Written by Yvonne Ho
Photo by Yvonne Ho / Rachel Chang
I didn’t know who he was until I searched on the Internet and my jaw just dropped. I still feel like dreaming after he left Taiwan. Not only is Christian Fletcher a surf legend, his whole family is surf royalty. 中文
In 1989, he was the first surfer to perform an air and now he was in Taiwan surfing and chasing waves and I was his tour guide! When the door opened, I saw him coming out with one hand dragging a cabin baggage and the other with a board bag.
He was wearing a Japanese war cap, a fit white t-shirt, a pair of black trousers and a necktie all punked out. His body was all covered in tattoos and he just had the biggest smile in the world. The first thing he did when he got out of the airport was light a cigarette and asked, “How were the waves today?” He was in Bali and said the waves were too boring. Then when he was in the Philippines, he heard that the waves in Taiwan were good and there was going to be a super typhoon. He changed his plan and hopped on a plane. All the legendary Christian Fletcher and asked for was closed-out waves.
The typhoon was at the south east of Heng-Chun the first two days, so we drove from the east coast, south coast and finally the west coast, checking all the spots. He said, “I like South Taiwan because there is always a coast that is blowing the right wind to make the waves good. Although there are a couple of waves that wouldn’t interest me, you have to realize that you have to try everything. If you’ve never tried, then you wouldn’t understand it. The wave always looks smaller than it is. When I surfed Nanwan and got into the barrel, I realized that the reef was exposed and uneven. I fell and hit a rock, but that’s how I learned a lesson and became a better surfer.”
On that day he got an overhead barrel at Nanwan and hit the reef. When he got out, he got cuts on his back and his hand-shaped board was all dinged up. But like he said, he was learning by trying. Later that day, we surfed Nanwan again, but with his previous session he learned the wave. Me and some local Nanwan groms saw the ‘Godfather’ of the air put on a great aerial show and his surfing skills just left us in awe. He was 200 meters out to sea and just catching these overhead waves off the reef, pumping down the line with speed, getting barreled, then continuing into the harbor going towards the strong current and took the wave all the way to the beach and came back with a big smile on his face. Everyone on shore couldn’t believe what they just saw and started cheering with insanity!
Photo by Yvonne Ho
On the third day of the typhoon the waves were even bigger and Christian said. “I may be crazy out in the water but I’m not stupid okay? All the crazy waves that I’ve taken are all accurately calculated.”
The typhoon hit Luzon, Philippines and on that day we drove all around Southern Kenting, looking for a place to surf. The surf was big and some of the sets were over 20 foot, eating up some of the small harbors in the area. He said there wouldn’t be this kind of waves in California and he wanted to take his brother Nathan Fletcher, who is a Billabong XXL Big Wave Award Winner, to surf larger typhoon waves in Taiwan.
He said he first started to learn surfing on a single- fin surfboard. As his father Herbie Fletcher was and still is one of the best longboarders in the world, he learned how to use every aspect of a surfboard from tail to nose to the surfboard’s edge at such a young age.( Herbie Fletcher was one of the first people to skate pools, even before the Dogtown Z-Boys! His father saw the shortboard revolution in the late 60s early 70s and then saw the death of longboarding, then in the 80s he was one of the people who can be credited in reviving the longboard revolution. )
Christians said that many upcoming surfers do not know the basic skills of surfing and just want to learn how to do airs. That is why they will always fail. You can’t learn an air if you don’t even know the basic maneuvers in surfing.
He also told us in detail about his own surfboard, working with Madhouse Kustomz Surfboards. He told us about the fin placement and how different fin setups will work on waves. He was nice enough to even let the local Taiwanese surfers try out his board and experience a different surfing style.
Christian: “I had a short absence from surfing because I had done all the modern surfing in the ’80s and sometimes I felt bored and my faith was living in the present.”
Photo by Rachel Chang
Christian: “I love surfing with local kids, eating local food, learning about the local culture. No matter where I go, I always keep a smile on my face and respect all the local surfers.”
On the first day Christian was surfing the right at Nanwan. He was trying a lot of different maneuvers on the wave, some of the local kids were disappointed as they were expecting to see him perform like he did in all the videos they saw online. Until the second day when he went out to surf with local surfer Gugu, the local kids finally witnessed some of Christian Fletcher’s crazy surfing skills. That was when everyone realized that he was a madman for the surf and he was the king of the groms, always wanting to surf with the local kids and encouraged them. At night, we played pool and the kids set up a surprise birthday party for Christian with fireworks!
On the day before he left, there were good waves on the west side, so we woke up early and along with local surfer Rory McDonald, we traveled all along the coast, hoping to find some waves. We surfed 5 different spots that day in which one of them no one has ever surfed before. He gave us a great show, showcasing his aerial skills and also some great maneuvers off the top of the lip and just showing us why he is a legend. On the last day, he gave his stomp pad to Gugu and encouraged him to keep challenging himself in different wave conditions and to push his own surfing limits. Moreover he thanked Gugu for surfing with him in all the different spots in South Taiwan.
Before Christian Fletcher came to Taiwan, I searched him on the Internet where I found he was a legendary 80s professional surfer. I decided to take him on this journey through Taiwan without prejudice and record the whole journey that we went on together. From picking him up at the airport until the end of our journey, he never acted like an arrogant surfing legend.
On those five days that we had spent together, one of our topics was always about his family. He had never chosen to be a surfer because his father threw him into the water to surf at 1 year old. He showed us the scars on the pack of his head from his fins and told us that the third day after his surgery, his parents told him to go out and surf.
At 5 he entered his first surf contest.He grew up in the era of surf hippies culture. With the influence of his parents, he loves rock n roll and extreme things that help fuel his rebellious madman lifestyle, which brought positive and negative comments from others.
As the pioneer innovator of aerial surfing, he’s never hold back on his opinions of the surf industry. He said he would be as rich as Kelly Slater right now if it wasn’t for his big mouth. Other than just surfing, he is also a big fan of Moto GP racer Valentino Rossi. Plus, he keeps a monkey as a pet! He’s a just like a big kid who loves to eat candy and drink a lot of coke, always willing to try different local foods and you could just tell by his face if he liked or disliked it.
During this whole trip, we laughed and talked a lot. He said he has so many interesting stories to share and keeping a smile on his face helps to get along with local surfers no matter where he travels to.
The Japanese surf magazine NALU says Christian Fletcher is not a human being but a demon. But I think he is a madman only when he is out in the water, always challenges his own limits.
From looking at his eyes, you can tell he is crazy about surfing in gnarly conditions and night surfing. But when he is onshore, he is just like a giant kid, keeping a smile on his face and always willing to share. He is not a demon, but a Soul Surfer with free body, mind and spirit.