Joel Tudor: the voice and guardian of longboard surfing

September 8, 2022 | Surfing
Joel Tudor: the legendary California longboarder is a master of style | Photo: WSL

With a natural grace and endless creativity and talent, Joel Tudor is the go-to reference and spokesperson for the classic art of longboard surfing.

Joel Tudor was born in San Diego, California, on July 11, 1976. He started surfing at age five and took on skateboarding around La Jolla.

His father, Joe, a general contractor, and his brother were already surfers. The siblings owned a Velzy-Jacobs pintail pig surfboard.

The military family was given access to the 35-mile surf breaks from San Onofre to Cardiff, and the youngsters rode Hansen-Doyle, Skip Frye, Craig "Owl" Chapman, and Bill Shrosbree surfboards.

"Around 1975, my dad got sick of riding shortboards. His memory of 'trimming' and 'nose riding' spawned an interest to try and find a longboard," Joel Tudor once recalled.

Three years later, Joel's father found his dream template.

The "Papa Joe" longboard featured the 1960s shape but arrived in the 8-foot range. The model, named after Joel's father, would later be relaunched by the innovative logger.

Joel Tudor, circa 1988: the longboarder started surfing aged five | Photo: Tudor Archive

Goodbye Shortboards

Aged ten, Joel Tudor quit riding shortboards and focused exclusively on longboards. In his teenage years, he was mentored by 1960s veterans Donald Takayama and Nat Young.

Takayama would become his teacher and inspiring surfer.

The Hawaiian-born surfing legend and master surfboard shaper/designer moved to California in the 1960s and became one of the world's most celebrated surfboard builders.

"I was blessed to be given the opportunity to study under Donald. I believe he is the greatest longboard shaper of our time," added Joel.

Wave riding was his passion, and by the time he hit 14, Tudor became a professional surfer.

One year later, the young gun won his first event, making him the youngest surfer to win an ASP World Tour contest.

"By 16, Tudor had become the pencil-thin Raphael of the longboard renaissance," notes Matt Warshaw, author of "The Encyclopedia of Surfing."

"He mastered all aspects of longboarding but was revered mainly as a stylist from the traditional school - quick but smooth, light-footed, able to hang ten for 15 seconds at a time, and possessed of a near-telepathic wave sense."

"Tudor could also do progressive shortboard-influenced turns and cutbacks but believed that flow and understatement were the cornerstones of longboarding."

Nevertheless, he was still in competition mode and hanging out with Miki Dora and other iconic characters.

Joel Tudor: hanging out with Greg Noll, Donald Takayama and Miki Dora | Photo: Tudor Archive

The Maiden World Longboard Tour Title

In 1992, he came close to winning his maiden world title after finishing runner-up in the ASP Longboard Championship Tour in Biarritz, France.

Joel's talent was well above his opponents, but it seemed like he missed the finishing touch, and the world titles were consecutively postponed.

Despite multiple wins in the US Open of Surfing, the Biarritz Surf Festival, and the Noosa Festival of Surfing, the world tour felt like a curse.

Tudor finished third in 1994, ninth in 1996, and fifth in 1997.

Simultaneously, Tudor wanted to protect longboarding's original essence and roots.

He was like the sole guardian of traditional logging, an almost spiritual, soul-searching activity free from the flashy tricks and maneuvers that characterize shortboard surfing.

"This so-called 'modern' longboarding can go to hell. It's so boring. If you want to surf like that, get a 6'2" shortboard," Tudor said in 1994.

However, he still had work to do and things to prove.

In 1997, he landed the cover of Surfer Magazine, a feat that had never been achieved by a new-era longboarder.

At 22 years of age, the California goofy-footer finally clinches his maiden world longboarding trophy in the 1998 championships held in the Canary Islands, Spain.

Joel Tudor: one of the most influential wave riders of his generation | Photo: WSL

Joel Tudor's Duct Tape Invitational

Slowly but steadily, Joel Tudor was becoming the voice of surfing's counterculture and an alternative wave-riding guru.

The Surfer's Journal named him "the finest longboard surfer of all time."

In the 21st century, Joel Tudor's popularity grew among a broader mainstream surfing community, and the internet era only fueled his influence among a wider audience.

More than ever, style and grace matter to surf hipsters and shortboard enthusiasts interested in expanding their quiver with new-school funboards and classic longboards.

After finishing runner-up in 2000 and third in 2001, Joel Tudor won his second ASP Longboard Championship Tour title in 2004 in Biarritz.

In 2010, the Del Mar logger created a new, spectator-friendly concept for showcasing longboarding at classic surf breaks with historical significance - Virginia Beach, Biarritz, Playa Salinas, Noosa Heads, Santa Cruz' Steamer Lane, Montauk, Malibu, Huntington Beach, etc.

Joel Tudor's Duct Tape Invitational is a longboarding competition featuring a hand-picked selection of the most stylish and accomplished loggers.

The laid-back gentleman's event sees riders demonstrating the noseriding and graceful trim that defines a more classic surfing aesthetic and mystique.

They compete on traditional single-fin longboards and often share waves and exchange boards during each heat in a carefree, club contest-inspired format.

The Vans Duct Tape Invitational grew in popularity thanks to its experimental board design appeal, creativity, festival atmosphere, and engagement with athletes through art and music.

The traditional logging event evolved, expanded to new countries and surf spots, and was incorporated into official professional tour schedules.

Joel Tudor's Duct Tape Invitational: a longboarding competition featuring a hand-picked selection of the most stylish and accomplished loggers

An Influential Voice in Longboard Surfing

In 1998, Joel Tudor ended his collaboration with his master Donald Takayama and started his own venture, Tudor Surfboards.

The legendary logger's board range features "Papa Joe," "Model T," "Model K," "Diamond T," "Ala Moana," "Step Deck," "Spring Field," and other classic shortboard templates.

"Sometimes your parents' influence and opinions are hard to take, but in the situation of surfboard design, it was very true," Tudol wrote.

"What I was searching for in design just happened to be sitting in the back of my dad's Ford pickup for almost 30 years.

"Everything that followed was a reexamination of my dad's old boards and what I had picked up along the way on this quest for knowledge regarding my water-bound activities."

Joel Tudor starred in several surf and longboard movies, including "On Safari to Stay" (1992), "Longboarding Is Not a Crime" (1995), "Super Slide" (1999), "The Seedling" (1999), "Shelter" (2001), "Longer - A Look At Joel Tudor Surfing," (2001), "Sprout" (2004), "Another State of Mind," (2006), "One California Day" (2007), "The Present," (2010), and "The Ductumentary" (2013).

In 2004, Tudor collaborated with photographer Michael Halsband to create "Surf Book," a coffee-table publication featuring portraits of surf maestros, including champion athletes, master surfboard shapers, and underground cult figures.

Tosh Tudor: Joel's older son follows his father's longboard footsteps and style | Photo: WSL

The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Era

Joel Tudor earned a black belt (lineage: Carlos Gracie > Carlson Gracie > Rodrigo Medeiros) in Brazilian jiu-jitsu in September 2008.

He started practicing the self-defense martial art and combat sport in Hawaii in 2003 after realizing how defenseless he was against a skilled grappler friend.

Tudor actively competed during the late 2000s and early 2010s and conquered medals in several International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) events.

In 2022, the World Surf League (WSL) suspended the longboard virtuoso from competition following accusations of unsportsmanlike conduct, damage to surfing's image, and verbal assault.

Joel Tudor is 6'1" (1.85 meters) and weighs around 150 pounds (68 kilograms).

Despite being known for his elegance and flair in small waves, the Del Mar longboarder has proven to be a superb performer in waves of consequence like Banzai Pipeline and Todos Santos.

Today, he has his own interpretation of what wave-riding is - genuine, authentic, and exploratory of all board and wave areas.

Joel and his wife Maya Brown have two sons - Tosh and Judah.

Tosh is a prolific longboarder who follows his father's style and fluidity; Judah is more into skateboarding.

Joel Tudor is on Instagram (@joeljitsu).