Freesurfing has evolved over the past 30-years, since the days of The Search and athletes like Frankie Oberholzer and Brendan Margieson. While it is still a viable career option for those with the vision and self-discipline to make it work, the days of getting sent on catered boat trips to stack clips for sponsors are long gone.
These days, if you want to make money outside of a contest jersey, you have to be self-motivated, seeking out new waves or angles and creating your own niche. While freesurfers used to be little more than talented photo sluts, the modern army of privileged gypsies is a group of explorers and innovators who are uncovering new experiences and ways to enjoy the ocean, whether in far-flung destinations or right in our backyards.
These modern freesurfers come in a variety of different forms, but they all have one thing in common—they’ve found unique ways to monetise their contribution to our surf culture and make a living doing what they love. Here are five of the latest subspecies of freesurfers to pop up over the past decade.
The Hellman/Discoverer – Natxo Gonzalez
Over the past 5, a small group of chargers have started sniffing out their own waves—slabs, sandbars, and big wave bombies that have never been surfed, or at least never on camera. As skilled on Google Earth as they are in heavy water, they are scouring the planet for new, terrifying setups, and then quietly sneaking away to pack barrels that the rest of us want nothing to do with.
Every now and then, they drop mind-blowing edits that break the Internet and redefine what is both surfable and still out there to discover—such as when proven big-wave badass Natxo Gonzalez revealed his right-hand, electric-blue version of Skeleton Bay.
The Solo Explorer – Kepa Acero
While most pro surfers travel in packs, texting real-time reports to their friends or bringing along entourages full of back-patting yes men, there are a few who want to get as far away from the hype as possible.
These itinerant hermits seek out new waves to surf alone, and put as much energy into bonding authentically with their local hosts as they do riding waves. Kepa Acero is the quintessential solo explorer, spending months alone in places such as India and western Africa. He started documenting his solo adventures over a decade ago, but his independent aesthetic and unbridled enthusiasm for adventure are still as relevant as ever.
The Vlogger – Jamie O’Brien
These days just about everyone has a vlog, with the online platform rapidly becoming the tool of choice for pro surfers looking to thrive outside of contests. But the glut of new vloggers can’t seem to displace Jamie O’Brien, the original king of online video content, whose combination of Jackass-style antics and otherworldly surfing talent continue to stand out from the crowd.
The Renaissance Man – Cliff Kapono
Surfing has long suffered from a reputation for being a sport of uneducated Spicolis, but Renaissance men like Cliff Kapono are handily disproving that stereotype. As a world-class surfing talent, cultural ambassador, environmentalist, PhD scientist, professor, shaper, and all-around thinking man, Cliff is proof that the future of freesurfing is multi-dimensional.
The Brotherhood of Positivity – Gudauskas Family
Our community has had its fair share of dynamic duos—siblings who have pushed each other to new levels of performance both in the jersey and out, such as the Lopez, Hobgoods, Irons, Azulays, and Wrights. But no family of frothers brings more stoke to the surfing experience than Pat, Dane, and Tanner Gudauskas—three world-class talents who never seem to stop smiling, whether they are scoring XL Cloudbreak or getting skunked in the Arctic.