For 30 years Tom Curren has been reluctantly thrust on a pedestal. First he was America's answer to Australian world tour dominance in the early 1980s, winning his first two world titles in '85 and '86. Then he walked away from competition life, applying his talents as a soul searching, quasi-mystic stylist that made any dog-of-a-board look amazing (in essence ushering in the retro/fish movement). Then in 1990 he came back from the brink of oblivion to win another world title, assuming the status of dark horse legend.
When asked about what makes him happiest today, his answer was simple and immediate, "Tucking my kids in at night."
He's one of those rare surfers that no matter what he does, no matter how time wears on him (he's now 48), you can't help but direct your attention his way. His style, technique and approach has inspired everyone from Kelly Slater to Mick Fanning to Dane Reynolds to thousands of "normal" surfers around the world.
And while that's all been documented, from an early age Curren had an alternate outlet. He was born with the gift of an astute ear and a natural affinity for melody. Not in love with the spotlight and somewhat introverted, like a lot of musicians, the constructs of rhythm and timing blended with spontaneous improvisation served him well as an outlet for personal expression.
"You have to start with structure, no matter if it's your bottom turn or the timing of a song," told Curren.
Banging on pots and pans to the backbeat of British invasion blues bands, even from the age of six years old, first and foremost Curren considers himself a drummer. It wasn't until his early 20s that he actually picked up a guitar. Today he's equally adept on a drum kit, a six-string, the keys, and thump out a bass line, and probably if you pressed him hard enough, could bust out a little jazz flute too. To date he's released two full-length albums, both recorded in Australia.
"That first one, I recorded in an outdoor amphitheater with some Australian jazz musicians, which was a really interesting experience," remembered Curren. "I learned a lot. And then the next one was more just songs I had written and went down there to record, kind of more of my first stab at really getting in a studio and working."
This October he will be releasing a four-song EP called "Summerland Road." The album, recorded in a Los Angeles studio this time, will come out in its entirety early next year.
"Some of these songs I've been working on for awhile, some are new," said Curren. "It's been a different experience because I had to go from my house in Santa Barbara to L.A. to work on it, I didn't have to take a 12-hour flight to get to the studio. This gave us more freedom and time to really work on things."
"It's interesting to me how surf music started with some Caribbean rhythms, then kind of went back and found roots in Africa, before coming back around full circle," noted Curren, whose wandering life has provided him with a rich tapestry of musical influences from which to draw.
After spending some time in the water with him recently and watching him last weekend at the Cosmic Creek Challenge, the man is surfing better than ever. All the style and aquatic grace is still very much intact, even if his knee does give him a bit of trouble occasionally. He still possesses that enigmatic personality that's drawn so many to him over the years. This weekend, as the ASP's Top 34 amass in Southern California for the start of the Hurley Pro, he'll be playing a couple of private gigs, slowly, quietly getting the record promotion ball rolling.
"Surfing and music, they can both be very personal things, very personal forms of expression," said Curren. "And I think you get caught in the moment with both, your mind is focused on that one thing at that one time, and for a moment it's like there's nothing else."
Besides spending time in the studio, Curren's been poking his head in at the Channel Islands factory and the two are conspiring to release a Tom Curren single-fin model in the not too distant future. He was riding one in the Maldives; six channels, glassed in fin, blue tint job, it was a nice looking piece of equipment.
"The fin made a lot more sense," said Curren, after taking a sanding block to the rails and softening the edges. Ever the tinkerer when it comes to design, he added, "It's an old trick I learned."