Endangered Species-The”Regional Pro Surfer”


A Case Study–Santa Cruz, California

By Neal Kearney

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.


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.


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.


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.


“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.


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.


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.


“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.


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.


“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.



logoPatrick Eichstaedt, aka “Tupat”, is an accomplished videographer and photographer, having worked for …Lost on countless projects over the past two decades.  His hilarious cameos on flicks such as “The Decline” and “5’5”, 19”and ¼” “are the stuff of legend.  Nowadays, senor Tupat is still shooting photos, but has set his sights on the culinary world, with his Tupat’s Hawaiian Poke Sauce.  I recently caught up with the Floridian to get the lowdown on his new gig.

Tupat and Uncle Mike Ho

Tupat and Uncle Mike Ho

Most of the world knows you from your appearances and efforts in filming …Lost movies such as The Decline…  what have you been up to since your stint as a filmer for …Lost?  How long were you filming them for?  Is filming and photography still a passion you’d like to pursue?  Who are your favorite surfers to shoot?

Since the pre marriage days and younger years with Lost I have always continued to shoot both video and photography when the waves are up or my select travels. I started filming for Lost in 95, but actually we were filming stuff that Mike Reola ended up using after we met in Waikiki in 94 or 95, that’s a longtime ago to remember exactly. I still am very passionate about my filming and photography. I have my own wedding business, we offer Cinematography and Photography. I also shoot a bunch of other cool things as well. My favorite surfers to shoot are my son Ethan, Hopper, Gorkin, Noah Beschen and all the kids at Shea Lopez’s surf camp, it’s six weeks of pure stoke!

In simple terms, what is a “grueler”?   Who are your favorite grueler’s and why?

A grueler is someone that will do what is needed to make things happen with respect and honor to others. All the while having a stoked and blessed life doing what you love and loving what you do!

Some of my favorite gruelers are my brother Hopper, Mason Ho and CheeseBurger, Gorkin, Ryan Simmons, Casey Collins among others that are all over the world finding their path and trying to make a difference.


You’ve released your own Poke Sauce, called Tupat’s Hawaiian Poke Sauce?  Where’d you get the inspiration?  I know fishing is huge in Florida where you hail from, but did spending long stints in Hawaii influence your new passion?

Yeah I’m really excited about my sauce endeavor, it’s all started to fit nicely as of late. I’ve always been a foodie since I was a grom. My mom was a flight attendant so we were well cultured with food growing up and always trying different sauces with dinners and such. Once I started to go to Hawaii around 16 my taste buds for their cuisine gave me a whole new flavor. It was later years that I would come home from Hawaii and make Sashimi and Poke for family and friends. This would propel my early thoughts to one day bottle my own flavors. On July 9, 2014 the first Tupat’s Hawaiian Poke Sauce bottle came off the line in Winter Springs Florida. Our growth currently is expanding and all of our customers are so involved with their creations. It’s truly a unique sauce that can bring people together and enjoy a fun filled lifestyle.

Like Try?

Like Try?

What makes a good Poke Sauce?  How long did you experiment with flavor combinations until you found that right taste?

In my opinion a good Poke sauce is one that all elements agree with your palate. I had been experimenting with these combination of flavors since I was young, and then changed things numerous times because I would find other ingredients that would fit. Our current sauce took 13 months of R&D to perfect the flavors we were trying to achieve.



What would you suggest using your Hawaiian Poke Sauce on?

Our sauce has been tested and proven on many items and is currently in print on 11 different menus and a restaurant chain with 6 stores. The flavors are great on Sushi, Tuna, Seafood, Meats, Chicken, Pork, Poultry, Vegetables, Dips and Sauce mixtures. It’s very gratifying to see the hard work paying off with happy customers.

Any big plans for expansion, or are you happy with your current creation?

That’s a great question, yes we are going to expand with other flavors and also hope to brand others that would be interested. The possibilities are endless.

Tupat's support team

Tupat’s support team

You’ve always been known for always keeping it real.  What is your thoughts about the current state of professional surfing, and surfing culture in general?

The “Surf Industry” – To get right to the point, It’s Cut-Throat. Bottom line is the “Big Fish” eat good and the minnows barely survive. But besides all that stuff, surfing will always be from the soul and for the soul with a ton of stoke in between. My favorite surfers right now are Noah Beschen, Mason Ho and Kelly still keeps me glued to the screen. JJF is in another league that will evolve as Slater did–that will give all us fans something to look forward to. As for the surfing culture, that is growing rapidly.  All types of humanity are embracing this awesome thing called surfing.

Where can we find Tupat’s Hawaiian Poke Sauce?

Tupat’s Hawaiian Poke Sauce is in many locations in New Smyrna Beach, Central Florida, Naples and Melbourne Beach. We are currently finalizing broker deals and gaining traction each day with social media, print ads and word of mouth. It’s just a matter of time before the sauce goes completely global. We have our Tupat’s Hawaiian Poke Sauce name on 11 menus currently. This is a really cool marketing tool for us and we could not be any happier.

Tupat flaring

Tupat flaring

Any shout outs?

I would like to shout out to my wife Yoseline and son Ethan for putting up with me and all the support, I love you guys! I would also like to thank my parents for always supporting Hopper and I. Thanks to my business partner Trey Peterson and his family for friendship and support. All of the Tupat’s Hawaiian Poke Sauce family and friends, Many Thank you’s! Thank you to all of my Hawaiian friends! I would like to thank the Lopez and Beschen family for their genuine friendship. All of our business owners that believe in our product, Thank you! Here’s to a Flavorful future! Thanks to ALL!