Wall of Positive Noise comes under heavy attack as professional surfers join surf fans to unleash hell at the WSL!
But like to fight! “Drunken with rage, (he) staggered towards Sam George with the intention of beating him up, and had to be taken out.”
Last week I mentioned Damien Hardman, two-time WCT champion (1987, 1991) from Narrabeen, and Filipe Toledo as the two holders of the men’s title. the most devoid of credibility in the face of big waves.
At the time, I thought Hardman and Toledo were treated more or less the same in terms of attention to their deficits.
On the contrary, I felt that we had been more cruel towards Toledo.
Boy, I was wrong. Hardman has had much worse.
The opening of Damien’s first SURFER profile, in 1988, written by Phil Jarratt just after Hardman won his first title, reads:
Having never met Damien Hardman, the man who would soon become world champion, I asked about him. “He’s a bit like Simon Anderson in his approach to life,” one person said. “It’s that Narrabeen thing, I guess. But I wouldn’t put Damien in Simon’s class. He has neither the muscles nor the intelligence. I asked someone else whose opinion I respected if they thought Damien would win the title. He said, “Damien just doesn’t have the balls to go all the way.”
After making the obvious point that Hardman had defied expectations to win the title, then highlighting the courage and tenacity of the new champion, Jarratt seems to lose interest, with vague praise on Damien’s recent deathmatch against Gary Elkerton at Manly Beach, and an exit line in which Hardman promises to be a “good ambassador” for surfing. Jarratt, by nature a playful and engaged writer, was clearly bored.
Ten years later, with Hardman still a contender for the world title at 33, pop culture diva Cintra Wilson, in his coverage of the 1999 WCT French leg, called him the “Evil Stepdad” of pro surfing.
A two-time former world champion and Occy’s biggest threat to this year’s championship, [Hardman] is monstrously capable but oddly cursed of being the Richard Nixon of the surfing world. He’s stiff with media inappetence, brooding, uncute, and super ambitious. He also colors inside the lines and accumulates points by being a ruthless and precise techno-surgeon. The Iceman is chillingly serious and basically impossible for teenage girls to have a crush on.
Hardman had no interest in being a surfing media personality. Which makes sense, given how he was treated. It’s a chicken or the egg question. None of the surf writers of the day looked away from the fact that Damien was from Narrabeen, that he didn’t perform in the big surf, and that he was a grim, methodical, and ruthless competitor. The fact that, in his best days, Hardman was as fluid in the water as George Gervin was on the hardwood. Maybe we iced it, in other words, not the other way around.
In 2001, just-retired Damien Hardman was a judge for the Op Pro Mentawai Islands specialty event, which I covered, and which ended up being my one and only Indo boat trip.
There was a short bus ride at the start of the rally, while we were still on Sumantra, and when I was introduced to Hardman again – we had met a few times in the 1980s – he just nodded head and looked away.
We boarded a trio of boats, one for the six male competitors, another for the four female competitors, and another for the media and judges. Damien, unsurprisingly, bailed out our boat and stayed with the surfers.
It was an incredible moment.
We floated, lay and surfed, ate well, hosted the event and stayed there for about a week before heading back to port. My two most distinct memories of Damien both come from that trip.
First, towards the end of a bare-knuckle evening on our boat (which was the biggest one), Damien, wildly drunk, collapsed towards Sam George with the intention of kicking his ass, and had to be taken away.
Sam hadn’t done anything to provoke Damien. I don’t think Damien even knew who he was talking to right now; Sam was a surfing media figure, a stand-in for all of us, and that was enough.
Second, Op had obtained some kind of Indonesian government permit that allowed us to clean the water at any break we chose. Which sounds unbelievable, but was actually weird, wrong, and depressing.
Two surfers alone at Bank Vaults when our flotilla stopped on the first day of our trip and dropped anchor. They have been called. Twenty years later, I remember the look on their faces – confusion turning to anger – and I’m ashamed.
But of course that didn’t stop us, we did the same thing day after day, and eventually that’s how Damien Hardman and I found ourselves alone in perfect surf at Macaroni.
It was the penultimate day of the trip. The contest had just ended (Mark Occhilupo and Keala Kennelly won), at which point Damien and I, at the exact same time but on different boats, launched into the line-up.
A decision had already been made to cruise north to catch Hollow Trees before dark, and the other surfers in our group were already aboard the boats, which were now idling in the channel.
My thought was to catch a wave or two before heading out. I did but then paddled the range because while it wasn’t the absolute best surf I’ve ever seen it was hands down the best uncrowded surf I’ve ever seen seen.
Damien was sitting there when I came back.
We looked at each other, and he wasn’t the Iceman or the two-time champion or a media-hating drunk — he was the person who could prolong that perfect moment.
A version of the same thought crossed Damien’s head, “I’ll do it if you want,” he said, or some variation of it, and over the next semi-illicit 20 minutes, I caught three more waves, and maybe I’m a cheap date but that’s how Damien Hardman warmed my heart.
(Like this? Matt Warshaw delivers a Surfing Essay every Sunday, PST. All are a delight to read. Might be time to subscribe to Warshaw’s Surf Encyclopedia, yeah? Three dollars a month.)