Saturday, Aug. 4, 2007 | San Diego native Joel Tudor has been surfing the breaks from Imperial Beach to Oceanside since the age of five. He’s also taken his trademark loose, new-meets-old-school style all around the world, gaining the reputation as one of the best surfers California has ever produced.
Tudor won the Association of Surfing Professionals world longboard championships twice — in 1998 and 2004. These days, as well as surfing, he’s an avid ju-jitsu enthusiast and travels the country competing. He’s also just become a dad, and when we sat down with him, he was potty training his son, Tosh, who just turned two and a half.
We asked Tudor about his travels, his accomplishments, his fame and where he hates surfing in San Diego.
You’ve been spending a lot of time out of town — New York, Middle America, all over. What’s the deal?
I’m at a point in my life where I’ve just traveled everywhere. I did all these exotic locations at such a young age and I just thought I wanted to see a little bit of America, I wanted to see the vast majority of our country, so that I can have an idea of where I live. All I knew was California, and I thought “I want to get out and see the Americas.” So I did.
Where exactly did you go?
I just drove cross country. I didn’t do a whole lot of stopping. I hate to say this and sound like a snobby Californian, but there ain’t shit to see between here and New York.
And did you live in New York, for a while?
Off and on. I’ve been visiting there for 12 years. I’d go there for a month, or a couple of weeks.
What’s the attraction? What’s a surfer doing in New York?
You know, it’s odd. For a lot of people, they take their vacations to exotic places, to get away, where there’s not a lot of people. But, in New York, for me, that’s where I get away because there’s so much happening. Nobody could care about me or my problems or anything. There’s not enough time to give a shit, so in a way it’s kind of an escape.
You’re surrounded by tons of people, but nobody cares. It’s great.
You’re obviously very well known in San Diego, and in California in general, but how well-recognized would you be, for example, if we went 50 miles east?
Fifty miles east? I doubt I’d be recognized. But it depends. Now, through ju-jitsu, I’ve become friends with so many people through the competing that I have friends all throughout the United States, so I’ve got that thing going.
You recently became a dad. How are you going to approach balancing your son’s desire to do what he wants to do as he grows older and the pressure that might be put on him to become a surfer and to follow in your footsteps?
He’s going to be whatever he wants to be. I’ll probably be the kind of dad who hides all of his accomplishments.
But they’ll be pretty hard to hide …
Yeah, they’ll be hard to hide, but I don’t ever want him living in any kind of a shadow. He’s his own person.
When do you decide when you are going to wear a leash?
There’s really only a handful of places that call for that.
If the waves get really big, and, say, I’m surfing La Jolla Cove, then I’ll wear a leash. If there’s a big swell and it’s high tide at WindanSea, then I’ll wear a leash — that’s a no-brainer. If it’s a sandy beach, I’m not putting a cord on — that’s pointless.
But anywhere that your board’s going to get destroyed … I went through the macho thing at an early age, and I’m not sacrificing any more boards for macho points. I’ll put a leash on now if it calls for it.
What do you think are the five worst places to surf in San Diego?
Coronado — for consistency of waves; Ocean Beach Pier; the Carlsbad area; Imperial Beach — because of the water quality and Cherry Hill in Solana Beach.
These are the last few spots that you can really go to and guarantee that you’re not going to see anyone surfing.
To what extent, do you think, do you have to learn the basics — the muscle memory for example — from a very young age in order to really excel in surfing?
It just depends on the person and how talented they are. Some people just have natural capabilities, some people have none. Some people have been surfing for 30 years and still can’t surf, and they never really learned it.
That just goes to show you that it’s got nothing to do with your level, it’s how much fun you’re having. If you’re not good at it and you’re still doing it after 30 years … you know what I mean? The people I’m referring to — it’s like, they’re still out there every day. So it really doesn’t matter if you never become the best or whatever, everybody reaps the same benefits.
What happens when you’re no longer making money from surfing, what’s next?
Well, I opened a store in Japan 10 years ago. It’s been there for a decade, I’ve got a wetsuit company over there, I’ve got the surfboards. (Tudor runs a surfboard company.)
And I’ve been pretty smart with what little money I have made. I put a lot of it in real estate. It’s all a matter of investing wisely. Some people have tons of money and they don’t have anything.
What’s the heaviest situation you’ve ever been in while surfing?
When I was 16, I went to Indonesia on a boat trip, which was really extravagant to do that at that time. We were surfing outside of Bali and we just got in this really crazy accident and a bunch of people died.
We were on the boat and we hit another boat in the middle of the night. We were on a 60-foot boat and we hit an 11-foot boat. We cut their boat to pieces and a whole lot of people on it too.
But I’ve been in all kinds of situations. Being in Hawaii, I’ve seen people drown. I’ve seen all kinds of stuff.
But that just goes with the territory. In surfing, some people die when it’s two feet and some people die when it’s 20 feet. Some people drown at Scripps. It’s nothing to do with the big waves it’s just the mistakes you make. It’s just like driving a car — everyone’s seen a fatal car accident. You spend enough time in the water and you’ll see all sorts of things.
Do you think that traveling surfers are good ambassadors for Western culture?
It depends on the person. But I think, yeah, the majority of the time most people who surf are pretty well reserved. Definitely, we should be, and I hope we all are, environmentally conscious. We have to be — we’re surfers. Even though we ride toxic surfboards, we have to care about the ocean to some extent.
Also, I think people, in general, that spend their life around the water, have a quality about them that other people can benefit from. They have the knowledge of their environment and their surroundings — more than someone that’s just landlocked in the middle of nowhere who watches Fox News all day. You have a perspective and an outlook on life that’s just refreshing.