By Jon Coen
Where's Wardo? We may have found him
2/9/12: Yesterday at the ASP Prime Hang Loose Pro in Cacimba Do Padre, Brazil, Chris Ward nailed a 9.63 and an 8.47 to advance to round three on a left and right barrel, respectively. That in and of itself is not a particular newsworthy event. However, this is Chris Ward, a surfer who, a few years ago, could have easily slipped into post surf-star obscurity.
Thanks to videos, Ward was the hotter than a black sand beach in the mid-90s. At that time, his board sponsor, Lost, would have been a skyrocketing stock, but wasn't a publicly traded company — unless you count trading six packs for boardshorts. Today, Lost is once again an independent enterprise. The two depend on each other a lot. Some might call Lost a NOFX in an MGMT world, but they've relaunched a new look and never given up on Ward. And suddenly, Ward's sitting at No. 9 on the ASP's World ratings.
Now, granted, the 2012 season is young. Once the Australian leg kicks off, the Jamie O'Briens and Flynn Novak specialists are going to fall out of the Top 100 faster than Matt Biolas can whip out a 5' 5″ fish. But Ward is now on his third event of the year. He nailed an equal 13 in China, started out the Volcom Pipeline Pro with three 9-plus-point barrels in his heat and forged on to the round of 32. Now he's throwing down big scores in Brazil.
We're all aware of the Chris Ward story. As a teenager, he was the guy — the literal posterboy for progression with style. Ward was launching on wider board, showing bad contest judgment, and missing heats way before it was fashionable. There was his shining World Tour debut at Snapper Rocks in 2005 and Pipe final with Slater in 2008. But there were also hangovers, bad decisions, rolled renal cars, skipped events, and his fall from the World Tour.
Then there was the ugly little 2008 snowboard girl incident (the incident was ugly, no word on the girls) outside the Whiskey Creek Bar at Mammouth Mountain. News of the altercation spread like herpes around the action sports world. Ward was up to renew his contracts with DVS and Oakley that year, and neither company kept him on their team. But when all was said and done, all Ward was really found guilty of in court was a misdemeanor. He was fined $200 and community service.
In the few short years since Chris Ward's departure from the elite ranks, a lot has changed in professional surfing. Today there are waves of take-no-prisoner Brazilians, more demanding schedules, Instagrams, million-dollar contracts from big box retailers, drug tests, and
postural alignment exercises. While certain elements within surfing have strived to raise its stature in the world of sports, Chris Ward could care less.
So how's a forgetful, non-Twittering, party hardy air guy who doesn't use an exercise ball supposed to hang?
“He's on a regiment of six to eight hours in the water a day, no matter the conditions,” says Lost owner, Mike Reola. “He's focused right now. He feels like he surfs his best when he hits rock bottom. And there are only a handful of guys in the world that are as comfortable as he is in 8-foot barrels. He thinks he's going to requalify. And there are enough Prime events at real waves that he can get the seven results needed to do it.”
Part of the reason may be out of neccesity. Ward probably isn't the type to transition to a desk job in the marketing department. According to Lost, Ward supports his two kids, his parents and has a hefty mortgage. Any contest earnings help crack that nut each month. The ASP Primes pay better these days and he's been doing local events like Volcom's VQS Seaslug and even the Cosmic Creek Challenge to pay the bills.
“When we were rebuilding Lost (after seperating from US clothing licensee, La Jolla Sports) we had to explain to him that we couldn't pay him as much as we had, so he had to win some events. I think doing all these contests helps him stay out of trouble — and by that I just mean anything to distract him from surfing or putting on 20 pounds that might give a little advantage to a competitor. He's had a lifetime of surfing some of these spots now and he's really tough to beat,” added Reola.
So, clearly he is hanging. Don't forget he made the finals of the Pipe Pro in 2011. His post-heat interviews are brutal, but his talent in the water can't be denied.
“I started (the Brazil) heat off pretty slow, and it seemed like there weren't going to be many waves,” Ward told the ASP on Thursday, “I saw Filipe (Toledo) catch a good righthander and I paddled over to where he was and that's when I got that nice 8.47. After that, a left came in and I almost didn't paddle into it. It looked like it was a close-out, but I dropped in, waited, the barrel opened up and I came out. It was a long tube ride and I was stoked for getting a 9.63.”
He may have broke onto the scene as a San Clemente air kid, but now he's a 33 year-old veteran of critical barrels. Ward won the round of 24 repercharge heat, but then lost to Ricardo Dos Santos by less than a point in the quarterfinals. Let's see if this throwback to the days of Randal can hang in today's ultra-professional environment. And a little NOFX is fine with me.