The SURFER Interview: TOM CURREN
Tom Curren has never had a surf spot named in his honor. He didn’t introduce the twin fin, thruster, or tow board, and let’s face it; the chances of him becoming a powerful surf industry desk jockey are slim to none. Yet when it’s all said and done, very few people will alter the axis of the surfing world the way Tom Curren has. Truth is, this guy changed everything, and by no other means than his revolutionary approach to riding waves that blended ’70s elegance with new millennium flair.
Of course his foray into surfing was to be expected considering his pedigree. His father Pat was a big wave legend in the 1950s who moved his family from San Diego to Santa Barbara in the early ’70s, where Tom was groomed in the famed points by a colorful cast of underground surf gurus who were altering equipment and performance realities one swell at time. Before long, word was spreading about magical performances their young understudy was putting in. After Californians endured a decade of total dominance by Australians, Tom’s radical new approach was smashing performance barriers, which resonated with surfers around the world. Curren revitalized California as a force to be reckoned with, and inspired a nation with his three world titles. Along the way he legitimized a fledgling professional sport, and became the unwitting patriarch of a cultural movement: professional soul surfing. Yet even as he went on to become the most popular surfer of his time, he remained elusive to his fans, the press and his peers, and his mystique and legend only grew because of it. We all thought we knew Tom Curren, but the truth is he’s only now getting to know himself. Today, Tom Curren, 39, lives in Santa Barbara with his second wife Maki and their two sons, Francis, 8, and Patrick, 7. When he’s not chasing waves or kids he’s usually in his studio making music, a passion he’s pursued since his teens. In fact, Tom’s just completed a new album that not only demonstrates his many talents, but offers a rare glimpse into this man’s very private soul. After completing the project, Tom spoke candidly with us about his public triumphs, private struggles and tough lessons learned through both. It’s the side of Tom we’ve all been waiting to learn about. – Chris Mauro
SURFER: Tell me about the effort that went into this album, because I know it’s something you’ve been working on for an awfully long time.
TOM CURREN: Well, I was in Australia in about 1996 when I played some acoustic guitar for some guys at a studio down there. They were pretty happy with it, and mentioned doing an album, so about a year later I met some people who were interested in recording. They had a scheme to make it happen with some investors and the like.
SURFER: And the little white sheep entered the wolves’ den…
TOM CURREN: Exactly. (Laughs). But there was no risk for me. I didn’t have to put any money up or anything so I agreed to it, and we started recording at my old house in Goleta. The tracks at the time were mostly drums and keyboards. So we tried to lay those down and add the songs, which didn’t really work. It’s much better to have the song first. We ended up only keeping a few of those tracks and started working on a basic work in progress kind of thing that we showed to a few record companies.
SURFER: What did they think of it?
TOM CURREN: Well, they didn’t. They basically said it covered too many genres of music because we’d have a rock song, some blues, some R&B, even some folk. We were all over the map. It also had a pretty high quality, high gloss, very studio feel and the record companies were concerned that it was a bit fabricated…which it kind of was.
SURFER: So how’d you get another chance?
TOM CURREN: Well, during that time Jack Johnson started doing well with his acoustic sound, and of course we all know he’s showed a lot of–well, without being too surfing oriented–that you could do it. He blazed his own trail, and proved you didn’t have to be punk or be rock or whatever, as long as the songs are good. So our next step was to do a little more of an acoustic kind of sound just because of that.
SURFER: And that went better?
TOM CURREN: A bit. Some were ones from when I first started playing guitar, around 1990. So as you can imagine the songs are pretty old, the material finally seeing the light of day. So the sound we ended up with is pretty far removed from the teeny-bopper sound that’s out there today.
SURFER: It’s obviously not an attempt to crack the Top 40.