Just Like Heaven

A film companion to TSJ 32.1’s “A Fish of Turquoise Water: A Profile of William Aliotti.”

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Photographer and filmmaker Manuel Claudeville Morell introduced William Aliotti to a board made by Ryan Lovelace, who’d come over to shape in France. “It was a twin fish, a 5’3″—a pretty classic, old-school fish,” says Lovelace. “Manuel was doing a surf photography project, and one day he got William to ride that board just for shits and giggles. The first photos I saw of William on one of my boards, he was 5 feet up in the air on a chunky little twin-fin.”

There was an alchemy between surfer, shaper, and filmmaker—all of them artists, masters of their craft—that spawned a new William Aliotti. The supernatural air man and vortex shaman remained, but now there he was, riding unconventional designs in unexpected places and doing unbelievably radical things while making them look fun and almost doable. 

“Following a decline in our interest in academic surfing, and in a desire to keep surfing untamed, creative, and fun, we looked for ways to make William’s surfing more transgressive and offbeat,” said Claudeville Morell in a piece about the origin of Aliotti’s fish program. “This is how we turned to twins. William and I are convinced that the little twins and, more precisely, fishes are a card to play.”

The first hand they played was, sensibly, at Desert Point in Lombok. If there’s a wave to test both a rider and a board, Deserts—fast, consistent, consequential—will immediately reveal if a flaw exists in either element. So, they headed down there to meet a 10- to 12-foot swell.

“The board looked incongruous in the middle of all the performance thrusters and other mini guns brought out for the occasion,” said Claudeville Morell. “Then William takes off and everyone on shore is watching. He drives his board from tube to tube, backdooring the sections at full speed. He finds ways to turn the smallness and compactness into an advantage. And the ultimate is the board’s tendency to force its way to elegance.”

At the same time, there were finless experiments. On Aliotti’s feed, Lovelace’s asymmetric Rabbits Foot began appearing in increasingly odd places. There was sizable, onshore El Quemao in the Canaries, and there was small but thick Teahupoo. 

“It was the perfect day for it,” Aliotti tells me about the Tahiti experiment. “Now that I’ve tried it, I can see we can do more there.” 

Speed seems to be a common denominator, no matter where he is or what equipment he’s riding. On twin-fins in particular, there also seems to be another factor that surfaces in his clips, an additional element that makes them so shareable and relatable. 

“There was one clip that I saw during our first year of messing around together,” says Lovelace. “I could tell he was so heavily enjoying himself in the water. And that’s a stupid cliché, but it really is a joy to watch him surf, and I think that’s what a lot of people are connecting with. He’s doing stuff that we cannot relate to as surfers, but he’s doing it with such ease and happiness that you can attach yourself to it in some way.”

The engagement on one Instagram post, in May 2021, was instructive to Aliotti, he tells me. It centered on a wave at Pavones, the long, roping left in Costa Rica. In the footage, there’s no barrel or air—just 26 seconds of speed sensationalism, a highline held forever as Aliotti stands tall and relaxed at Mach 2. When a section pops up, he flies around it, or, as the lip crumbles for yards ahead of him, over it, moving so fast that he’s toying with the coping for an age before dropping down, swooping into a pulled-out bottom turn again, and back onto his high-speed highline. 

That’s all. But views and shares went through the roof. 

“Top to bottom, top to bottom gets boring,” Aliotti reminds me.

[Excerpted from TSJ 32.1’s “A Fish of Turquoise Water.” To read the full feature, click here to pick up a copy.]

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