Surfer Prom

Kelly Slater and Alana Blanchard were voted number one by their fans.

Photo: Ross Hamamura/SONY

Once a year, the world’s best surfers get dressed up to name a King and Queen.

Surfer Poll, the annual award show put on by SURFER magazine to laud the year’s accomplishments in professional surfing, was supposed to start at 8 p.m. this past Friday. At 8:55 p.m., a voice finally comes over the loudspeaker to chastise the invitees to this invite-only event. “We cannot start until people are in their seats.”

For not the first time, the night feels like a pastiche of high school’s biggest moments—senior prom mixed with yearbook superlatives and a dash of school assembly. Most of the awards given out at Surfer Poll are voted for by readers, and, as in high school, there’s a clear link between what’s happening online and what’s happening in the real world. Here’s an example.

For the 19th year, 11-time ASP World Champion Kelly Slater was named favorite male surfer of the year by fans; Slater, 41, is an institution in modern surfing, and he has 566,920 followers on Instagram. By way of contrast, Surfer Poll’s favorite female surfer award went to first-time winner Alana Blanchard; at 23, she’s never won the tour, but she has a quarter of a million more followers than Slater.

Other award recipients were selected by SURFER magazine’s staff, including a Best Documentary award for Hawaiian: The Legend of Eddie Aikau, directed by Sam George. Accepting his award, George said the big take away from telling Eddie’s story is that surfing in Hawaii is a privilege, not a right. His gratitude for the North Shore was a common theme across the night’s acceptance speeches.

John John Florence went home with the most trophies (winning for Best Short, Best Performance, and Movie of the Year, along with being voted second in the favorite male surfer poll), but the big winner of the night was Dustin Barca and the anti-GMO lobby Hawaii Seed. Accepting the Agent of Change award for his activism, along with a $10,000 check for the nonprofit organization, the Oakley surfer issued a call to action, as well as an apology. “The surf community should care about this because everything in the mountains, in the land, ends up in the water…Surfers could be the ones to change the world.”

Then he added, “That’s a little weird and deep for surfing.”

The nicest moment of this year’s Surfer Poll, though, didn’t belong to a professional surfer. Mike Coots won the GoPro Hero Award for the video he made of himself surfing on his prosthetic leg. For those who don’t remember, Coots lost his real leg in a shark attack off Kauai just three years ago.

“I did all that stuff in mind for the two million amputees in America. I’m pretty fortunate. I have a pretty good prosthetic, but there’s a lot of people out there with crummier ones. And I just wanted to inspire. Get out there and do something.”

Coots’ amazing footage was broadcast during the event. Surfer Poll host Sal Masekela summed it up best, asking the audience, “What have you complained about today?”

At about 11 o’clock, with the Prom Court named and the promotional swag distributed, the awards show ended, but, like prom, that wasn’t the full story. Masekela’s words of aloha: “The parties have only just begun.”

View photos from the event.