Endangered Species-The”Regional Pro Surfer”

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A Case Study–Santa Cruz, California

By Neal Kearney
*NOTE. THE MEAT OF THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN, YET UNPUBLISHED, IN JUNE 2017 FOR A CERTAIN AMERICAN SURF WHO MAG WHO SHALL GO UNNAMED. THE SURF INDUSTRY SUCKS SOMETIMES! OH WELL…HERE IT IS, I HOPE YOU ENJOY!

It’s hard to make it as pro surfer these days. Even for the world’s best surfers , the cushy, umbrella-sponsorship deals of the past are hard to come by. Last year, you may have noticed that the back half of the World Surf League’s World Tour had rippers like Josh Kerr shredding without a main sponsor. If guys like Kerrzy are in trouble, that means “regional pros” are going extinct.

If top level guys are scraping for support, how does a local legend or talented, up-and- coming surfer (commonly referred to as “Regional Pros”), expect even a piddly crumb from the withering pie that is the surf industry? The pro surfer explosion in Santa Cruz, California, which blossomed in the ’90’s, and fizzled out by the end of the first decade of the twenty fist century. This shift illustrates how difficult it is for up-and-comers to remain relevant and marketable in a hemorrhaging surf industry where a good looking, yet mediocre Instagram surf star is guaranteed more exposure than a tech-inept, shy, introverted, yet phenomenally superb surfer.

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The catalyst for the explosion of media attention directed to Santa Cruz can be attributed to many factors, but in the beginning, much of the credit goes to ace photographer and filmmaker Tony Roberts, who pushed the surf media to recognize just how much insane surfing was going on in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Robert’s unique, in-your-face action shots began peppering all of the major US surf mags, including Surfing and Surfer magazine, and helped put the national spotlight Santa Cruz’s stacked talent pool.

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It got to the point that Santa Cruz was so saturated with talent that practically every hot surfer had sponsors and contracts; along with free gear, respect and prestige. Many of these surfers went on to become “international pro surfers”: Adam Replogle, Chris Gallagher, Jason “Ratboy” Collins, Shawn “Barney” Barron, Pete Mel, Anthony Ruffo, etc. This crew could travel the world and get paid to huck huge airs and rush giant tubes, fine-tuning their acts with unbridled, point-break power surfing at home.

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TR was the man in Santa Cruz during the late ’80’s/early ’90’s, pumping out classic images and even full-length movies, but when he left for Central America in mid 90’s, there was a need for someone to take the control of SC freight train. Ripping skateboarder and surfer Dave Nelson learned a lot from Roberts and could keep the ball rolling, especially Roberts knack for up close fish eye action and skate influenced angles.

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“TR was by far my biggest inspiration. I studied what he did daily and we used to shoot and skate and surf every day. He was always experimenting with different lenses and angles. He taught me a lot!” remembers Nelson.

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Enter Transworld Surf, established in 1999, and sadly decapitated in 2013 due to the strangulation of print media. Nelson scored countless covers and spreads with his unique angles and inventive use of multiple flashes, film gel, and speed blur effects. He also introduced a new crew of “regional pros” to the masses. These centrally located hot-shots usually stuck relatively close to home during their careers, following Nelson, aka “Nelly”, into a number of local,”studio-esque” surf breaks. Guys like Homer Henard, Matt Rockhold, Bud Freitas, and Austin Smith-Ford were among the local pro’s who worked extensively with Nelson.

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Chris Cote, TWS’s editor basically ran the ship, and gave “regional pros” from SC a lot of love, mainly due to Nelson’s wealth of insane photography.

“Regional pros are surfers who absolutely rip their local breaks, AKA, ‘Hometown Heroes’. Locally respected and widely known by ‘traveling pros’ as the guy or girl to either get in contact with when they are rolling through their town, or, watch to out for when competing in their town. Regional pros a lot of times just choose to stay in their hometown a lot of times, not that they don’t have the talent to travel and compete, but for one reason or another, they are content with just being “the guy” in their respective area,” explains Cote.

From 2000-2010, or thereabouts, regional pros in Santa Cruz could make a chunk of chain just cruising with Nelly, scouring the coast for big pits and ramps. They were memorable days for the humble photographer, and he soaked up every minute of it.

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“Every day was a mission. An adventure. Some days we went North, but usually we went South. The spots were sharky as Hell. The locals were always watching. I was always ready to go, from dawn to dusk, which some surfers loved, and some hated (laughs)”.

This enabled regional pro’s such as Bud Freitas and Austin Smith-Ford to concentrate on their surfing at home; to the point that no one could touch them- their talent was next level. Cote was more than willing to give love to these under the radar pro’s.

“Young kids like Matt “Ratt” [Schrodetz] and Noi [Kaulukukui} were fucking on fire, absolutely ripping. It was easy to fill magazines with Santa Cruz surfers cause they all surfed so good and Nelly was right there to capture it going down.”

Unfortunately, the era of the regional pro, especially in Santa Cruz, was quietly burned to ashes due to the ’08 financial crisis and struggles of the surf industry. Companies had to take a hard look at what surfers would be best to promote their brand, and now, there are only a handful of regional pros who get financial help, let alone free gear.

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Matthew Myers of Santa Cruz, now residing in Costa Mesa, works for Rip Curl. His job includes tending to the needs of high profile team riders while building a solid youth presence. A former regional pro himself, Myers has valuable insight into the woes of the surf economy. A common theme he’s noticed is more money is going to the top, world tour, elite athletes, some of which are gunning for world titles. Companies see the biggest, more recognized athletes as a greater asset as they possess the ability to reach a larger audience, which results in a greater return on investment.

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“There’s not a ton of regional pro’s in America getting paid anymore,” Myers admits.

“For example, we have a surfer in Santa Cruz who is getting a pay check; definitely not enough to get paid comfortably but he gets to travel the world and have some incredible experiences on Rip Curl’s dime. He’s stayed extremely active, charismatic, has a lot of fun with other people, and is an amazing surfer to boot. To be relevant you must be really outgoing and marketable, and be attractive to the brand to want to use you in either their marketing including social media and websites.”

The regional pro is now an endangered species across the globe, especially in Santa Cruz. For better or for worse, these extremely talented surfers and photographers have been forced to adapt. They’ve returned from their day jobs; running business, cutting hair, working construction, and everything in between. The ripple effect from companies clamping down on their funds has altered the landscape of professional surfing dramatically. Will this stop surf fans from visiting their favorite surf websites or WSL broadcasts? Not a chance. Life is constantly changing, and although regional pros may be a thing of the past, the talent will continue to shine when the waves come up.

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Faces of Surf-Marciano Cruz

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Lead by Example

Pleasure Point’s Marciano Cruz uses his experience as an immigrant to inspire others

By Neal Kearney

 

A young boy wanders outside of his neighborhood in San Pablo Huxtepec, in Oaxaca, Mexico, allured by gleeful noise of children playing in the streets. Before he realizes it, he’s walked straight into a large celebration. The six- year- old almost fled, but was halted by the hypnotic dance of a colorful, candy stuffed piñata tied to a tree, swaying in the wind. He sees the group of ten-year-old boys lined up in a row in the street. A man approaches.

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“Would you like to race?” he asks benevolently. The boy looks down. He’s barefoot, wearing hole ridden pants, tied together with a rope around his waist. He looks up at the other kids. They are all wearing new shoes and shorts. They are also all laughing. At him. He hesitates for a moment, but the thought of all that candy dancing around inside that purple and yellow piñata firms his resolve. He nods his head at the man and approaches the line. The man blows a whistle and the boys are off. The older boys blaze past the barefooted boy. But not for long.

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Talking over coffee in a quaint, yet hip Pleasure Point coffee shop, I listen to Marciano, “Chango”, Cruz recount this defining moment in his life. One that instilled a courageous approach to a living where the odds have been stacked against him his entire life. I’m transfixed by Cruz’s story, an intimate insight into the life of a man I’ve known for over twenty years.

“Little by little, I started passing everyone and before I knew it I had won! The man who got me to enter the race tried to grab me to celebrate my win and I got so scared (laughs). I was so shy that I got scared and I started to run away. So I kept running out of that place and didn’t even get any candy (laughs)”

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Cruz has been living in Pleasure Point for the past twenty years and is recognizable in the lineup by his dark brown Mayan features, loud laughs and piercing whistles of excitement. Despite learning the sport in his thirties, the Oaxacan native has honed his longboarding technique over the years, become a very skilled and valued member of the Point’s surfing scene.

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He’s also been serving the community at large for over twenty years, namely his efforts at the Resource Center for Nonviolence, and organizing, “La Liga De La Comunidad”, an all-ages soccer league that is one of the largest in the County. Despite his successes in life, Cruz still must continually worry about assimilation into a country where people of color like himself are constantly up against the ropes.

Born in 1963, Cruz didn’t see his father very often as a kid, as he would head to the United States to work. Like most young boys, Cruz idolized his absent father, and Cruz missed him desperately while he was gone. One time when he was six, his dad brought home something that would come to signify Cruz’s life forever.
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“One time, he (Cruz’s father) came back from the States and brought a back a watch; one of the watches that when you push a button it lights up. At the time I couldn’t believe it, and I became so curious about all the things I’d never seen before in my land or my life”.

This fascination with the wonders of American life and a strong desire to not only be with, but to be like his dad, are the catalysts which prompted Cruz to join a large group of young men on an illegal border crossing. Cruz was 13. When he arrived at the border, he called his father. He told him not to come to where he was. He was afraid Marciano would face hardship because he was brown. Cruz was crushed, but with no money, he kept running North.

It wasn’t long before Cruz began working in Moss Landing. He lived in Watsonville, and it was there that he was exposed to the life of the streets for the first time. “We went to a dance in Watsonville,” Cruz recalls. “One of my friends got stabbed. That was the first time I saw little gangsters in the street or people that relate to the streets. I got attracted to the streets; because of the way they defended us a and gave us a way to survive”.

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In the late 1970’s, Cruz and some friends moved to the Beach Flats area of Santa Cruz. It was becoming a dangerous place, infested with crime and drugs. Yet it also offered sanctuary to the marginalized members of society; who felt strength in numbers and easier ways to make money than picking strawberries in a hot field all day, even if it meant crime or violence. Over the years, this affiliation caused Cruz trouble with the law, yet he continued to hang out with his trouble-making crew until 1989, when his world changed forever.

“I met a woman– a beautiful woman with red hair from Michigan. She became my wife and I started trying to change my life. I started to work in the Parks and Recreation cleaning up the Beach Flats because I got in trouble there, and she soon became pregnant with my first child, Anthony. Seeing my son being born changed my life because seeing this little guy made me look back on things and the way I lived my life– and I didn’t want him to go through what I did, so I started working hard to fit in this society.”

This community outreach started in the form of Cruz speaking about injustice in American society. Cruz caught the attention of Scott Kennedy, who was the vice mayor and co-founder of the Resource for Non-Violence. Kennedy would prove to be Cruz’s largest supporter and gave him the support he needed to turn his life around.

“Nobody believed in me more than Scott,” Cruz admits emotionally.  “He knew I wanted to survive and see my kid. He sent me through a lot of trainings to be different and to maybe learn more about living in our society. So, through that, the courage came to start doing things in the community.”
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Cruz started a Kids Club that was successful in the Flats; a place for kids to go on field trips and to do positive things to do in their community. Cruz began to volunteer at the Resource Center for Nonviolence, and, along with his public speaking, he started a Kids Club that found great success. It was a safe place for kids to go on field trips and to do positive things to do in their community, as opposed to falling victim to drugs, gang life, and crime.

It was during this transformative time that Cruz moved to Pleasure Point and learned to surf. He was learning at the same time as his six-year-old son, Anthony, and soon became hooked. The healing powers of the sea became a new focus for Cruz, and he translated that energy by introducing his Kids Club participants to the sport as well.
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“Water is an extension of life,” contends Cruz.

“I believe the water heals the mind and spirit, and it allows me to help people as much as I can. It gave me the strength to be able to survive; to allow me the stability to help my family and help my community. To share this gift with the children of our community is a blessing”.

You’d think that for someone who’s worked so hard to change not only their own life, but the lives of countless others would be rewarded later in life with comfortable means to live. This is not the case for so many Latinos like Cruz in our country. The man must scrape by to afford to support his family, which now includes two more daughters, Esperanza, and Susana. He stays afloat by landscaping and selling some of his paintings, images that are based heavily around Cruz’s past and identity: La Virgen de Guadalupe, the Mexican Flag, Mayan statues, among others.

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Even with his own economic struggles, Cruz has selflessly sacrificed time and money for his community, especially with La Liga. If a player can’t afford cleats or jerseys, especially kids, Cruz will dig into his own savings to make sure that there’s enough resources for his players. He understands that meeting to play soccer every week and having the camaraderie of La Liga behind them, the Latino youth of the area will have positive alternatives to the streets to occupy their time.

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Resource Center for Non-Violence co- founder Peter Klotz-Chamberlin, can’t praise Cruz enough for his work—especially his efforts with La Liga de Comunidad.

“Cruz’s dedication, especially for the kids has been amazing. The league brings together people from different sides of town, of the county, different gang identified areas to play soccer.  I think it was an important means of violence prevention and community building among immigrants”, says Klotz-Chamberlin.
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Cruz knows both sides of being an immigrant, from the positive people who helped him assimilate like Kennedy to those who judged him for the color of his skin.

“I know it’s hard to change everyone, but this is the philosophy I live by; if you help just one person in this world, that person can help others. That’s what I believe. We have a lot of successful youngsters that I’ve coached who’ve ended up playing for Carmel and Salinas High Schools. The idea is to keep guiding, to keep encouraging others to be positive and do positive things in society around us, that’s what keeps me going”.

In 2008, the Mayor of Santa Cruz proclaimed May 12th, Marciano Cruz Day.

If you are interested in finding out more about the Resource Center For Non-Violence contact them at

831-423-1626
rcnvinfo@gmail.com

612 Ocean St.
Santa Cruz, CA
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An edited version of this story was featured in Santa Cruz Waves

On The Nose with Michel Junod

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Previously featured in Santa Cruz Waves

There is sometimes an unflattering, and often undeserved, stereotype of older surfboard shapers: that they are cantankerous and jaded old grumps limping through their shaping bays like lame prize horses, their brains frazzled from long-term exposure to hazardous resin, foam and fiberglass (that, or from all the acid they dropped in the ’60s and ’70s). Sixty-seven year-old boardmaker and longboarder Michel Junod is none of that. He’s robust, clever, grateful and just plain stoked on life, even in the face of a market that is primarily focused on brand name, mass-produced shortboards and fishes. He has a winning business model—making people happy—that’s worked for him the past 50 years.

“People are stoked when they get a custom surfboard,” Junod says. “I’m known as a guy you can come to for a fun, custom board.”

Born in Santa Monica in 1948, Junod grew up in and around the water. From an early age, his mother gave him swim lessons and would take him to the beach in the summers to enjoy the sand and surf. By the time he was 10, he and his best friends would spend most of the summer body surfing and hanging out at the beach. “If you are born by the beach, you don’t really know anything else,” reflects Junod. He caught his first wave on the south side of the Santa Monica Pier in May 1962, around the time that surfing was really taking off in Southern California.

After a few years spent honing his skills, Junod met Carl “Tinker” West, the owner and shaper of Surfboards by Challenger in Mission Beach, San Diego. Tinker built him a board, which led to his first surf team experience and introduction to shaping. In 1966, Tinker moved to the East Coast to open a surfboard factory in New Jersey. That summer, he invited Junod and a couple of other team riders to come work on and promote his boards.

tinker Tinker and Team Challenger

“That’s the way a lot of guys learned—either they worked at the shop sweeping as a kid, or surfing for the team,” says Junod.

Junod spent the next three summers learning to shape and build boards for Tinker. He moved to Santa Cruz in 1970 after an old friend offered him a job shaping for Overlin Surfboards and promised an uncrowded “Wild West” of a surf town. “And wild it was,” he remembers. “There weren’t any leashes yet so no one was even surfing at high tide because they didn’t want to lose their board into the cliffs. There were just a few of us shapers back then. It really was a whole different world.”

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After only a few chilly winters in Santa Cruz, Junod could hear the tropics calling. Over the next two decades, he lived and surf on the North Shore of Oahu and on Kauai, where he started a family with his wife, Jodi. He made a modest living shaping for some of the islands’ most reputable brands: Surfline Hawaii, Lightning Bolt Surfboards and Dick Brewer.

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Junod: high-lining  in Hawaii

In 1990, he and Jodi packed up and returned to Santa Cruz, where he began shaping for Pearson Arrow Surfboards and was soon drawn back to his longboarding roots. Before long, Junod had become an integral member of the local longboard scene, which has seen a resurgence over the past 20 years.

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He was a regular at contests, riding for the Big Stick Surfing Association surf club, and began his own label, shaping for most of the area’s best longboarders. All the while, he continued to hone his skills on the nose. Just ask Santa Cruz’s noseriding heir apparent, Mark “CJ” Nelson.

“Michel Junod is hands down my favorite longboard surfer to watch here in Santa Cruz,” says Nelson. “He is a perfect example of a surfer who has made the appropriate sacrifices in his life to keep his surfing and style top notch for the last 40 some odd years. His surfing is smooth and simple with perfect positioning and an emphasis on style. Dignified and honorable—exactly how I strive to be.”

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These days, Junod is still shaping custom boards and hanging 10 all over town. He has this advice for the aging surfer who’s contemplating throwing in the towel: “I always tell people who want to or are close to quitting surfing in their 50s and older, ‘Don’t quit, because you’ll never start again,’” he says. “If you are physically able, and want to keep that part of your health regimen and stoke going, you have to keep at it because somebody else is going to take your place in the lineup and you’re going to come out one day, flail [around] and go ‘Aww, I can’t do it anymore!’

“Later, if you change your mind and want to get back into it,” he adds, laughing, “you better move to Mexico or something—because in Santa Cruz, there are infinite guys to contend with.”

Find him online at surfboardsbymicheljunod.com.