It’s gonna be a long night, but for all the right reasons. It’s been a while since I’ve felt like this. People have that effect on me. Especially the ones you share incredibly mind-blowing experiences with. I am a devout believer that there is good in everybody. I’m also a firm believer that there are some people who are not only good, but f-cking great.
As a 14-year-old surfer living and growing up next door to Jock Sutherland, I had no idea about the greatness I was going to witness. It still blows my mind. Jocko had no boundaries on a wave. He had no clue if he was goofyfoot or regularfoot—he just was. Jock had this uncanny knack for knowing where to be on a wave and how to be there. Impromptu, spontaneous, absolutely brilliant. Like an imagination gone wild. In the water, he was fearlessly aloof, yet extremely calculated. Always in the power spot: left, right, big, small, hat on, hat off.
To this day I’ve never, ever seen Jock fall off a surfboard. Ladders yes, roofs yes, balconies yes. But never a surfboard. Jock was one of the most creative forces in the evolution of surfing. He was a tremendous tutor, but he did set me up for some mean lickings in the lineup—especially if I’d broken one of his boards recently. Hey, it made me smarter and wiser and humbled the shit out of me.
Like the first time I surfed Ala Moana with Jock. This one guy kept stuffin’ me until I figured out he was a friend of Jock’s and he was actually trying to show me that I was taking off at the wrong spot and was going to continually eat shit regardless of whether somebody dropped in on me or not. But boy could this guy noseride, with style. So now I’m in the right take off spot when Jock paddles on the inside of me, whips around to catch the wave and calls me off. I went anyway. Jock flew by and I ate shit. They laughed and I swam. The next wave, I’m in the perfect spot, but Jock’s friend, Gerry Lopez, paddles inside of me, swings around to catch the wave, and calls me off. Like before, I went. Gerry flew by with style and I ate shit. They laughed and I swam again.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. I’ve got to be the envy of every surfer who ever lived to have had two of the greatest surfers of all time as mentors, tutors, teachers, and above all else, dear friends. But they didn’t exactly wrap me in swaddling cloth and adorn me with frankincense and myrrh. Dues have to be paid. And I wouldn’t change it for the world. —Rory Russell