Riding the Waves with Tom Curren, Santa Barbara Surfing Legend
Tom Curren is a legendary pro surfer from Santa Barbara, California. The early 1980's were an epic time for advancements in surfing in Santa Barbara.Curren's pro-surfing career is tied closely to Curren's relationship with Channel Islands Surboards founder and shaper Al Merrick. Curren set new standards for high-performance surfing in the early 80's riding CI tri-fin thrusters. He is widely regarded as one of the most innovative and stylish surfers of all time. His contributions to the sport have had a lasting impact on surfing around the world. Curren has won three world championships (1985, 1986, 1990).
Photos courtesy of Jimmy Metyko
Santa Barbara Surfer Tom Curren
Born in 1964 in Santa Barbara, Curren grew up in a family of surfers. His father Pat was a well-known surfer in the area, and Tom began surfing at a young age. He quickly developed a passion for the sport and began to compete in local contests. His mom Jeanine ran a bikini shop. Pat gave Tom his first surfboard at the age of 6. It was clear from this early age that Curren was a special talent, and he quickly rose through the ranks of amateur surfing. He won the US Surfing Championships in 1978 and 1979, and the national and world titles in 1980.
Curren turned pro in the early 1980s just before his 18th birthday, and began competing on the international stage. In 1982, he signed his first sponsorship with Rip Curl wetsuits and Ocean Pacific surfwear. That same year he beat Tom Carrol in the Marui World Surfing Pro final. He quickly established himself as a force to be reckoned with, famously defeating Australian champion surfer Mark Occhilupo at the Bell's Beach Rincon Pro to win his first world championship in 1985. Over the next few years, Curren dominated the sport, winning two more world championships in 1986 and 1990.
In the late 1980's, after half a decade in the limelight, Curren consciously took a step back, turning to music and a soulful approach to his surfing career. In an early 1986 interview with surf journalist Matt George, Curren reflected, "There is a lot more to life than winning a championship.
During his break from competing, Curren and pursued surfing travels that contributed to Rip Curl’s branded concept of the surfer lifestyle known as “The Search.” In Curren’s own words, “The Search was, and is, a simple concept that allowed Rip Curl to enjoy an age-old surfing philosophy which by and large, seemed to have been forgotten. The Search also meant that I got to experience places and things I may never have had the chance to if I’d stayed competing in the World Tour.”
Curren's enigmatic, passionate, unequivocal approach to the sport of surfing was one of the most significant influences on young surfers during the 1980's and early 1990's. His ability to ride the waves with a smooth, fluid style seemed effortless. New maneuvers home grown in a period of years with epic Santa Barbara surfing conditions soon were on the world stage as Curren competed globally. Curren's adoption of new surfboard designs by Al Merrick propelled the careers of both surfing legends, influencing other local Santa Barbara pro surfers like his friend, Kim Mearig. His willingness to try new things and push the boundaries of what was possible in surfing made him a true pioneer of the sport.
Photo: Early 1980's capture of Tommy's legendary tri-fin, double-pump, bottom-turn, which allowed him to dominate Rincon perfectly down the Cove. Courtesy of Jimmy Metyko
Curren's impact on the sport of surfing is still felt today. His style and approach to surfing continue to inspire new generations of surfers around the world. Curren's influence can be seen in the way that surfers approach the waves and in the equipment they use. Curren has been featured in over 100 surf movies from the 1980's and 1990's. Surfing magazine ranked Curren as the #1 surfer of the 1980's, and listed him among the top 16 surfers of all time in 2004. He was inducted into the Surfing Walk of Fame in 1995, and the Surfers Hall of Fame in 2003. He will always be remembered as a true innovator and pioneer of the sport.
In addition to his competitive success, Curren is also known for his contributions to surf culture. He is an accomplished musician and has released several albums over the years. Curren's music is often described as introspective and soulful, reflecting his deep connection to the ocean and the natural world. His music has been featured in surf videos and movies, further cementing his status as a cultural icon. Curren started as a drummer, and his remarkable talent for rhythm can be seen in his effortless surfing style.
Curren continues to surf to this day and is still considered one of the best surfers in the world. He is known for his humility and his commitment to preserving the environment. Curren is an advocate for environmental causes and has worked to raise awareness about issues such as ocean pollution and climate change.
In recent years, Curren has also been involved in coaching and mentoring young surfers. He is passionate about passing on his knowledge and experience to the next generation of surfers and helping them to develop their own unique styles and approaches to the sport. He also experiments with creating unusual surfboard and bodyboard designs.
Santa Barbara Surfer Tom Curren's impact on the sport of surfing is immeasurable. His innovative approach to the sport and his unique style have inspired countless surfers around the world.