The Branding of Professional Surfers

Screen Shot 2018-02-16 at 10.00.40 PM.png

As in any professional sport, the athletes naturally brand themselves — whether they like it, plan it, or hate it, there are certain qualities that come to define athletes.

A simple example to start.  Kobe Bryant, for the entirety of his career, outside of Los Angeles was the villain.  An unapologetic psychopath.  A silent, deadly assassin.  Hated but respected.

In this article, I am going to explore the current branding of several professional surfers, providing critiques, suggestions, and observations.  I apologize if I offend anyone, and I’m sure I will.

  1. Connor Coffin: Pensive Heartthrob Screen Shot 2018-02-15 at 11.57.42 AM.pngAs wholesome as they come, Connor Coffin reminds me of warm banana bread fresh out of the oven.  A talented musician it would seem as evidenced through the many photographs of him with a guitar, Connor has effectively branded himself as the antithesis to the Noa Deanes and Creed McTaggarts of the surfing world.  It’s not a bad play, but it’s not one that I particularly care for.  Connor is so skilled at this imagery that he makes Jack Johnson look like Ozzy Osbourne.  Although, I must admit, I’ve never heard Coffin play or sing or any of that — this is strictly a branding exercise.  I once dubbed him the Golden Nugget of Glory, California’s last hope.  I no longer feel he embodies this title, for he has transformed.  No longer gold or a nugget, Connor Coffin has become the Pensive Heartthrob, California’s favorite jam puppy and, perhaps, last hope.  That being said, those who brand themselves in this very warm light, usually have a dark side.  One day, and I hope it’s soon, Connor’s dark side will reveal itself.   Until then, however,  I’ll still root for Connor and his demons.  Coffin will always have a place in our hearts here at Surf Heater.


2. Gabriel Medina: Evil Overlord

Screen Shot 2018-02-15 at 12.02.53 PM

Gabriel, simply put, must embrace his role and his brand, which has quite organically sprouted into the villain of the WSL.  Gabriel is the Jafar of the League and it would behoove him, and us all, to grab his serpent staff and accept the\ role with open arms.  Every great story pins good versus evil, and in surfing it should be no different.

Not everyone can play the villain, so young Medina should take this role as a compliment, and run with it.  Become the Jafar you were meant to be, Gabriel.  Fear not, for you will no power like you never have before.  Embrace the dark side!  Screen Shot 2018-02-15 at 12.07.53 PMPerhaps, Gabriel can recruit his stepfather Charlie to sit on his shoulder like Jafar’s trusty, loud-mouthed sidekick parrot, Iago.  Actually, as it is now, that’s not so far from reality.

3. Julian Wilson: Prince Charming

Screen Shot 2018-02-15 at 12.12.57 PM

I mean, look at this man.  If he doesn’t scream Prince Charming then slap my ass and call me Nancy, because I’m going out tonight!

Every villain must, must, must have an adversarial prince with whom to go to battle against.  Julian fits this mold and he does it with ease.  Ever since he willingly paddled quite literally into the jaws of a Great White Shark to help Mick Fanning escape imminent danger, he has been the Surfing World’s Prince Charming.  Now, if we could only get him a few more wins and lodged like broccoli between buck teeth in the running for a World Title.  The stage with its bright lights will soon be set.  The marquee matchup: Good vs. Evil.  Let us drink.  Let us dine.  Let us sing.  Onward.

Screen Shot 2018-02-16 at 10.17.11 PM.png

Coming up next: the Aging Master, Boy Wonder, and a String Cheese Spirit Guide…



Product Review: I Turned My Wavestorm Into A Single Fin

I’m in love with soft top surfboards. I started surfing them in the 90’s with an old, heavy waterlogged Doyle and spent most of my teens and early 20’s running a surf camp on INT soft tops (see below) and spending more time on the softies than hard boards.

Summer Days in Newport on an INT


Surf Camp Days 2004

Lately, I’ve been recovering from some surgeries and mostly surfing a Wavestorm up in San Francisco. It’s a surprisingly good Ocean Beach board. No joke. Paddles fast, you can hunt down waves and get in them super early.

Last month, I surfed with my cousin down at Pleasure Point. As we were suiting up, I noticed he had installed an obnoxiously pink single fin to his Wavestorm. I gave it a whirl in solid 6 to 10 foot Pleasure. I honestly couldn’t feel much of a difference because the waves were so good, but I was intrigued.

I looked around online and found “The Perfect Storm” single fin which promised to “Turbocharge your Foamie.” I ordered one off Amazon and about 2 days later (thanks Prime) a small cardboard box showed up at my doorstep.


Installation is super easy, and you can actually do it on the beach because all the tools, including a pink screwdriver are included. You basically punch an extra hole through the “deck pad” of the Wavestorm and screw it in. There are plugs for the two side fins so they don’t take on water.


My first real session was in 2 to 3′ playful and glassy Ocean Beach. As I was paddling out, I saw a little wedgey peak on offer so I swung and went. I faded the take off and did a quick shimmy to the front half of the board. I crouched low and the board stayed in the pocket for a good 4 seconds! It was an effortless trim. Usually, with a thruster set up, it’s a chore to set a really good line and hold it in the critical part of the wave.

Photo by Perfect Storm Fins

I caught a couple more waves. My best one was a backside where I was fairly deep but it was a solid little chest high runner. I set a line, and again just stuck to the wave. I felt like I could really push off my bottom turns as well. I’ve surfed with the single fin for about 2 weeks now and really don’t think I will go back to the thruster set up.

The highlight of the whole experience was this week at Ocean Beach. It was a dreamy day. About head high with crossed up low tide barrels. I pull in one, in full trim and going fast. I pull out and no other than pro surfer Ace Buchan is “Yewing” as I pull out. Stoked.


Downsides? Honestly, the pinkness of the fin screams kook. But you don’t really paddle out on a Wavestorm trying to be serious anyway, so it sort of works. I could see it being a good gift for a younger Wavestormer who wants their board to stick out from the rest, even if they don’t have the skills to really notice the performance. Another downside is that the size of the fin makes it hard to ride the board all the way to shore without possibly breaking it off on the sand/reef/etc.

Purists will say these Chinese made boards have no soul. They are killing the industry. I get it. I’m not saying for everyone grab wavestorms, tell your local shaper to suck it and join the soft top revolution, but it is a nice addition to your quiver for when the waves are too small, too big or you just want to pack closeouts and not worry about shrapnel from a 6′ piece of fiber glass.

In conclusion, the Perfect Storm single fin is an insanely fun addition to an already fun board. Would recommend to anyone. See you out there.


Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast: Power Rankings

With Snapper just around the corner, we’re here to evaluate the top 34 surfers with our pre-season power rankings.

#33 Tomas Hermes – Brazil – Rookie

The 30 year old WQS journeyman finally qualified after a strong second place finish at the US Open and a semi-final finish in Haleiwa. His stature (5’5”) and style remind us of a regular footed Tom Carroll with a penchant for big finishing moves. If he can link together a couple big turns and throw down some airs at Snapper, he could have a good start to the season.

#34 Michael Rodriques – Brazil – Rookie 

An explosive air game and powerful hooks define Michael’s surfing. The relatively unknown rookie qualified with a strong showing through Europe and hopes to make a splash at Snapper. If he can overcome the rookie nerves and surf with confidence, he may turn some heads with a solid result on the Gold Coast.


Screen Shot 2018-01-30 at 3.14.39 PM.png

My hands are shaking.  No, I’m not angry.  I’m not fuming with indignation or disgust.  I’ve simply had far too much to drink.  Coffee.

With an energized mind I tend to focus on things I despise.  A curse?  Perhaps, but I write on.

“I would never donate to any charity that would help sharks.  I hope they all die,” said President Trump.

Chas Smith of BEACHGRIT recently (not that recently, but I’ve been drinking) wrote about the President’s statement, referencing the ancient proverb, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”  Chas went on to dub President Trump an honorary surfer, which can only mean that Chas Smith shares our leader’s contempt for the large fish.

I, too, am terrified of these underwater beasts, but alas I am not so quick-fingered and impulsive (sounds like a teenage boy aiming for the slip for the first time).

I want to wholeheartedly disagree, but I then fantasize about a world without sharks.  It’s fluffy, and safe and there aren’t any sharks.

Tut, tut.  There are reasons this world should not exist.  Namely, science.  The ecosystem exists in a delicate balance, the ocean especially.  Sharks provide invaluable skills that keep said ecosystem in balance and, thus, thriving.   Yeah, yeah, you’ve heard the arguments.  Are they true?

When an ecosystem is thriving, its reefs are healthy and full.  When those reefs are healthy and full they provide the infrastructure that grant people like Chas and every other surfer those things called waves.

Alas, I, too am not getting out of bed to campaign for sharks, nor are any of these others surfers, let alone the professionals.  So, although Chas is, perhaps, wrong to lend his support of the President’s bedtime remarks, I fear I’m no different.

This topic, however, got me to thinking: What do professional surfers campaign for?

I don’t see them banding together to protest any sort of ecological or oceanic preservation or anything of the sort?  Why is that?  DGAF?  One would think these surfers would do all they could to protest and rally their fans and supporters to champion ocean conservation efforts.

Aside from the bald one, Kelly Slater, I’m hard-pressed to think of any professional watermen that have outwardly, vocally, passionately stood to protect the very oceans in which they make their living.

Perhaps that’s it there.  Their livings are made traveling the world surfing the most beautiful waves it has to offer.  Life is good.  Life doesn’t get much better than that.

To rock the proverbial boat may be unwise.  Examples have manifested aplenty, no one more so than Colin Kapernick.

This all being said, I could very well be dead wrong – and I hope I am, but if these surfers are out there campaigning and supporting efforts to conserve our oceans, their voices have not reached the likes of me and I’m much closer to the sport than most.

I’m going to do some digging.  Let’s find out who stands for what in professional surfing.  Stay tuned.

-S. Ben Willoughby

Worst Waves of the World: San Francisco Edition

99 times out of 100 I walk out of the water from a surf session a changed man. No, seriously. I have more energy. I breathe easier. My skin feels good. I get to my car, shake off my wetsuit, turn on the radio and feel good.

Last week, I found myself on the wrong side of that ratio. That towel change was not serene. I was seething. Why the fuck did I paddle out at Fort Point, one of the worst waves in the world?

This is a mirage Photo: Jeremiah Klein 

To those not familiar, Fort Point is the not-so-secret spot located right underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. The wave looks idyllic. Swells come from the Pacific Ocean, cross under the bridge, and wrap around a man made point.

The U.S Army Corps of Engineers began working on Fort Point during the civil war, arming the structure with 103 cannons and soldiers stood watch for an enemy that never came. The history is interesting and the setting is beautiful, the wave is not.

Fort Point Photo: 

The wave only really breaks at a low tide and requires a rock dance like no other to approach the water. Once your in the cold water, you are at the mercy of the tides. Usually, the tide is trying to suck you around and through The Golden Gate – straight out to the Pacific Ocean.

If you can manage the current, you then have to deal with the locals who consist of SUPpers without borders who paddle for every bump in the water, sea kayaks, kneeboarders, kooks who paddle out for the Instagram shot, and maybe a couple rippers who have the spot dialed and catch the one wave that barrels every 30 minutes. It’s truly a menagerie of kookiness out there.

After about 30 minutes of paddling, positioning, paddling some more, getting stared down and then repositioning I thought to myself “Fuck it – I’m going for one.” I tried sitting deep. I let the current take me out. I thought I could somehow go deeper then everyone else. I didn’t realize it’s almost impossible to stay in the position for a good one out there. I paddled back in to where the SUPpers were on the outside.

Right at the take off spot, there’s a submerged rock that shows its face on the bigger waves and causes a huge boil mid face. It’s not good kind of boil that you see before a wave really throws. It’s a boil boil.

Damn Boil! Photo: Daniel Won

To be fair, there are a couple good barrels to be had out there if you want to sit inside of the rock, towards the point and dodge SUPs all day. All the good waves you see in pictures are of this wave. It barrels for about 2 seconds and you come out and there’s no shoulder to ride.

Are We Having Fun Yet?

To the few that have it dialed and can weave through that one barrel every so often – you can have it. I’m done with it.

After 30 minutes of not getting any waves, I paddled in to about mid point and caught an absolute mush burger. Rode it straight and hit the lip on an inside section and had to bail mid term because it was jacking up over the rocks. Admittedly, a kook maneuver and I paid for it. My ass was dragged across a rock and I hit my foot on another.

I shame paddled all the way over to the pier, did another rock dance and headed to the car. The fog horn’s moan echoed my deepest thoughts. Fuck this place. I’m never going back.

I don’t ever want to feel like I did that day.


Fort Point.jpg
You Can Have It

Top 10 Surf Colleges…Again

Screen Shot 2018-01-23 at 10.03.38 AM

How many times can SURFER recycle one article? Forever, it seems, for they have done so with the BEST Surf Colleges article for the last ten, maybe twenty years, maybe thirty years. We sat down with SURFER this year to get the inside scoop on the contest. Let’s check it out and see who won this year!


STRANGE BEN: Hi Surfer, thanks for sitting down with us. We’re psyched to see who won the best surfing college this year. It’s always a barn-burner.

SURFER: Whoaaa! Hey there Strange! Good to see you, brother. Well, it was a tight, tight race but it seems this years belongs to UCSD. We compiled some heavy-hitting, I’m talking lip-smacking, analytics to the group of finalists this year and this the list we came up with. Pretty sick, right?

SB: Damn! Who would have thought? Hard-hitting analytics, eh? And UCSD came out on top?

SURFER: Yeah, I know. Big surprise to us here, as well. Crazy analytics, brah. I’m talking some straight up scientist tip, dude.

SB: Well, what changed from last year?

SURFER: Well, not much, but we couldn’t let Santa Barbara win again so we moved ’em down to 4th. And then slotted Cal Poly to 6th and brought in good old Monmouth University at 10th to really shake things up, ya know?

SB: Haha, no I don’t but that’s okay.

SURFER: Yeah, I mean the BIG surprise this year was Point Loma Nazarene University at #3! Can you believe that? So happy for them.

SB: No I can’t believe it because I thought the only people who go there are studying to become Bishops. Do Bishops surf?

SURFER: Hah! They might now that we’ve put them on the map!

SB: I doubt it. Well, I’ll say goodbye now. Thanks for sitting down with us and, uh, can’t wait till next year???

SURFER: No problem Strange! Keep shredding, dude!

SB: Yeah, okay.


I would say get some new material, but I’m genuinely entertained by the article and its ever-rotating cast of colleges. What they should do is set it up like one of those squirt gun races at the county fair — and film it. More squirt gun races in general, I guess. So long.

-Strange Ben Willoughby