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Skipping from Houston to Chile to Seaside with third-gen surf progeny (and eternal optimist) Tosh Tudor.
By Ben Waldron
Light / Dark
BARBACOA IN SPACE CITY
The corrido playing on the jukebox doesn’t needle-scratch as we walk in the door of Taquería El Dorado. But it feels like it does as cowboy-hatted heads crane in our party-of-nine’s direction. It’s after 9 p.m. in Houston, Texas, and a 16-hour flight delay while en route to Chile has left us stranded, hungry, and on dinner plan C.
Any BBQ joint with a respectable brisket has already closed. We’ve even been turned away from Chili’s—party’s too big, chef’s shorthanded and wants to go home, understandable. We were lured into El Dorado by flashing green LED strips lining the restaurant’s barred windows. We ignored our Uber driver’s counsel to avoid the place. According to her, a series of fatal shootings happened in the parking lot in the not-so-distant past.
Most of the crowd is buzzed spillover from the discotheque two doors down. The brightly colored walls—adorned with paintings of Aztec warriors, neon Corona signs, and faded photos of dinner plates—create a familiar ambiance for those in our group from California, like 17-year-old Tosh Tudor, who’s diligently studying the menu, debating between a carne asada burrito and barbacoa taco plate as if it’s an executive decision. After consulting Justin Quintal, seated next to him, he orders the barbacoa.
Tosh has been everywhere and surfing everything the past few months. A five-month residency on the North Shore had him scoring late-season Pipe and South Shore tubes. He red-eyed to New York for a winter cyclone swell. Presently, he’s fresh off a trip from Sayulita, Mexico, for the Mexi Log Fest—where he developed a taste for barbacoa and why he’s skeptical of Houston’s. He’ll be on a flight to Amsterdam with his dad, Joel Tudor, en route to South Africa barely 48 hours after he returns home from this trip. He’s well acclimated to the coffin-bag life.
Tosh tells us of his recent travels as we wait for the food: “I was surfing Pipeline and a guy from the Volcom house paddled out and told me I needed to go in because someone wanted to talk to me. I was thinking, Oh, my God. Did I do something wrong? Does someone want to beat me up? So I go in and Balaram [Stack] is waiting for me. He says, ‘There’s a pumping blizzard heading to the East Coast. I have a flight tonight. Do you want to go?’ I was like, ‘Yep!’ I didn’t second-guess my decision because I had been watching him get barreled for three months straight. If this guy’s leaving Pipe, then it must be a pretty damn good blizzard.”
With a 10-hour flight ahead of us, the conversation turns to TV shows to watch on the plane. Tosh shares he’s been on a Curb Your Enthusiasm binge. “I like it when Larry David shakes his finger at something and says, ‘I don’t like that,’” he mimics with raised brows, side-eyes, and a grin while shaking his finger at Quintal. The impersonation is done with perfect delivery. Everyone laughs.
Nonchalantly, he mentions that it’s his graduation night. Somehow, during his travels, he earned his high school diploma. He’s the first in three generations of Tudors to do so: His grandpa, Joe, dropped out to do carpentry. His dad, Joel, quit in his early teens to become a pro surfer. For his part, Tosh transitioned away from traditional schooling in eighth grade for the homeschool route. “One day, my dad dropped me off at school and went to Newport for one of those big south swells,” he says. “After class, my friend came up to me and said, ‘Look at this video of your dad getting drained at the Point.’ I was so pissed I wasn’t there. That was when I made the decision to do homeschool.”
Everyone toasts to Tosh’s education.
His tacos arrive. He takes a bite and says, “This barbacoa is way better than anything I had down in Mexico.” It’s a preposterous claim, but Tosh is an optimist who lives in the moment.
We return to our dingy motel rooms comped by the airline and go to bed, dreaming of long, barreling lefts.
“When you’re a professional surfer,” Joel Tudor says in Vans’ 2011 film Get-N Classic, “you’re the most spoiled-rotten person on the planet. And anybody who complains about their job who surfs is a bitch. I’ve got my son surfing now.…I’m not doing it so he can get a sponsor. I’m doing it because I want him to enjoy the same stuff I had as a kid. I had a really fortunate life. Hopefully, through surfing, he can do the same. If not, he can go pound nails with my brother. I don’t give a shit. I still love my kids.”
Twelve years have passed since Joel’s words, and Tosh is hammering out a life through riding waves just fine. His surfing lineage is three generations deep on both sides. His mom, Maya Brown, grew up surfing on Maui, and her father, Barry Brown, still actively surfs Honolua Bay. On his father’s side, his grandpa Joe taught Joel to surf, who taught Tosh.
“I’m guilty of standing on the shore and getting mad,” Joel says when I speak with him about Tosh’s surfing origins. “Then I backed off and just wanted him to have fun, so I put him in club events—the same exact environment I was in. You’re surrounded by legends and all kinds of different people. You really learn how to compete, because the kids are cutthroat on longboards at that age. I kinda kept him away from NSSA and other cookie-cutter organizations.”
Just as Joel had non-blood uncles like Donald Takayama, David Nuuhiwa, and Nat Young teaching him when he was young, Tosh has cultivated mentors and friends who surf the way he wants to—one of his earliest being Quintal.
“I’ve been around Tosh since he was a really little kid,” Quintal says. “I’d always be back and forth between the East Coast and California, [where I’d] stay at Joel’s house. When Tosh was 10, Joel had him riding these little longboards that were more like eggs. I told Joel that he needed a little noserider. I had just started my surfboard label, Black Rose Manufacturing, and I secretly had matching logs made for them. I brought them with me to California and met Joel and Tosh at Malibu. I gave Joel his board and Tosh was tripping out, saying, ‘That thing’s so cool.’ Then I was like, ‘You like that, Tosh? What’s this over here?’ and I pulled out his board. He was so stoked. He paddled out on it right away and I watched him get his first hang 10.”
In a photo comparison of Joel noseriding as a teen next to a contemporary one of Tosh, it takes a squinted eye to identify who’s who. “My dad never really tried to choreograph the way I surf,” Tosh is quick to say, despite the uncanny resemblance between them both physically and stylistically.
“That club contest environment helped him have his own style,” Joel says. “A lot of it’s in his blood. If you’re surrounded by your dad who surfs for a living, you’re going to pick up some of that. I surf like my dad. I didn’t try to. It just happened. I’m brutally honest with him about his surfing sometimes. I’m sure I’ve upset him. I’ll tell him if his surfing looks like shit and say specific things he needs to work on. But Nat [Young] did that to me as a kid. He’d say, ‘Ahhhh, put your arms down. Don’t wiggle so much. Don’t do too much on one wave.’ He’d give me really cool pointers. Nuuhiwa would too. I’m not critical to the point where I’m trying to make him perfect, but he actually goes out and works on what I tell him to. He’ll send me videos asking me what I think.”
Like his father, Tosh eventually gravitated toward tube riding as a natural extension of his expanding skill set. For the past four years, he’s spent long stretches living on the North Shore, putting in time at Pipeline. It’s a tradition his father has been adhering to for more than three decades.
“I’ve told Tosh, ‘Don’t worry about doing the same aerial as everybody. Getting barreled is a lifelong pursuit,’” Joel says. “Nothing will replace that particular vision and how you can remember every frame of a barrel, even all the way back to the first one you ever got. Getting barreled was kind of my equalizer. People would always put me in this category of only being able to hang 10 and I’d be like, ‘Alright, let’s go surf Pipeline.’ It would shut people up. Tosh did that at a really young age by just wanting to get barreled. That put him in this weird category of tube chaser, but with his own style. He doesn’t have the same tail pad and black stripe down the middle of his board like most kids his age. I’m stoked to see my kid have a different approach.”
Tosh’s backside tube-riding technique is one example of this different approach. While most surfers default to pigdog, Tosh moves his back foot up to a near-parallel stance while using one hand to steady his rail and the other to control his speed. It’s a progressive take that’s clearly inspired by John Peck’s pioneering of the art at Pipeline in the 1960s.
Tosh recalls his dad paying the rare compliment of “That was a good one” after watching him thread a backside tube at Barra de la Cruz. He’s also capable of scaling the technique up to heavier waves, and has used the approach to shoot through Sunset Beach’s West Bowl and Backdoor.
“My dad would show me films of guys like Gerry Lopez, Dane Kealoha, and Mark Richards,” Tosh says. “I paid really close attention to how they approached the wave, used the wave, and went with the wave more than just trying to destroy it. I immediately thought that’s what good surfing looks like and I’ve tried to surf like that since. When I first got into tube riding, he put on Blue Horizon with Andy Irons and Dave Rastovich. After watching that, I realized how barreled you can get.”
“Now Tosh avoids me like the plague,” Joel says. “I don’t think he wants to be living in my shadow all the time. You have to let them spread their wings and fly a little bit. I’m sure it bummed out my dad when I didn’t want to surf with him.”
It’s our first morning in Chile and we’re standing on the bluff overlooking Punta de Lobos. The wind is howling onshore, blowing out the remnants of a dying swell. Local pro Nico Vargas pulls out his phone to show us that the wind will only increase throughout the day. Tosh shakes his finger at the forecast and says, “I don’t like that.”
Vargas pulls up a video of a surfer locked into a comically long tube reeling down a sand-bottom point—the kind of wave one travels to a different hemisphere to surf. He says the clip was shot the day before and that we would’ve been in the water during that session if our flight hadn’t been delayed. The news sends Tosh, whose only goal in life at the moment is to get barreled deeply, into a tailspin. He takes a moment, breaks from the huddle, rests his head on our rental car’s window, and rallies his optimism.
Vargas suggests we head a few hours south. Tosh rejoins the group.
“Wild animals gotta eat,” he says. “Surfers gotta get tubed.”
He’s full of one-liners capable of lifting the lowest morale. We load up and hit the road.
After a few days of fun but inconsistent point surf, we’re standing on a stretch of beach watching 3-foot shorebreak unload on black sand. The lack of swell has brought us here, searching for something rideable. Tosh’s enthusiasm seems curbed. He’s lamenting to Quintal about the trip being a bust. Quintal tells him to cheer up, that it’s impossible to score all the time.
A stray dog gallops up the beach toward us. He’s a big boy. There’s definitely some Saint Bernard dominating his suicide mix of DNA. His long tongue dangles out of the side of his drooling jowl and his tail wags as he circles us. His collar reads, “Vivo en la playa.”
“Are you a good-smelling dog or a bad-smelling dog?” Tosh asks as he sticks out his hand, allowing the mutt to sniff it before he pets him. The good boy seems clean enough and brushes against him, relishing the attention. Tosh looks back out to sea as he pats the mutt on the head. A shoulder-high set rolls in and closes out. Tosh sighs and looks down at the dog, who’s now pissing on his corduroy pant leg.
“What the hell!” Tosh yells as he jumps away.
Quintal and I laugh as the dog runs off sheepishly, tongue still dangling, tail still wagging.
Vargas tells Tosh that it’s good luck when a stray dog pisses on you in Chile. Tosh ain’t buying it.
A few minutes later, New Jersey surfer Pat Schmidt—who has traveled with us as part of our nine-pack—comes sprinting around a dune, out of breath and screaming.
“Perfect right wedge,” he says. “Two coves up…grab the boards…we’re out there.”
Everyone seems skeptical and moves slowly until Pat pulls out his phone and hits play. The huddle breaks instantly after watching a barrel spit.
The wedge has a little side wave that refracts off of a boulder before doubling up into a tube—which the crew backdoors until nightfall.
On a fall morning, Tosh pulls into Seaside Reef’s parking lot. At any given hour of daylight, the wave is occupied by groms hell-bent on chucking air reverses on stickered-up thrusters while their parents film from the beach. It’s also known for Rob Machado, who, at 49, still sets the style bar as he elegantly rips the place apart daily.
Within the last decade-plus, Seaside’s simultaneously been a hub for radical experimentation—as seen by Ryan Burch and friends pushing design boundaries with asymmetrical crafts and on finless chunks of foam. This has all been in Tosh’s influential sphere, since his dad started dropping him off here every day on his way to Cardiff.
The surf is small today, but an inside sandbar is producing a little left. Due to the high tide, Seaside is the only game in town, and the crowd is at capacity. Tosh grabs “Sour Patch Watermelon Kid,” his pink-and-green 5’5″ winged diamondtail twin-fin, shaped by Australia’s Thomas Bexon, and paddles out.
A middle-aged man with neck tattoos and multiple curved barbells puncturing each ear is loudly singing Madness’ 1982 hit “Our House” as he paddles around the chaotic lineup, staring down everyone in his path. “It’s so great to finally be out of prison,” he’ll occasionally stop to yell. It’s an obvious intimidation tactic and it’s working. The sea of kids parts when the faux ex-con swings for a wave.
Tosh laughs at the shenanigans while politely greeting friends and strangers. A bodysurfer pops up like a seal next to him. “Hey, Tosh, I heard you’re surfing in the Pipe Masters,” he says, a rumor that turns out to be true. They make small talk before the bodysurfer kicks into a wave.
A head-high peak rolls toward Tosh. The scrum from the wave before it has left everyone out of position, and there’s not a single shoulder-dropper lurking down the line. He turns and goes, tucks into a barrel, comes out, and does a smooth wraparound. He gets a few more waves and surfs them cleanly in the pocket, nothing forced or overpowered.
After the session, we hop into his white Ford Transit Connect, named Roller Toaster “because it’s kinda shaped like a toaster,” and head to Cardiff to eat. Boards bump together in his backseat, which is actually just a lawn chair wedged into the car. His sound system, a Bluetooth speaker tethered to a carabiner attached to the ceiling, sways as we merge onto Pacific Coast Highway.
Over sandwiches at Seaside Market, he tells me that this is more or less his daily program. “I wake up and check the waves,” he says. “If it’s fun for longboarding, I call all my friends. If it’s barreling, I don’t tell anybody.”
I ask him if he thinks he’d be pounding nails, as Joel suggested he might, if he didn’t surf.
“Nah,” he answers. “I was into acting when I was younger, so I’d probably be pursuing that. Making little sketch-comedy skits is so fun for me. My mom used to do some acting when she was younger. She put me in drama classes at school. I enjoy performing. I had a big part in this murder-mystery play. I had this big first act and then got killed. Then I had to chill on the stage, dead, for the rest of the play. That was my big role. I wish I could remember the name of that play…” He takes a bite of his sandwich.
His answer makes sense. Tosh’s been known to fearlessly hop on the mic when a karaoke machine is present, and he’s naturally charismatic. “My mom’s a very social person,” he says, “and I’m a very social person as well. She’s definitely influenced me to have a positive outlook and broad perspective on life.”
About halfway through our meal, the faux ex-con from our session sits down at the table next to us and tears into a BBQ sandwich. We say “What’s up?” and ask him if he got any good ones.
“Fuck yeah, I got my waves,” he says as he fist bumps his friend with a Mjölnir necklace, who’s actually way more convincing as an ex-con. “I always get my waves,” he adds. “Seaside is my house. Has been since I was 6 years old.”
In a Dickensian way, this guy is the Seaside Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come for the army of cloned groms out there today. Tosh is on a different path.
We finish our lunch and walk to Resin Craft Surf Shop, where he meets up with friends for a second session.
BACK ON TRACK
It’s our last night in Chile. The table in our villa is littered with neon plastic wrappers of junk food—Kuky ChipChipers and Pingüinos, which are basically Little Debbies’ Latin American cousins. As usual, Tosh is holding court, telling us about his worst wipeouts at Pipe with a cheek full of chocolate cake, frosting, and marshmallow.
He’s also DJing, thanks to a speaker synced to his phone. Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” concludes and Ashanti’s “Foolish” starts, a range as wide as Tosh’s wave-riding preferences. Between songs, he checks the forecast for Malibu. It looks prime for logging, and he’s texting all his friends. He’s arranged for Saxon Wilson to pick him up at LAX in the Roller Toaster with his longboard. They’ll hit In-N-Out, then go straight to the ’Bu.
“I don’t eat fast food often,” he says, “but when I get back in the States I like to have a burger first thing. It gets me back on track.”
We gather for breakfast the next morning. Tosh is at one end of the dining table and Quintal is at the other. Our host serves us fresh scrambled eggs, toast, and pressed passion-fruit juice. The mood is light as we make small talk about yesterday’s session. There’s an air of gratitude present.
“I need to not worry about being on the best barrels all the time,” Tosh says with a thousand-mile stare.
All cross talk stops.
“I’m always stressing about being at the best spots on the best swells,” Tosh continues in soliloquy. “I need to just try to enjoy wherever I’m at.”
There’s a long pause while Tosh continues to stare dead ahead in deep thought, holding a gaze that seems to pierce right through Quintal.
Quintal turns his head, trying to see if there’s someone standing behind him.
Silence. There’s no one there.
“Tosh!” Quintal yells. “Who the hell are you talking to?”
Tosh snaps out of it and laughs too.
[Feature Image Caption: A modern approach under multigenerational influence—all rolled into a Backdoor tube. Photo by Shane Grace]