Martin Potter (October 28, 1965)
Hellmen are neutered by competition. They bathe in respect, but they don’t win world titles. Sure, hellmen enjoy thriving times — especially when surfing was wild and mind expansion was acceptable, even encouraged. But on the “bigger is better” tour of the ’80s, where consistency was the benchmark on a grueling 25-plus event tour, they floundered. The 1987 and 1988 champs, Damien Hardman and Barton Lynch, were renowned conservatives, bred contest machines. At the same time, Martin Potterwas, without question, the best freesurfer on the planet. But consistent? Not a chance.
Potter began surfing in Durban, South Africa, at age 10. By 15, he took the world by storm, defeating Shaun Tomson to win his first professional contest and finishing second in his first two IPS events. The following winter at the Pipe Masters, he outlasted the meanest tube of the winter, a 12-foot screamer that delivered him into stardom.
Through the ’80s, he was a card-carrying member of the Big Four, along with Tom Curren, Mark Occhilupo. His fluid, powerful, radical style — an unheard combination — made him one of the most admired surfers anywhere, rippling several generations after. He also helped pioneer aerials, although his were fluid extensions of powerful off-the-tops rather than the forecast hip-hop tricks of today. A teenaged Kelly Slater even patterned his style after Potter’s, plastering his walls with shots of Potter putting his trademark green-and-yellow explosion boards through their paces.
Despite Potter’s infinite talent and admired approach, putting it together for a solid year seemed beyond his means. Then, before the 1989 season, Pottz engaged in a brutal training regimen with then manager Peter Colbert.
He came out firing, winning four of the first five events and cruising to the widest margin of victory in ASP history. By then a resident of Australia, he silenced the naysayers and grasped the elusive crown. And he wasn’t finished yet. Despite the financial setbacks of a failed apparel enterprise bearing the Pottz label, he stayed near the top of the ratings, remaining firmly in the top 10 until his retirement in 1995. The proclaimed freesurfer spent a record 14 seasons in the world’s Top 16.
But transitioning out of the only job he’d known since the age of 15 wasn’t easy. He endured a failed marriage and wasn’t able to secure a solid new career trajectory. After holding regular training classes for aspiring young pros and releasing training video with Barton Lynch in 1998, he relocated to France to work for longtime sponsor Gotcha – only to see the company fold a few years later.
But with the new millennium came fresh opportunities. Not only did Pottz segue into an ambassadorial position with Quiksilver, the rise of the internet and ASP Webcasts offered the perfect venue for his mix of surfing technique and personality. Now back in Australia, he remains a perennial favorite in the commenting box for Quik events from the WCT to the ISA World Juniors — where his brash displays of genius are never scored against him.