By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
But before he did anything in Hawaii, the short, stocky Texan had to prove himself to the notoriously territorial and aggressive North Shore locals. They call themselves Da Hui, "the group," and they have no patience for mainland haoules.
Legend has it that Bradshaw proved himself by biting chunks off the board of any Da Hui who gave him shit. It worked. He earned respect and set a world record.
Yet Bradshaw never had pro dreams; he was content to shape boards in the splendor of his North Shore home and make a name heading into freakishly large waves that most sane people would run from.
Until recently, one of Texas's most promising young surfers was Ryan Cagle. In a move that still has surfers scratching their heads, Cagle punched his team manager during a 2003 California competition.
That behavior "doesn't really work out in the surf world -- or any world, for that matter," Faulkner says.
Then, while surfing the North Shore in January, Cagle got too close to a competition he wasn't part of and suffered the wrath of a Da Hui named Kala. When Cagle paddled back to shore, Kala pinned the disrespectful haoule to the sand and knocked out his teeth. Ever since, rumors of mental illness and/or drug dependency have plagued Cagle, making him the kind of guy neither Quiksilver nor Billabong froths over. Cagle retreated from the spotlight, and Texas with him.
But Faulkner has consistently swept competitions since he was nine, and now that he's graduated high school and can focus more on surfing, veteran surfers in the Texas Gulf Surfers Association say Faulkner could be the one to fill that spot.
"Getting respect for Texas surfers is one of the hardest things that any of us has ever experienced," says Cliff Schlabach, who just stepped down after 16 years of heading the TGSA. "I would say we get a lot more respect now. People like Morgan Faulkner certainly make it happen. Morgan goes to the West Coast and just whips the hell out of those West Coasters, and it just tickles me good. They may not like him, but they have to respect his abilities."
Faulkner's father, Ron, says he hasn't experienced hostility competing outside Texas, just befuddlement.
"The only strange thing that I've seen is just their incredulity that somebody from Texas would actually try to compete, and that's only because nobody's ever really heard of surf in Texas," the elder Faulkner says. The younger Faulkner says, oftentimes, competitors outside Texas will ask if he rides his horse to the beach. Many ask without sarcasm.
But there are a few Texans in the World Qualifying Series, the Association of Surfing Professionals' feeder for the World Championship Tour. The WCT features the association's top 44 surfers -- the best of the best, and the pinnacle of profit. The WCT is the closest surfers can get to the astronomical salaries in the NBA or NFL. Championship surfers like Kelly Slater or Andy Irons are the gods of the waves, raking in as much as $1 million from their sponsors and thousands more from individual competitions.
But that's a rarefied level, and it's hard to imagine most surfers thinking seriously about reaching it. Surfingmagazine editor Evan Slater (no relation to Kelly) is one surfing expert who's not so quick to elevate Faulkner to exalted status.
"I don't think he's going to turn into a top pro, but I think he's a good surfer," Slater says. But he says Faulkner's doing the right thing by moving out of Texas in order to turn pro. You can't stay in Port A and expect the world.
Surfers must earn enough points in international competitions to make the WQS, and then must do the same to make the WCT. Before he moves to Hawaii, Faulkner will shoot for points in Portugal and South Africa. The better he does at these events, the happier his sponsors.
"As long as he stays focused and doesn't get distracted he can definitely make a name for himself," says Chad Wells, Quiksilver's surf team manager, from California. Wells, who competed with Faulkner on the 2002 U.S. Amateur Surfing Team, says Faulkner is a perfect fit for Quiksilver.
"He's as good on his longboard as he is on a shortboard, so he's kind of a double threat type of guy," Wells says. Plus, "he's obviously a big good-looking kid, so that always helps."
Mike Lamm, Faulkner's surf coach in Southern California, and a championship surfer, says simply: "He's produced results that nobody's produced from Texas in decades. Maybe ever."
Sunday's sunrise finds morning glass; smooth waves, no fierce gusts like Saturday.
A bulldozer scoops seaweed along the shoreline while cleaning crews empty the trash cans. It's about 90 minutes before the finals start, but Faulkner, his shortboard under his arm, is already walking into the water. He's the only one on the beach except for the trash collectors. His mother and girlfriend wait in the truck.
Last night, after surfing about ten hours, Faulkner devoured a large pizza with his mother and girlfriend and then just crashed. He was exhausted, but he also wanted to get to the beach early, like yesterday, to see what kind of waves he'd be dealing with.