Lots of great barrels get ridden by lots of people in lots of video edits, but each year there are a handful of faces that tend to find more shade than the rest. These are the tube-riding elite, the select few who have dedicated themselves to chasing the best waves on the planet whenever they break, and who have the skills to back up the stamps in their passports.
The tube time that Koa racks up at Skeleton Bay alone is enough to cement his place on this list, but the fact that he chases barrels full-time the 360 days per year that Namibia doesn’t have swell puts him in another category altogether.
Forecast: Skeleton Bay
Recent scores include Oaxaca and the South Pacific, but if you know Koa, you know that it’s the waves you don’t see that really up his barrel count. From secret spots to the world’s most infamous lineups, if it’s hollow, Koa is probably there—and probably killing it.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a guy who surfed more big barrels in 2018/19 than Nathan Florence. While the heavy-water world is typically broken into two groups—those who chase tubes and those who chase bombs—Florence chases both at the same time, chucking himself into dark oblivion and laughing all the way to the shoulder.
He’s packed kegs at Puerto, Pipe, Teahupoo, Cloudbreak, Peahi, and Shipstern’s Bluff over the past 12 months. And in between XL swells, he’s been searching new, off-the-radar zones like the Galapagos Islands for slabs. If there’s a mullet out there that has been shampooed by more oversized chandeliers than Nathan Florence’s, we sure can’t think of it.
Nic Von Rupp
The other contender for the most-barrelled big wave guy, Nic Von Rupp has been on an absolute tear as of late—which should come as no surprise to anyone who follows him, since he’s been on that same program for years. The undisputed king of European froth, Nic chases tubes all over the Old Continent, from his home in Portugal to the beasts of Ireland and beyond.
His edits are beautifully composed tube fests from start to finish, featuring performance surfing in throaty slabs from 2 feet to 20. He also led the goofy-footed assault at the Maverick’s left this past winter, paddling what should arguably have been a Big Wave Awards Ride of the Year finalist.
Did you watch Jack Robinson’s heat when the Margaret River Pro relocated to The Box? Do you realise that he lives a stone’s throw from that wave, and a short drive from dozens of other mental, WA tubes?
Have you seen him at Padang Padang and Teahupoo and everywhere else that’s heavy and hollow? Do you acknowledge that, with John John sidelined by injury, Jack Robinson is currently the best regular footed barrel rider on the planet? Do you have any doubt that he’s one of the most barrelled people of all time, let alone this year?
Keahi De Aboitiz
If you haven’t heard of Keahi, that’s because you haven’t been chasing the right swells. A four-time kiteboarding world champ, Keahi is a talent on just about anything he puts under his feet.
A glance at his Instagram feed reveals mind-blowing clips of backside SUP foamball rides at Cloudbreak, lines-through-the-lip Namibian kite rides, and endless fun on a foil board—hell, he even kite-towed Matt Bromley into a wave at Skeleton Bay last week.
No matter how weird or alternative it is, the affable Australian can do it, but when the waves get really good, he surfs shortboards like the rest of us—only way better. From cyclone swells on the Gold Coast and month-long residencies in Fiji to a winter-time base on the North Shore and strike trips to certain righthand sand points, Keahi snags the wave of the day on a daily basis. As painful as it might be for a lot of us to admit, it’s time to give credit where credit is due—a kite geek is one of the world’s most barrelled surfers.
South Africa’s premier tube hound, Benji Brand has been solidly on the hunt over the past year. After his first trip to Namibia in 2017, it seems like something clicked inside of him—or maybe we just started paying closer attention. Hawaii, South Africa, Namibia (again, and then again)—basically anywhere that is six- to eight-foot and draining is Benji’s domain.
Each year there’s a guy who you want to see boarding your flight—whose presence confirms that you are in the right place at the right time—and this year that guy is Benji.
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