Has it really been over a quarter-century since a young teenager named Joel Tudor burst onto the longboard scene and nearly singlehandedly preserved a sacred tradition?
To me it seems like yesterday when that little, blond freckle-faced brat with the long hair and far longer surfboard stuck grape gum into the crotch of my wetsuit before I paddled out in pain to see him hanging 10 like a veteran.
I was running a surf magazine at the time, and, despite my injury, put Joel on the cover. When I was given the task of directing the first modern longboard movie I chose then unknowns Joel and Wingnut as its stars. My close friend Steve Cleveland produced the film, called “On Safari to Stay” and together with videographer Greg Weaver we followed Joel and Wingnut as they sought to capture the myth and magic of the ‘60s.
I basically lost touch with Wingnut after that, since he lived in Santa Cruz, California, but I still see Joel around from time to time, tutoring (near pun intended) his kids at one of our local beaches. For anyone who doubts it, Joel still rules longboard surfing like nobody since his mentors, Hawaiian-born Donald Takayama (RIP), Aussie World Champion Nat Young and the legendary David Nuuhiwa. Other influences like San Clemente’s Herbie Fletcher also figure into the mix that have contributed to Tudor’s genius.
Joel, who is now in his early 40s, is a father of two and a mentor to every longboarder who has ever seen him on film or in person. While he can excel on any type of surfboard, he remains best known for his longboarding, where his weapon of choice continues to be a heavy, traditional single-finned surfboard in the 10-foot range.
While surfing well is mostly a matter of good balance, good genes and lots of practice, mentoring the next generation is a matter of choice. Just as it was in the early ‘90s when longboarding was viewed as a second-rate circus with kids on granny-rockered nine-footers blasting olly pops, so today longboarding is the black sheep of the surfing world. Through it all, Joel Tudor has never backed away from being the primary advocate for traditional longboarding.
Joel’s sons, Tosh (12) and Judah (8) are being mentored by their famous father not in the ways of rip, tear, lacerate, but in the more subtle matters of glide and flow where the wave dictates your every move and you blend in and basically go along for the ride. Here’s a moment of goofy foot Tosh Tudor (then 11) at Malibu (https://vimeo.com/180271337), looking a lot like his father at around the same age.
A tradition that was nearly lost to history has now been passed on to kids barely into double digits. But I wonder if that celebrated style that goes back at least as far as Duke Kahanamoku and inherited by my generation in the early ‘60s would have survived without someone to pick up the torch. That torch has been faithfully carried, sometimes alone, by Joel Tudor for a quarter of a century. Thank you, Joel. Kids everywhere along with those of us who were present when Donald, David and Nat ruled the surfing world are forever in your debt.