7 key moments that changed surfing forever

Unsurprisingly Kelly Slater figures heavily in the key moments that changed surfing.
Unsurprisingly, Kelly Slater figures heavily in a few of the key moments that changed surfing forever. Photo courtesy of ASP

It only takes three seconds to do a maneuver on a wave. Yet a couple times each decade it is just three seconds that can suddenly shake, shift, and revolutionize this deal called surfing. Here, we take a look at the moments that changed surfing forever.

The cutback to start all cutbacks
Who: Michael Peterson
When: 1970
Where: Kirra, Queensland, Australia
Why: Michael Peterson’s cutback, and the framegrab from the seminal surf movie “Morning of the Earth,” stands as one of the most iconic surf images of all time. At the time, that framegrab, and that turn, was the embodiment of a new type of surfing—extremely radical, super fast, futuristic, and on edge. The cutback, even further immortalized following the death of Peterson in 2012, has stood the test of time for a very good reason. For even 42 year after that split-second combination of timing, power, and magic, it still holds its place in the history of performance surfing.

The framegrab from Albe Falzon’s “Morning of the Earth”

The aerial
Who: Martin Potter
When: 1985
Where: Hawaii
Why: No one is quite sure who invented the aerial. Kevin Reed from Santa Cruz, California, was experimenting in the early 1970s, as was Larry Bertleman, Matt Kechele, and Cheyne Horan in the early ’80s. However, it was Martin Potter who is credited with making them functional, as he used traditional power and timing to launch above the lip and land with relative style. This Surfing magazine cover shot from 1984 signaled a whole new direction in surfing and set the platform for aerial surfing.

A 1984 Surfing magazine cover that signaled a whole new era for surfing

Knife through butter
Who: Tom Curren
When: 1991
Where: Backdoor, Hawaii
Why: It’s still a turn that drips pure class, pure style, pure Tom Curren. He had come flying through a Backdoor tube to generate speed for this turn—the wave featuring as the opener for Taylor Steele’s “Momentum II” and becoming an iconic image for photographer Tom Servais. While the Momentum generation took over surfing soon after that, and Curren quit competition and went searching, this exact moment represented one of surfing’s best ever performing one of his best ever turns.

The snap
Who: Tom Carroll
When: 1991
Where: Pipeline, Hawaii
Why: In the 1991 Pipe Masters semifinal, Tom Carroll performed a single maneuver on a 12-foot Pipe wave that has become known as simply “The Snap.” Tom’s sister had recently passed away, adding an dense layer of emotion on top of what is to this day still one of the most dominant displays by any surfer at Pipe. “Alone in that utterly silent moment of freefall down the face of the wave, the impossibly accurate first turn, the perfect stillness and control in the midst of chaos,’’ was how Nick Carroll, Tom’s brother and a famed surf journalist, described it. It remains not only the reigning example of power and performance at Pipeline, but arguably the most memorable top turn in surfing history.

The rodeo clown
Who: Kelly Slater
When: 1999
Where: Pipeline
Why: At the start of the ’90s Tom Carroll had astounded the surfing world with his huge “Snap” at Pipe. At the end of that decade, Slater did the same with his rodeo clown. The two turns could not be more disparate, sitting on the opposite ends of the spectrum of what is possible on a surfboard. One is a huge power carve, the other a flip with a 720 thrown in, and yet they both created the pure element of shock and awe. “I literally discovered a maneuver on that wave,” Kelly told Surfline. “I’d never done that rotation, and I remember just going, ‘Ahhh, that’s how you do it.’”

Aerial roll spin
Who: Jordy Smith
When: 2009
Where: Mentawais, Indonesia
Why: “The thing about that turn,” Kelly Slater said afterwards, “wasn’t so much that it was incredible, which it was, but that within a couple of days of Jordy doing it, the whole world had seen it. I mean, he was out in the middle of nowhere in the Mentawais and yet it was beamed worldwide. That’s why surfing is progressing so fast. Everyone can see what everyone else is doing straight away.”

The turn by Jordy was another building block in this deal called performance surfing, performed 10 years after Kelly had pulled the first documented one at Pipe. It was exciting and functional. You needed about six replays of the turn just to get your head around what he had done. And Slater, and the rest of the world, took notice—immediately.

Full rotation to flats
Who: Kelly Slater
When: 2012
Where: Bells Beach, Australia
Why: For 20 years Slater has pushed the boundaries of both performance and competitive surfing. The year 2011 was no different, where at the U.S. Open in Huntington Beach, California, and at the Quiksilver Pro in New York, he performed two show-stopping progressive aerials that blew his competitors, many 20-something new school specialists, out of the water.

Surely he couldn’t t go any better? Well, in 2012 at the Rip Curl Pro final at Bells Beach, he made a full rotation that, again, redefined performance surfing. Josh Kerr, himself one of the world’s best aerial surfers, described it in an interview with Stab magazine like this: “That thing … was … absolutely … messed up. And really, really well executed. It was definitely one of the bigger no-grab to-the-flat full-rotations I’ve ever seen. That one Kelly did … it’s an ankle-breaking maneuver. And I’ll tell you what—out there, it’s frigging close-to-impossible to do airs.”

He didn’t win the final, but once again, at the age of 40, Slater showed there is no one pushing surfing quite like Kelly Slater.

Slater on the way to redefining aerial surfing (as a 40-year-old)
Slater on the way to redefining aerial surfing (as a 40-year-old); photo courtesy of ASP

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