An expressive physical gesture or flourish, usually made at the end of an especially well-ridden wave; similar to a fist-pump in tennis or an end zone dance in football. The surge of adrenaline that comes from a great ride can take over, and the body simply adds its own exclamation point to the moment. Depending on style and nuance, a claim can be celebratory, threatening, mocking, funny or appreciative. Kneeboarder Peter Crawford, of Australia, after shooting out of a tube, liked to turn around and offer the wave a grateful little finger-flutter. During competition, Johnny-Boy Gomes of Hawaii often pointed directly at the judging panel after a good ride and gave the snarling impression that if the score wasn’t to his liking he would start knocking heads.
While the word “claim" came into usage among surfers in the early- or mid-1980s, the gestures themselves no doubt go back to the sport's earliest days. During the first half of the 20th century, Waikiki beachboys made a show out of popping their biceps, arching their backs, and doing headstands. Because surfboards of the period were so limited in terms of performance, however, it might be said that showy tricks like these were in fact the outer edge of performance surfing. Then again, it was good business to catch the the eyes of the tourists watching from shore.
The claim as it exists today was more or less invented in the late 1950s and early ‘60s by big-wave riders Ricky Grigg and Greg Noll. Grigg’s signature claim was to rise up out of a crouch and throw both arms overhead. “I used to go to Tijuana bullfights," Grigg later explained, "and if the matador did a good job, he’d stand there and look at the crowd and throw his arms and head back. It just looked so cool, and it seemed like something that should be done on a surfboard.” Noll’s preferred claim was to make a make a quick lassoing motion with his right hand.
Claiming hit a fallow period from during the late '60s and early '70s. Hawaiian surfers were on top, and the Island style was to play it cool. Pipeline icon Gerry Lopez, emerging from the most thunderous tubes imaginable, would limit himself to a slight bowing of the head. (Going against the grain, Owl Chapman during this period created the "hood ornament pose," possibly the most flamboyant claim ever seen.)
Professional surfing brought an incentive to claim, as contestants believed that a gesture of confidence at the end of a ride might convince judges to add a fraction of a point to their score. There were some backfires. In 2006, three-time world champion Andy Irons, while gliding out of a high-scoring wave at Teahupoo, sighted down an imaginary shotgun and blew his opponent away—only to find out that his score wasn’t in fact high enough for the win.
There was also a claim backlash, focusing in part on fired-up Brazilian pro Adriano de Souza, who made a habit of claiming even his medium-good waves, during free-surfs as well as competing. De Souza made the reasonable point that he claimed simply because he was “excited” about surfing. “I’ve been doing it since I was a kid,” he told SURFER, hoping that people would see him claiming and think “Look, Adriano is so happy.” An equally strong case has been made, however, that the best and coolest way to finish off a ride is to follow the example of gold-plated surf stylists like Phil Edwards and Gerry Lopez—and not claim at all.