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Long Beach Magazine

Big-wave surfer Will Skudin a ‘pioneer’ among the pros

Long Beach resident inducted to iconic surfing Wall of Fame in Portugal

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After just missing out on his chance to re-qualify for this year’s World Surf League’s elite Big Wave Tour, Long Beach’s Will Skudin is even more determined to ride his way back to the top.

The professional big-wave surfer was nominated in April for the WSL’s prestigious 2019 Big Wave Awards Men’s Best Overall Performance of the Year, which gave the veteran surfer a chance to reclaim a position representing the U.S. on a world tour he has had a permanent spot in since 2017. The awards determine which competitors will earn an entry on the tour for the 2019-20 season.

Considered the best big-wave rider from the East Coast, Will, who is sponsored by Hurley, was named first alternate for the 2019-20 Big Wave World Tour after missing it by one spot at the Big Wave Awards in Los Angeles on May 2. 

“It has made me more motivated than ever before,” said Skudin. “It’s re-inspired me.”

This year’s Big Wave Awards came three years after Skudin made history as the first East Coast surfer to be nominated for the WSL’s Best Overall Performance honor. He said receiving a nomination alone was no easy feat.

“It’s a very hard list to make it onto,” said Skudin, who became the first surfer from the Northeast to clinch a spot on the tour in 2017. “You have to be on the biggest and best waves to be on this list.”

Skudin made a huge mark on the Big Wave Tour as an alternate when he ranked eighth in the world at the end of the 2016-17 season. His first official year on the Big Wave Tour ended prematurely when he severely lacerated his leg after wiping out on a 40-foot wave in late 2017. Still, he was able to return to the 2018-19 world tour as an “injury wildcard” competitor.

The next Big Wave Tour kicks off on Oct. 15 and runs through March 2020. As an alternate, Skudin will have to be constantly primed to travel all over the world in tour spots scheduled for Portugal, Hawaii and California. He will need to be ready on a 72-hour notice in order to have adequate time to cross the globe should an injury occur among the competitors.

“You never know when you are going to get that call,” said Skudin, who was named Eastern Surf Magazine’s 2013 Surfer of the Year, the first New Yorker to earn the coveted title. “You have to be on your toes.”

While gearing up for potential calls to WSL Big Wave Tour events this fall, the longtime Long Beach resident is enjoying his other role teaching the sport he loves at Skudin Surf, which he co-owns with his brother, Cliff. The duo also run Surf for All, a local nonprofit that provides surfing opportunities and events for children and adults with disabilities. This year also marked the tenth anniversary of NYSEA’s New York Surf Week — which features surfing and skating competitions, charity events and more — an event Skudin founded in honor of his friend, the late George “Geeza” Geiser, a local surfing legend. 

And Skudin’s legendary career tackling the world’s biggest waves and contributions to the sport now has a permanent etching at surfing’s most historic landmarks. In May, the Fort of São Miguel Arcanjo museum in Nazaré, Portugal, added one of Skudin’s iconic boards to a permanent "Wall of Fame" display recognizing the top big-wave surfers from around the globe. The museum is situated along North Beach, a seaside town famous for generating some of the world’s tallest, most monstrous waves.

Skudin’s journey of catching the big waves of Nazaré first began in 2013. In 2015, he paddled into and caught one of the biggest waves ever recorded at Nazaré — about 60-feet tall — and survived one of the gnarliest wipeouts of his life.

Skudin wrote for the museum display, “Nazaré is a magic place. It’s one of the scariest lineups on the planet that has given me the highest of highest and the lowest of lows. It’s the gladiator pit of big-wave surfing. Honored to be a part of such an amazing community. Most of all, I love the local people and good vibes.” 

At the ceremony, Nazaré Mayor Walter Chicharro described Skudin as “one of the pioneer surfers on the North Beach.”

Skudin said he is aiming for a chance to reach even bigger heights as a professional surfer.

“This 2019-2020 season, I am going to focus on more training and tap into my past experiences,” he said. “I’m not slowing down – I just want to be more calculated in my approach this year.”