Not an air and not Davey Smith, but his son Brandon rips, too.
As a young chap in the 1980s, I idolized Christian Fletcher and Matt Archbold. Their radical shredding showcased in videos and magazines inspired me to sport neon Lanty wetsuits, coat my boards with Astrodeck skulls, rock out to Slayer, and grow my hair long. My vocation was to get equally radical and bust airs and kick-flips and gnarly tailslides, and I was surely destined to wow the Swami’s crowd. (Which never happened, of course.)
For years, I thought Fletcher and Archy were surfing’s first flyboys. But in 1997, skipping class, perusing the latest edition of The Surfer’s Journal, I came across a sequence of Santa Barbara’s Davey Smith launching and landing an aerial in….1980?
That’s a quarter-century ago, kids.
Photographer Jim Metyko’s caption for the TSJ sequence: “Davey’s ability to do almost anything, anywhere on a wave can be attributed to his low center of gravity, agility and quickness. But being a goofy-foot in the land of right points formed the mind-set and willingness to look at things differently, and invent and pursue new and futuristic maneuvers.”
In 1980. Before Matt Archbold, before Christian Fletcher. Way before.
“Davey was one of the founding fathers of modern performance surfing,” said David Pu’u, Smith’s pro-surfing travel partner in the early 1980s. “He was so far ahead of everyone else, and it wasn’t just his maneuvers, but how fast he would go. If I had to pick 50 of the best surfers in history, he’d be one of them.”
Currently working for Channel Islands Surfboards, Smith was “the second or third team rider ever” for Al Merrick.
“With Davey it was great,” Merrick said, “because I could just feed him all kinds of weird stuff and he’d work on it. It wouldn’t be like he took a board out for one or two waves, then discarded it. He’d work on it for two weeks and learn how to ride it.”
“Al was really the only guy who wanted to see things progress,” Smith said. “At the time, the mainstay was a single-fin pintail, but we were widening tails, adding fins, basically trying to make a board that was super, super fast.”
And, much like Fletcher and Archy, Smith was heavily into skateboarding—obvious fodder for a young surfer’s imagination.
“Skateboarders were so far ahead,” he said, “and it seemed like there were so many other places to go on a wave, with so many maneuvers to try.
“I always considered ‘creative surfing’ to be like painting, in a way. It sounds kind of artsy-fartsy, but the wave was a canvas where you could draw different lines and do different kinds of things. It was a way of breaking away from the norm of that era of surfing.”
So insert yourself onto a speedy, sectiony wave at Emma Wood State Beach. It’s 1980, the sun’s out, the surf’s fun, and Metyko’s on the beach. You’re hauling ass toward a closeout section, and you’re thinking: What Would Davey Do?
Today, the answer’s obvious. In 1980? Only Davey knew.