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Thicker Than Water

With camera in hand, photographer Justin Jay earned his way into the tight-knit (and often impenetrable) world of professional surfing. Here, he offers an intimate glimpse at the world’s best, as captured in their natural habitats.

Bruce Irons savors an underwater moment.

Dylan Graves mixes work and pleasure.

Rob Machado shows off his skills.

Kelly Slater and Eddie Vedder

Joel Parkinson and his son, Mahli

BRUCE IRONS
Age: 33
Hometown: Kauai, Hawaii
Bragging Rights: Xcel Pro—Sunset (1999); HIC Pipeline Pro (2001); Xbox Pipeline Masters (2001); Gotcha Pipeline Pro (2002); Eddie Aikau (2004); WCT Rookie of the Year (2004); Mr. Price Pro, South Africa (2005); WCT Rip Curl Pro, Indonesia (2008)
Sponsors: Fox, Oakley, Nixon, Dakine
Favorite Wave: Mexico; 8- to 10-foot waves, wedging sandbar and no one’s out
Top Surf Movie: Wave Warriors 3: Astrodeck
Boards: JS 5'11, 8 1/4, 2 1/4, 3 fin/ Stretch 5'7, quad fin
Favorite Place to Surf: Kauai, because it’s home
Close Call: In Fiji, the wave on the red board—closest I have ever come to blacking out and not coming up
If I Weren’t a Pro Surfer I’d Be: A tractor operator or an owner of a charter fishing boat
When I’m Surfing: I am at ease.

DYLAN GRAVES
Age: 27
Hometown: Isabela, Puerto Rico
Bragging Rights: I recently did my first World Qualifying Series (WQS) event at my hometown here in Jobos after not competing for a year. I ended up getting fourth.
Sponsors: Vans, Electric, Skullcandy and Freak Traction
Favorite Wave: I just had an amazing time in Mexico recently with two of my buddies from home, Brian Toth and Alejandro Moreda. I grew up with both of these guys and we hadn’t been on a trip together in a while, so it was insane to just hang and surf with my buddies regardless of how the surf was—although we ended up getting superfun waves!
Top Surf Movie: 5'5” 19 1/4
Boards: I actually just ordered one with those dimensions ’cause I am so fired up on the movie.
Favorite Place to Surf: Anywhere in the Caribbean.
Close Call: I almost drowned when I was 7 or 8; I got stuck in a rip and got sucked way out and my older brother, who was 9 or 10 at the time, swam out and saved me.
If I Weren’t a Pro Surfer
I’d Be: If I was 18 again
and didn’t have surfing in my
life I would want to study
to be a scientist and have my own lab.

MARK CUNNINGHAM
Age: 57
Hometown: Honolulu and Haleiwa. Not sure if I’m bi-coastal or bipolar. Both?
Bragging Rights: My first bodysurfing win at Pipeline
was while I was in high school close to 40 years ago. I think I got lucky about seven or eight years back and won my most recent.
Sponsors: Nixon, Quiksilver Waterman, Vertra Sunscreen and DaFin
Favorite Wave: Ehukai Beach Park (on the North Shore of Oahu). I fell in love with it in high school, lived and/or lifeguarded there for just about 20 years, and I’m still drawn to it like a moth to a flame. On one side is this fun little wave called Pipeline (you may have heard of it) and on the other is Pupukea and Gas Chambers. In between is this incredibly dynamic sandbar that is changing every day and is just so goddamn fun to swim and bodysurf on. Whales are spouting and jumping offshore, rainbows go blowing down the coast like clockwork, kids are surfing, playing and having the times of their lives, the best surfers in the world are giving it their best shot, and the year-round residents walk around with big sh*t-eating smirks on their faces, knowing how fortunate they are to live there. Oh, and did I mention a United Nation of beautiful women, whose bathing suits seem to be getting smaller every year, promenading from dawn till sundown? Did I mention the sunsets? It’s not just a wave—it’s a community.
Top Surf Movie: The animated Surf’s Up is absolutely brilliant and at the top of my list.
Favorite Place Surf: If not Ehukai/Pipeline, then I’d have to say Tavarua in Fiji. The water is warmer than in Hawaii; a couple of world-class waves, insane sunsets and the Fijians are some of the most friendly people in the world.
Close Calls: Knock on wood, not too many for me personally. As a career lifeguard, I certainly saw my share. Neither of which I will dwell on.
If I Weren’t a Pro Surfer I’d Be: I’m not a “pro surfer”—I’m a retired Hawaiian lifeguard and damn proud of it. I feel like the luckiest guy in the world for the path I chose and the life I’ve had.

STEPH GILMORE
Age: 25
Hometown: Rainbow Bay, Australia
Bragging Rights: 16 Elite Tour Victories; reigning World Champion
Sponsors: Quiksilver, Nikon, Sanitarium
Favorite Wave: I really enjoy surfing a wave in Micronesia called Palikir Pass, because when the conditions come together it’s the most perfect tube, so the ride is easy—you just relax and enjoy.
Top Surf Movie: Enjoy the Ride
Board: Mark Richards “Lighting Bolt” single fin
Favorite Place to Surf: Mainland Mexico. It’s stinking hot, the waves are fun and margaritas are tasty.
Close Calls: Anytime I drive on the 405 in California I feel like I’m dancing with death.
If I Weren’t a Pro Surfer I’d Be: Wishing I was a professional surfer.
When I’m Surfing: There is no future or past; I am purely in the moment.

QUINCY DAVIS
Age: 17
Hometown: Montauk, N.Y.
Bragging Rights: Volcom Championships
Sponsors: Volcom, Oakley
Favorite Wave: My hometown, Montauk, by the cliffs. I love surfing with all my friends from home in the fall, when the summer crowds clear out.
Top Surf Movie: I guess Endless Summer. My dad made me watch it; he said it’s a classic and I love the poster art. I should probably watch more surf movies.
Board: Channel Islands
Favorite Place to Surf: Maldives—so beautiful!
If I Weren’t a Pro Surfer I’d Be: A fashion designer, because I love clothes and dressing up. I just did a little capsule collection with Volcom and it was so much fun to work with their team on fabric choices, patterns and trends.

DEREK DUNFEE
Age: 30
Hometown: La Jolla, Calif.
Bragging Rights: XXL Paddle In winner at Mavericks (2009); Surfer poll worst wipeout award (2010)
Sponsors: Volcom, Nixon, Crap Eyewear, Saint Archer Brewery
Favorite Wave: Mavericks or Peahi (“jaws” on Maui). I’ve had the best experiences of my life at these spots and also almost drowned numerous times. The two best waves of my life were at these spots: I caught a wave at Mavericks in 2009 that won me the XXL Paddle In award. I got tubed on a wave at Peahi this year—that was one of my biggest life goals.  
Top Surf Movie: The Bruce Movie
Boards: 10'0 Stu Kenson (my magic lucky big wave board); 10'0 Pat Curren; 7'3 self-shape great white model; 6'3 Jeff Mccallum ODB
Close Call: I almost had a three-wave hold-down at Cortes Bank this year. I would have drowned if I didn’t have my Shane Dorian rescue suit. I broke my leash and was floating out for a few minutes before anyone could find me in all the whitewater. Shawn Dollar rescued me; if he hadn’t I’m certain I would have been swimming for a few hours.
If I Weren’t a Pro Surfer I’d Be: I have been working on some photography and short film projects. My twin brother works closely with Mark Oblow and I’d love to work on some photo jobs with them.

Oliver Kurtz
Age: 22
Hometown: Vero Beach, Fla.
Sponsors: Brixton, Rockstar Energy, Electric, SOL Republic, Sharp Eye Surfboards, Creatures of Leisure
Favorite Wave: Pipeline (off the North Shore of Oahu. The amount of time you have to put out in the lineup to catch a good one, mixed with the deadliness of the wave plus a tropical setting in the middle of the Pacific, makes it a really dreamy place to paddle out.
Top Surf Movie: Montaj
Board: My OK model with Sharp Eye Surfboards. It’s a 6'0 x 18.4 x 2.4 squash tail with glassons.
Favorite Place to Surf: Miami Beach, Fla.
Close Calls: Every time I drive on a freeway in California
If I Weren’t a Pro Surfer I’d Be: A professional tennis player.

YADIN “YADES” NICOL
Age: 27
Hometown: Margaret River, Australia
Bragging Rights: Have yet to win a comp but I’ve come pretty close a couple times. I’m good for a second.
Sponsors: Hurley, Rockstar Energy, Globe, Smith, G-Shock, CI Surfboards
Favorite Wave: North Point. It’s a wave that I grew up on. It has everything.
Top Surf Movie: Loose Change
Board: Anything from Channel Islands
Favorite Place to Surf: Home
Close Call: There’s been a few times where I didn’t think I was coming up, but nothing too life-threatening.
If I Weren’t a Pro Surfer I’d Be: A golfer

DAVID RASTOVICH

Age: 33
Hometown: Northern Rivers, Australia
Bragging Rights: Co-operation, not competition, seems more fun and progressive to me.
Sponsors: Billabong, Electric, Sanuk, Sticky Bumps, Formula Energy surfboards
Favorite Wave: At 2 in the morning under a full moon. I just bodysurfed a point break where I live; that was my last session in the water and is doubtless a peak in my life.
Top Surf Movie: Searching for Michael Peterson and Surfing For Life, about our culture’s elders growing old gracefully
Board: Anything that floats seems to work at some point
Favorite Place to Surf: Any clean ocean that still has an intact ecosystem
Close Call: Probably bodysurfing that point the other night. There can be a lot of sharks around here and us bipedal fools have done a great job of fishing out the waters of the world, so our shark friends are getting more and more desperate for food and might just take an exploratory bite to check us out—not their fault, really, is it?
If I Weren’t a Pro Surfer I’d Be: “Professional surfer” is an oxymoron. I have yet to meet a true surfer that is truly professional. It seems hard to be both at the same time...

See more of Justin Jay's images in the digital edition of Beach!