For better or worse, whatever Dane Reynolds says, does and thinks will direct surfing into the future. This is what Dane says and thinks as of October, 2010. Interview by Jed Smith. Photo by Ryan Miller
THE BOY AND HIS DOLL
It’s been a long time since a surfer wielded as much influence as Dane Reynolds. A reckless and raw style has installed him as the sport’s most progressive talent. But, it’s his willingness to speak out against surfing’s conservative leanings and convey his struggle to find a place in the sport that makes him such a compelling figure.
Dane hates himself for his honesty. “I’m gonna be bummed for a long time after this. Interviews, man. I feel like I say too much,” he says between sips of a beer in a Marriot hotel in Portugal. Minutes ago we had finished a two hour-long discussion in which he laid bare his insecurities, conveyed his grievances with his career and what he perceives to be a sport “in a weird place” and revealed more of himself than anyone in his position has ever done before.
Later, in an email he would tell me that he feels he can sometimes be “too honest.” That his brain is a soup of ever-changing thoughts and opinions and what he thinks now, is not necessarily what he’ll be championing in the coming months. After a pointer to this interview appeared on stabmag.com, he launched a tirade on his website, marinelayerproductions.com. Under the headline, STAB=SENSATIONALISTIC SCUMMY JOURNALISM, he wrote: “i’ve never made a decision and i enjoy going to every event and it’s a shame that Stab wants to exploit me in this way to sell magazines. surely in their article i say some critical things, because for some god forsaken reason i have trouble not saying whats on my mind when a sports writer provokes it, but at this point in time i’ll save my harshest criticism for Stab because this was a sleazy way to advertise they’re upcoming issue.”
For that reason, he doesn’t want you too read too much into the following interview. It’s a snapshot of his mind. One taken at a time when he’s never been more influential but never felt more at odds with the sport he once loved.
STAB: Tell me about Dane Reynolds in Europe.
Dane Reynolds: It’s funny because when you’re at a surf contest no matter where you are, it doesn’t feel like you’re anywhere special because you’re so tied to the surf contest. When I travel for surf contests, I don’t feel like I’m travelling at all, it feels like I’m at a surf contest. In a small moment between the two events (The Quiksilver Pro, France and the Rip Curl Pro, Portugal) I went to San Sebastian (in Basque country, Spain) for a night. It’s really cool there but we didn’t have a great time this time. We got there at the end of when I’d been drinking too much in France, you know. I couldn’t do it another night. And then we went to Bilbao and I didn’t drink for a couple of nights, which was nice. Sober up, you know.
STAB: Is it hard to socialise these days without getting drunk?
DR: Yeah, man. Well, I get anxious being around people, so drinking like fills the void.
DR: I dunno. I don’t really venture out too far. Most of the people I’m around most of the time, I’m pretty good friends with. I dunno. You go to a restaurant, it’s so easy to... a beer helps. Especially in Europe, you know.
STAB: What are some of the sacrifices your job requires?
DR: You sacrifice having a normal life. But, in turn, there is no such thing as a normal life. Imagine a nine-to-five job and how much you have to sacrifice with that. You’ve gotta sacrifice your life. You have a small part of every day or every week to be you. So for me, on a relative scale, I don’t have to sacrifice much. But you live a pretty public life and everything you do is analysed and put out there and people are interested in what you do. My brother can do whatever the fuck he wants every day and only his close friends and family are analysing it.
STAB: What irritates you about being analysed?
DR: Surfing is such a small scale of celebrity but I remember after that Modern Collective trip (in November 2009), me and (pro surfer) Yadin (Nicol) were flying back and he brought up the Stab website and he showed me the article you wrote when we went to the (Gold Coast) casino. He scrolled down to a bit you had written, something that I said but that Yadin had actually said, in the taxi on the way home. And, it wasn’t a big deal but, and this is in general a funny thing that happens all the time, all these people are judging my character on this thing that you said, that’s not really true but who cares? It’s just super hard not to get bummed out and that’s why I won’t even check that shit. It’s just pointless.
STAB: Hmmm, sorry. Still, why are you affected by the opinions of anonymous critics?
DR: I spend a lot effort trying to let that stuff not bother me. Especially when it’s not on real terms. It would be one thing if I killed a baby and everyone was like, “Fuck that guy! He killed a baby.” But these are such dumb things and especially when I picture them coming home after a frustrating day at work and hopping online just wanting to make someone feel shitty. It pisses me off that the guys judging me are fucked up or have things that if someone were writing about them in an article, would be way easier to judge. I wish I didn’t take it personally. I’ve got a problem with not facing things head on. If there is a problem here I’ll steer clear of it. I just don’t look at the website – go around it – I should probably face it head-on and get over it.
STAB: Have you achieved a balance between getting what you want out of your youth and fulfilling the requirements of your job?
DR: I don’t feel like there is much of a balance. It’s pretty gruelling being around events all the time. I don’t know why. It’s just like, anxiety. It kinda kills me.
STAB: You say a nine-to-five job is a sacrifice but the difference is we can take a break from our job. You can’t. You’re earning capacity is right now, in your prime. Are you sacrificing your youth?
DR: But at the same time, I’m claiming I’m living more than a lot of people in their youth. I get to travel a lot but like I said it’s not really travelling. It’s super weird. But, you get to experience a lot of neat things and you are sacrificing a lot because everything is like an outward thing, it’s not for yourself. Everything you do is expressed outwardly and, I dunno, exploited. I guess you are sacrificing some things but I wouldn’t say you’re sacrificing your youth. The life of pro surfing has given me so many valuable experiences that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.
STAB: So which is it, a drain or a positive life experience?
DR: I’d say it’s 100% a positive experience, but at the same time there are hundreds of things I would like to do that I’m not able to. In a really simple way, I go surf every day because I wanna enjoy it. Being around the tour events is a stifling environment. I feel my best when I get to be creative and make things. That’s when I’m “living,” you know. It’s really hard to snap back and forth between that frame of mind and a competing frame of mind. That’s stifling for sure.
STAB: Does Ventura provide a creative tonic?
DR: It’s not (a creative hub). Not at all. Zero. Ventura is a pretty stifling environment, like, more than the tour. I went through a long time when I was growing up confused where I fit in. I come from a creative family. My mum is pretty free spirited and I guess that’s where (my personality) comes from. But it took me a long time to be okay with expressing myself because it’s a very stifling environment. What I’m doing in Ventura is super frowned upon. Everyone feels like I’m exploiting their surf breaks. Success is not frowned upon but the sort of style I’ve fallen into is, you know, with the website (Marinelayer.com) and shit. I’m filming at surf breaks that people don’t want to be seen even though it’s crowded as fuck and it’s been that way since long before I came around. It’s more the older guys that give me talks. They don’t really enforce shit no more but they still hate what I do. There are some guys that are supportive, but he’s usually the guy riding a soft top that everyone else hates. It’s definitely not like the Gold Coast where Fanning is like, The Guy.
STAB: What do your friends at home say about the life you lead?
DR: Shit, I’d say my best friend is Adam Virs. He’s older and he had lots of opportunities in his life to do well competitively (as a surfer). We don’t really talk about how I’m doing on the tour. I’m gonna go home and he’s gonna be like, “Travis Logie (Dane’s victorious opponent in round two of the Rip Curl Pro, Peniche), C’mon?” But even if I lost to (world number two) Jordy (Smith), he’d be like, “Jordy, Are you kidding me?” My other friends will be like, “Where have you been?” And I’ll be like, “Portugal.”
I’ll get like a random dude on a soft top at C-Street, which is like the Waikiki of Ventura, saying, “Hey dude, you’re living the dream, mannnnn.” Some other people are like, “You must be drained.” I get two polar opposites. My life isn’t tough. I feel super lucky but there are other things I would like to spend my time doing like travelling, for real.
STAB: Why don’t you just disappear?
DR: I’ve left the last three events thinking I definitely can’t do this again next year. But leaving is such a gnarly thing. Since I’ve been 11 years old when I started surfing good or whatever and they ask you, “What do you wanna do now?” “I wanna be on tour.” For the last 15 years it’s been a goal.
STAB: But can you live by the goals you made when you were 11?
DR: No, I know. But it would be a really big ordeal. I have considered what it would be like to be climbing up and down the ratings for the next five or 10 years but it doesn’t mean that much to me. But then it’s a scary thing leaving.
STAB: What’s scary?
DR: Just… um, I dunno. It’s just a really big change, I guess. Change is always scary. I don’t really wanna say it like as a definitive fact but I don’t really feel like I will do it next year. I can’t say that for sure because it’s a big change and scary you know. And, you’re walking away from a pretty cool thing. I like competing. The problem is it’s not that important to me.
STAB: What motivates you to compete?
DR: It’s still exciting putting on the jersey and having the showiness of it. It’s totally still exciting. Is it worth spending the next years of your life doing that and nothing else? I dunno. But, it is exciting.
STAB: Can we get this straight – is there a difference between good surfing and winning heats?
STAB: And are you more motivated by surfing good as opposed to winning heats?
DR: Yeah, I think so.
STAB: So you do care, but about surfing well?
DR: Yeah, I guess that’s right.
STAB: It’s possible there will be financial ramifications if you choose to leave the tour. You’ve sacrificed earnings for the sake of quality of life in the past haven’t you?
DR: After my first two years with Quiksilver I told the guy – he doesn’t do this job anymore – I felt like they were wringing me dry. I would fly over to the east coast for a signing and fly to Huntington for a signing. I was too nice. They would ask me and I would do it. It came time to re-sign and I’d been talking to this guy about management because I didn’t really know shit about that. (The Quiksilver guy) was like, “I highly suggest you sign this contract and then get a manager. Don’t do it now.” And that got me thinking, “Yeah, alright I’m gonna get a manager.” I told him, “Dude, I would way rather get paid a quarter of what I’m getting paid for a quarter of the responsibility.” He’s like, (Dane puts on the voice of a troll) “Okay.” So he drew me up a contract for like 30,000 bucks or whatever, which is like, pretty cool but it was just funny that he jumped at the opportunity. People just take advantage at every opportunity. And I’m too nice, I get taken advantage of super easy. It’s good to have someone who doesn’t take shit (a manager).
STAB: Are you thinking about making that sacrifice again?
DR: Totally. Honestly, the financial scenario hasn’t been a key factor in my decision-making. It’s more scary leaving behind something that you’ve built up since you were so young.
STAB: Is knowing that a change like this is going to receive so much analysis a factor?
DR: Maybe it’s a small part. A subconscious thing. It’s not something I think about. People would hate it. Hate me for being a diva. “Oh, he can’t handle this.” But, it’s not like that. I’m into it but not enough to persist on that long. After last year I could have gone either way. But, like I said, the weight of change is really a scary thing. As of now, I’m having a hard time doing it again. It’s totally an awesome thing. It’s just making that change. I just feel like I could do things that are more rewarding personally.
STAB: How has surfing changed for you since you were a kid?
DR: Everyday I surf I’m trying to get back to that excitement but it’s not really there. Riding some new board that you’ve got no clue how it’s gonna work kinda gets you there a little bit. I get so bored if I’m gonna ride a thruster everyday and pretend I’m in a heat. It’s not surfing, you know. It was this big giant awesome world that you didn’t know about when you were younger. Now, I still have a lot of fun surfing but it’s all there, conscious. It’s the same with everything. There’s no mystery in anything. I swear the funnest times I had surfing were before I even moved to Ventura. I spent summers with my friend, who I’m still good friends with, and he moved from Bakersfield (two hours inland of Ventura) to Ventura when his parents got divorced. Every day we’d drag down a surfboard and a boogie board and we’d ride a boogie board all day long but we had to have the surfboard to pretend we were going surfing. They were the most important times that I’ve ever surfed.
STAB: What did surfing mean to you when you were younger?
DR: Have you ever watched VBS TV? You know Epicly Later’d, Bummer High (The Ethan Fowler episode). There was a part in there that really spoke to me. He’s like, “All these kids skate really good and of course they’re gonna get sponsored. But, what you don’t realise is that that totally fucks up the radness of what it used to be as a kid.” I totally think that for surfing as well. Being sponsored and taking it serious totally fucks it up. Kids today totally don’t have that awesomeness that I had. Twelve-year-old kids already have a manager and a trainer and I’m like, “Well, it’s already fucked up.”
STAB: Do you feel pressure to always ride a thruster and continue to progress?
DR: Not really, but I think people think I’m being gimmicky when I ride other stuff. For instance, at J-Bay (during the Billabong Pro this year) this guy brought me a finless board that was shaped by (Noosa-based craftsman)Tom Wegner. It was super funny because I was sitting at home and there were some super fun waves down at Tubes – this one section with a super cool quick barrel. I didn’t feel like riding my thruster so I walk down to the beach (with the board) and people are heckling me from up top and people are running down and taking photos. People are like, “Derek Hynd! Derek!” (Referring to the former pro surfer and legendary surf writer who specialises in riding finless boards, who has a house at J-Bay and who was also at the Billabong Pro), yelling at me. I was like, “Fuck dude, this is so embarrassing.” I seriously wanted to walk back to the house. I paddle out at Tubes and 10 people are on the beach taking photos. I don’t know why. They followed me down to shoot photos. It was super funny though. I surfed terribly, like it’s super hard, and all the photographers packed up and left. As soon as everybody left I started to get the hang of it and made a couple of good tubes and had so much fun. The funniest part was I’m sitting out there and I can see Supertubes going off and I see Jordy (Smith) riding a wave and the crowd is going nuts. His heat’s over and he comboed, I forget who, some guy. I waited like half-an-hour because I didn’t wanna walk up when Jordy was walking up. But apparently he, like, signs autographs for half-an-hour or something. So half an hour later I’m walking up and I’m like ten feet behind him carrying my fucking finless deal. Sooo embarrassing. Guys are like hooting for him and as soon as they see me they’re heckling me.
STAB: What do you take away from a situation like that?
DR: I feel surfing as a sport is arbitrary. I don’t even really consider it a sport. I watch the scores they give to every person and I’m like, “We really travel around the world our whole life or whole year to have people give us these scores while we’re out there surfing?” It’s just retarded, kinda.
STAB: I conducted a Facebook poll before I came here, Dane. I asked people what they find so appealing about you and these were two of the recurring replies: (Dane cranes over my laptop)
“The fact that he is quite dynamic (creative pursuits on the side) make him seem more three-dimensional than others on the tour.”
“The fact he isn’t a product of the sponsor. ppl still relate to dane, like, remember that quote from one of the guys that won stab awards can’t remember.... jocks in wetsuits.. ? he reps what surfers (were?)”
Do you feel your appeal is because you resemble something different to a conservative and corporatized modern incarnation of surfing?
DR: Yeah but you know what sucks about that? I’m as much aligned with the corporate agenda as anyone else. Well fuck, man, although I feel like I’m misrepresented by Quiksilver for the most part, I’m sponsored by one of the biggest surf companies in the world and every action I do, is for someone else to sell product… I don’t think surfers are disenchanted. I’ve seen Kolohe (Andino), I’ve seen Evan Geiselman at the last couple of events. They don’t question anything or think twice about this whole pro surfing format. Surfing is in kind of a funny place. But you know when I was a kid I would see Chris Malloy wearing a yellow rashguard and I’d be like I want that rashguard. And they weren’t really representative of him.
STAB: But you’re not wearing yellow rashguards. You’re wearing clothes that aren’t your sponsor’s (a big no, no in surfing). What are some of the other thing’s you’ve done that have chafed your employer?
DR: At the Pipe Masters I had a hand-drawn logo on my board that was barely there, I guess. And they got really upset about that. On the webcast, I guess it didn’t look like there was a logo there. It was there. But now, with the manager I have a buffer so I probably don’t hear sometimes where before it was really personal and I’d feel really bad about losing a heat even. Listen to this. When I first got sponsored by Quiksilver, I got a wildcard into the Snapper event and I was 18 or whatever. I was so lanky and so far from competing against world tour guys. I surfed a heat against Kelly because I was a low seed. He got two eights and a nine or something and I didn’t get shit. I came in and one of the guys from Quiksilver, I thought he was gonna be at least like, “Ah man, tough luck. Next time.” He’s like, “Needless to say, we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
STAB: How did you take that?
DR: I don’t know. Fuck, I knew I had a lot of work to do but I didn’t wanna hear someone tell me that.
STAB: You said surfing is in a weird place. How so?
DR: It all feels like there’s no realness to it. Everything feels like a gimmick or a campaign. Everything is about pushing product more than being real. But then the consumers are as guilty as the companies pushing it because they’re buying it. Surfing doesn’t necessarily need to do cool new shit because Quiksilver’s top-seller is gonna be a logo on a green shirt in Pac Sun in Dallas, which is not even a surfer shop.
STAB: What’s the difference between what you do (blog, movie and now a clothing line, Summer Teeth) and a marketing gimmick?
DR: It’s not that different, you know. I’m still trying to sell something, I guess. But with (Summer Teeth) I wanted it to be really small and make runs of a 1000 shirts. There’s no advertising or pushing. I wanted to do it on a really low budget and build something from the roots up because that’s how it should be.