Tomorrow Joel Parkinson will win the 2012 Pipeline Masters, and in the process, his first ASP World Title—dethroning 11-time champ Kelly Slater in dramatic fashion. But right now, the surf is flat (by North Shore standards anyway), a lethargic two-foot windswell whipped into a frenzy by the gusty trades. I’m standing next to Craig Anderson at the edge of the lawn of Quiksilver’s rented house at Ehukai, watching a few groms grovel in the shorebreak out front. A dark rainsquall looms. Just to the west, Pipeline lays dormant. “It’s hard to imagine the comp running tomorrow when it’s this bad right now,” Craig says, his eyes fixed on the white-capped horizon, “but I guess a new swell is coming. I really hope it shows; I’m excited to see the title happen.”
Craig is in Hawaii for the Pipe Masters, but he’s not competing in it. He’s a sideline spectator—a fan of pro surfing who just happens to be a pro surfer himself. If that sounds confusing, it’s supposed to. Ask Craig what he does for a living, and even he will struggle with the answer. He’s a 23-year-old professional, but he doesn’t have to compete for a paycheck or popularity—instead, both come naturally. At the moment he is one of the most recognizable faces in surfing, and he’s gotten here without donning a contest jersey.
So how did it happen? Ask Craig and he’ll give you this humble answer: “I just got lucky, I suppose.” But his humility doesn’t tell the whole story; it’s just the beginning. Being humble is great and all, but it isn’t enough to garner a six-figure income. Craig is more than just humble; he’s really f—king talented on a surfboard to boot. Like Joel Parkinson, he possesses the ability to make surfing look easy, no matter the conditions. They both draw clean, almost effortless lines, but the comparison stops there—because unlike Parko, Craig will never be a World Champion, and he’s perfectly okay with that.
TransWorld SURF: Are you ready?
Craig Anderson: I’m really bad at this shit.
Interviews are tough.
That’s true. We can have this exact conversation naturally, but as soon as a recorder goes on it somehow feels different.
Exactly. It’s like surfing. I surfed Rocky lefts two nights ago and wasn’t fazed by anything—I didn’t tell anybody to come take photos or videos and had the best surf I’ve had in months. Sometimes when there are three or four cameras pointed my way I start f—king melting.
Is it nerves?
Totally. I’ve been having shockers lately because I think too much, I guess.
Does that happen a bit more often here in Hawaii?
It normally does the first couple of days. I used to come over to Hawaii every year, but I didn’t know anyone and I just wanted to surf good—try to perform, prove myself. It sounds f—king stupid, but now I feel like everyone is watching and when I have two or three bad surfs in a row I’m just like, “Ahhhh”—I start freaking out.
So those bad performances get to you?
Oh, all the time.
Does that snowball and mess with your confidence?
Yeah, and this year I’ve been filming a lot for our movie [a project Dane Reynolds and he are working on] and doing trips with guys that I look up to and consider my favorite surfers. Like, they’re the most amazing surfers in the world and then there’s myself. I never thought I would have a career in surfing, and when I’m out with them I feel I’ve got to step it up.
When did you first come to Hawaii?
I was 19, so I guess about five years ago.
How has this place changed for you from the time you were 19 to now?
My first trip I was staying down at Sunset with Paul Paterson and all the grommets from Quiksilver. I remember surfing Haleiwa that year when it was huge and I hated it—getting dragged into the impact zone out there is terrible. Back then I didn’t know anyone, and that made Hawaii a really intimidating place. This time of year, it feels like everyone here is trying to prove something. The vibes can be tense. I remember packing closeouts the first few years—lining up with photographers at Off The Wall to get barrel photos. The last few days I’ve been watching guys pack huge closeouts, and it just seems crazy now. Those guys enjoy it, but I’m thankful I don’t have to. It’s terrifying.
Craig Anderson showing his patented style off in Indonesia. Photo: Miller
What about Pipe, do you strive to get good waves out there eventually?
I’d love to. I really enjoy getting barreled, and there’s no other barrel like Pipe. I feel comfortable in big lefts, but out at Pipe surfing just feels…different.
Because of the crowds and cameras?
If you watch the freesurfs, you’ll rarely see somebody take off in a neat spot, make the drop, and take the line they want because there are so many surfers in the way. It makes a dangerous spot so much more intimidating. I’ve been thinking of coming back in the late season, when it’s less crowded, and really trying to give myself a chance.
It’s obvious you aren’t a fan of crowds, so how do you approach your surfs here, considering every wave is jammed with people?
I do best at Rockies. It’s a really fun wave for airs, and it’s kind of like a little skatepark. Out there, you just have to be aggressive, which sucks. I don’t think I’m an aggressive person, but if I wasn’t here, I wouldn’t get waves. It’s not just the crowds in Hawaii that are hard, all around the world people are just so f—king surf crazy. For me that’s tough, ’cause there’s always someone filming and taking pictures, and I feel I need to perform to do my job, get clips. When it’s crowded, that’s tough.
During the past five years you’ve become a recognizable face. When you have bad days, especially here in front of everyone, do you feel like people take notice?
I’m not sure, but I guess Hawaii just isn’t my deal. It’s a great place, but I don’t know if I have fun surfing here nowadays. I haven’t been coming the last couple of years.
Is there a reason for that?
I just didn’t feel the urge. But this year I went to Maui first and wanted to come over and watch the Pipe Masters. I didn’t really bring the right boards for the North Shore. I have a nice 6’6” and I’ve been paddling around trying to get a couple, but I’m just not one of those guys that thrive over here. I haven’t put in the hours and hours at Pipe, but hopefully I’ll get that urge one day.
As you become more popular, people form opinions about you, good and bad. You seem modestly uncomfortable with your role, would you agree?
The way I grew up, I came from a small-town vibe. I was really comfortable with where I lived and surfed. I was super shy growing up. I think traveling has helped me deal with that because I get put in uncomfortable situations and have to figure things out, communicate with people. When I first moved to Australia I was so shy, but I slowly found a good group of friends and they helped me. I still struggle, though. Over here I’d much prefer to eat dinner with a few friends than go to Lei Lei’s, but most of the time I get wrapped into that.
You were born in South Africa, when did you move to Australia?
I was 16.
And you moved as a family?
Yeah, the whole family up and just left.