There are a couple of tried and true ways to get noticed in the classic longboarding scene; a retro-fueled surf culture insurgency whose most notable features include a preference for heavy, single-fin longboards and skepticism for legropes. Putting your time in—and standing out, of course—during a summertime swell at Malibu’s famed righthand point is, historically, the best. Another would be to take down longtime classic surfing evangelist and multiple-time world title winner Joel Tudor in a heat.
In 2017, Flagler Beach’s Saxon Wilson did the latter at the East Coast Surfing Championships in Virginia Beach (or did he?), prompting Papa Joel to tip his cap, inviting the not-yet-of-legal-smoking-aged Wilson to the Duct Tape Invitational (the premiere event in all of longboarding) in the Basque Country some months later. But the now-19-year-old has also been working hard at the former, as well as popping up and standing out at premier surf spots from Noosa Heads in Australia to Rocky Point in Hawaii. (He even landed a spot in the Surfer Magazine short doc, The Duct Tape’s New Wave, which highlighted an international contingent of up-and-coming longboarders.)
On the hanged-heels of current World Surf League world-title frontrunner Justin Quintal, Saxon Wilson has positioned himself as North Florida’s next big thing on a big board. We recently caught up with Wilson before he headed south of the US border to compete in the Mexi-Log Fest, and asked him about his meteoric rise in the classic longboard scene and the influence our region has had on his approach to surfing.
You’ve been all over the place this winter and spring. Tell us about what you’ve been up to.
Sh**, where do I even start [laughs]? I flew to Hawaii at the beginning of February, trying to get a swell. Then it was awful the whole time; super blown out, so got a ticket to Australia and just hung out until the Noosa Fest[ival of Surfing]. Justin [Quintal] also got me a spot in the WSL contest out there, which was cool to make some heats and also see some of the changes happening that are aimed toward traditional longboarding. After the contest, though, I kinda just hung around and tried to film as much as possible. I actually have a little video I’ll be releasing soon. Then headed back to Hawaii to try and catch late season.
What’s your first memory of surfing?
I’d have to say my first memory of surfing was Thanksgiving morning with my dad when I was about eleven. It was pretty much the first session that opened my eyes up to how incredible it is to ride a wave and just be in the ocean itself.
In Northeast Florida, there are more and more young people not just riding longboards, but shaping their own stuff and really embracing the history of surfing. In your travels, is that something you’ve seen that’s happening in other parts of the world?
There’s definitely a group of people starting to point in that direction. I just think kids all over are starting to understand riding a wave differently and using resources around them to make surfing fun and get creative.
You took down Papa Joel Tudor at the Steel Pier Classic awhile back, and then got the invite to the Duct Tape. What did getting to surf in that contest mean to you? And what has it been like getting to know Joel?[Laughs] I actually got second in that contest. Joel claims I beat him, but who is to say? The Duct Tape: damn that trip was just unreal and an insane experience. There’s just nothing like getting together with a group of people and sharing waves, food, all that jazz, then having a fun contest on top of it. It’s cool because people see it then want to create more things like that which bring like-minded people together to just share and create. And yes, Joel’s rad. We ended up being in Hawaii at the same time and he loaned me a few boards and let me crash for a few nights. We got a really fun run of waves for a late season swell.
You’re headed to Saladita soon for the Mexi-Log Fest. What else do you have planned for the months ahead? Summertime Malibu?
Yeah I head to Mexi-Log Fest in about a week, then I’m not sure. I might try and hang around home and work on this 40-foot sailboat I got for $50. The thing’s a piece of sh** but has potential. After I get some work done on that I may head to California for a little bit, but I’m trying to make Bali happen for the Deus 9ft and Single contest in June.
What’s great about surfing in North Florida?
There’s just nothing like home. Always feels so good driving down A1A to the Flagler Pier early in the morning.
This interview originally appeared in the May 2019 issue of Void Magazine.