Surfing is more than simply riding a wave. It is a complete and consuming immersion in nature, a submission to the whims of a set of corduroy lines determined by a pressure system in a far away ocean. It is soul and life and compassion and style – and a glimmer of connection to the present moment that is addictive and extraordinary and essential.
We see wave riding as an extension of our style, our personalities and as more than simply shredding the gnar, bro.
We are influenced and inspired by the surfers that celebrate this connection in their individual ways, and who are, let’s be honest, really beautiful to watch. The ones that make us want to pick up a board and race to the nearest break, just to surf a bit more like them.
So here is our list (in no particular order) of our top 20 Soul Surfers. The ones that have chosen to express themselves through alternative craft, art, music, activism and an understanding of this precious connection with the ocean.
She’s so expressive she almost looks clumsy. She can surf anything but often chooses beaten-up mid lengths that look unsurfable – but she makes it look so fun, every time. A proper water dancer - we’ve all learned so much from watching her surf and realising you can move in any way that feels good.
We watched him compete at the Vans Duct Tape event a couple of years ago and were gobsmacked. There were so many incredible longboarders there, but he had so much style and grace, without looking like he was taking it too seriously.
At the ripe old age of 14, Tosh is carrying on the legacy of his pretty legendary dad, Joel. Long, lanky, light footed – perfect creds for a longboarder – he dances on logs like nobody's business.
She can’t be left out of any list about surfing. Stylish, graceful, powerful and playful, she has the resilience and ambition of a competitor (seven titles, thanks very much) plus the soul and creativity of a freesurfer. Watch her play on a twinnie. It’ll either inspire you, or prompt you to quit surfing in despair and take up golf. Or bowls.
Running the real risk of overusing the word style here, but Torren Martyn can surf a twin-fin like no one else, with a languorous, drop-knee ease. He has actually ditched all thrusters from his quiver, which is entirely made up of twinnies. Groovy. Lost Track Atlantic is a four-part series tracking his three month road trip from Northern Scotland to West Africa, with the landscapes ranging from the bitter cold of the north Atlantic, arid desert coastlines to the lush tropics of equatorial West Africa.
Watch the film, watch him tuck effortlessly into whomping barrels on a twinnie and either feel inspired or deflated that you are not in fact, Torren Martyn.
“If you have a racist friend, now is the time for our friendship to end.” Oscar is the future of Soul Surfing, oozing style and grace all over the place. Plus, he’s an activist - inspired by the 36-year-old lyrics of ‘My Racist Friend’ – a song by The Specials – he started printing t-shirts for friends with anti-racism slogans. Picked up by RVCA, the t-shirts are now sold around the world, with all proceeds split between charities for underprivileged, inner city children in Aus & the US. He is an unbelievable surfer, just as stylish as anyone on this list, and has already chosen at the tender age of 17 not to compete but surf for the pure joy of it. Whatta ledge.
Franco is also part of the Soul & Surf family, and hails from South Sri Lanka, where he surfs with impossible grace, style and intelligence, who draws sweeping lines with both power and subtlety. We have had the pleasure of surfing with and learning from Franco over the years – watching someone so truly connected and entwined with the ocean's spirit will never get old.
Mikey grew up in apartheid South Africa – where his dad wasn’t even allowed access to waves – and became the first black surfer from South Africa to compete on the world tour. Proper style, with some of the best freestyle moves we’ve ever seen. He is also passionate about inspiring young people from under-resourced communities in South Africa – partnering up with surf therapy charity Waves for Change, he helped collect over 750 boards for South African townships – and stays deeply connected to his local community. Also, if watching him surf in Nü RYTHMO doesn't want to make you visit West Africa then quite honestly you should probably put down your surfboard and take up bridge.
One of Indonesia's first competitive female surfers, Flora learnt to surf in her twenties (at the same time she learned to swim) in an area that has not traditionally been supportive of Indonesian women surfing. Native to Sumatra, Flora surfs a longboard with poise and strength and is one to watch.
One of our favourite surfers of all time, who embodies what we all love about surfing. Goofy-footer who oozes class, style and panache with a certain edge.
Ahh, Rasta. Patagonia ambassador and freesurfer, he has appeared in so many surf movies that have inspired all of us at Soul & Surf – and are on pretty heavy rotation in our outdoor movie nights in Kerala. Movies such as The Cove, Minds in the Water, Blue Horizon, The Present, Sprout, Under the Sun, Castles in the Sky and This Time Tomorrow (plus more). Not a list to be sniffed at - and we recommend you watch every one. Take notes. Widely acknowledged as the best freesurfer around, watching him surf a twin fin with his unique style and flow is a right treat.
Ishita is a creative, expressive and graceful longboarder who has thrived against all odds to become India's first female competitive surfer. Check her out in Beyond the Surface, an exploration of Southern India and its burgeoning women's surf movement.
Former competitive shortboarder who had an accident in a surf comp and lost sight in one eye - but the really impressive thing about that? He then went on to improve his world ranking after the accident. With one eye. And still surfs better than most of us with two functioning eyeballs can ever dream of. He has become one of the surf community's most celebrated, cerebral surfers, and is a brilliant writer, critic and surfer of weird and wonderful (usually finless) craft. Check him out in Litmus, arguably THE surf film of the 90's - and watch this clip of him surfing finless at J-Bay
Another Patagonia ambassador, she also works with Take 3 for the Sea and is the co-founder of Surfers for Climate, a movement dedicated to positive climate action. An elegant, technical singlefin surfer, with longboard titles under her belt, she is a passionate waterwoman and activist, who was also the first female surfer to be featured on the cover of the Surfers Journal.
Brazilian competitive longboarder who combines power with a lazy, drop-knee steeze that belies how bloody hard it is to surf that well. She is a joy to watch.
Classic, traditional longboarder who has pretty strong opinions about how a proper noseride should look. Leashless, single-fin-only and unbelievably graceful, he is a powerhouse in the longboard community who also has a few jiu-jitsu comps under his belt*.
*pun intended, drops mic.
We met her while she was in Kerala filming Beyond The Surface and she has been an inspiration since that moment. Right from serious style in the waves, a spirit of adventure to ocean activism, she truly is someone to look up to who inspires every step of the way.
There is something about Alex Knost and the way he surfs that evokes the spirit of 60's California in a way that no one else has. Since surfers in California in the 60's probably. Rubber-limbed, unbelievably mobile on a longboard, he combines traditional, beautiful lines with a sense of play and ease.
Big wave, cold water shredder, who lives and surfs on the west coast of Ireland. We have been long-term fans of hers, and for good reason. Easkey pioneered women’s big-wave surfing in Ireland where her performances in the rugged Atlantic earned a global WSL Big Wave nomination in 2011 and 2013. As well as absolutely charging, she has been the driving force behind important projects in terms of climate and women's surfing and empowerment. Her must-watch film, Into the Sea, where she introduces Iranian women to surfing, challenged preconceptions about women and culture in Iran, and bought much-needed focus onto challenges that women face in parts of the world we don't often get a reasoned glimpse of. She is also a marine social scientist with a PhD in Environment and Society whose work explores the relationship between people and nature, especially water environments, or ‘blue space’.
Sam is a true soul surfer, who leads a life woven into the fabric of the sea. He is a fountain of knowledge about the ocean, sustainable surfing, surf tourism, communities and impact (as well as having his fair share of longboard titles under his belt). He is also a beautiful writer, who weaves together the threads of music and soul and surfing ~"As a longboarder into style, I see the perfect match to soul surfing as soul jazz (Blue Note circa 1961) and soul music... cross-stepping to crisp beats, a walking bass, crackling snare drums and growling Hammond organs." - The Soul of Surfing, Part One
Sam is part of the Soul & Surf community, and we've been the lucky ones who got to host him and his family for yearly residencies in Varkala. We have been able to share waves with and learn from this longboard luminary, who has provided inspiration both to the locals who work with us, and has influenced our own Soul of Surfing programme and revolution. His Surfing Brilliant Corners series celebrates the lesser-known surf communities around the world, as well as frank discussion about how the fragile ecosystems and rights of the locals in these communities need to be protected.
Not a human, but a film. A controversial addition to this list, but hear us out. Special mention has to go to the seminal movie Sprout, which features a fair few of the surfers in this list.
Shot entirely on 16mm film, it features Joel Tudor, Dan Malloy, Kassia Meador, Skip Frye, Devon Howard, Jimmy Gamboa, Ozzy Wright, Gerry Lopez, Tom Wegener, Kelly Slater, Dane Peterson, Belinda Baggs, Alex Knost, Rob Machado, Belen, CJ Nelson, Maureen Drummy, Dave Rastovich, Dane Perlee, Monica Rose, Tracey Marshall, Mike Stewart, Mark Cunningham and Tyler Hatzikian. I mean, that's a roll-call right there.
If you need a start point for your foray into the joys of soul-surfer-spotting, this is not the worst place to go.
For more must-watch, creative surf films, check out our Top 15 Soul Surfing Movies.