THE SURFER INTERVIEW: WINGNUT
Robert “Wingnut” Weaver is a modern version of a Sixties Surfer. Or at least what we like to think of as a Sixties Surfer. With masterful flow, power and control, he is reminiscent of heroes like Phil Edwards, Mike Hynson and Mark Martinson. And it’s a tribute to the man’s style and soul that his unique, totally professional approach to having fun offers no contradiction. Because for Wingnut, it all seems to be about fun, a happy-go-lucky aura that belies all the hard work and dedication he’s logged creating–with virtually no help at all from the mainstream surf media–one of the most enviable surf lifestyles in the business. With a grin and a good drop-knee cutback, he thrust into the limelight with a starring role in 1994′s Endless Summer II. Flushed with success, Wingnut, now 37, parlayed the exposure into the kind of existence most of us–even other pros–could only dream about: a sponsored, traveling surfer and professional international surf guide for very affluent clientele. Then came a blunt twist of fate. In 1997, shortly after his son Cameron was born, Wingnut was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a degenerative disease of the nervous system that, among other things, affects one’s balance and equilibrium. But characteristically irrepressible, Wingnut fought on. And hearing him tell about it is a reminder of how sweet life is. In his Santa Cruz home, just back from work in Surftech’s marketing department, he sat down with his wife, Janice, son Cameron and beloved dog, Sheila, to spell it all out.
SURFER: How did Wingnut get to be Wingnut? We won’t even ask about the nickname.
WINGNUT: My family moved from Cologne, Germany, to Newport Beach back in the 1970s and I basically grew up right in front of Blackies riding longboards, watching classic Newport guys like Don Craig. From that I developed an affinity for what I like to call “classical” longboarding. I did the longboard contest circuit in the late 80s and early 90s, but it was never a good fit. The club contests were fun, and I was winning. I won Oceanside and I won at Malibu…I was right there, poised for God knows what, because there was no money in it. I was competing against any and all of the 25 different Paskowitz brothers and sisters and then came Joel. Joel was like 14, and if he kept his head about him, he could’ve won anything he wanted to. But he was still flustered. It was funny, because you’d have Donald Takayama or David Nuuhiwa on the beach with Joel’s mom and dad and they’d all be yelling separate instructions to this poor little kid who could surf better than all of them. I especially remember the Malibu contest because Joel finally just stood up on his board, tears streaming down his face, yelling back at them to all shut up. Seeing the state he was in, I pressed my advantage and won the event. Still, I knew competing exclusively just wasn’t for me.
SURFER: If not the traditional path of a surfer who wants to make it his living, then what?
WINGNUT: Well, then what happened was Endless Summer II. There was life before, then life after the movie.
SURFER: How did it happen?
WINGNUT: Well, I graduated in 1991 from UC Santa Cruz with a degree in economics and marketing. So at that point, as a longboarder, there was no real way to make money surfing competitively. I mean, O’Neill was giving me wetsuits and I was getting free boards, so at least my hobby was free. The club contests were fun, you know, it’s all about the barbecue, but making a living? I think back to a low moment when I was at one Oceanside contest. It was Friday at dawn and I already lost my heat. In an announcer’s voice: “How bout a hand for Wingnut, all the way from Santa Cruz. Great to see you; see you next time…the beer garden will be open at noon.” Something had to be done. So I graduated, Janice and I got married that October, came back from honeymoon and said, “What now?”
SURFER: How did you pay rent?
WINGNUT: Waiting tables down at the Crow’s Nest, like all good little surfers. The only thing I was sure of was I wanted to make surfing my life. So my plan was to save up and go down to the January Action Sport’s Retailer trade show in San Diego to get a job. I wanted to work in the industry. Then it happened. It was January 14th, 1992 at 1:15 in the afternoon. The phone rang and it was Bruce Brown. Impersonating Bruce Brown: “Yeah, uh, Wingnut? Yeah this is Bruce Brown and we’re gonna be doing a sequel to Endless Summer and were wondering if you would want to be one of the guys.” So I said, “Well, gee, I don’t know, I gotta mow the lawn and do some laundry but if I hurry I think I can make it down there by three.” Bruce got a kick out of that. So I went and saw him on the way to the trade show and he told me I had the job. And that’s what allowed me to get out of the dead-end competition scene. The movie contract was a two-year, 24-hour notice deal. And Bruce allowed me to negotiate my own contracts within the surf industry.
SURFER: A surfer’s version of hitting the lottery.