But like to fight! “Flaming drunk, (he) stumbled over to Sam George to beat the shit out of him and had to be dragged away.”
Last week I mentioned Damien Hardman, two-time WCT champion (1987, 1991) from Narrabeen, and Filipe Toledo as the two male champions most lack big-wave credibility.
At the time, I thought Hardman and Toledo were treated more or less equally in terms of attention to their shortcomings.
If anything, I felt we had been more cruel to Toledo.
Boy was I wrong. Hardman got it a lot worse.
The opening of Damien’s first SURFER profile from 1988, written by Phil Jarratt shortly after Hardman won his first title, reads as follows:
Having never met Damien Hardman – the man who would soon become world champion – I asked about him. “He’s a bit like Simon Anderson in his approach to life,” one person said. “I suppose it’s that Narrabeen thing. But I wouldn’t put Damien in Simon’s class. He doesn’t have the brawn or the brains.” I asked someone whose opinion I respected if they thought Damien would take the title. He said: “Damien just doesn’t have the balls to go all the way.”
After Jarratt made the obvious point that Hardman had defied expectations to win the title and then highlighted the new champion’s determination and tenacity, Jarratt seems to lose interest, with vague praise over Damien’s recent championship deathmatch heat against Gary Elkerton in Manly Beach and an exit line in which Hardman promises to be a “good ambassador” for surfing. A playful and engaging writer by nature, Jarratt was clearly bored.
Ten years later, with Hardman still a contender for the world title at age 33, pop culture diva Cintra Wilson, called him the surf pro’s “evil stepfather” in their coverage of the French leg of the 1999 WCT.
A two-time former world champion and Occy’s biggest threat to this year’s championship, [Hardman] is tremendously capable but oddly cursed to be the Richard Nixon of the surfing world. He’s frozen with media unsympathy, brooding, unsympathetic, and super ambitious. He also colors the lines and collects the points by being a ruthless and precise techno-surgeon. Iceman is stone cold serious and basically impossible for teenage girls to fall in love with.
Hardman had no interest in being a surf media personality. Which makes sense given the way he was treated. It’s a chicken-or-egg question. None of the surf writers of the time overlooked the fact that Damien was from Narrabeen, that he didn’t perform in the big surf and that he was a fierce, methodical, ruthless competitor. Rarely has it been mentioned On his best days, Hardman was as smooth in the water as George Gervin was on the hardwood. Maybe we iced him, in other words, not the other way around.
In 2001, the newly retired Damien Hardman was a judge on the special event I covered, Op Pro Mentawai Islands, which ended up being my only Indo boat trip.
Sometime early in the meeting, while we were still on Sumantra, there was a short bus ride, and when I was introduced back to Hardman—we’d met a few times in the 1980s—he just nodded and looked away.
We loaded into a trio of boats, one for the six male competitors, another for the four female competitors and another for the media and judges. Damien unsurprisingly jumped off our boat and stayed with the surfers.
It was a great time.
We swam and lounged and surfed, ate well, hosted the event and stayed out there for about a week before returning to port. My two strongest memories of Damien both come from this trip.
First, one night towards the end of an all-mans party on our boat (which was the largest), Damien, dead drunk, staggered over to Sam George with intent on beating him to death and had to be dragged away.
Sam hadn’t done anything to provoke Damien. I don’t think Damien even knew who he was talking to at the moment; Sam was a high profile surf media figure, a proxy for all of us, and that was enough.
Second, Op had received some sort of Indonesian government permit that allowed us to purify the water on any break we chose. Which sounds unbelievable but was actually weird and wrong and depressing.
A couple of surfers alone out at Bank Vaults as our flotilla docked and dropped anchor on the first day of our voyage. You have been drafted. Twenty years later, I remember the looks on their faces – confusion turning to anger – and I am ashamed.
But of course that didn’t stop us, we did the same thing day after day, and so Damien Hardman and I ended up alone in the perfectly overheard surf at Macaronis.
It was the penultimate day of the trip. The competition had just ended (Mark Occhilupo and Keala Kennelly won) by which time Damien and I shot into the lineup at exactly the same moment but from different boats.
A decision had already been made to head north to catch Hollow Trees before dark and the other surfers in our party were already aboard the boats which were now idling in the Channel.
My thought was to catch a wave or two before we left. I did, but then snuck back into the lineup because if it wasn’t the absolute best surf I had ever seen, it was without question the best uncrowded surf I had ever seen.
Damien was sitting there when I got back.
We looked at each other and he wasn’t the Iceman or the two-time champion or a media-hating drunk – he was the person who could prolong that perfect moment.
A version of the same thought went through Damien’s mind: “I will if you want,” he said, or a variation of that, and over the next 20 semi-illegal minutes I caught three more waves, and maybe I’m a cheap date, but That’s how Damien Hardman warmed my heart.
(Like this? Matt Warshaw delivers a surf essay every Sunday, PST. All are a pleasure to read. Maybe it’s time to subscribe to Warshaw’s Encyclopedia of surfing, yes? Three dollars a month.)