The Surf Gene

Are great surfers born or made?

| posted on May 10, 2012

Dino and Kolohe Andino. Photo: Ellis

But cynicism and claims of nepotism aside, pro surfers are paid to surf because they’re great at it. And not all—in fact, most—of them, aren’t the spawn of former superstars. Many, however, have parents who surf, and most have parents who are least marginally athletic. And it seems that’s key. The genetic foundation must be laid, then motivation and training determine who reaches the very top.

LeeAnn, Nathan, Frank, and Pat were privy to the advantages of good genes, talented parents, and a lifestyle that supported developing as surfers. “I see my style in all of them,” says Tom Curren. “They’re young still, but I definitely see it in their surfing style. Surfing is such a natural part of their life. They are able to get boards, go to the best beaches, plan their surfing along with their schoolwork. They have a lot of advantages in that way.”

But it doesn’t stop there. Tom’s father, Pat, was a legendary big-wave surf pioneer and shaper in the ‘50s, meaning Tom’s kids are the second generation of surfing greatness. They are among the first surfers with two doses of inherited ability.

“When I was growing up my dad used to make my boards, which was really cool,” says Tom. “I think he was a little surprised I did as well as I did, I was just really into surfing and my kids are the same way—they just love it. They think about it all the time. My motivation now is to make sure they get to go to the places they want to go, and they get to be a part of this great life surfing. They all have different ambitions: some of them want to do contests, some of them want to do other things, so I think it’s really important when we’re all together to try to enjoy the time we have with family and their grandfather, and try to get them connected with him.”

So as new generations of surfers are spawned and we’re able to further validate our hunch that surfing is something that’s born into you, science will simultaneously get us closer to understanding the roles of specific genes. In the meantime, we’re left somewhere in the middle. When asked whether surfing ability is a product of nature or nurture, Tom Curren had a quick and emphatic reply: “I’d say nurture. Definitely nurture…Well…It’s both, right?”

The Curren Family In Santa Barbara


  • dumbo

    Kelly’s not 145lbs and if surfing ability comes down to genes then i’m wasting my time. I’m genetically superior at being a couch potato….Pass me the Nacho’s baby!

  • Max

    It will be amazing to watch all of Tom’s kids rise up in surfing. So with Kelly being one of surfing all-time greats – we need him to pump out some young Kelly grommets. Just better he remarries to an Ozzie wife like Steph or Tyler to attach the Ozzie mongrel genes and rack up 20 more years of world titles back to Oz.

  • heavy tom

    Owen Wright is more like 185 and Slater is more like 165.