Snatching The Throne:
After watching the digitally remastered Mutant Slabs & Monster Barrels, we were left wondering if Mike’s performance at the peak of his career in the 90’s, could still be considered the best bodyboarding the world has seen; we weighed in with a few of the sport’s biggest names to see what the best think.
We here in the Movement office simply aren’t qualified to answer this question, so we got in touch with all-round shredder Mitch Rawlins for some insight. Rawlins was quick to dismiss any chance of modern board technology being a determining factor in a performance gap.
“Boards aren’t a factor here,” he said. “They have barely changed, and the materials we use now were all available back then, as well.” Moving on to the topic at hand, Mitch wasted little time in dismissing the notion. “In terms of technical ability, Ryan Hardy smashes Mike. Everything is near perfection.”
However, as Rawlins says, “Ryan can do it all, and on both lefts and rights. I feel Mike was better going left than he was going right, but his inverts on rights were much better than his left inverts.”
Ben Severson is in a unique position to comment, considering he’s one of Mike’s peers during iconic time of bodyboarding’s explosion on the scene. Ben says he noted what he and Mike were doing for the sport at the time, adding that “Mike pushed the progression in big waves most notably for me.”
“He’s the best bodyboarder in the world for his overall performance,” Severson said, but conceded that in his eyes, Hubb’s obscene aerials put him a step above Mike in terms of technical ability.
We asked Manny Vargas, to weigh in on Mike’s strongpoint, and his answer was unsurprisingly the fact that “with over 26 Pipeline wins, the one thing Stew-Bags does better than anyone else is ride Pipe.”
“Mike was the first. When it came to style, form and function, Mike was the first, and he’ll always be remembered for that.”
“Of course many bodyboarders have looked up to Mike for just that. Ryan Hardy and Spencer Skipper are two riders that come to mind when I think of Stewart’s style being modelled.”
“Mike in his prime was the best in the world. Mike was given the opportunity to travel to the best waves in the world and ride and best boards at the time, so he definitely had a leg up. He ran with that for easily 10-15 years.”
Tanner McDaniel, who was groomed by Mike - we’ve got to be careful how we phrase that, so the feds don’t chase after the Godfather - from a young age, elaborated on the clear influence Stewart had over him and all the Hawaiian groms.
“Growing up in Hawaii, obviously Mike’s been a huge influence on any grom. I was lucky enough for him to have taken me under his wing at such a young age, and gain a lot of knowledge and insight that really helped me grow as a rider, and a person.”
Tanner reckons Mike’s strength is that “he always was - most likely always will be – one of, if not the best barrel rider in the world.”
“His flow and control on any wave is second to none.”
Wrapping up our conversation with Tanner, he made his vote clear: “PLC has gotta be one of the best riders in the world right now.”
Ryan Hardy was the last wave wizard we questioned, and seemed to disagree with the boys who think Mike’s riding has been outdone; he was the reason Hardballs picked up a boog, after all. “It was Mike’s style that really caught my eye and drew me into what was possible on a bodyboard… and how good it could look.
“There are loads of talented riders in their own right, GT, Hubb, Roach, Ballard, Eppo in that first generation, but Mike’s overall mastery of everything from grovel to the heaviest waves on the planet is technically the most functional, flowing and powerful style has not been challenged, I don’t believe.”
Mike’s legacy will always be thriving in bodyboarding, Hardy says. “Mike created a wave riding style that showed to the world how functional and high performance a bodyboard can be on a wave. He showed that it can be fast, reach high speed to do big airs, that it can be ridden very deep in the barrel, and that the bodyboard is built for the barrel and heavy waves.”
“Most inspiring of all, he showed how prominent and high performance a bodyboard can be in unison with a strong body to challenge and ride big waves and perform in big waves; as we saw him do through his mastery and performance at Pipe and Teahupoo.”
In tying all this up, it’s hard to ignore Stephen Hawking’s numerous quotes outlining that he was only able to refine his theories about blackholes and our universe thanks to Einstein’s understanding of general relativity.
In the bodyboarding parallel, while all of this is up for a healthy debate, one thing is for sure: the riders that are now more capable than Mike, wouldn’t be doing what they’re doing today if it weren’t for their rigorous studies of the Godfather’s riding. Manny Vargas said it best: “Mike elevated wave riding to every level possible.”
“Without Mike, who knows where the hell we’d be.”
Hardy echoed this in a big way in our conversation: “It’s amazing how much influence a sports hero like Mike can have over a young, aspiring enthusiast, and I feel so fortunate to have been amongst the generation that grew up inspired by Mike.”
He closed on a note that poignantly drive home just how influential this one man has been over each of us that has been touched by even a tiny amount of pure bodyboard froth. “I will be forever grateful for Mike’s influence on my life and the fact that he is still riding and charging at such a high level still remains to be inspirational, and heart warming.”
We wrapped up our chat with ‘Balls who wasted no time driving his point home: “I look at Mike as the biggest contributor to high performance bodyboarding of all time… I do think in my lifetime he will most likely be the greatest contribution to our sport’s evolution, and would therefore fit the best bodyboarder of all-time title.”