I come from the longboard era—the Phil Edwards, the Skip Fryes, the Hynsons, Barry Kaniaupuni—so I’ve seen a lot of it. I grew up competing with David Nuuhiwa, which was a really good thing, because I thought David was the shit. He was better than anybody—the style, control, maneuvers—he could do anything on a surfboard in the early ’60s. Then, somewhere in the ’80s, they had the Donald Takayama longboard surf contest down at Oceanside. That was the first time I saw Joel surf. He was about 12 years old—and he just ripped it up.
When he got older, I went on some surf trips with him. We surfed and filmed in France and Mexico and different places. I studied his surfing a lot, and the one thing I can say about Joel is that he has a nice, soulful style. Back then the kids loved him because he was young and doing some stylish stuff on surfboards. Then he started riding a lot of retro boards. Like that, he became a link to the past. The photographers picked up on it and people got turned on to the past. By doing that, he helped surfing in general. Suddenly longboards were cool and became the inspiration for the whole retro thing.
Joel’s style of surfing is really mellow, it’s not agro at all, so it lends itself to traditional surfing. He stands and cruises; his turns are smooth and fluid. He has incredible wave judgment. I think a lot of Joel. He’s done a lot for a lot of people, even if he didn’t want to. —Herbie Fletcher