In an ongoing Split Peak Soup feature, which I’ll now dub, “Know Your Commentator”, I’ve been fortunate enough to pick the brains of the World Surf League commentating squad. I’ve spoken with the dapper and daring Peter Mel, the stoked Brazilian Andre Giorenelli, and the ageless Kaipo Guerrero.
Now, the spray has settled since Owen Wright’s win at Snapper, a spectacular return to competition after a head injury that had him sidelined for fourteen months. Next up is finals day at stop number two, The Drug Aware Pro (I know, it doesn’t make sense), located in Margarets River. So far, the venues have been solid yet tricky, the surfing tame and repetitive, overall. I’m a surf fan goddamnit so I’m gonna be watchin’ anyways!
Of all the commentators, a man named Strider Wasilewski gets the best view in the house. Usually during important heats the camera will pan to the “Wazz” as they call him, either stradling a surfboard or ski raft, mic in hand, calling the shots from the water. Strider spends a bit of time on land as well, and his seemingly uncontrollable, ageless froth is fully evident during exciting moments.
Who is Strider you ask? Well, the California kid cut his teeth rushing giant Pipeline, and was able to travel the world as a Quiksilver athlete, with some of his most memorable moments inside mutated monsters at Teahopoo in Tahiti. I was fortunate to have tolerant parents who let me watch …Lost’s What’s Really Goin On/Wrong movies religiously at a ten year old. Strider had some mental clips at Pipee and a mean holwler monkey impersonation that awed me then and to this day. I tracked the Wazz down before the comp to ask him about his job, and his surfing.
Strider, mic in hand, calling the shots in Fiji
You grew up in Los Angeles. Can you remember your first experience surfing? What was the LA surf scene like back then?
My first surf was out in front of our apartment in Santa Monica. It was in the late 70’s. My brother and I would wait for people to loose their boards, snake ’em and ride them until they figured out we were riding them! (Laughs).
The surf scene was super localized, you surfed where you lived, that was that.
You rose to legend status with your efforts at Pipe. How does a kid from LA show up and just rush the joint. Can you tell me about your first, favorite, and worst tube/hardcore beatings out there?
I think you dream big and big things will happen. It’s a little easier to avoid a beatdown because of phones and everything getting out in social media– localism has slowed down a lot. When I first got to the North Shore it wasn’t just in the water, it was everywhere! I couldn’t even go to Food Land without getting verbally abused! Man if the kids visiting Hawaii now only knew what it was like…
Pipe, a mutant of a wave that put Strider on the map
Tell me about your relationship with Pipeline
I surf Pipe as much as possible, it’s a place that calls to you. It always has, I think my love of the tube is why I was first drawn to Pipe.
Strider standing tall at Pipe
What was your first gig behind the mic? Did you think you’d follow that path, or was it a one off thing? How did you get on the WSL’s radar?
I worked at a contest in Brazil about 5 years ago. I went because I always wanted to try it out. I surfed for Quiksilver and had asked them to do one of their events for years but the producer would never let me even give it a try! Then when the WSL took over I asked again, and they gave me a chance. We have a great relationship that’s mutually beneficial.
The Wazz and longtime friend/coworker, Pete Mel
Did broadcasting come natural to you, or did you have to work on your delivery over the years?
Doing this new job was pretty natural but there is a learning curve. I’m still learning and all the people I work with help me every event. I’m pretty much the rookie of the group, but I’m getting better…
It seems like the entire surf industry comes to play during events. How hectic do the line ups get with all the pros, commentators, locals, visitors, nutritionist/hypnotist/coaches/nail clippers all trying to satiate their own surf appetite?How do you guys avoid such tensions?
The tour surfers are all really cool; they mostly respect each other in and out of the water. Sometimes the lineups get a little crowded and it gets a little edgy. Our crew usually finds other places to surf, or find other times to surf when everyone has finished warming up. Its definitely something we think about and try and give the tour surfers the respect and space they deserve.
RUSHING maxed out Chopes
Describe what it’s like being in the water commentating with the current caliber of surfing? I notice you get pretty frothed. Is the energy of the heat contagious?
I get super frothed while I’m in the water; I love surfing and the level of surfing these guys are doing is crazy high! I get pumped from all the energy around an event: the waves, the heat, the athletes… I’m so close to them I hear and see a lot, some stuff good, some bad(laughs). I’ve had to learn to calm my self down a little and better compose my information. I still get over frothed but I’m getting better at my delivery.