If you've seen Dane Reynolds in the water, it's hard to imagine him indoors. Sitting in the living room of the Ventura, California, home he shares with his girlfriend and their two dogs, Reynolds squirms a lot in his black leather easy chair. That may just be because he's a 22-year-old world-class athlete with energy to spare. It may also be because the Pacific Ocean, a few hundred yards out the window, is as flat as Kansas at the moment, making today one of the very few times this year that he does not surf.
Reynolds rides ferociously, carving through waves like a shark in a feeding frenzy. He is best known for his explosive "airs" — using a wave's own force to propel himself high into the ether. It's as if there's a jet turbine beneath his board that allows him to execute impossibly precise turns in defiance of gravity and the sea's crushing inertia. He can also handle a barrel the size of an airplane hangar while looking like he's waiting in line to buy groceries. Eight-time world champion Kelly Slater called him the best free surfer out there. "He looks to be getting better and better," Slater says.
Though Reynolds has been competing since his early teens, 2007 was the first year, he says, that he took competitive surfing seriously and attempted to qualify for the World Championship Tour. He made it, finishing second in the qualifying series. The only problem, Reynolds explains, is that about midway through the year, he realized that as much as he loves to ride the waves, he can't stand competing. "At its deepest roots, there's a winner and a loser," he says, "and I don't care to be either."
Reynolds's father, Tom, a lifelong surfer, named him after the Hawaiian surf legend Dane Kealoha — who, it's worth noting, grew so disgusted by surf-world politics that he stopped competing at the height of his career. As a kid, Reynolds was surfing's equivalent of a Mouseketeer: He started competing at 13, posed for his first magazine cover at 15, and at 16 dropped out of school to surf. ("Kind of a stupid decision," he reflects.) Two years later, he went pro. But soon after he found a way to surf around the clock, the fun started fading away. "That's when it started getting crazy," he says. A war between sponsors broke out, creating more hype than he knew how to handle. "It felt like The Truman Show," he says. "I kind of lost all sense of who I was or why I was doing it."
Yet Reynolds landed on his feet — or on his board, I should say. He signed with Quiksilver, resumed a globetrotting schedule (he estimates he now spends nine months out of 12 on the road), and began competing as a wild card, racking up the upsets. In 2004, less than two weeks after his nineteenth birthday, he beat three-time world champ Andy Irons. Most young surfers would have been elated. "I felt so bad," he says. "We were just becoming friends at that point."