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Hardman, Damien


Steely Australian pro surfer from Narrabeen, New South Wales; world champion in 1987 and 1991; described by fellow Australian title-holder Pam Burridge as "the Iceman, [and] the world's toughest competitor." Hardman was born (1966) in Sydney, the son of financier Brian Hardman, who later became the world pro tour's media director. He was raised in the beachfront suburb of Warriewood, began surfing at age 10, and moved with his family in 1984 to Narrabeen, another Sydney coastal suburb, famous for producing gruff, hard-drinking, high-performance surfers such as Col Smith and Simon Anderson.

Hardman placed third in the juniors division of the 1982 Australian National Titles; two years later he won the juniors in both the National Titles and World Championships, turned pro, competed in less than one-third of the season's events, and finished the circuit ranked #36. In 1985, his first full season on the world tour, the plain-looking curly-haired goofyfooter went to #17 and was named rookie of the year; the following year he jumped all the way to #6.

Few surfers have ever gone as far as Hardman did in removing all stylistic hitches and flaws; his backside turns were models of precision and could be linked together in endlessly replicated sequences at places like Bells Beach in Australia. Hardman's technical mastery was of such a high order that it was sometimes held against him, as critics said he was automated and predictable. A more legitimate criticism was that he was gun-shy in big waves.

Hardman, then 21, won the 1987 world title in a thrilling showdown against fellow Australian Gary Elkerton in the season's last contest at Sydney's Manly Beach. In the weeks and months ahead, he was finally given a measure of recognition by the American surf press, who had up to this point ignored him. California surf journalist Bill Sharp pointed out Hardman's "humility and lack of showmanship," but went on to call him "a killer who has pretty much nailed everyone to the wall."

Despite his talents, Hardman's rigidly calculating heat strategies continued to rankle many pro surf fans. One American surf writer said of Hardman, "he is monstrously capable, but cursed to be the Richard Nixon of the surfing world; the Iceman is coldly serious and basically impossible for teenage girls to get a crush on."

Hardman, citing tennis champion Ivan Lendl as his favorite sports figure, was the tour's best competitor over the next six years, finishing #2 in 1988, #4 in 1989 and 1990, #1 in 1991, #2 in 1992, and #4 in 1993. He dropped to #13 the next year and nearly vanished from sight over the next two years, then came back for an all-out final season in 1997, at age 31, finishing #6. Hardman announced his retirement, then changed his mind, finishing the 1998 season rated #14. He rose to #9 in 1999, dropped to 25th in 2000, then finally retired in 2001—when he was described by Swell.com as "the ultimate professional surfer." He finished with a total of 19 pro tour wins, including the 1986 Stubbies Classic, the Rip Curl Pro in 1988 and 1993, and the Rip Curl Hossegor Pro in 1998. In 1988 he became the first male surfer to win seven events in one season (equaled later only by world champions Tom Curren and Kelly Slater).

Hardman had little or no interest in surfing for the cameras but was nonetheless featured in more than two dozen surf movies and videos, including Gripping Stuff (1987), Madmen, Saints and Sinners (1992), Beyond the Boundaries (1994), and Feral Kingdom (1995). He remained a largely uncelebrated figure outside of Australia, never rising above fifth in the annual Surfer Magazine Readers Poll. If the lack of recognition bothered Hardman he didn't let it show, saying in 1998 that he preferred to "blend into the crowd."

Hardman was inducted into the Australian Surfing Hall of Fame in 1999; the following year he founded Instyle Enterprises, a surf accessories distribution company, and later owned a series of Rip Curl outlet stores, and was event director for the Rip Curl Pro Bells. As of 2013, Hardman was still winning international masters-level competitions.