Dr. Abalone’s Field Guide to the Six Species of Surfers


A surfer in its natural habitat exhibiting the basic mating ritual. Photo: Peter Gowland.

After traveling the world these last four decades searching for interesting creatures and critters, I, Dr Abalone, have discovered a consistent pattern among the creatures that inhabit the waves and beaches of the known planet called surfers. Based on my observations, which are herein described, I propose the identification of six species of surfers, each with distinct behavioral repertoires, and describe their likely evolutionary relatedness. I have also noticed a seventh distinct type that warrants an additional description.

Surfers, Waikiki, 1898. Photo by Charles Weisser.

The Ancestral Surfer, Waikiki, 1898. Photo by Charles Weisser.

Based on my observations of these delightful creatures I began a natural inquiry into the extent of their relatedness and probable descent from an ancestral source. After extensive scholarly research in libraries across the world I have come to the conclusion that all surfers are descended from the ancient Hawaiian sport known as He’e Nalu, or “wave sliding”, which was known among Hawaiian royalty for millennia. Based on the known behavioral profiles and habitat use of this ancestral stock, I propose that the direct descendants of that species is the Artist. Although the prehistoric habit of riding waves occurred in many places around the globe it is my opinion that all six species were likely derived from He’e Nalu.


This ancestral species did not consider surfing a sport or a recreational activity but a serious expression of art and an integral component of their culture; as such the Artist was clearly the root stock from which all others species were derived. After contact between Hawaiians and western culture commenced (to the Hawaiians great disadvantage I must say) surfing began to diversify into the other five species, primarily during the 20th century.


Early on a new species branched off, probably in the early 1900s, which I describe as Stoked. This species is solely occupied with riding waves purely to experience joy. However, the major difference between Stoked and the Artist is the adaptation of Stoked, and subsequent dependence, to the hormonal stimuli associated with tapping the ocean wave’s innate energy source to perform acrobatic stunts.  It is this physiological shift that later gave rise to two new species, the Charger and subsequentially,  the Pro.


By seeking to ride the largest and heaviest waves, the Charger has evolved the dependence on hormones from these activities (specifically adrenaline and endorphins) to the level of an obsession. This dependence can be manifested as a pathological addiction in some individuals. This species’s habitat is quite distinct from the Artist and Stoked, which occur globally, as they are found only in the most dangerous wave areas on the planet.

pro icon

The Pro displays the same behavioral and physiological traits as Stoked but derives hormonal benefits from grouping with large packs of other like-minded surfers and beach creatures and is rewarded by being recognized as the alpha, or the individual of highest rank in the community. The alpha is subsequently rewarded with economic benefits, prestige within the pack, and most importantly, preferential access to sex and/or mates.

rebel-ico0nFinally, I describe two rare species, the Rebel and Stoner. Both of which may be on the verge of extinction. The Rebel is clearly derived from the Artist as witnessed by the pure expression of  carving lines across the waves and tapping the wave’s energy. Its distinction from other species lies in additional behavioral traits manifested in the water and on land, which border on the extreme. In the water the Rebel is to be avoided and feared by others surfers due to its bellicose and extremely aggressive nature. Beside excessive vocalizations, this species is known to physically challenge other species in the water to establish dominance. However, unlike the Pro which uses its dominance to build alliances within the group, the Rebel is primarily a solitary individual and shuns social engagements. On land, this species is rarely found on the beach and paradoxically blends in with the non-surfer crowd to seek mates. The Rebel appears to have largely died out in the early 1980s, perhaps in response to the rise of the anti-Rebel surfer, the Pro.


The Stoner is another rare surfer species distinguished by its dependence on its main foraging item, the dried flowers of the marijuana plant (Cannabis sativa or C. indica). Although you may find this species occasionally in the surf it more likely found in various states of consciousness in parked motor vehicles or at various locations scattered around the beach. Their non-adaptive behavior is likely why this species is almost extinct, although the Stoner appears to be making a comeback from refuges across California, Hawaii and Indonesia due to a resurgence in the availability of its main forage plant associated with changes in governmental regulatory policies.


Lastly, I have documented another group, which I briefly describe for completeness: the Wannabe.  After careful examination of these individuals I have arrived at the conclusion that they are simply mimics of the other true species.  On land the Wannabe is almost indistinguishable from other surfers with respect to tool use (surfboards), linguistics (surf lingo), and plumage (surf clothing and other paraphernalia) but they actually spend very little time in the surf, if any, and mimic surfers to gain their cultural benefits (mainly access to mates) with minimal exertions in the water. It is possible that these individuals make up the majority of the individuals known as surfers but I have not the skill nor funding to pursue such a distinction in my work. Given their lack of skill in the water they are a major hazard to all surfers and should be avoided at all costs.

The Relationship Among Surfer Species Inferred from Behavioral Profiles and Occupied Habitats. By Dr Abalone.

The evolutionary relationships among surfer species inferred from behavioral profiles and habitat use. By Dr Abalone.

Field Guide to the Six Species


Conservation Status

The Artist: Duke Kahanamoku (left); Gerry Lopez (right).

The Artist: Duke Kahanamoku (left); Gerry Lopez (right).

Artist    artist-icon

stoked mapSynonyms: Purist, Soul Surfer

Archetype: Duke Kahanamoku

Syntypes: Gerry Lopez, Barry Kanaiaupuni, Bethany Hamilton

Description: takes a pure approach to surfing, one aligned with the form of the wave and its available energy. This species is all about style and flow and developing a culture around surfing.

Habitat: Worldwide. Frequently the only surfer in the ocean on most days. May still ride a long board.

tConservation Status: Threatened. With the rise of Stoked, Charger and Pro the Artist is not commonly found in the surf.

Vocal Call:  “There is a spiritual-ness when you actually get in harmony with something as natural as the waves and the ocean….” (Gerry Lopez).

Stoked surfers: Robert August (left): Mark "Occy" Occhilupo (right).

Stoked surfers: Robert August (left): Mark “Occy” Occhilupo (right).

Stoked   stoked-icon

stoked mapSynonyms: Shredder, Blazer, Ripper

Archetype: Phil Edwards, Robert August

Syntypes:  Mark Occhilupo

Description: taps the wave energy to perform stunts including carving off the bottom and top of the wave, riding the tube,  performing aerial tricks and maneuvers.

Habitat: Worldwide. Rides waves every day, everywhere, anytime. Frequently seen in the “Dawn Patrol” very early in the morning.

aConservation Status: Abundant; on the increase.

Vocal Call: “The best surfer out there is the one having the most fun.” (Phil Edwards).



Axi Muniain (left) at Belharra Reef; Keala Kennelly at Teahupoo (right).

Charger     charger-icon

: Thrill seeker, Adrenaline Junkie.

Archetype: Greg Noll, Eddie Aikau

Syntypes: Laird Hamilton, Greg Long, Garret McNamara

Description: rides the most dangerous waves, generally the largest and heaviest. Has large balls of steel (or the equivalent in female surfers).

Habitat: aggregated around giant waves and thick slab sites; also found in bars and parties near same.

cConservation Status:  Common; population small but increasing rapidly with the rise of social media.

Vocal Call: “Waves are not measured in feet and inches, they are measured in increments of fear” (Buzzy Trent).


Modern Pro Surfers: Kelly Slater (left); Stephanie Gilmore (right).

Pro    pro icon

Charger-mapSynonyms: Legends, Super Star.

Archetype: Mark Richards

Syntypes: Tom Carroll, Kelly Slater, Stephanie Gilmore

Description: typically found in large packs during intense competitive events often held in surf of highly varying quality. Surfing style is similar to Stoked but more exaggerated.

Habitat: Worldwide but often found at selected spots in California, Fiji, Tahiti, Australia, South Africa, Chile and Japan.

cConservation Status: Abundant; increasing in abundance as economic benefits increase.

Vocal Call: “It’s like the mafia. Once you’re in – you’re in. There’s no getting out” (Kelly Slater).


Surf Rebels: Miki Dora (left); Christian Fletcher (right).

Rebel  rebel-ico0n

Rebel-mapSynonyms: Outlaw, Counter Culturalist.

Archetype: Miki “da Cat” Dora

Syntypes: Christian Fletcher

Description: a highly aggressive, vocal form of the Artist.  The antithesis of the Pro and the protector of the Artist.

Habitat: Worldwide but in small select areas in southern California; east Australia; South Africa and a few other places.  Typically found in smaller surf but rarely on the beach.

eConservation Status: not commonly seen since the 1980s; possibly going extinct.

Vocal Call: “When there’s surf, I’m totally committed, When there’s none, it doesn’t exist” (Miki Dora)


Surf Stoners: Jeff Spicoli (left); typical Stoner habitat (right)

Stoner stoner-icon2

stoner-mapSynonyms: Surf Bum, Baked, Toker.

Archetype:  Jeff Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

Syntypes: unnamed surfers

Description: The Stoner is another rare species distinguished by its dependence on their main foraging item, the dried flowers of the marijuana plant (Cannabis sativa). Although you may find this species occasionally in the surf it more likely found unconscious in motor vehicles or various locations at the beach.

Habitat: gets stoned, a lot; occasionally surfs; hangs with babes at the beach.

tConservation Status: Threatened. Likely making a comeback from refuges across California, Hawaii and Indonesia due to a resurgence in the availability of its main forage plant.

Vocal Call: “Hey, Bud, Let’s Party!” (Jeff Spicoli).



Surf Wannabes: Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon (left); Russell Brand (right).

Wannabe (mimic)  goo-icon

stoked mapSynonyms: Goon, Geek, Kook, Poser.

Archetype: Frankie Avalon

Syntypes: You know who you are…

Description: not a true species but a good mimic of a surfer that is difficult to distinguish from regular surfers.

Habitat: Worldwide (unfortunately); typically on or near the beach but rarely in the surf. Often a major speedbump in the water for the true surfer species.

aConservation Status: Abundant. True status unknown as it is difficult to distinguish from other species but they may outnumber the true surfer species by a considerable margin.

Vocal Call: “I surf to get tan.” (Shane Dorian). [Note: Shane Dorian is not a Wannabe]




  8 comments for “Dr. Abalone’s Field Guide to the Six Species of Surfers

  1. August 1, 2015 at 6:29 pm

    Rigorous piece of scientific literature there, Dr Abalone!

    • August 2, 2015 at 10:33 am

      Why thank you. It was a joy to write

  2. Dora Lives
    August 1, 2015 at 10:09 pm

    The rebel is still alive and well. Just a little more removed from the average slob.

    • August 2, 2015 at 10:33 am

      And thank God for that

  3. May 18, 2016 at 8:49 pm

    This is fantastic. Love it. Barb

    • May 24, 2016 at 7:59 pm

      Thanks Barb. Which type(s) do you resonate with?

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