“My goal is to be the David Beckham of surfing,” Reubyn Ash tells me. He’s got better teeth than most English, but I’m still not sure what he means. I don’t really watch soccer. Or, uh, football. But that’s just beginning of things I don’t understand.
Reubyn has a surfboard worth a million dollars. He’s just landed an aerial that no one’s ever seen. And he calls other European pros “bloody boring.”
“But don’t print that,” he tells me.
He’s drinking a Monster Energy drink. His eyes are bright and excited. Back in England he’s something of a nature boy. Local hippie. Save the whales. He writes off competitive surfing, but he’s also won every division of the UK tour and twice been European champion. Back in Cornwall, he’s kind of a big deal. But out in the rest of a world, well, as Reubyn puts it, “They couldn’t take a piss.” So Reubyn’s trying to find another means of accomplishing his goal. I dig deeper:
“Can I see your million-dollar surfboard?”
“How about just a picture of it.”
“Sorry, I can’t. I’m not supposed to ruin the surprise.”
“Okay. Well, what’s a million-dollar surfboard look like?”
“It’s got art on it.”
“You know, colors and shit. Innit.”
“What makes it worth a million dollars then?”
“The art was painted by Damien Hirst,” he says. “He’s pretty much the highest paid artist in the world right now. The guy writes his name with a pen that pen becomes worth a thousand quid.”
“What’s a quid?”
Reubyn says stuff like “innit” and “cup a tea.” He has “quids” in his pockets. He kinda sounds like Ali G., but maybe that’s because I don’t know any English surfers.
“So what is this maneuver you invented?” I ask.
“I can’t tell you,” he says.
Wow, this interview is really going nowhere.
SURFING: Who’s the second most famous freesurfer in Europe — after yourself?
Reubyn Ash: No one. There’s no one else doing this.
What do you mean by “the David Beckham of surfing?”
I want to be a household name in Europe. Surfing’s getting bigger than just the brands, and I think the high-performance stuff if what people want to see, innit? Beckham wasn’t necessarily the best surfer — he just had that one goal in the World Cup. The rest was just good marketing.
And you can accomplish that through freesurfing?
I do contests, too. But in Europe especially, it’s all just three turns to the beach. No one’s doing any tricks. But I did two comps last year.
But you won’t qualify for the tour doing two events?
I don’t want to qualify for the tour. Look how many amazing surfers have had to change their repertoire to satisfy the judges. They’re not doing rodeos on tour. It’s still just three to the beach.
What about the new judging format?
But it’s not really changed the now, has it? You know it hasn’t. Contest surfing is great is you want to make heaps of money. But I just want to be more innovative. That’s more my cup of tea.
You don’t want heaps of money?
I want to be successful doing things my own way. Guys like Tiago and Jeremy Flores, they’re great at surfing heats. They train. They’ve got a good mindset. But no one is popping in a video to watch them surf. They’re not doing anything like Julian or Jordy. But then in a heat those guys have to hold back. If you watch Dane paddle out for an hour-long freesurf, he’s going to blow your mind. But if you watch him surf a heat…well, he’ll probably still blow your mind, but he won’t make the heat.
So what do you do? Save the whales? Start a band? Pretend to be half-horse?
[chuckles] Yeah, to be a freesurf, you’ve got to have a niche. But I’ve got one. And that’s why I’m doing thing like this Damien Hirst board.
Have you actually surfed your million-dollar board?
I wish I could, but I can’t. We’re going to auction it off for charity. Raising money for Friends of the Earth Foundation.
So you are saving the dolphins. What are you gonna call your band?
Don’t you just want to find out surfing on a million dollars feels like?
I do, but how do you explain it if you snap it?