CARLSBAD — Drawn to surfing simply from his proximity to the ocean, Carlsbad resident and professional surfer Taylor Knox said he had no choice when it came to finding himself paddling out into the waves. Instead of finding himself on a ball field or in a park it was the beach that became his spot for solace.
But his love affair with the beach and with surfing grew slowly while adjusting to his new surroundings and new routines, following a move from Thousand Oaks, Calif. to Oxnard Shores, Calif. when he was just young.
Fast forward several years and many waves later, Knox and his family moved to Carlsbad while he was in junior high school.
In Carlsbad, Knox found a “whole different vibe” when it came to surfing and surfing in contests, he explained. “The local guys up there didn’t like contests; local guys down here liked contests,” he said. “It was a whole different acceptance.”
Knox had started entering local contests up north with his friends just to have fun. In Carlsbad, there were lot more contests and more competitive, he said.
When he was 15, Knox underwent major back surgery, stemming from a hereditary issue where his spine, as he grew, started growing apart. Before learning that the issue was hereditary, he had thought the pain was from his time skateboarding.
Following the surgery, Knox spent half-a-year wrapped in a cast from his chest to his knees.
Wrapped in his “cocoon,” he said that that time spent in the cast helped push him in the right direction. “If I wanted that surfing dream I had to get pretty serious about it,” he said. “It kept me from diving into the whole partying scene because I already felt like I’d lost so much time.”
That experience was a good one, he said. “You can easily get distracted when you’re 15.”
To date Knox has three fused vertebras and nine pieces of metal in his back.
Now 43, Knox continues to compete in surfing events. Throughout his ASP career he’s continuously maintained a ranking within the top-30, winning several events, including the World Title Event Rio Surf Pro in Brazil in 1996.
Knox is often associated with the “New School” generation — that generation of surfers in the ‘90s that includes Kelly Slater, Rob Machado, Shane Dorian and Ross Williams.
Their style was inspired in part by the rise of snowboarding and skateboarding moves; the new style featured airs, speed and riding the rails of waves.
Knox’s self-described power surfing-style doesn’t necessarily provide any edge against the younger competitors in contests, he explained.
“Everybody’s so good these days,” he said. “There’s definitely different styles going on, but in contests and competitions, they don’t really judge on style. That’s something that’s more eye pleasing or just important to me,” he said, “not so much the judges.”
As one of the elder statesman on tour, Knox said he does notice a change in the perception of surfing among the younger generations.
“The younger guys are definitely, nowadays, looking at it as more of a sport,” he said. “They take it a lot more serious, a lot younger. And they’ve got a lot more parental support,” he said. Though, Knox is quick to point out that his parents gave him plenty of support.
He attributes that shift to the fact that surfing in general is a lot more popular. “People don’t see surfing now as beach bums, they see it as careers,” he said.
It’s something that he thinks is great, being able to make a living doing something that you love to do. “As long as you don’t get carried away,” he said. “The only time it’s a bummer, is when parents turn into soccer moms and dads, pushing their kids. The bottom line — surfing is to have fun, especially for young kids.”
With summer now here and plenty of people interested in taking to the waves for the first time, Knox offered this in the way of advice: “Respect,” he said. “Respect the ocean and respect the people around you. The ocean is the most powerful thing on the planet. Know your limits.”