Editors note: this piece was originally written with surfers in mind but really, it applies to any outdoors activity where fashion plays a part or where a participant might have concerns about how one's ability level will be perceived. Also, Craig is a real person, and I hope he has read this. - JH
We called him “Crazy Craig.” He was, or, presumably still is, a surfer in the Central California beach town where I surfed growing up. I don’t remember if his name actually was Craig, come to think of it. Maybe it was Carl. Might have just been a fun bit of nickname alliteration we assigned to him. Nor do I remember if he behaved like a crazy person out of the water. Actually, he seemed like every other middle-aged surfer in the ‘90s when you’d see him at the taqueria after a session. Battered two-wheel drive Toyota pickup splattered with paint and ladders, he must have been a house painter or contractor or something, just like pretty much every other guy was back then on the Central Coast. But Crazy Craig surfed, uh, differently than most—rode old, stubby, oddly-finned boards way, way before they were even a twinkle in surf culture’s collective eye. Surfed with a super low, squatting stance like his boards were finless. Hell, maybe some of them were. If you picture Derek Hynd at J-Bay, that was sorta in Crazy Craig’s same neighborhood, style-wise.
Also, Crazy Craig surfed with a freaking rope glassed to the nose of his board.
An honest-to-god, braided fiber rope like you’d use to tie a mattress to the roof of
your car. He held it firmly wrapped around the fist of his leading hand and would kinda whip the front of the board around with the rope on turns. Or, he’d hold on, rope stretched taut, through tricky sections for extra balance. I have many memories of Crazy Craig locked into an early-morning tube, bathed in a shimmering golden light reflected off the wave face, that weird rope clenched firmly in his hand, leading the way, with his shouts echoing in the barrel.
Odd. But, also, kinda brilliant. Crazy Craig was a good surfer. Got tubed, didn’t blow waves, surfed with speed and power, but he was definitely on his own wild-man trip. Still have never seen anybody surf like Crazy Craig. Doubt I ever will.
Crazy Craig surfed according to the rules of that ubiquitous, framed IKEA print in many a freshman dorm room that urged “Dance like nobody’s watching”. He surfed like nobody was watching. At the time—we were teenagers, mind you—my friends and I laughed at Crazy Craig. I feel bad about this now. We, all of 18 years old, thought we knew what proper surfing was: three fins, a tail pad, trying really hard to murder the lip—now that was surfing. Crazy Craig’s trip, which was based on surfing however he wanted to, regardless of what was accepted as the right way to surf, was clearly not the right way to us and, therefore, he was mocked. He was far outside the acceptable paradigm of alternative surfing.
Leah Dawson, at the forefront of not giving a remote shit.
I would like to apologize deeply and profoundly to Crazy Craig. Regular Craig, I should probably call him now. He was just surfing the way he wanted to, that made the most sense to him, that was the most fun, even though nobody else, ever, surfed like that. That’s actually pretty damn courageous when you think about it.
Because that’s freaking rare in our neurotic surf world.
I’ve certainly never walked out on the kind of stylistic limb that has space for glassing a rope to the nose of my board. Few have. Because, whether any of us want to admit it or not, we crave the approval of the surfers we share the lineup with. In fact, I’d argue that for a majority of the surfing public, or at least those who consider themselves alpha surfers (or would very much like to), lineup approval is a driving force behind their surfing. Maybe not personal approval, but validation that our surfing is “good.”
This kind of points to what was once an eternal philosophical question in surfing, but one that you don’t seem to hear much anymore for whatever reason: Would you rather surf perfect waves by yourself or imperfect waves with friends? Of course, it’s more fun to do fun things with friends, blah blah blah, but also, it feels a lot better as a surfer to send a big fan off the top of a screamer and catch, out of the corner of your eye, a friend—or even better, a total stranger—hooting at your performance. We care what others think, we want to be accepted as part of the pack, so we surf the way we think constitutes good surfing. Sure, there are a few paths of good surfing down which we can walk, but they’re mostly already laid out.
High-performance ripper dude, cruisy soul master, the frenetic weirdness of the modern duct-taped longboard movement.
Those paths all share a common theme: speed, power and flow (maybe the WSL really is onto something there). That’s probably because that’s what physically feels the most fulfilling on a surfboard. Going fast, putting your board in a place to really feel, in your bones, the interaction of water and rail, and drawing lines that connect sections efficiently are probably just universal elements of the enjoyable surf experience. But, the more you think about it, the less it should really matter how you achieve those elements.
Still, for most of us, we surf the exact opposite of a visionary like Crazy Craig. We surf like everybody is watching. We surf according to what the crowd wants, what they expect. We don’t glass ropes to our board because it looks weird as hell and we want validation from the herd. The most revolutionary stylistic genius in modern surfing over the past two decades is…jeez…Craig Anderson, I guess. Why, because he’s slightly knock kneed? Or maybe Ozzie Wright, because he rides hand-painted boards does a whole bunch of airs? In any case, it’s accepted, or even celebrated, to walk along the far edge of the path. But to veer off it entirely, into a truly out-there trip? Nobody really does that.
Gimme more guys and girls like Crazy Craig. A Crazier Craig, even. World needs more people willing to look way different than everyone else.
Words by Justin Housman. Top photo: Jeremy Bishop