In the late 90s till the turn of the century, the surf industry experienced Wall Street’s golden roar.
It was the boom time for the surf brand. Big box retailers, enamored with the “beachy look”, bought board shorts and t-shirts in bulk. Serious money was being made in Y2K, and for a brief period of time, surf team budgets seemed bottomless.
Everyone was sponsored. In Southern California, the surf industry's hive, groms buzzed happily with stickers for wings and newly signed contracts to justify homeschooling.
Nearly two decades later, brands have had to tighten their spending. What qualities make for a contract in 2017? A mixture of talent, social media following, good looks, and marketability. Surfers, who a decade earlier would of been on salary, are now relegated to naked beaks and 9 to 5s like the rest of us degenerates.
I compiled a list of the Golden State’s working class heroes; surfers that are either unsponsored, or are stickered but still punch the clock, just in case, my fellow weekend warrior, needed some inspiration to get you through the work week.
10. Demi Boelsterli
Hometown: Santa Barbara, California
Santa Barbara is in the upper echelon of surf towns. Home to the Queen of the Coast, and some of California’s most prized coastal real-estate, it's an expensive place to be a surfer. Demi Boelsterli comes from a lineage of hustlers. Not as financially well off as some of her fellow Santa Barbara compatriots, Demi had to figure out at a young age how to find her way to the nearest NSSA comp.
“I sold energy drinks, stickers, and product companies would give me to pay my entry fees,” said Demi.
All those years of bumming rides down the 101 and swindling school mates out of their allowance did well for Demi. An 11-time champion of the Rincon Classic, Demi made Team USA where she placed 7th in the France ISA World Games. Despite being a badass artist, cool human, and an absolute hammer in the surf, she never locked down a sponsor to fund a WQS campaign.
It was out of that frustration with surf brands that birthed her own creation, Friday Night Amateurs, a clothing company that’s popular with the Santa Barbara youth. Demi still rips with a Dane Reynolds inspired style and will probably win the Rincon Classic for the next decade.
9. JoJo Roper
Glassing surfboards and fixing dings instills a deep sense of humility. It is a difficult job, one that rarely receives the recognition and pay that it deserves. JoJo Roper is a second generation glasser, and when he’s not chasing purple blobs across the world, he’s helping out his father in the family business.
JoJo is as humble as they come, never one to beat his own drum or claim a wave. He could if he wanted too as he’s quickly making a name for himself as one of Southern California’s best big wave surfers, but that just wouldn’t be his style.
Before the Puerto Escondido Challenge, JoJo snagged a cavern that would of won the contest. Unfortunately, he never got to compete as he is an alternate. Something tells me that won’t last long considering the bombs he’s been going on lately.
8. Matt Passaquindici
U.S Open Surfing Champion, Kanoa Igarashi, has had many sparring partners growing up in the ultra competitive surf town of Huntington Beach. Of those friends that would run mock heats with Kanoa, and the only surfer who ever had a chance against him was Matt Passaquindici. He just dropped an edit of a trip to Indonesia that landed him on this list. We highly suggest viewing.
7. Lucas Dirkse
Southern California’s renaissance man, Lucas Dirkse is as core as they come. He shapes his own boards, fishes with his pops in the Pacific Northwest for a living, and even grows his own food. Lucas is all about being self reliant, and when he’s not living off the land or shaping with his good friend Ryan Burch, he’s one of California’s best surfers on two keels. Doesn’t really matter if the surf industry back this guy or not, because Lucas has himself covered.
6. Clay Crandal
Huntington is to surfers what Hollywood is to aspiring actors and actresses. There’s even a walk of fame just like the sunset strip, Paddle out on the south side of the Huntington Beach pier and there’s a chance you could impress a team manager that could green light a surfing career. Sound like a night club in tinsel town? We think so too.
All of that competition for waves and glory in Huntington, breeds a sort of reclusiveness in those not enchanted by dreams of winning the US Open. They flee north and south, anywhere to escape the crowd.
Clay Crandall is one of those surfers. Soft spoken and freakishly talented, Clay would rather head down deep into Baja California than compete for attention. He only has 800 followers on Instagram despite a dazzling feed of photos and clips of strike missions for cavernous barrels and off shore perfection.
However, its clear that Clay isn’t motivated by double tap applause or backslaps from surf industry types. He’s a true to roots tube hound. We like that about him.
5. Bianca Valenti
Bianca’s exclusion from the inaugural Titan’s Of Mavericks women’s heat made headline news in San Francisco papers and HEREas well.
As the hardest charging member of the Outer Bar Babes, Ocean Beach’s elite big wave squad, she was a vocal advocate for the women’s addition into the contest. Not including her seemed like a push back from the Cartel Group, but the decision has only further lit Bianca’s fire to charge big waves. As if she needed one.
Bianca regularly pushes through 200 wave sets at OB with a smile on her face. A Mavericks regular with surfs at Nazare under her belt, she has the sheer determination and physical strength to be a threat on the women’s Big Wave World tour. Watch for her breakout this winter. If her off-season prep at maxed out Puerto Escondido is any indication to go by, Bianca isn’t backing down for any wave, or anyone.
4. Derek Peters
In 2014, Derek dropped an edit that put him on the map. He picked up a sponsor but the results on the Q didn’t come immediately. He got dropped and since became a HB Life Guard, but the time off from contests has been good for his surfing.
An understudy of Brett Simpson, Derek’s got that same pop and small wave ability that it takes to qualify. And as his edits have indicated, he’s also no slouch on rail or in the tube. Quiksilver just signed Derek and gave him one last shot at the professional surfing dream.
Considering the fire Derek brings to his edits and a void in the free surf department at the mountain and wave, maybe Derek should re-consider where he spends his energy. A talent like this doesn’t stay underground for long however, whatever route Derek chooses to take, you’ll be seeing more of him in the future.
3. Jordy Collins
To be a successful professional surfer in in Southern California requires a freakish ability in small waves. Jordy Collins has just that.
An absolute wizard in the air, and agile enough to turn a closeout into a perfect ten, Jordy is nearly unstoppable once he gets going. In this years ISA World Games, he led a young team of American surfers on the beaches of France with a semi final finish. Not bad for a kid you’ve probably never heard of.
2. Tommy Witt
There’s few opportunities to make money for the 9 foot and over club. With only two World Tour events, those that do make a career out of longboarding, have a trait, style, or personality, that makes them standout amongst the rest.
Tommy Witt has got that difference in his free-spinning single fin antics. Watch Tommy at his home break of Old Mans, and you’ll see him do more helicopters than there is in all of Camp Pendleton. Tommy is currently the guy to watch on a log. Hippy Tree picked up Tommy, and made him their number one tribesmen. Good thinking. Nobody wants to miss the next big thing.
1. Skip McCullough
Skip once wrote off the QS grind myth in an Instagram quote, challenging his fellow competitors to spend a day working at his families construction company if they wanted to know what a real grind was. Perhaps all those years of digging ditches for his pops is why he’s so good at getting deep in the pit.
During a WQS event at El Gringo in Arica, Chile, Skip put on a tube riding clinic, threading the slab better than any other surfer representing the Golden State. We asked top Californian pros, photographers, and team managers, who was the best surfer flying under the radar, and almost all of them said, “Skip.”
Too bad the waves in most qualifying series favors beach break fly weights, or Skip McCullough would put some top pros to shame at the tours menacing reefs. At press time, Skips rated 130th on the World Qualifying Series. If he can fight way into to the Top 100, where he could get seeded into events that would display his tube riding ability, then he might just have a shot.
If not, The Big Wave Tour is an always an option for Skip too as he charges mercilessly with a growing appetite for standing tall in leviathans. The potential to qualify on both tours made us have to name Skip McCullough, the Top Underground Surfer in California.
Cover shot: JoJo Roper charging Cloudbreak by Brad Scott