One of the many flawless Curren moments in gaping Hawaiian rights. Image: Ted Grambeau

The Babysitter

Kelly Slater on Tom Curren

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From the latest Surfing World Issue 406 on sale here.

I met Tom when I was 10. A good friend of mine was on the NSSA team with him and knew him, but the first thing I remember was Tom laughing about how small I was. I was devastated. And then when I was 17 I stayed with Tom and Marie in France. I was riding for OP and Rip Curl for a year, so it made sense, I went over and stayed with them and they helped me out a little bit. I felt good about the trip, because when I got there I checked into a hotel but after a couple of days Tom came and checked me out and said come and stay with us. I felt like I was really being accepted by my all-time hero. He was soft spoken, and it was great to be a fly on the wall as he won the Rip Curl Hossegor event even though I had to leave on finals day so I didn’t get to watch it, but it was cool. He trusted me enough to watch his daughter when she was six months old. He goes, “Can you just, errr, watch her? You know, err… I’ll be back in two hours. This went on for a week until I figured out he wasn’t actually going anywhere, he only going to his music room to play the guitar. I had no idea. I thought he was running errands but he was jamming. We didn’t get to surf together much on that trip, funnily enough. I babysat for him to go surf and jam, and let Marie do her thing, and I surfed on my own for most of it which was actually good. I made a lot of friends, lifelong friends on that trip because I was on my own.

I remember one time Tom came over to my house in Hawaii. I was 19 and me and Jack Johnson were trying to learn to play guitar and there was this Black Crowes song we really liked and he listened to the song, picked up the guitar, and played it first try. Jack and I were stunned. He just did that on his first try? We didn’t know you could listen to a song and play it by ear. I realise after 30 years you can do that, but people don’t know how good a musician Tom is. That little contest I put together in Fiji in 2004, I invited Tom along. It was half legends, half tour guys – Occy, Curren, Carroll, MR was judging. It was fun. But Jackson Browne was there and Perry Farrell, and Tom got on the drums and played one night for five straight hours. At one point Jackson Browne turns to me and goes, “Tom Curren is a monster on the drums.” And he wasn’t beefing it up, he actually invited tom to come and play in concert with him he was so blown away by him. Tom’s funny, he’s done a couple of albums but he’ll never go and play the album the same way he recorded it. He’s got an artistry about it where he never plays the same song the same way twice. He’ll switch up the tempo or the strumming or the melody. You’ll hear it and go, I think I know that song, but it’s a version of a song you’ve heard 50 times. He doesn’t want to familiarise people with his stuff, but he’s also such an artist when it comes to his stuff he can take a song he wrote 30 years ago and make it sound completely different but familiar at the same time.

I think he got bored with surfing so good, and he’s been challenging himself on the most awkward equipment possible ever since. I don’t know if he’s doing it as a joke or he’s serious about it. Sometimes it feels like he’s toying with the rest of the world. He’ so smart, secretly smart, that he’s just toying with us. If he were a comedian he’d make the whole crowd a little awkward, they wouldn’t know whether to laugh or not. He’d be like Steven Wright, super dry, and the punch line would fly over your head before you even realised it was there.

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