The life and career of Tom Curren

May 14, 2020 | Surfing
Tom Curren: one of the most influential surfers of all time | Photo: WSL

Arguably one of the best and most influential surfers of all time, Tom Curren is the sport's master of style.

Curren dominated professional surfing in the 1980s before Kelly Slater took over the competitive arena in the 1990s.

Low-key by nature, the American surfer blended the style and radicality inherent to the sport with an exotic, enigmatic, and nearly autistic personality.

Tom Curren has become a surf culture icon - a surfer's surfer.

He has always been an excellent wave reader with above-average technical skills, but he also introduced an introspective side to professional surfing.

Unlike the majority of athletes, Curren has never been comfortable under the media radar, and always kept his thoughts private.

Actually, we probably know more about him through his music because that's where he really shines, opens up, and feels free.

Tom Curren was the first American surfer to win a world title since the IPS World Circuit was founded in 1976.

But surfing's king of style will always be much more than just a great sportsman. He's a unique character, a careless soul surfer, an introspective persona with an obscure sense of humor.

Let's duck dive into the world of Tom Curren.

Tom Curren: master of style and power surfer | Photo: WSL

A Vibrant Personal Life

Thomas Roland Curren was born on July 3, 1964, in Newport Beach, California.

His father - Pat Curren - is a big wave surfing pioneer. He started surfing at the age of 18. In 1955, Pat moved to Hawaii in search of bigger waves.

After marrying Jeanine, the couple returned to Santa Barbara. While Pat's wife ran a bikini shop, Pat shaped surfboards and dove for abalone.

Tom is the older brother of Joe and Anna Curren. He got his first surfboard from his father, aged six.

As a teenager, Tom had a few rough encounters with marijuana and alcohol, but surfing ended up prevailing.

Christianity is an important part of his life, largely thanks to the influence of his mother.

But Jeanine also inspired his young boy to surf and drove him to many surf contests all along the West Coast of the United States.

Tom was also in the Junior Lifeguards and swam competitively in the 500-meter division.

Tom Curren and Marie: enjoying life at Bells Beach | Photo: State Library Victoria

In 1981, he met Marie, a French teenager, at the Channel Islands Surf Shop, in Santa Barbara.

On April 26, 1983, they got married in Australia.

The couple moved to France's Basque coast and had two children - Lee-Ann and Nathan.

In 1993, the regular footer went through a difficult time after divorcing Marie.

But the following year, he married Makeira Caicedo, with whom they have two sons - Francis and Patrick.

In the 21st century, Curren dedicates his time to riding unusual surfboards designs, finless skimboards and bodyboards.

Tom Curren is on Instagram (@curfuffle), Facebook (@tomcurrensounds), and Twitter (@currenspam).

He is 5'8'', weighs around 160 pounds, and loves to roller skate and play tennis.

A Glorious Surfing Career

Tom began showing off in the amateur division. He won the United States Surfing Championships in 1978 and 1979, and the national and world junior titles in 1980.

Curren signed his first sponsorship deals with Rip Curl and Ocean Pacific and turned pro just before his 18th birthday.

In October 1982, the young California surfer beat Tom Carroll in the Marui World Surfing Pro final and claimed his first IPS World Circuit event trophy.

One year later, he ended up taking home three event titles during the inaugural ASP World Tour season.

In 1984, he repeated the feat and was ready to take over the world.

In his first golden year, Tom conquered five stages - Foster's Pro, Marui World Surfing Pro, Philishave Tracer, BHP Steel International, and the Stubbie's Surf Classic.

Influenced by Wayne Bartholomew, it was clear that Tom Curren was developing a unique riding style with his Al Merrick surfboard quiver, equipped with a thruster fin setup.

Despite rarely moving his feet over the board, Tom Curren always found a way to draw spectacularly beautiful and explosives lines across the face of the wave.

His style - which incorporated his trademark double-pump bottom-turn technique - was recognizable from a distance and, by the mid-1980s, everyone wanted to mimic it.

Competing was never his ultimate passion. In 1986, he declared: "there's a lot more to life than winning a championship."

"All it signifies is who's best at getting four waves to the beach, and when you look at it in that form - it's really insignificant."

By the end of the 1980s, Tom Curren was fed up and bored. As a result, he fell abruptly in the rankings and was virtually out of the world tour.

At 26 years of age, he gave competitive surfing a final try. In 1990, Curren won his third world title and said goodbye to heat life.

In the 1990s, Tommy traveled the world and helped Rip Curl plant a seed that would become a symbol of free surfing. "The Search" is the concept that epitomizes the spirit of wave riding.

In 2000, the American icon finished runner-up at the Quiksilver Masters World Championships.

What's his favorite surf spot on the North Shore of Oahu? Sunset Beach. How does Tom Curren deal with fear? He prays.

Tom Curren was inducted into the Surfing Walk of Fame in 1995 and into the Surfers Hall of Fame in 2003.

Tom Curren: riding Kelly Slater's wave at the Surf Ranch | Photo: Rip Curl

Titles and Trophies

The Santa Barbara surfer won three ASP World Tour titles in 1985, 1986 and 1990, and 32 elite level events:

1982
Marui World Surfing Pro

1983
Hang Ten Series
OP Pro
Marui World Surfing Pro

1984
OP Pro
Stubbie's Surf Classic
Rip Curl/Aust Crawl Classic

1985
Foster's Pro
Marui World Surfing Pro
Philishave Tracer
BHP Steel International
Stubbie's Surf Classic

1986
Marui Japan Open
Gotcha Pro
Lacanau Pro
Foster's Surf Masters Pro
Stubbie's US Pro

1987
Marui Japan Open
Stubbie's US Pro

1988
Marui Japan Open
Stubbie's US Pro
OP Pro

1989
Rip Curl Pro Landes

1990
O'Neill/Pepsi Coldwater Classic
Bundaberg Rum Masters
Rip Curl/Coke Classic
Quiksilver Lacanau Pro
Arena Surfmasters
Boundi Pro
Marui Pro

1991
Alder Surf Pro
Wyland Hawaiian Pro

Tom Curren: the regular footer won three world surfing titles | Photo: Rip Curl

The Music of Tom Curren

Tom Curren has always developed a taste for music and musical instruments.

He got his first drum set at the age of eight.

The California surfer-musician release his first record - "Ocean Surf Aces" - in 1993 and toured it along the US west and east coastlines with his band.

The second album - "Tom Curren" - saw the light of day in 2003. In 2015, the singer-songwriter launched a collection of new songs called "In Plain View."

Tom Curren: the California surfer is also an accomplished guitarist and drummer | Photo: Kirstin/WSL

Films and Documentaries

Tom Curren appeared in dozens of surf movies, including:

"Tales of the Seven Seas" (1981)
"Off The Wall 2" (1983)
"Amazing Surf Stories (1986)
"Surfers: The Movies" (1990)
"Momentum" (1992)
"The Search" (1992)
"The Endless Summer II" (1994)
"Searching For Tom Curren" (1996)
"Follow the Leader" (1996)
"Litmus" (1997)
"Nine Lives" (1999)
"The Surfer's Journal Biographies: Tom Curren and Kelly Slater" (2002)
"Islands in the Stream" (2004)
"A Brokedown Melody" (2004)
"One California Day" (2007)
"One Track Mind" (2009)
"Instruments of Change (2014)

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