Expression Session


Surfing showcase event without judges, scores, winners, or losers, held in 1970, 1971, and 1973, primarily on the North Shore of Oahu, featuring a select group of the world's best surfers. The Expression Session was presented as a soulful "anticontest" alternative to the standard surf meet.

In his 1970 "Death of all Contests" article for Surfer magazine, Drew Kampion proposed a "new system" in which the challenge, rather than being surfer against surfer, would be "between the individual and himself, to do the thing he does best as well as he can." Duke Boyd, owner of California-based Golden Breed beachwear company, along with pro surfer Jeff Hakman and surf magazine publisher Dick Graham, brought Kampion's idea to life with the Golden Breed Expression Session, a 24-man event (women were excluded from all three Expression Sessions), with each entrant getting a $200 appearance fee. For the first time, the surfers would be given full control over when and where their event would be staged.

The inaugural Expression Session got off to a bad start as the invitees, selected by Hakman, brawled with an angry group of noninvitees who crashed the event-opening "Good Karma Party" at Hakman's beachfront house. The waves, furthermore, didn't cooperate: the first round of Expression Session surfing was held in desultory five-foot waves at Rocky Point (four "sessions" made up a round, each session featured six riders); a second round was held in slightly better surf the following week on Maui at a break called Rainbows, with nine of the invited surfers not bothering to fly over from Oahu. Standouts in the first Expression Session included Jock Sutherland, Nat Young, and David Nuuhiwa.

The 1971 Expression Session fared much better: The opening party was fight-free, the opening round was held in beautiful 10-foot surf at Pipeline, and the second round was held at Sunset Beach. Gerry Lopez, Owl Chapman, Sam Hawk and Jeff Hakman were among the standouts.

A third and virtually forgotten Expression Session took place in February 1973, with an opening round at Off the Wall/Backdoor, and a second round beginning at Haleiwa, then switching to Pipeline, with "some surfers getting lost along the way," as one entrant later recalled. This final Expression Session event went all but unreported in the surf media; the entry list itself has been lost to time.

Invitees to the first two Expression Sessions:

1970: Reno Abellira, Ben Aipa, Jim Blears, Gary Chapman, Owl Chapman, Ryan Dotson, Tiger Espere, Herbie Fletcher, Bill Hamilton, Jeff Hakman, Sam Hawk, James Jones, Barry Kanaiaupuni, Gerry Lopez, Brad McCaul, David Nuuhiwa, Keith Paull, Les Potts, Tom Stone, Jock Sutherland, Mike Tabeling, Greg Tucker, Butch Van Artsdalen, Nat Young

1971: Reno Abellira, Eddie Aikau, Ben Aipa, Rolf Aurness, Jackie Baxter, Jim Blears, Joey Cabell, Corky Carroll, Owl Chapman, Ryan Dotson, Peter Drouyn, Tiger Espere, Jeff Hakman, Bill Hamilton, Sam Hawk, James Jones, Barry Kanaiaupuni, Gerry Lopez, Brad McCaul, David Nuuhiwa, Rory Russell, Tom Stone, Paul Strauch, Mike Tabeling, Herbie Torrens, Nat Young

California surf moviemakers Greg MacGillivray and Jim Freeman produced a short-subject film on the first Expression Session, with a few shots making it into their blockbuster move Five Summer Stories; the 1971 Expression Session was documented in a Hal Jepsen short, and was also featured in Oceans (1972) and Super Session (1975).

Impromptu Expression Session–style matches were fairly common in the '80s and '90s, usually when contest organizers, looking to fill time between semifinal and final heats, would send six or more already-eliminated surfers into the water as a way to hold the attention of the beach audience. When the surf at Waimea Bay wasn't quite big enough to run the 1988 Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau contest, meet director George Downing quickly organized a three-hour, no-prize-money expression session.