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Yemen: The Art of Ignorance!

Chas Smith

by Chas Smith

Chapter 1. Boys who know nothing about waves plan surf trip.

(I am writing a series about Yemen because what is currently happening there is terrible beyond. My inaction disgusts me and so I am going to introduce you to to the country because… the place, people, culture all deserve to be saved. Prologue here and I’m only including this next piece for background. Not for narcissistic thrill.)

Where else to start but at the beginning? The problem with beginnings is that true ones are not very impactful. Maybe a stray thought in the middle of the night. Or a half-baked conversation between friends. Or a flicker of an almost idea between bites of a grilled cheese sandwich. Beginnings only become “beginnings” after something has happened to make the “middle” and the “end” valuable. Beginnings are ephemeral at best, pure hagiography most of the time, completely forgotten at worst.

The beginning to this Yemen saga is somewhere between ephemeral and forgotten but I will strive to tell it as honestly as I can. It is one benefit that distance from events brings. The ability to be honest. To know, intimately, my shortcomings and to steer clear of them. To only strive for the truth as I remember it without being shrill or sensationalistic.

I had become fascinated by the middle east as a child and have always attributed it to my uncle who founded a Christian medical team that went to war stricken countries but, I’m convinced, was also/mostly in the CIA. His house was littered with pictures of him and Ollie North, Ronald Reagan, etc. and he once screened a slideshow for my family that featured many images of him posing proudly with bearded Mujahadin fighters and Stinger missiles tied to the backs of donkeys headed from Pakistan to Afghanistan to fight the commies. He had a scruffy beard like them.

But really, my fascination began more prosaically. My dad loved reading National Geographic and loved stories of Yemen most of all. He would point those out to me when I was even younger. The people, the history, the architecture, the flora and fauna and it must have stuck. The country had trees named Dragon’s Blood that actually bled when cut. My young mind couldn’t even conceive of such a thing. I also vaguely remember reading some missionary pamphlet thing at church that said Yemen was the only country in the world with no Christians. 0%. That fascinated me. A whole country without Christians. I wondered what they all did on Sunday?

Somewhere between uncle and father I ended up studying for a semester in Egypt. Returning the next year to travel from Cairo to Damascus to Cairo but getting waylaid by amoebic dysentery in Aqaba, Jordan for one whole week. Tied to an IV but oddly thrilled because I was in the town that Lawrence of Arabia took from the rear after crossing the sun’s anvil.

And then 9/11 happened. I had been espousing the beauty of the Arab for a few years already when those planes, piloted by Egyptians (proto-Arabs), slammed into America’s heart. My mother called me early in the morning hyperventilating and accusatory. “You said they were good.”

“You said they were good.”

And I felt disgusted but filled with a wicked desire. Disgusted because those bastards. Wickedly desirous because I knew everyone in the entire world was going to be staring at the middle east and I needed to take my one semester plus one hospital stay’s worth of Arabic and go back. Ugly narcissistic ambulance chasing but I promised honesty so there you have it. It also felt like a once-in-a-century opportunity to actually waltz where history was being written.

And Yemen. During those weeks after 9/11 I kept hearing it on the news and reading it in the newspapers. Osama Bin Laden and Yemen. He had apparently had masterminded the attack in Yemen’s hills and many Al-Qaeda were still there, the same who had blown a hole in the USS Cole a few years earlier.

Yemen.

Yemen.

 

Yemen.

No Christians. Bleeding trees. Osama bin Laden. I couldn’t get it out of my head and walked to my best friend’s house down the street. He had just begun his degree in Islamic Studies at UCLA. I opened his door and said, “Yemen?” He went right to a giant old British atlas, pulled it down, plopped it open on his dining room table and we spent the next hour gazing at its coastline.

We both only possessed the most basic knowledge of what made waves and this was long before Google Earth. The way the Horn of Africa jutted out seemed like it would island shadow Yemen’s whole coastline but…

“Isn’t that basically the Indian Ocean? Doesn’t the Indian Ocean have all kinds of sick waves?” I asked, ignoring both geography and science.

My friend looked at me and said, “Sure.”

“Yeah. Like Indo n stuff.” I nodded, continuing on, putting the full weight of my surf magazine education to work.

“What about that hook right there? Up near the border of Oman? It seems like its far enough away from Somalia and would pull swell from some direction…” he said tracing his finger along the shoreline.

“For sure.” I responded.

“For sure.”

“And that’s where Osama Bin Laden’s family is from…” he continued, dragging his finger slightly inland to a place called Hadramawt.

It sounded straight out of Indiana Jones.

Ments Charter Boat Crashes and Burns!

Derek Rielly

by Derek Rielly

Classic Indonesian surf charter boat hits reef and burns to the waterline…

I doubt if there is a surf experience quite like that served by the flotilla of charter boats in the Mentawai Islands. Choose your boat well and life’s choices become as easy as Negroni or gin-and-tonic for sundowner and whether to select the five-nine or six-o for the easy-as-anything tubes.

You know how it works: sling a few thousand US into some distant bank, get a plane to Padang, peel off your shirt and marvel as the oyster opens.

Life is easy. Until it isn’t.

A couple of night ago, the surf charter boat Star Koat, an eighty-foot trad Indonesian wooden boat built in Sibolga for twelve passengers, ran aground while taking a short cut in the Mentawai’s deep south a little before eight pm.

The twelve Brazilian guests, the Australian and Brazilian guide and the six-man crew slept on the beach, and the reef, as it rained through the night.

Assistance was called the following morning.

The wonderful Ratu Motu, skippered by Captain John Shawcross and owned by Quiksilver founder Al Green, salvaged what they could (Mentawai locals had already inspected and taken what they needed), and the guests were brought aboard.

Shortly afterwards, the Star Koat caught fire and burnt to the waterline.

What happened?

Skipper error.

“Missed the gap between two islands and drove straight up on the reef,” said Captain Shawcross.

Which ain’t as hard as it sounds.

If you’ve ever driven a boat at night, you’ll know it’s a haunted world full of mirages and false flags. Where figures appear and dance before your eyes and where reef passes suddenly appear where they shouldn’t be.

Do you want to heed the call and captain a Mentawai boat charter?

Click here to find out how!

Claim: Surf star’s dad swindles Billabong!

Chas Smith

by Chas Smith

Moralist takedown of Jack Robinson's daddy.

Stab magazine featured a very odd story today titled Go Home Pops, You’re Drunk. It was a savage description of Jack Robinson’s dad, Trevor, getting drunk in a Tahitian bar and behaving poorly. The writer, Jake Howard, went over Mr. Robinson’s various offenses, twisting the knife this way and that, summing it up:

The scene was heartbreaking. Jack’s a great kid. He’s clearly got the talent to be one of the best surfers in the world. When I first met him some years ago, he was bright-eyed and eager to learn and see the world. It was so clear he possessed everything he needed to go far in his surf life. Now that he’s on the verge of stepping into the big leagues, he deserves better than his old man swindling free beers on his sponsor’s dime.

And then writing about how he wished he’d said something about Andy Irons’s issues when Andy was still alive.

Very odd indeed and I don’t know that I’ve ever read anything quite like this. A real gut punch to an extremely periphery figure who hadn’t actually done anything other than getting drunk and bragging about driving drunk. Not too cool, to be sure but worth a story about the evils of drink and stage parenting?

I suppose it is a demand for action but what action is supposed to be taken? Is Billabong supposed to hammer…Jack for… his dad’s behavior in order to… get him into rehab? Or… hammer Trevor directly by… firing his son? Or… what?

Maybe it’s not a demand for action just a snapshot of life on tour… of parents.

In any case, this is BeachGrit and we’re nothing if we’re not anti-depressive! So here’s a happy Trevor Robinson annecdote!

The man once told me a long but funny story, standing at North Point, about how the magnetic properties of Western Australia’s rocks gave Jack surfing super powers. I found it to be one of the most wonderfully eclectic things I had ever heard in all surfdom and wonder if there is any truth in it and if I should move to Western Australia.

Later that day I got drunk on many Carlton Draughts.

Carlton Draught is the best beer in Australia.

Surfer mag: I call total bullshit!

Chas Smith

by Chas Smith

Surfer magazine Editor-in-Chief spins a wild yarn!

For all of surf media’s many many many many many many many mandy (sorry) many many many many failures, I think one of its grand strengths is accurate descriptions of what happens in the water. Surf stories are not like fishing stories. Wave heights are either described accurately or slightly under-reported. Outside the WSL booth, surf action is detailed in generally subdued terms. The weather, crowd, people in the lineup, etc. specified exactly. Or as exact as can be.

Enter Surfer’s Editor and Chief Todd Marinovich.

In the latest magazine, dubbed The Community Issue, Todd opens with this tale:

The midweek crowd at Ala Moana Bowls on the south shore of Oahu was light despite the dreamy shoulder-high left-handers consistently peeling along the reef. But even with plenty of waves to go around, the small local crew fell into an exclusive rotation, taking turns picking off the best set waves while outsiders were mostly left with scraps.

I couldn’t have cared less about being relegated to second-tier waves; after all, as a visiting San Diegan, what was my alternative? The locals likely surfed that break every day, had intimate knowledge of every piece of coral on the reef and therefore had earned the right to the best sets, so sayeth surfing’s unwritten code of wave worthiness. But not everyone in the lineup shared my perspective.

A slightly overweight, sunscreen-caked, rashguard-wearing tourist seemed a bit perturbed by the pecking order. He seethed as one of the locals — a tall, tan fellow with rippling muscles and traditional Polynesian tattoos on his face — paddled right past us and back to the peak after
getting a long, almond-shaped barrel through to the inside.

“Unbelievable,” the tourist said, shaking his head as he started edging deeper. On the very next set wave, the same tattooed local stood up, tickling the lip as a green cylinder formed around him. The tourist had had enough; he scratched into the shoulder and locked into a stink-bug crouch while a series of expletives echoed from the tube behind him. In that moment, I hoped the tourist was thoroughly enjoying the ride, because it seemed that his day would only go downhill from there.

Unsurprisingly, a sense of shared culture and community was the furthest thing from anyone’s mind in the lineup that day at Ala Moana as the local paddled full speed toward the tourist who had burned him.

“BRA, WHAT THE F–K YOU DOING?!” he shouted mere inches from the tourist’s face.

“Well,” the tourist started, chin up with a misplaced sense of confidence, “I noticed that you kept taking all of the good waves for yourself, and I’d like to have some good waves too, you know.”

There was a pregnant pause as the local looked the tourist over, trying to discern if he had any idea of the numerous bylaws he’d broken and the potential consequences. Suddenly, the local craned his head back and let out the kind of cackling, coming-apart-at-the seams laugh typically reserved for the single funniest thing you’ve ever heard. The tourist stared at him, awestruck as the local turned and started paddling back to the peak, struggling to catch his breath.

Perhaps that facially tattooed local had figured out something that eludes many surfers: Sure, the surf community may be inherently conflicted, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have a sense of humor about it.

And that right there is some egregious bullshit. There is absolutely no way in the world this actually happened.

Zero way.

But how do you think Mr. Todd Marinovich came to it? Did he:

a) Get high and think it really happened.

b) Watch 50 First Dates too many times.

c) Accidentally listen to A Prairie Home Companion before writing.

d) Accidentally listen to What the World Needs Now is Love (the Glee version) while writing.

e) Get his twelve-year-old emo sister to write it.

f) All of the above.

Has Todd every actually been to Hawaii?

Faux/Real: Novelty Waves!

James Booth

by James Booth

Waves for kooks looking for cool backgrounds for their next Instagram chop-hop? Or no?

Tell me.

In your considered opinion, are novelty wave exciting and intrepid and adventurous?

Are they cool?

Or are they the epitome of millennial douchbaggery?

If I were a Gen X contrarian, I’d be inclined to write novelty waves off as the domain of self-absorbed kooks who sacrifice size, length of ride, and the ability to manoeuvre just to get a cool background for their next Insta chop-hop.

But guess what?

I’m a millennial!

I love chop hops and quirky backdrops, and I reckon we get plenty of ‘manoeuvre’ training from all those daily surfs we get, while novelty wave haters sit in office cubicles pondering whether they still have the dexterity (and the immune system) to successfully navigate a wave like this.

Also, snaking seven year olds in Newquay harbour made me realise that no matter how shitty a wave, nor how many times you bog a rail, if you do it near something hard and full of barnacles, it’s kind of fun.

Fun?

Sure.

 

And if the threat of bacterial infection and stitches don’t get your juices flowing, novelty waves often provide an audience of non-surfers who ohh and ahh at every botched cutback and flailing highline.

Good for ego? Yes!

Bottom line.

Are novelty waves faux by definition?

Or does their inherent thrill make up for their inconsistency, tendency to be polluted, meagre size and so forth?