Surfing in the 80s marked a transformative era for the sport, leaving an indelible mark on its culture and popularity worldwide. With the rise of professional surfing, innovations in board design, and the development of a unique surf style, the 80s were a time of immense growth and excitement for surfers and enthusiasts alike.
From stylish sundresses to bold boardshorts, a new era of sun-soaked synergy emerged between sea and sand, wave and surfer. The era of retro-wave riding was truly unlike any seen before, and its legacy still lingers in the stories passed down from those who caught the ones that got away.
In this blog post, we will take a nostalgic ride back to the rad decade of the 1980s and explore how surfing evolved during this dynamic period.
Board Design Revolution
The 1980s brought a radical shift in board design, thanks to the pioneering work of Australian surfer Simon Anderson.
In 1980, Anderson introduced the thruster, a three-fin design that offered unparalleled control and maneuverability on the waves. This breakthrough innovation allowed surfers to push the boundaries of performance, executing powerful turns and riding larger waves with confidence.
The transition from traditional longboards to shorter, more dynamic boards paved the way for modern surfing as we know it today.
The thruster design quickly gained popularity and became the standard for surfboards, revolutionizing the sport and enabling surfers to perform more progressive maneuvers on the waves.
Alongside the thruster, shapers experimented with various materials, such as epoxy and different types of foam, to create lighter and more responsive boards. This experimentation led to the development of high-performance surfboards that were more versatile and better suited to handle various wave conditions.
A Look Back at Popular Surfers of the 1980s
The 1980s marked a turning point in surfing as a professional sport. The establishment of the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) in 1983 was a pivotal moment, as it provided a structured competitive framework for surfers to showcase their skills and vie for rankings. This laid the foundation for the modern-day World Surf League (WSL), which continues to host the world’s most prestigious surfing events.
As surf culture gained mainstream popularity, a new wave of talented athletes emerged, pushing the boundaries of what was possible on a wave.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the popular surfers from this era.
One standout name is Mark Richards, an Australian surfer who dominated competitive surfing during this time. Known for his smooth style and impeccable timing, Richards won several world titles and became an icon in the sport.
His innovative approach to maneuvers such as cutbacks and bottom turns set him apart from his competitors.
Another prominent figure is Tom Curren, an American surfer recognized for his versatility across different types of waves.
Tom Curren, born on July 3, 1964, in Santa Barbara, California, is widely regarded as one of the greatest surfers of all time.
In the 1980s, Curren’s innovative approach to surfing earned him three consecutive ASP World Championships from 1985 to 1987. He was known for his smooth and fluid style, impeccable wave selection, and remarkable ability to read and adapt to any wave conditions.
Curren’s competitive prowess and artistic flair on the waves captivated fans worldwide. His humble and reserved personality off the water further endeared him to the surfing community. Tom Curren’s influence extended beyond the 80s, and he continued to inspire a new generation of surfers long after his competitive career.
The 80s also saw the rise of female surfers making their mark on professional surfing circuits. Freida Zamba was one such trailblazer who consistently showcased her exceptional skills against male competitors as well. Zamba’s fierce determination led her to claim four consecutive women’s world titles between 1984-1987.
Mark Occhilupo (Occy):
Mark Occhilupo, born on August 16, 1966, in Sydney, Australia, was another standout surfer of the 1980s.
Known affectionately as “Occy,” he possessed a powerful and aggressive surfing style that set him apart from his peers.
In 1984, Occhilupo turned pro and quickly gained recognition for his explosive maneuvers, particularly his deep bottom turns and vertical snaps.
While Occy’s early career showed immense promise, he faced personal challenges that led to a period of competitive decline in the late 1980s and early 1990s. However, he made a triumphant comeback in the mid-90s, winning the 1999 ASP World Championship, demonstrating his resilience and commitment to the sport.
The Momentum Generation
Alongside these individual talents were influential groups like “The Momentum Generation.” Comprised mainly of young Californian surfers, including Kelly Slater and Rob Machado, among others, they brought innovation to aerial maneuvering with their fearless approach toward progressive tricks that had not been attempted before.
Kelly Slater, born on February 11, 1972, in Cocoa Beach, Florida, is undoubtedly one of the most influential surfers in the history of the sport. Although he officially turned pro in the late 1980s, he burst into the spotlight during the early 1990s, but his roots and early competitive experiences can be traced back to the 80s.
Slater’s unprecedented success includes a record 11 ASP World Championships, with five of those titles, won during the 2000s and the remaining six during the 2010s. His competitive longevity, exceptional aerial maneuvers, and mastery in all wave conditions have solidified his status as a surfing legend.
During the 80s and throughout his career, Slater’s approach to surfing and training brought a level of professionalism and dedication that elevated the sport to new heights. Beyond his competitive achievements, Slater has been an ambassador for surfing, using his platform to promote environmental awareness and philanthropic efforts.
The Popularity of Surfing During the 80s Boom
During the 80s, surfing experienced a tremendous boom in popularity, captivating both seasoned wave riders and newcomers alike. This surge in interest can be attributed to several factors that converged during this vibrant decade.
The 80s was a time of cultural shifts and youthful rebellion, with surfing becoming emblematic of an exhilarating counter-culture lifestyle. The sport’s association with freedom, adventure, and the pursuit of adrenaline resonated deeply with individuals seeking an escape from the constraints of traditional society.
The surf culture embodied the laid-back and carefree lifestyle associated with coastal living. Surfing became more than just a sport; it was a way of life that influenced art, music, and fashion. Surfing movies like “North Shore” (1987) and “Point Break” (1991) captured the essence of the surf culture and played a significant role in popularizing the sport beyond the surfing community.
Surf fashion in the 80s was characterized by bright colors, bold patterns, and flashy neon wetsuits.
Surfers embraced baggy, knee-length boardshorts that allowed for maximum mobility on the waves. The surf industry also saw the emergence of popular surf brands that catered to the fashion preferences of surfers, helping to define the iconic surfer look of the decade.
Innovations in Surfing equipment
Advancements in surfboard design also played a pivotal role in fueling the popularity of surfing during this era. Innovations such as thruster fins and lightweight materials revolutionized board performance and maneuverability, enabling surfers to push boundaries like never before.
The introduction of surfboard leashes, commonly known as leg ropes, was a game-changer in terms of surfer safety and convenience. Before leashes, surfers risked losing their boards in powerful waves, leading to potentially dangerous situations. With leashes, surfers remained connected to their boards, making wipeouts and big wave surfing safer.
Wetsuit technology also improved during this time. Neoprene wetsuits became more flexible, allowing surfers to move more freely while still providing essential insulation against cold waters. The advancements in wetsuit design increased the comfort and duration of surf sessions, making surfing a year-round activity for many enthusiasts.
Moreover, media coverage significantly contributed to the rise of surfing’s prominence throughout the 80s. Iconic films like “North Shore” showcased breathtaking cinematography that brought viewers into epic wave-riding adventures across scenic coastlines around the globe. These visual narratives not only inspired aspiring surfers but also granted non-surfing enthusiasts an opportunity to vicariously experience this invigorating sport.
Furthermore – although controversial – endorsement deals between professional surfers and mainstream brands became commonplace during this period. The integration of influential figures within popular culture heightened exposure for both individual athletes as well as the wider world of competitive surfing itself.
Music and Movies That Symbolized 1980s Surfing Culture
The 1980s were a pivotal time for surfing culture, and as we have seen, music and movies played a significant role in shaping the image and lifestyle associated with the sport during this era.
One movie that truly encapsulated the essence of surfing in the 80s was “North Shore.” Released in 1987, this cult classic followed a young surfer from Arizona as he pursued his dream of becoming a professional on Oahu’s legendary North Shore.
The film showcased not only breathtaking wave action but also highlighted important themes such as perseverance, friendship, and respect for nature. Its soundtrack featured an eclectic mix of genres ranging from rock to reggae—a true reflection of surfers’ diverse tastes.
Another noteworthy film that symbolized surfing culture in the 80s was “Point Break” (1991). Although technically released at the cusp between decades, it captured everything that made this era iconic. With Keanu Reeves playing FBI agent Johnny Utah infiltrating a gang led by Patrick Swayze’s Bodhi—who moonlights as an extreme surfer—this adrenaline-fueled thriller combines action-packed sequences with stunning cinematography showcasing big-wave riding off California’s coastlines.
The Beach Boys
In terms of music associated with 1980s surfing culture, no discussion would be complete without mentioning The Beach Boys—the ultimate soundtrack to endless summers spent chasing waves.
While their prime years may have been behind them by this time period, their influence remained prevalent within beach communities worldwide throughout every decade since their inception.
Iconic Surf Spots of the 80s
Surfing in the 1980s was a vibrant and dynamic time for experienced surfers seeking thrilling waves. With an abundance of prime surf spots around the world, this era offered some must-visit destinations that attracted seasoned wave riders from all corners of the globe.
Banzai Pipeline in Hawaii
One such destination that cannot be overlooked is Banzai Pipeline in Hawaii.
Known for its monstrous barrel waves, Pipeline became synonymous with big wave surfing in the 80s. It was a testing ground for skillful surfers who wanted to push themselves to their limits and ride one of nature’s most awe-inspiring creations.
The sheer power and intensity of Pipeline made it a mecca for experienced surfers looking to challenge themselves.
Jeffreys Bay, Cape Town
Another iconic spot during this era was Jeffreys Bay, South Africa.
This legendary right-hand point break provided long rides on powerful walls of water, making it an ideal playground for accomplished surfers seeking speed and precision on their boards.
Its consistency throughout the year made it an attractive destination, ensuring there were always opportunities to score incredible waves.
Read here: Surfing in Senegal
Gold Coast, Australia
Australia’s Gold Coast also emerged as a hotspot in the 1980s due to its consistent swell patterns and numerous breaks catering to different skill levels.
Surfers flocked here not only for pristine beaches but also for world-class breaks like Snapper Rocks and Kirra Point – both renowned right-hand reef breaks offering long rides perfect for showcasing advanced maneuvers.
Mentawai Islands, Indonesia
Lastly, no list would be complete without mentioning the Mentawai Islands off Sumatra’s coast in Indonesia – truly paradise found!
These remote islands are home to some of the most pristine reef setups imaginable, where perfect barrels seem never-ending during peak swell season from May till October each year. Surfari boats became increasingly popular as they allowed adventurous souls to access these idyllic locations creating unforgettable moments while traversing between island paradises.
Read here: Surfing in Thailand
15 surf trends of the 80s
The 1980s were a vibrant and transformative era for surfing, and various trends emerged that influenced surf culture and fashion during that time.
Here are 15 essential surf trends of the 80s:
1. Thruster Boards
The introduction of the thruster design by Simon Anderson in 1980 revolutionized surfboard technology.
Surfing shifted from traditional longboards to shorter, three-fin thruster boards, which provided surfers with increased maneuverability and control, enabling them to perform more dynamic maneuvers on the waves.
2. Bright Neon Colors
The 80s were all about bold and eye-catching colors, and surf fashion embraced this trend wholeheartedly.
Neon colors like electric pink, lime green, and vibrant turquoise dominated surfwear, including wetsuits, boardshorts, and accessories.
3. Baggy Boardshorts
Surfers favored baggy, knee-length boardshorts during the 80s. These loose-fitting shorts not only allowed for better mobility while surfing but also became a fashion statement, synonymous with the laid-back surfer lifestyle.
4. Puka Shell Necklaces
Puka shell necklaces were a quintessential surf accessory during the 1980s. These simple necklaces made from natural seashells were worn by both male and female surfers, adding a touch of beachy charm to their attire.
5. Vertical Striped Boardshorts
Striped boardshorts, especially those with vertical stripes, were a popular fashion choice among surfers in the 80s. These stripes added a stylish and sporty flair to their beachwear.
6. Surfing Movies and Soundtracks
The 80s witnessed the release of iconic surf movies like “North Shore,” “Lords of Dogtown,” and “Back to the Beach.”
The soundtracks of these movies featured punk, new wave, and alternative rock music, reflecting the rebellious and edgy spirit of the time.
7. Surf Punk Music
Surf punk, a subgenre that combined punk rock with surf music elements, gained popularity in the 80s.
Bands like Agent Orange, The Vandals, and Dead Kennedys incorporated surf guitar riffs into their energetic punk tunes, resonating with the surf culture of the decade.
8. Windsurfing Craze
While windsurfing had been around since the 1960s, it experienced a surge in popularity during the 80s.
Surfers and beachgoers embraced the exhilarating sport that combined elements of surfing and sailing, leading to windsurfing becoming a mainstream trend.
9. Surf Fashion Brands
The 80s saw the rise of surf fashion brands that catered specifically to the surf community.
Companies like Quiksilver, Billabong, and Rip Curl emerged during this decade and have since become global surfwear giants.
10. Surfer Attitude
The surfer attitude of the 80s was carefree, rebellious, and anti-establishment.
Surfers embodied the laid-back and adventurous spirit, embracing a lifestyle that revolved around catching waves, having fun, and enjoying life by the sea.
11. Surf Competitions and Professionalization
The 1980s saw the professionalization of surfing, with the establishment of the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) in 1983. Surf competitions gained more prominence, and surfers started to pursue competitive careers, leading to a new era of professional surfing.
Visors, often adorned with surf logos or colorful patterns, were a popular headwear choice among surfers in the 80s. They provided shade from the sun while still allowing for maximum ventilation, making them ideal for long days spent on the beach.
In addition to traditional surfing, bodyboarding gained significant popularity in the 80s. Also known as boogie boarding, this water sport involved riding waves on a smaller, soft-top board that allowed for greater ease and accessibility, making it popular among surfers of all ages.
14. Colored Boards
Surfboard designs in the 80s often featured vibrant colors and eye-catching graphics. These colorful boards not only looked cool on the water but also reflected the vibrant and expressive nature of surf culture during that time.
15. Reflective Sunglasses
Reflective sunglasses with mirrored lenses became a trend in the 80s, offering both style and functionality. Surfers appreciated the extra glare protection while looking effortlessly cool both on and off the waves.
These 15 surf trends of the 80s not only shaped the aesthetic of the time but also contributed to the evolution of surf culture and the sport itself. Many of these trends have left a lasting legacy and continue to influence surf fashion and lifestyle to this day.
Surfing in the 80s was an era of transformation, marked by innovation, professionalization, and vibrant surf culture.
The introduction of the thruster design revolutionized board performance, while the establishment of professional surfing elevated the sport to new heights.
Surf culture and fashion became iconic, influencing popular culture beyond the shores.
Innovations in equipment improved safety and comfort, making surfing more accessible to enthusiasts worldwide.
Additionally, the 80s sparked a sense of environmental awareness among surfers, solidifying their commitment to protecting the oceans they cherished.
Today, the legacy of the 1980s continues to shape surfing’s evolution as it remains an enduring and exhilarating sport enjoyed by millions around the globe.