Long Island, New York—Will Skudin, 31, a Long Island native who grew up surfing through the East Coast’s frigid winters and stormy Septembers, was one of 10 surfers on the planet nominated for the World Surfing League’s Overall Performance Award in 2016. Skudin was the first East Coast surfer ever considered for the honor—a recognition made more special because 2016 was the most imposing wave year in nearly two decades.
“I’ve been doing this since I was seventeen,” said Skudin. “I’ve had thirteen seasons, and this years El Nino created five times more storm activity then what I have experienced in the past.” Although the Overall Performance Award eventually went to fellow American Shane Dorian, Skudin was humbled just to be recognized… and to be alive. “What we do on the big wave tour is real,” said Skudin. “We’ve had friends die doing this, but it’s what I love to do and I’m going to do it for as long as I can.”
A tireless advocate for the New York surf scene, Skudin was born into one of Long Island’s foremost families of surfing. Will’s parents, Beth and Dave, have been “spreading the stoke” in Long Beach and the Rockaways for more than half a century and Will and his brother Cliff—also a WSL Tour participant—currently head up Skudin Surf, a successful surf school that maintains several locations on the Atlantic Coast.
The Skudin spirit was on full display at the WSL awards ceremony in late April. Will hit the red carpet at the Grove Theater in Anaheim, California with his own personal top 10: his parents, brothers and friends, who joined Will in celebrating his achievement. “I was really stoked to see everyone,” Skudin said. “It clears your head to hang with family and friends after being on the front lines during the season.”
Obviously, the life of a big wave pro isn’t all red carpets and champagne flutes; there are also a lot of pushups to do and a lot of enormous waves to ride. Skudins’ frenetic year found him chasing storms across the face of the globe. He surfed notorious breaks including Jaws and Waimea Bay in Hawaii, Mavericks California, Todos Santos in Mexico and a liquid mountain off Nazaré, Portugal which some observers speculated might be the biggest wave ever paddled into.
Skudin credits his training—especially his commitment to swimming in addition to surfing—with keeping him safe. In fact, after wiping out on the immense wave at Nazaré, Skudin said swimming away from danger was an even greater achievement than paddling into the wave in the first place. “There were a lot of close calls this year and without the right training I wouldn’t be here,” Skudin said.
Now that he’s not braving apartment-building-sized waves, Skudin is revving up for summer camp. He and his older brother Cliff head up the Skudin Surf summer camp program, a pillar of the Long Island community that assists thousands of area kids in catching their first waves. The camps, some of which combine surfing with skateboarding, lacrosse, ice hockey, golf and other sports, consistently produce young East Coast surfers who seem to gain a special appreciation and respect for the ocean.
But even in the midst of all those smiling young faces, Skudin will be preparing for his next session in the big surf. Asked about his goals, Skudin was both ambitious and humble: “I’d like to get into the top four,” Skudin said, noting that the top four WSL Overall Performance Award Finishers automatically qualify for the following season’s events. Thinking more long-term, Skudin said he hopes to set an even higher watermark. “I have a lot of goals in my life outside of surfing, but I do want a shot at a WSL world title. I will do everything in my power to achieve that goal. At the end of the day though, I will not stress things I can’t control. You can’t push open a door that needs to be pulled.”