Potter, Martin


Volatile regularfoot surfer from Durban, South Africa; world pro tour champion in 1989, and an early proponent of aerial surfing. "Many young surfers today are still slightly scared of Potter," Surfing magazine noted in "Pottz: Last of the Wildmen," an article published in 1995, one year after Potter retired from the pro tour. "He's a big, hulking, hairy beast with a tough-guy snarl and the ineffable air of cool."

Potter was born (1965) in Blyth, England, the son of an engineer father and barmaid mother; the family moved to Durban when Potter was two, and he began surfing at age 10. He won the 1981 National Scholastic Surfing Association International Team Challenge, beating future three-time world champion Tom Curren in the final. Ten weeks later, the 15-year-old Potter entered and won his first pro contest, a local event in Durban, taking down former world champion Shaun Tomson in the final. The following week, riding a 5'6" twin-fin, he placed second in the Gunston 500, his first world tour event, and a week later he took second in the Mainstay Magnum, another world tour contest. It was a world tour debut the likes of which has never been equaled. Potter—"Superkid," as named by the Durban press—finished eighth on the year-end rankings.

Potter was a hit-or-miss competitor over the next seven years, winning a half-dozen events (including the 1983 Stubbies Pro, the 1984 Marui Pro, and the 1987 U.K. Surfmasters), and usually finishing the year rating in the middle of the top 10. But his position in the surf world was in fact much higher—particularly among young surfers—as he constantly and flamboyantly pushed the limits of high-performance surfing. Not a stylist like world tour peers Tom Curren and Tom Carroll, Potter was a model of kinetic energy, his short legs pumping constantly, arms extended wing-like from his torso as he ripped into a series of big, fast, gouging turns, or launched off the curl into a hyperbolic aerial move. He favored brightly colored surfboards; a 1984 Surfing magazine cover shot showed him airborne four feet above the crest on his trademark green-and-yellow board, wearing a magenta wetsuit.

He was a mercurial presence on the world-tour—brooding and angry at times, acting like a spoiled child, then festive, loud, and matey, drinking until the bars closed and later carrying the party into the streets and hotel rooms. "The scary thing for me," Potter said later, "was that I could go out and have a big night, drink heaps of beer, and wake up the next morning without a hangover. My body dealt with everything. There were contests I won after staying up all night."

Potter moved to Sydney, Australia, in 1985. In what would be the only political gesture of his career, he later that year refused to compete in South Africa because of apartheid. World champions Tom Carroll and Tom Curren also boycotted the South African contests.

Potter began fitness training for the first time in 1989, charged into the season by winning an unprecedented four out of five contests, and picked up two more victories on his way to the championship. With contest prize money added to his sponsor salaries and bonuses, the 24-year-old Potter earned nearly $300,000 in 1989—a record at the time.

The following year was a disaster. Potter launched a surfwear company that failed almost immediately, while the Australian government stuck him with a notice for $300,000 due in unpaid taxes. He also had an acrimonious split with his long-time manager, the effective but fiery-tempered Peter Mansted. The stress was reflected in Potter's surfing, and he finished the year ranked a disappointing 15th. He later said the world title year itself had drained him. "I was the fittest I'd ever been, but it took so much out of me, and after I won I just couldn't get myself back to the same level."

Potter came back and placed fifth in 1993, then retired after 1994, skills intact, rated 10th. He'd spent 14 years in the world tour Top 16. His unfettered approach to aerial surfing had meanwhile long since been adopted and amplified by younger riders like Matt Archbold, Christian Fletcher, and eleven-time world champion Kelly Slater.

Potter was featured in more than 40 surf movies and videos, including Follow the Sun (1983), Shock Waves (1987), Surfers: The Movie (1990), and The Hole (1997). Strange Desires, a 25-minute video documentary on Potter, was released in 1990; in 1999, he was featured in The Theory, a surfing training and fitness video. From 1994 to 1996, Potter hosted NRG, a weekly half-hour surfing variety show produced in Sydney. In 2004, Surfing magazine named him one of the "16 Greatest Surfers of All Time." Since the mid-2000s, Potter has occasionally worked as a color commentator during ASP world tour surf contest webcasts.