Most surfers would probably agree that you never stop learning to surf. We are forever striving to improve our performance, increase our wave count, ride a slightly bigger wave or take on more challenging conditions. For most of us there are always going to be better surfers; some-one in the water who seems to catch every wave they paddle for, have an almost uncanny knowledge of exactly where to bag the prime waves and when up and riding leave the rest of us gaping with admiration and envy.
It is inevitable then that each and every one of us has a personal list of our most admired figures, heroes and heroines who have established their place within surf history and culture.
As a soul surfer to whom surfing is a spiritual thing and who is not particularly interested in the competitive circuit, it is rarely the championship contenders who catch my eye. I tend to find my heroes come from other walks of surfing life.
In my own personal hero list George Greenough, unconventional surfer, innovator, boat builder, film maker and photographer extraordinaire, is not just top but leaves every one else a long, long way behind. Greenough is credited with sowing the seeds for the shortboard revolution resulting from his own experiments with a chopped down board in the 60s when everyone else was on traditional Mals. A fin experiment for his beloved knee-board, modelled on a tuna fish tail, and adopted by legendary Aussie Nat Young, is also credited with the inspiration for modern fin design.
However, it is Greenough's ethos and surf purity which set him so apart. Never a fan of long boards or the associated crowds of his California roots, Greenough, now living in Australia, has not stood on a surf board since the 60s preferring instead a lilo or air mattress.
Crystal Voyager, the 1973 film which Greenough wrote, filmed and narrated, shows him building an ocean going yacht in his backyard and the unconventional surfing quests which follow. The final sequence of the film is set to Pink Floyd's 'Echoes' and filmed by Greenough with his own self-designed camera housing. To my mind, the inner wave and underwater shots, which at the time were ground-breaking, are still the best thing ever in both surf photography and surf films.
In 2009 I was at Lennox Heads, Australia, and quite by chance, I watched an almost 70 year old Greenough trot down the steep headland with his lilo under his arm. As the giant water spouts of the migrating Humpback whales cascaded in the background, I witnessed him pulling manoeuvres I've never seen the like of - on an air mattress!
I suppose it is inevitable that given enough time, all things pass into obscurity, but I find it amazing and a little sad that a figure responsible for so much surfing revolution and innovation should be practically unknown by the modern generation of surfers.
Although Eddie Aikau could have been a real contender in international competitive surfing, he chose instead to remain somewhat under the radar. He was known for his fearless attitude in the challenging waves of Oahu, Hawaii and became the first ever life guard at Waimea Bay. Not one life was lost during his time there and this was credited to his readiness to take-on anything the dangerous break could throw at him.
In 1976, the arrival in Hawaii of 'Rabbit' Bartholomew and fellow Aussie surfers, sparked off a set of violent incidents which to this day locals insist would have ended in tragedy had it not been for the mediation of Eddie Aikau.
In 1978 Eddie set off with several others in a craft designed to trace the 2,500 mile journey of the original Tahiti to Hawaii migrants. The craft sank during the night and when morning arrived with still no help in sight, Eddie set off on his surf board determined to reach land, ditching his life jacket so he could paddle better. Although the rest of the crew were later rescued, 31 year old Eddie's fate remains unknown to this day.
An Hawaiin memorial, invitation only contest was established in Eddie's memory. When the day of the first contest dawned there was great debate as to whether or not it could go ahead as the conditions were particularly dangerous. Mark Foo, himself destined to die at the age of 36 while surfing Mavericks, just said simply 'Eddie would go'. The contest took place and the phrase stuck unleashing a stream of surf posters, stickers, T-shirts, surf board decals and a book of Eddie's life using the phrase for the title.
As a legendary big wave surfer and co-inventor of tow-in surfing, Laird Hamilton could be excused a fair amount of cockiness. However this surfing ambassador, kite-surfer, wind surfer, stand up paddle surfer and water skier presents himself as an unassuming, humble man who actively avoids self-promotion. To simply call him a big wave surfer is like calling Neil Armstrong a pilot.
Always a big figure in the surfing world, he became known outside of surfing circles when the documentary film 'Riding Giants' in which he features was given general release in 2004.
It contains footage of the August 2000 ride on that Teahupo'o wave – the monstrously heavy, all tube wave which breaks over shallow reef in Tahitian waters. The wave which Laird Hamilton caught that day has been dubbed the 'heaviest wave ever ridden'. For much of the footage it is impossible to see Laird at all as he is blasted by the spray of the huge barrel blow-out.
As a female surfer it would be wrong not to include at least one women on my 'heroes' list and this place goes without any question to Kassia Meador. When I first saw footage of this long boarder on a wave it all suddenly all became very clear exactly the sort of surfer I wanted to be. There is never a shortage of beauty and grace when watching the best long boarders at play and of course traditionally it is all about making it look smooth and effortless. But Kassia Meador takes this to a whole new level until you are convinced you are watching some ethereal creature rather than a human riding the waves.
Kassia Meador breaks my rule because she is a hugely successful competitive surfer but there is, to me, no other long boarder who comes even close to inspiring me the way she does. Her style on a surf board is the epitome of elegance, grace and harmony; watching her walk the board puts me more in mind of a dance performed with expert fluidity than anything else.