can we? The reason it's down so low here at no.9, though, is by how much of a non-event this ended up becoming. Sure, that final day at Pipeline was an incredible experience of pro-surf entertainment, perhaps the best day of that we've seen in years, but when we look at the results, it's clear Medina had all but won the Title two months before we casted our eyes to Pipeline. He then dominated the iconic wave, won the Pipe Masters and took the crown for the second time while still just 24 years of age. He now equals John John with two world Titles, and we have a ripper of a yin and yang battle between the two at the top of pro surfing for the next half decade at least. Stoked!

Perhaps the most siginificant moment from Medina's year that got him to the end was the first ever wave pool CT, the Surf Ranch Pro at Kelly's pool. Medina won that event, following up his win in Tahiti just days before, and with no John John in his way, he'd set himself up for a pretty easy run at the Title through the back half of the year. Interestingly, Medina also won the invitational Surf Ranch pool event the year before, so perhaps we can expect him to go three years in a row in 2019. Though the bigger question is: Will John John, or anyone else, be there to stop him from taking the Title again next year?

10. Indonesia Experienced The Swell of a Generation, and Nias Was The Star

Remember when Indo went off and every journeyman big-tube hunter in the world arrived at the Sumatran freight-train that is Nias? Hoooo boy did that lit up our Internets. One of the legends that threw themselves over the ledge in search of terrifying glory was our very own Laurie Towner, and his edit from the trip was the best of the lot. Here's what was written in TWIS on the week it was released:

"Laurie Towner was amongst the Aussie contingent of surfers who made the journey to Nias earlier this month when the Sumatran right-hander turned it on with the swell of the decade. He scored some serious caverns while he was there, and that’s one thing, but to have the footage of that taken and put into a beautiful edit for the web is another. This is so sick. Props to Laurie, props to Need Essentials for sending Laurie there, and props to Gary Parker for the incredible edit of this here clip. It’s wonderful."


I just really love this Taj clip, and couldn't find a spot for it in the above 10. So here it is again:

And that was this year in surfing. Happy New Year everyone. Look after your mates and tell your family you love them before 2018 becomes 2019.

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