Adam Knox: Surfing at its Core

by The Deep Water Breaks

Knox in Spain

Adam Knox has seen the world from every surfable coast. This week The Deep Water Breaks had the opportunity to get his take on surf culture. Knox gave us his thoughts on everything from the fundamentals of surf to his relationship with the late, great Andy Irons. 

DWB: Do you feel like surfers are pro athletes?

KNOX: Yes and no. I consider myself a professional athlete but not in the same degree as my buddy Victor Ortiz. I hang out with him for one day and I feel like saying that I’m a professional athlete is kind of just a sham, you know? We are and we aren’t. Surfing is the hardest sport out there. Guaranteed. You can be the most talented athlete in the world and it’s still gonna take you four or five years to get good at it. Victor would say the same thing. In the sense of talent and being athletic and having the will to survive, but really we kind of have more of a kicked-back lifestyle. We surf when we want. We don’t have many coaches, even though that all seems to be changing now. A lot of new guys have coaches. It’s getting there, but it’s not quite there.

DWB. When you look at skateboarding and surfing, they seem similar enough, but why is Tony Hawk a household name while Taylor Knox and Kelly Slater aren’t?

KNOX. You can skate anywhere. By the beach. In Arizona. In the middle of the U.S. Everyone can do it. And you can practice on the same rail over and over again. You get to understand the progression a lot quicker. You fall in love with the sport a lot faster. When you go surfing, you paddle out, the water’s cold, the waves are big, it’s raining, you have to put a wet suit on. People don’t want to deal with that. People don’t understand the feeling once you get that first turn down on a wave. I don’t remember what that feels like any more but I know that’s what caught me. You can’t just walk up to the beach and surf and understand it.

DWB. It’s different than skating the same bowl every day…

KNOX. Yeah, you’re not going to be skating and have the sidewalk collapse on you and hold you down. And if you hit the ground and scrape your head or break your back, it’s not like you’ll suffocate to death on top of everything. When I get hurt underwater it’s not like I can just sit there and wait for the pain to go away. First I have to get thrown around on the reef and get cut up, holding my breath, then come up. Hopefully.

DWB. So when you consider that aspect of surfing, the psychology and the risk, how does that make you feel about man-made waves? Does surfing in a wave pool even count?

KNOX. Indoor surf parks have a long way to go. It’ll be surfing when it actually helps your progression. When you can practice your airs and you don’t need a jet-ski assist, maybe then. When the wave produces power and a little bit of a threat, then you can call it surfing.

DWB. How much of surfing is just that fear of the unknown?

KNOX. The X factor. It’s hard for me to say. I’ve been travelling around and surfing all the waves, so I’ve gotten to know a lot of the breaks. But it all comes down to knowing the risk. It’s worth risking your life if you come out with the best wave of your life. But I’m not one of those guys who go out and surf mavericks just to get my rocks off. There are scary days, but when you finally get off the beach after a close call, it’s kind of like going through war and making it out again.

DWB. So in all these places you’ve been, what’s the strangest place you’ve surfed?

KNOX. I went to El Salvador a few years back with this magazine called Surf Shod. They had had a civil war not too long ago, and it’s also where MS 13 is from. Two guards picked up the six of us and our photographers. They had shotguns on them. They jumped in the van with us and took us to our camp and the guy there had a shotgun. Even when I went to the store I dropped a candy bar on the ground and I went to pick it up. When I looked up, the clerk had his hand on a shotgun pointed at me. It was probably the best trip I’ve ever been on waves-wise. But we had a party down at the beach and somebody shot at us for being too loud.

Virginia Beach was weirder than getting shot at. I was there for ASP (world Qualifying Series). The waves were tiny. The ocean was covered in Jelly Fish. Our heats kept getting interrupted by freight boats. If a boat came by in your heat you wouldn’t get a wave. There were also “No Cussing” signs on the street, confederate flags everywhere, and probably 1,000 sixteen year old girls on the beach looking up at our hotel room. I was twenty at the time, trying to figure out where all the older people were. Just kids and jellyfish.

DWB. Like other sports, a lot of surfers tended to grow up on the less-affluent side of things. At least that seemed to be the case where I came from. Is it like that on the national stage?

KNOX. A lot of the pro surfers come from, well not really poverty, but they’re not rich by any means. I think the reason for that is that beach communities are tight. When you don’t have that much money growing up you gotta find something to do, right? A lot of families use the beach as a way to pass the time. There’s a lot of other things going on around you, so if you stick to surfing or something then hopefully you can make it out.

Knox at Solimar in Ventura, California

 DWB.What’s a specific image that represents surfing to you?

KNOX. There are two surfers whose image represents surfing for me. Dane Reynold went through his “I don’t care” routine, and I think he was being himself, but he didn’t know how to word it. But then he got to travel, to get a little more worldly, met some cool people and found himself. From an article I read recently, and just from conversations I’ve had with him, he seems to have got it figured out. He’s all about cruising and having fun. He was able to set himself aside to finally become the best and strangest surfer, and to make that work.

Mick Fanning is a good friend of mine and I always admired the way he carries himself. He’s a contest surfer and he’s got the best rail ever. He’s the type of guy who likes to have fun and party, but he can definitely focus. When need be.

DWB. Those guys make me think of the flip side of that image. Someone like Andy Irons.

KNOX. Yeah, he’s a good friend of mine. What happened was a bummer. It happens, but you can’t take anything away from Andy.

DWB. Are stories like his common in the pro surfing world?

KNOX. No. Andy was a beautiful surfer and just a beautiful person. I got the chance to hang out with him in some different places. I dated his wife’s little sister, so I knew them really well. You could be the best surfer in the world and still have all these problems, or call them demons or whatever, whatever makes people do things that are self-destructive. Andy’s a human. He’s not gonna sugarcoat anything for you. Or for himself. He’s just a real person and uh, shit happens I guess.

DWB. Considering your own family legacy, and the changes in surfing from Taylor Knox to you, what is a piece of advice you’d give to the next generation of surfers.

KNOX. When it comes to surfing in general, just don’t forget where surfing came from. It all comes from the rail. Get your basics down. Make sure you can do a cutback and a bottom turn before you try aerials.

Knox receiving advice from his big brother Taylor.

DWB.In three words, what is surfing to you?

KNOX. Speed. Power. Slow. That’s surfing in a nutshell. It’s not really the emotional or personal feel of surfing. But it’s the core.

Adam Knox is a professional surfer and is currently working on a reality show called “Hard Knox Life” featuring himself and his brothers. He is sponsored and supported by JetPilot Clothing, Roberts Surfboards, Olaf Mexican Grill, Aerial 7 Headphones and A-Frame Surf Shop.Knox is also a surfing coach.