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Surfing’s Infamous Slap and Crack Moments

A history of violence in the brine

If only Kelly Slater, who was in the Oscar’s crowd, had taken his moment and leapt to the stage to intervene before Will Smith landed a wildly swung slap on the ever-grinning face of Chris Rock. Surfing might have finally made page one of global, mainstream news. As the world debates whether Smith had acted valiantly or used unnecessary force in defence of his wife, it’s interesting to reflect on a few of surfing’s more infamous slap and crack moments.

Nat Young (the original) and Michael Hutchinson

In the year 2000, images of a bruised and beaten Nat Young were splashed across the front pages of mainstream papers after an incident involving fellow Angourie local, Michael Hutchinson. A long running feud between the two surfers erupted after Nat backhanded ‘Hutcho’s’ son. Hutcho responded with brute force in the lineup at Angourie and left Nat looking like a bruised eggplant. The two alpha males eventually buried the hatchet and Nat released a book called ‘Surf Rage’ which examined and questioned surfing’s history of violence.  

Andy Irons and Mick Campbell                     

Andy was far from happy after losing a heat to Campbell. As the two showered in the competitor’s area, he launched a barrage of verbal abuse at the surfer sometimes known as the red pelt. Campbell responded with a swift and decisive punch. The blow stunned Andy who made a feeble attempt to hit Campbell with his board. Campbell copped a big fine and ultimately went on to have a few official bouts in the ring – a better way to deal with pugilistic intentions. 

Sunny Garcia and Burleigh Local

Back in 2011, Sunny Garcia was freesurfing with his son, Stone, at Burleigh while Sunny was preparing to surf in the Breaka Pro, QS event. The scaffolding was erected and it was already a contest setting. When one of the Burleigh locals started hassling Stone, who was 16 at the time, Sunny stepped in and began throwing punches and dunking the surfer. Jeremy Flores provided back-up and both surfers were eventually disqualified from the event.

Johnny Boy Gomes and Jody Cooper

Perhaps surfing’s most infamous case of surf violence. It was 1993, an era long before the WSL boldly opened up Pipeline to women. Jodie Cooper, who had always thrived in heavy waves, was freesurfing at Rocky Point when Johnny Boy Gomes took offence to her presence in the lineup. Gomes paddled up to Cooper and stated, “If you’re going to surf like a man, I’m going to treat you like a man.” He then proceeded to beat her up.

Unfortunately Cooper was in the firing line again in 2018, when Lennox Head local, Mark Thomson, held her under water at The Point. Cooper later told the court that she had feared for her life when the incident transpired. “It was quick and so violent,” she said in court. “Every time I’d come to go to the surface he’d yank my hair and push me back down again.” Thomson was eventually found guilty of assault. 

Surf folklore is littered with many more fight stories. Meanwhile, some locations around the world still cultivate an environment where violence is seen as an appropriate response, even a necessary means of regulating lineups. However, the world has moved on from such primitive approaches to dealing with the friction that will inevitably arise in the water from time to time. There is no doubt that at some point we will all feel a little feisty in the surf – that’s human. However, it’s exercising restraint and electing not to respond with violence that in fact makes you a stronger person; and probably saves you a trip to hospital or the cop shop, or both.   

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