Pro vs. Soul: The Last Chapter

Posted: Oct 24,2011 Written by 

Tom Carroll-Wayne Lynch-Martin Potter at 2001 Quiksilver Masters Contest in IrelandHe eagerly stroked into the waist high waves with all the vigor of a grom. And each time, the three of us would stop paddling to gawk at his blazing lip bashes and careless kick outs just shy of the rocks on the inside.
“It’s a nice wave, mate. Just bullshit.” he said when he reached the line-up again and sat up on his board. .
‘Waist high and he’s that jacked’, I thought. ‘What’ll he be like when it’s actually good?’


“I saw a nice little wave today over by the cliffs of the Fairy Bridges. It had a good barrel!” He moved towards the edge of his seat, looked out the window and grabbed his beer, “Think I’ll check it out a bit later.”
But he was joking…right? I waited for the laugh, the shoulder punch, the ‘got ya’, but instead he only stared out the rain lashed window, smiled and tipped the pint back for a swig. Frankly, I was dumbfounded. I saw the wave he looked so eager to surf. It was a fat, shapeless lump of ocean with a barrel formed by a sloppy backwash off a rock outcropping. Besides it only lasting a second, I thought he’d have to shrink to 3’2” to pull into anything. I reasoned that one of two things was happening: He was drunk (unlikely after our first beer) or the relentless onshore winds had finally broken him.


I laughed out loud, spitting beer onto two of my buddies sitting across the table. They’d been talking about an article from the latest surf mag that ruminated whether or not pro surfing was killing the soul of the sport. On and on they rambled about massive corporations controlling the system, the brutality of the “2 to the beach” format and photo sluts paid huge salaries just to surf. I’d lost it when one of them called pro surfers “crooks” for taking money. Because at the moment, the two scenes described above popped into my head and in a flash I realized the idiocy of the whole "Pro vs. Soul" controversy.

Both memories took place in Ireland during the week of the 2001 Quiksilver Masters contest. It was my second trip to the Emerald Isle, having fallen in love during my first. My hope was to score a few waves and see the pros I’d grown up reading about in person. As luck would have it, I ended up getting to drink and laugh with many of them and even traded waves in a few empty line-ups.

They were all there: Carroll, Curren, Pottz, both Ho’s, Wayne Lynch, Townend, Hakman, Winton, Owens, Rabbit, Fitzgerald, Richardson, Richards. The list goes on and every one of them ripped in the water. But what most struck me was how jazzed everybody seemed to be, how happy they were despite all different lots in life, nasty weather, horrible surf and low prize money.

These were the guys that had done it all, pioneering virgin waves, winning world titles, gracing the covers of magazines. Yet each seemed happy—even ecstatic—with the simple notion that surfing had gotten them to another shore, another place to see, whether good waves rolled in or not.

While the subjects of the memories that opened this article could easily have been overeager kids at your local break, they were none other than Mitch Thorson (1980’s Top 16 West Oz, big wave guru) and Barton Lynch (’88 World Champ, Pipe Master) respectively. They’d both done the tour, traveled the world, made their money and been supposed “pawns” to behemoth corporations. Yet, they got jazzed over waves that you and I would often bitch about.

That genuine stoke I’d witnessed-that pure love- is what made me laugh. Soul has not a thing to do with corporate sponsorships, logos, money, neon wetsuits, photo shoots, or contests. All that matters is the burning need to surf. The fact that pros have created a scenario in which they can do it all the time only means that they had the talent and drive to do what we all would if given half the chance. Love it when you can, miss it when can’t and let others just enjoy their ride.

Previously published in What A Duck! magazine