rob gilley

Five Under

| posted on October 23, 2011

Rob Gilley

Previously in denial about his photographic past, Rob Gilley now rummages through his trove of mediocrity.

Note: The following text concerns underrated surfers. Feel free to use the comment board below to post the name of a lesser-known surfer you think deserves more credit.

Every surfer knows one: Another surfer that rips but isn’t well known. Somebody that shreds but is under-recognized. An unsung talent that deserves more credit.

Usually underrated surfers are underrated because they are incapable of drawing attention to themselves, and are perfectly comfortable living under the radar. Self-promotion is the last thing on their minds.

Over the years I would hear about surfers like this: Bobby Owens, Jimmy Lucas, Mark Dekoats, Tim Smalley, Russell Short, Keoni Cuccia, Sean Rhodes, David Scard, Travis Molina, Brian Pacheco, Aaron Chase—guys who ripped but never quite got the recognition they deserved. If I claimed these guys in print though, it would be technical hearsay—I never got to see them surf enough in person to write about or hail their overall talent.

The text below, however, represents five surfers who I’ve witnessed enough to confidently say are underrated. Most of them are known to the general public, but in my opinion, not to the degree that they should be. Not by a long shot.

Richardson. Photo: Gilley

Terry Richardson

He won contests in perfect conditions against the best surfers in the world, was a consistent Top 16 force, was the king of the Aussie Pipe, a master shaper, turned in stellar North Shore performances…and yet remains in the back of a historical bus driven by Shaun, MR, Rabbit, PT, Ian, and Simon. For whatever reason, Richo never quite got the credit he was due. Terry is a Wollongong boy, a workingman’s hero for the ages, and in my view, should be better recognized for his surfing prowess and contributions to surfing.

Kenvin. Photo: Gilley

Richard Kenvin

It’s hard to fathom now, but there was a time when a single skate maneuver was not the be-all, end-all. Reputations were made with linkage, flow, style, and rail-work. For this reason, whispers of an heir to the Chris O’Rourke La Jolla throne began to circulate in the early eighties. Richard’s North Peak fade, his Windansea lines, and his subtle approach to Big Rock eventually got noticed by the outside world and surfers began to privately hail him, and for good reason.

It’s kind of ironic that he is getting first-exposure attention now as a filmmaker/board experiment guru, but you should know that back in the day, Richard Kenvin was a true kingpin.

Menzie. Photo: Gilley

Chris Menzie

Some people are probably sick of me talking about him but it can’t be over-stated: Chris Menzie was the closest thing California ever had to Tom Carroll. Power, balls, style, and the ability to lay it on a rail like few others. He also had a healthy mistrust for industry authority way before it was fashionable. As it happened though, Chris didn’t like traveling that much, didn’t really have much family support, and was involved with surfing just prior to the bigger money arriving. But to speak for those of us who were privileged enough to see him surf, we can safely say tell you that Chris Menzie was one of the best.

Hayes. Photo: Gilley

Sean Hayes

It’s probably fair to say that Sean Hayes lived under a shadow—a Ventura shadow created by figures that included the Malloys, the Slaters, the Currans, Donnie Soloman, Keoni Cuccia, and later, by a kid named Reynolds. Ventura had such a phalanx of talent to hit the scene that, in my opinion, Sean kind of got lost in the shuffle. But make no mistake, Sean has it all: a clean, powerful style and a modern approach to waves of all sizes. Sean Hayes is a complete surfer, and one of the most chivalrous humans I have ever met.

Villaran. Photo: Gilley

Gabriel Villaran

There aren’t many surfers in the world that can land a highly technical air on a 3-foot wave one day and then stick a behind-the-boil air drop on a proper 20-footer the next. Gabriel Villaran is one of them. I’ve seen a lot of good surfing over the years and it’s hard to describe this Peruvian’s surfing without using a bucketful of superlatives. This guy is as legit as it gets. The world got a taste of him in Innersection and the Todos contest, but believe me, that’s just the sauce on the anticucho.

  • Joe Storelli

    Peter Mendia, nuff said!

  • Bone Thug

    Rob, your column is super good and quite refreshing compared to the ass kissing of Dane Reynolds. Or how being a free surfer is cooler than the world tour or the rest of the nonsense that is published these days. You keep it fresh, legitimate,and call it like you see it. Keep it up and tell surfer to give you a raise.

  • Steve

    Good call on Sean Hayes. There are so many surfers, as you said, that could fill the ranks of this article. Being from the same time and era as Sean, it’s definitely good to see him get some recognition.

  • Bula’ia

    Albee Layer… Most nuts airs, paddle jaws, crazy slabs, solid power, cloudbreak/chopes… no worries cuz.

  • Joel Rodriguez

    Peter Devries. just check out some of his footage on vimeo–flawless
    Masatoshi Ohno is another one, guy SHREDS

  • o

    Pete Berkey. I’ll bet a couple of the other guys you mentioned would agree.


    “Purps” aka Sean Hayes is a f’n legend!!!!!!!! Best barrel rider around and when it gets heavy he is the man!!!!

  • z

    Pete Berkey. I’ll bet a couple of the guys you mentioned would agree.


    Jimmy Rotherham and Juan Jose Bolivar. El Salvador, representando!

  • Benny Barrels

    Jon Vine, Bilgola Beach, NSW, Australia
    Regularly beats Tom Carroll & co at Newport Plus boardriders comps, and famous quote by Tom Curren Billabong Challenge, “dude you should be on the CT”
    Nuff said …………

  • Ben S

    Alan Cleland, one of the hottest, deepest tube riders I’ve ever seen in person or compared against surf stars. Good one with Menzie for sure.

  • Dave

    Rob, you obviously saw Menzie surf a time or two. Having personally witnessed his surfing in many different conditions, your description of his surfing is dead on. And it honestly can’t be over-stated. His style was smooth and powerful. If not for the lack of sound guidance, and his rebellious nature at the time, oh what might have been.

  • john

    Hayes got lost in the mix because he always wanted something in return.

  • all

    Albee Layer…spends most of his time riding slabs that others don’t consider rideable. Lost sponserships with Nike and Billabong because he wouldn’t follow photogs to surf photoslut frenzys in weak crap waves. Instead surfed by himself suck up air drop barrels too hard to access/ride for pampered pros and surf media. Now only 20 years old he was doing this at 14

  • http://huh Rodger

    Menzie was from Ocean Beach San Diego, I refrenced him when writing a checkout for Transworld surf about another Obeacian (we call ourselves sometimes) Julian Mullins. Jake Jackels could be one of these dudes. OB during there era and still today is hard to avoid orginizations that offer faster money.

  • ROn

    Kelly slater

  • BH1

    Call me biased coming from Hawaii, but Chesser owned it in 2-20ft. Brian Pacheco no doubt… But also names like James Labrador, Isaac Kaneshiro, Todd Mitsui, Sean Yano, Bogle, Jun Jo, Gaskell, Evan V, Ola, Mike Dodd, Albee etc… Are all deserving. But right now… Torrey Meister is as underrated as they cone.

  • Madi

    Obviously John above doesn’t know Sean Hayes very well… if he did ask for something, I hope he got it. All around talent.

  • Charles

    Barton Lynch at Sunset/Yards. Backside with style and commitment. Also, Bobby Owens’ brother, Chris. He looks like the Devil but surfs like God. Oh and he also (still?) holds the record for paddling from the North Shore of Oahu to Kauai in under a day? Sorry for the question marks; he’s a legend in my book.

  • Stover Marshall

    James and Tyler Hollmer-Cross. They gracefully and powerfully surf in ALL conditions way, way down in Tasmania….Their big wave exploits are known but wait there’s more….Tyler won a state title open men’s round at 15 years of age amongst a quality older field,by way of example.

  • Courtney Hayes

    Thanks for the props for my brother – although – I have to say – he has not lived under anyones shadow – especially those mentioned – which we all grew up together as friends in and out of the water; with the exception of D.R. whose older brother was still a kid when my bro was tearing it up…. anywhoo : ) … all those mentioned may have caught the spark of the media, a dollar, or final more than Sean – but his “underrated” shall not go w/out mention that it’s hard to be “rated” when your busy ripping, tearing and shredding it up all over the world on epic surf trips for the past 20 years. NOW THAT IS A CHARMED LIFE!

  • Luca

    S.A. Royden Bryson: yes he is a former top 44 yes he is still winning top cpntest around but I think he is quite undescored, Royden has a beautiful style both front and back side, a mix of power, precision, innovation, balls.. to me a very high skilled surfer with the full package

  • Johnny Noris

    Keil Miller, Henry Hunte, Jonathan and David Dupont, Skip McCullough


    CJ Nelson. Best switch-stance surfer of all time.

  • http://n/a martin leon guerrero

    I saw Terry Richardson in person in Bali in 81. It was the first major contest there and just about everyone was there. MR, Mark Warren, Terry Fitzgerald, Jim Banks, Tom Carrol, Simon Anderson, other Aussies I can’t remember. Hawaiins were Dane Kealoha,Louie Ferraria, Bobbie Owens, others can’t seem to remember. Terry Richardson definitely stood out amongst all those greats. I saw him rip everywave he caught to the bitter end, I mean he would take off on a set wave and totally rip it up and just keep on ripping it till there was no wave left. He would be roundhousing cutbacks and rebounding the white water when the wave was ending at knee high!