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Warshaw: “Fred floats bullshit!”

Derek Rielly

by Derek Rielly

Matt Warshaw examines the legacy of the father of pro surfing…

Last August, I spent a wonderful afternoon at the Outrigger Canoe Club in Waikiki interviewing the father of pro surfing, Mr Fred Hemmings. I ate the house ahi and extinguished the summer heat with a Gin Ricky while Fred pawed at a Reuben sandwich with extra mustard, and drank water.

The story appears in the latest issue of The Surfer’s Journal (read here) and I was thrilled by its examination of Fred’s role in the creation of pro surfing and the history of the sport. After the story appeared, Fred sent the editor and myself hand-written cards praising our accuracy.

One man who wasn’t in raptures was the Encyclopedia of Surfing’s Matt Warshaw, who said, “He floated many balloons of bullshit in his conversation with you, and I can’t wait to explode them one by one.”

Let’s burst!

BeachGrit: There are so many things to love about Fred Hemmings. Created pro surfing. Clean. Right wing. Big-waver. And yet he doesn’t give you the same thrill as he does me… 

Warshaw: I’m gonna tear the both of you up here in a second, so yeah, let’s get the love part out of the way. I loved Fred’s wave in Endless Summer, the white trunks and white board, ripping five kinds of shit at Ala Moana. I love that when I asked about him showing up at the ’68 world titles awards ceremony in a suit and tie, and said the place looked like a “Cheech and Chong convention.” That’s a great line. And of course I love Fred for getting the pro tour started.

But . . .

Okay, so Derek, your opening line to Fred in the interview: “You’re one of the pivotal figures in surfing. And yet there’s hardly a word written about you in the surfing mags.” And Fred of course agrees, makes it sound like there was a conspiracy against him, the editors didn’t like me, waaah waaah waaah. The mags adored Fred. He got centerspreads, profiles, full-page ads. Fred was everywhere. Big 1968 interview in SURFER titled “Hemmings is Hot!” With exclamation point. Fred saying he was “never a darling of surfing” is such bullshit.

SURFER hated Fred.

Yeah, and that’s another thing. Fred doesn’t have the nuts to call out Drew Kampion. When Fred says SURFER, he means Drew. He’s the new editor in ‘68, got hired just a couple months before the world titles, and like 98% of surfers at the time, Drew was big on Nat Young and Wayne Lynch and shortboards and getting high. So here’s Fred, short hair, long-ish board, flies to Puerto Rico in a suit and tie, drinks Bacardi and Cokes while everybody else is beads and bell-bottoms, doing bong hits. Kampion included. So fine, the hippy deal wasn’t Fred’s thing, and he didn’t fake it. Very much to his credit. Same with his surfing. Fred’s style didn’t fit the the more radical variations of the new boards, and he didn’t force it there either. But the sport is moving in one direction, and Fred’s moving in another.

Fred makes it sound like there was a conspiracy against him, the editors didn’t like me, waaah waaah waaah. The mags adored Fred. He got centerspreads, profiles, full-page ads. Fred was everywhere. Fred saying he was “never a darling of surfing” is such bullshit.

He won the contest.

He did. Fair and square. Surfed to the format, rode like a master. Well, Fred and Midget tied for first, actually. I’ve watched the footage a bunch of times, and I would have given the Midget the nod, but that’s not the point. Keeping in mind what the rules were on the day, Fred’s win was totally legit. And Kampion himself said so! Opening line of Drew’s contest wrap-up story: “What happened in Puerto Rico was that a formal pronouncement was made: that Fred Hemmings was hot.” And photos too. The Hemmings pics in SURFER from that contest are great!

SURFER had a very anti-contest vibe, no?

Yes and no. Again, Fred way overplays the hurt. Oh, but here’s another thing I love about Hemmings – he retired from competition after winning the title. Went out on top. Fred and Mark Richards I think are the only two who did. Anyway, pro surfing was on the horizon right after Fred won in Puerto Rico, and “professionalism” was the hot topic, pretty much the only topic for a couple of years. Now, Kampion was sort of on the fence about it all. A lot of people were. But when Drew pulled together a feature on pro surfing in 1969, he did a clever thing. Drew himself stepped aside. He got Hemmings to write a “pro” pro surfing opinion piece, and had this Rasputin-looking guy in Santa Cruz named John Scott write an “anti” pro surfing opinion piece, and had SURFER Poll winner Jock Sutherland do a maybe-yes maybe-no piece. Drew put the three articles back-to-back, with Fred as the opener. Three different views. How much fairer could it get?

I loved how Fred carried a gun in response to threats from elements of the North Shore. Do you believe, like me, that the only thing that can stop a bad man with a gun is a good man with a gun? Or is you one of them faggot peaceniks?

Yeah, let’s do the politics. I’m anti-gun, pro drug-legalization, pro-LGBT. Break up the big banks. Raise my taxes till the public schools gleam, and me, Bill Gates, and Slater’s grandson all have identical government-issued healthcare cards. Fred and I will not be sitting together at Elizabeth Warren’s 2020 inaugural ball.

Hemmings isn’t a fan of Trump, as you might suppose he would be. Rubio was his boy.

Fred backs Rubio, Rubio backs Trump.

Did you know that Fred sent, what the TSJ editor Scott Hulet described as “remarkable hand-printed Senatorial cards from Fred praising your accuracy, with heartfelt thanks.” Thank you cards? To me, that bleeds class.

He is gracious. Fred has sent me similar cards and emails over the years. He’s good with small gestures. Most politicians are.

Vancouver BC ain’t just for bears!

Michael Ciaramella

by Michael Ciaramella

Raph is the man we should all strive to be!

Have you ever considered just… leaving? Of quitting your job, selling the suburban home, gathering your family and most valued possessions and getting lost in nature’s deepest catacombs? Then this short film, Bruhwiler Country, might be for you!

A little background.

Some forty-odd years ago, a young man named Bruhwiler entered Maple Leaf territory by way of Switzerland. He leveraged his knowledge of the land and manual skills to create a life on Vancouver Island, complete with a wife, beautiful home and gaggle of children all of whom adored their natural playground. One of those kids was named Raph, and he became Canada’s first professional surfer.

Now pushing forty (I think?) and having surfed the world over, Raph loves nothing more than kicking it around his hometown of Tofino and spending time with family. Raph is adamant that his kids are raised in a similar fashion to his rootsy upbringing — living off the land, learning how to survive in the wilderness and of course, surfing. After all, the Vancouver archipelago is home to many a nook and cranny, oftentimes delivering an abundance of slabbing tunnels for a crowd of one, maybe two.

Personally, I don’t think I’d fare so well going “off the grid”. While I appreciate the utilitarian and metaphysical benefits of living in a natural state, such as learning manual skills and being freed from the shackles of commerce, mainstream media and political hysteria, I’m also a very big pussy. Not much of a handyman, a major opponent to being cold and wet, and genuinely addicted to the pseudo-sphere of social media.

There are many bears in Vancouver BC but also plenty of room for twunks!

There are many bears in Vancouver BC but also plenty of room for twunks!

But what of you? Could Beach Grit readers bear the wet and cold and humble lifestyle of the Canadian island-forest? If not for tubes, then for family, for health?

Beware: Certain death is coming for you!

Chas Smith

by Chas Smith

"And lo there was a man holding a paddle. His name was death and hell followed him."

Is there anything on this earth scarier than the sight of a wobbly stand-up paddler when you are pushing out into the lineup? Standing shakily on mid-sized yacht, furtively dipping his paddle into the sea. Wobbling. Looking this way and that for divine help but god forsook him long ago.

There, on the horizon, a set wave stands up. There it breaks and comes rushing. There it envelops him and his paddle flies out of his grip and his mid-sized tugboat comes racing for your head. There is no duck dive deep enough, no left or right far enough to escape its plan. It is coming for you.

Certain death!

Thankfully, the cursed SUP has been localized, more or less, to crummy rolling breaks that no surfer should want anyhow. Oh sure, the plague infects some good waves too but doesn’t spread.

Until today.

For I have stumbled upon a secret manuscript called SUP The Mag that the devils read as they plot our demise and it is encouraging them to move out. To conquer.

If you’re reading this right now, there’s a pretty good chance that you became hooked after that first wave. Perhaps you started going to your local break every chance you got. You learned where the best peaks were, how tides and swell direction affected the break, maybe you even got on the good side of the locals.

You felt like a real surfer.

Then you decided to paddle out at a break on the other side of town. You didn’t know anything about it, but what could go wrong? You’re a real surfer after all, you could handle anything.

One hour into your session, you’re asking yourself what the hell happened. It took 20 minutes to paddle out, 20 more to catch your first wave–which you promptly went over the falls on–and worst of all, the locals are all giving you dirty looks.

While it can be very tempting to retreat back to the comfort of your home break, paddling and surfing new spots is the most effective way to get better.

We can simply paddle up and down the coastline until we find a spot that suits our style.

Not only will you find empty breaks scattered all along the coast, but scouting becomes an adventure itself. You’re not just going SUP surfing anymore, you’re embarking on a mission to find a new wave, master that wave, and return home triumphant. Or even better yet, find multiple breaks to surf during one epic session.

It is like reading from Mein Kampf in the original German and now you have been warned and I would like to leave you with a poem in case you think taking no action is the best way forward.

First they came for Cardiff Reef, and I did not speak out—
Because I did not surf Cardiff Reef.

Then they came for Doheney, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not 85 years old.

Then they came for the Turtle Bay, and I did not speak out—
Because I like sheets that don’t smell like mildew.

Then they came for Punta Mita, and I did not speak out—
Because I was too busy drinking margaritas.

Then they came for Costa Rica, and I did not speak out—
Because I was playing with a monkey.

Then they came for Waikiki, and I did not speak out—
Because I was playing with a Japanese tourist.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Conner Coffin Just Bought a Towel Biz!

Derek Rielly

by Derek Rielly

A little hunk, sure, but stud just turned mogul hopeful… 

Eight days ago, the Santa Barbara surfer Conner Coffin was melted into the Backdoor reef, a collision that opened up a wound that was closed, loosely, with twelve stitches.

Conner, who is twenty-three, is using the down time to sharpen his involvement with the start-up brand, LEUS (pronounced: Loose). Conner was approached a year ago by LEUS to see if he’d be into partnering up.

Did he want to be the sponsored surfer for the company?

Conner said he’d prefer to take a slice of the company. No sponsorship deal, though he would use the product and put stickers on his board. And he’d even throw in a little of his own skin.

“I’ve always been into the idea of getting into a start-up,” says Conner.

But towels?

“Yeah, towels. A lot of people make towels but they don’t focus on ‘em. I felt like we could do a lot of fun stuff, some cool projects.”

What sorta cool projects?

“Throwing midnight pool parties,” says Conner.

It’s a sound biz ideal. Does Conner feel like he has the head for risk?

“If the circumstances are right, I’ll take a chance. I like to look into what I’m having a shot at and I try not to do stupid shit. And as far as LEUS goes, after seeing the business plan and strategy, I didn’t feel like it was a risk at all. It feels like something that could be… big. LEUS is launching internationally, not just in California, so there’s movement worldwide. I like the buzz.”

What makes this a good biz, what makes it unique?

“It’s not just about towels, we’ve started a brand that people want to be a part of, something that makes them feel good.  The big brands make towels and shove ‘em down at the bottom of the surf shop, under all the shit. LEUS has a rad product that looks good on the shop floor and ‘cause it’s priced fairly it’s almost an impulse buy.”

Conner’s so into his new thing, he did a road trip through Spain and Italy schlepping the towels. He says it gave him belief in the brand when shop owners threw open their doors, their arms, and wallets. The first run is already sold out and the company is three times bigger at launch than they figured in their biz plan.

As far as goals, end points, Conner says he’d always wanted to go to college but didn’t have the time ‘cause he was dirtying his rails. This, he says, is his version of a biz college.

“I get to learn my degree in real life,” he says. “If it’s super successful that’s awesome and I feel like we’re in a good position to do that. Our goal is to start in surf and build the brand through that. And then grow in other categories.  This ain’t just surf. Especially right now. You probably heard but the surf industry ain’t doing so hot.”

How important is it, in your opinion, as an athlete, to think about life beyond contest heats?

“They’re little moments of time. I try to put a lot of importance on everything going on outside of a jersey. Contests don’t last forever and I’d be bored if I didn’t do something afterwards.”

(Editor’s note: If it didn’t strike you in the face already, this story came out of a meeting with Conner and the guys from LEUS, who’ll be on the side banners on the site for the next week, each day alternating with a new print from the debut range. I get a buzz from LEUS, as I did from Stance years ago, that these guys will own towels.)

Watch: Surfing Mag’s E. Geiselman!

Michael Ciaramella

by Michael Ciaramella

Not your average sibling rivalry…

We can all agree that Surfing Mag produced high-quality cinematic content. From monthly super-session edits to the best drone-work in the biz to feature films on Jack Freestone and the Geiselman brothers, Surfing thrived in moving picture. That is mostly due to their progressive outlook and the artistic vision of ex-staff-filmmaker Sean Benik (currently accepting offers, surf brands!).

Just before, or maybe just after Surfing was killed dead, they produced their final piece — E. Geiseilman (There are two) — about brothers Eric and Evan Geiselman. Aged twenty-eight (Eric) and twenty-three (Evan), the Floridians have forever existed in the spotlight thanks to their immense talent and model good-looks. While Eric veered from competition to pursue more whimsical modes of waveriding, Evan has kept his nose to the grindzone in an attempt to prove himself worthy of the top thirty-four. He narrowly missed the cut in 2016 despite winning two events.

E. Gesielman seeks to highlight the vastly divergent, occasionally combatant personalities of two talented siblings. There’s Eric: the artsy, care-free string bean of natural ability and Evan: the driven, fearless golf enthusiast who once unsuccessfully drowned at the Banzai Pipeline. That debacle, plus an abundance of top-tier progressive surfing can be found inside. I particularly enjoyed the Central America section (4:50), as Ev’s unhinged approach is serenely juxtaposed by his style and ability in the tube. Plus those waves… hubba hubba!

Come revel in Surfing Mag‘s last great film!