“Slip slidin’ away, slip slidin’ away…”
Tom Curren covers Paul Simon before 100 reverential souls at Pilgrim Surf + Supply in Brooklyn. The three-time ASP World Champion strums and sings, “…You know, the nearer your destination, the more you’re slip slidin’ away.”
New York surfers are making like sardines, clutching cans of Kona Longboard at awkward angles and ceaselessly jostling one another. But there’s no tension in this place. ‘Tis the season to be merry. And giving back is what tonight is all about. Anyway, the onlookers are too charmed to notice trivialities like elbows in their spines. Armed with his guitar and seated on a rustic, wooden bench, Curren seems more at ease during his solo rendition in front of this lot than he did an hour before, when he was discussing Sonny Miller’s classic film, Searching For Tom Curren, in the underground screening room of the posh Wythe Hotel.
“…God makes his plan. The information's unavailable to the mortal man…”
The crowd bobs its collective head in approval. They haven’t turned up here merely to see the man, the myth, and the legend that is Tom Curren. They’ve come out on this brisk Friday evening to support Hurricane Sandy relief efforts from groups like Waves For Water and the Rockaway Beach Surf Club.
“Unfortunately, we’re here for something that happened that was really bad,” SMASH NYC’s Tyler Breuer says. “But the silver lining is that we’re all unified. I feel so proud to be a New York surfer, because everyone here has just come together. They’ve helped out, they’ve put aside their differences, and it’s just really a wonderful thing.”
A disaster may have drawn them out, but New Yorkers are refusing to let Sandy quarter them. Surf culture on high, the very best company, and, of course, the open bar is facilitating an easy, amongst-friends atmosphere. Of course, Searching For Tom Curren, one of Rip Curl’s mid-‘90s “The Search” endeavors, is a film that hasn’t been shown in a theater for 15 years and can no longer be purchased. As Breuer says, “Sonny [Miller] has done such an amazing job with this film and it stands the test of time. You watch the surfing going on [in this film] — it’s still relevant. It still means something. And it’s badass.”
Truth. Searching makes us all mourn the decline of power surfing. It reminds us (lest we forget) that Kelly is not the only human being with banana wax feet, capable of escaping impossible situations. Miller didn’t use a lot of fancy transitions, but the cinematography in Searching was brilliantly ahead of its time. The audience reached a fever pitch as Curren threaded macking barrels and tucked into tiny caverns, filleted 10-footers on a beat-up fish, and surfed straight towards us, always cooperating with — and emphasizing — the wave.
“What conscious thoughts have gone into the development of that [style]?” Breuer asks Curren later. “And is it conscious, or is it more intuitive?”
“I was a product of surfing pointbreaks, watching films of my favorite surfers, trying to copy what they were doing, surfing from a very young age, surfing a lot, and then just being at the right place at the right time,” Curren responds. “I think maybe what I look at is, when you’re up on a wave, you’re not there to score points. You’re trying to get the most out of what the wave’s offering. It’s just enjoyment. You know, I wish I could do tricks, too, but…”
“In a recent interview, you said your kids are a little disappointed that you can’t do airs,” Breuer says.
"I know,” Curren replies. “I did… two.” Impeccably dry humor from the ambassador of surfing cool cues the audience’s pealing laughter. Curren describes how he was once talked into entering an air competition at Salt Creek with the mindset that, perhaps, if he absolutely had to do airs, they would come. But they didn’t. And honestly, no one’s holding it against him. Except maybe his kids.
There’s a famous section in Searching when Curren surfs an old 5’7” fish at eight- to ten-foot Bawa in Sumatra. He plainly attributes its popularity and impact to Miller’s cinematography — not his dauntless, avant-garde approach to riding the wave. “Watching this film,” Curren says, “it’s like all of my best moves in a concentrated form. Sonny did such a great job.”
“We were inspired by our opportunity,” Miller says. “To be given this glorious pathway. And there was no Surfline. All of our endeavors were rewarded because of our own commitment to belief, in a sense, which is kind of like buying a lotto ticket. We’d look at weather maps or in the newspaper — we didn’t even know Sean Collins then — and we were blessed by our own commitment. We didn’t rely on the ‘guarantee.’”
Miller may have had rocklike conviction, but even he couldn’t have realized that the story he and Curren told nearly two decades ago would still be regarded so highly today. Or that the New York surf community would have come so far in that time.
“Growing up here in New York and surfing,” Breuer says, “we never had access to a lot of this stuff. We weren’t nearly as connected as we are today, and I remember Mike [Machemer] waiting in line to see Tom Curren and Sonny Miller back in 1993 when they came over. It’s pretty amazing, the progress of surfing here in New York.” Continuing, he says, “To paraphrase Wayne ‘Rabbit’ Bartholomew, who is Tom Curren’s favorite surfer, by the way, surfing gives us a lot. It gives you so many wonderful things, but one day, surfing’s going to call upon you to help it out. This is that time, I think.”
Back in the incense-scented Pilgrim Surf + Supply, one of Curren’s blue, channeled singlefins is being silently auctioned. Most of the proceeds from the night’s event — about $9,000 in ticket sales alone — will benefit Waves For Water’s Hurricane Sandy Relief Initiative. Some will go to City Of Light, a non-profit that aids disadvantaged people in the developing world.
“I’ve worked all over the world with different disasters, and I don’t have these types of people or resources at my disposal, normally,” Waves For Water founder Jon Rose says in a speech to the gathered crowd. “I’ve just been blown away by how amazing all of these local initiatives have been, and people rallying… I’ve just tried to do my best to facilitate them. So I guess, really, I just want to applaud all of you.”
The Kona, the chill, the worries, are slip slidin’ away. But there’s still a lot of work to be done.
To learn more about how you can help, visit www.WavesForFater.org, www.Lavagirlsurf.com, www.RebuildRecover.org, www.Facebook.com/RestoreTheShoreProjects, www.NYSea.com, or any one of your favorite Hurricane Sandy relief organizations.