Any surfer who’s caught a wave has shared the same electrifying experience as the ancient Hawaiians — the dreamlike coming together of energy, wood and water. From serene stillness to exhilarating energy, the ocean produces special moments that nothing else in the world can. Some may argue that surfing’s captivation borders on addiction. It is, after all, the simplest way to explain the euphoric high that being in the ocean and riding a wave gives you, right?
Centuries after the first surfers, the central attraction that brings generation after generation back to surfing remains timeless. But while so much about surfing has transformed beyond recognition, today’s surfing world is evolving beyond the wildest dreams of those who first ventured into the water.
Surf culture is so diverse. To surf and be involved with surfing means something different to everyone. Today, surfing is more than a sport or a lifestyle, it has developed into a massive industry. For many, surfing is an aspirational thing where onlookers feel perfectly connected to the sport without even getting wet. At any moment with one click of a button, different media platforms thoroughly document all facets of surfing. For others, it’s a way of life.
Surf culture has invaded all aspects of five-time East Coast Surfing Champion, Sean Mattison’s life. His 40+ years of surfing and two decades of coaching have led him to become an innovator and designer of all things surfing.
“The line of amateur and pro surfer has been erased,” Sean explained. “You almost have to determine in your head as a surfer, what is your identity, where are you going to go with it and what are you willing to do, just to stay connected over a long period of time.”
Sean began surfing in Atlantic Beach in 1974, a time when very few young kids surfed. He was immediately drawn to the sport, so much so, that he brought his first surfboard to Show and Tell in kindergarten. Sean’s love for surfing would later take him all over the world and even land him the cover of Surfer Magazine.
“I think when I was growing up surfing, it was a smaller core and a lot more prejudice to East Coast surfers,” Sean explained. “But everyone’s not stuck in a time capsule. My advice to the younger generation is to chase down your dreams. For me to get the cover of Surfer Magazine was a dream come true and things like that do happen.”
Sean has seen the progression and shift in mindset that Florida can produce incredible surfers. Collectively, on any given day, you will see girl surfers, groms, snakes, longboarders, shortboarders, professionals and locals, all in the lineup. Of those, you will most likely see Molly Kirk, a standout surfer from Atlantic Beach, truly pushing the limits of women’s surfing.
“All the kids in Jacksonville really push each other to surf better and go bigger,” Molly described. “Surfing at home is one of my favorites because everyone is super friendly and the vibes are always high.”
There’s a lingering stigma among some surfers who argue that women can’t surf big waves. The argument, of course, is completely without merit. The ocean tends to be a great equalizer, where focus and training are key, something that both men and women are capable of.
“The progression in women’s surfing has been insane lately,” Molly explained. “The girls are definitely blowing up and showing the guys a thing or two! There are so many more opportunities for the women now, and it’s really cool to see everyone ripping.”
From coast to coast, the art of surfing has broken into wave riding possibilities that were once thought to be untouchable. The birth of Florida’s own Kelly Slater, 11-time World Champion Surfer, began the push of the status quo that has now resulted in cutting edge science — the longest, rideable, open-barrel, man-made wave in the world. And if that wasn’t enough, Jacksonville’s Justin Quintal is out conquering untouched waves across the globe. His recent expedition to the unknown, frigid waters of Iceland made us all think he’s some kind of crazy super human.
Each generation of surfers has piloted us from one trend to the next, introducing more parts of the wave, destroying the limits of wave size and power, and crossing unexpected boundaries of surfing destinations around the world. Yet the most fundamental part of surf culture – the pure connection between body and soul that riding a wave creates – has remained unchanged throughout every progressive movement.