The Cleanest Men in Show Biz

Two drug-free athletes in their forties own board sports. Tell me that ain't a coincidence… 

One man is 46-years-old. The other, 42.

Tony Hawk and Kelly Slater. One causes mayhem with a solitary spin; the other drops 3.26 minutes worth of… what’d you even call that? Kelly calls it an 810 (click here to read interview).

Granted, Hawk’s latest video edit, Perched, was pieced together over months while Slater’s single 540 was simply a moment in time.

But, Christ, looking at the two of them, at that age, doing that… who’s suddenly ashamed at blaming their lack of skill on age? What inspiration Tony and Kelly are!

Two totally different men, of course, but there is one defining characteristic they share. Both were marginalised from within their own sport early on in their careers for their clean living and refusal to hang out and sink piss.

Hawk drew the ire of skating’s coolest, including Duane Peters, the child prodigy turned tattooed, tooth missing, pot-bellied, booze-and-drug-addled punk rocker who recalls spitting on The Birdman “a lot”.

And do you think Slater won any fans when he was quoted on the cover of the now-defunct Waves magazine stating, “Being an Aussie is a poor excuse for getting on the piss”.

But both stuck to their guns, continuing to rack up wins, fame and glory while the detractors either disappeared, snuck off to rehab, or worse still, got a job in the industry.

But isn’t life just like that? And to some degree it’ll start on the school playground. The cool kids and the weirdos. Those bathed in glory and/or pussy from an early age and those gifted an awkwardness that’ll go one of two ways. A vengeful school shooting or… the creation of Apple.

Stumble upon any school reunion and the funny little algorithm will be plain to see. The once-were Mr and Mrs Cool, clinging onto 1985 or whenever, usually sporting a couple extra kilos and a bad tattoo. “Oh, that’s your children’s names? How cool. Do I want to do some… speed?” 

Then there’s the weirdo, primed and pumped (if not incarcerated for said shooting) ready to dazzle with a list of achievements and, often, a trophy wife to boot.

Kelly Slater and Tony Hawk. Never cool, but forever cool. Kids. Don’t do drugs.


American surfers hate the world.

Or to quote Kenny Powers, "I'll fucken sponge this whole entire ocean up with my big ol' dick."

The ISA, or International Surfing Association, World Games are happening right this minute in Peruvian surf. It is chunky and the sky is dark, but it also looks very fun. Overhead and slow enough for you or me to practice needlessly aggressive cutbacks.

This is, in fact, the 50th anniversary of the games, which truly showcase the universal appeal of surfing. Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates and Scotland all field teams. Hawaii, the United States and France do not. Why? Is it pride? Jingoism? Not wanting to see surfers from Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates and Scotland practice needlessly aggressive cutbacks?

The United States has a history of not joining international bodies. In 1920, at the Paris Peace Conference, the global community gathered to end World War I and form a consolidated assemblage called The League of Nations with the principal goal of maintaining world peace through disarmament and settling international disputes through arbitration. Theoretically, all winning ideas. But the United States did not join because Republicans, who had gained control of the senate, tend to think the rest of the world is crap.

The United States charted its own course, the League of Nations fell apart, the United Nations grew in its ashes and the USA joined that body in order to bat around ineffectual ideas and throw up roadblocks just for the fun of it.

It makes sense, therefore, that the United States did not field a team at the ISA World Games. Arrogance born of the fact that it is the only nation in the world that really matters. And it makes sense that Hawaii did not field a team. If you could surf Pipe, right now, would you want to surf Peru? But France loves chunky slow surf and, equally, loves any and all entangling alliances. It makes no sense for them not to be bogging rail at the Games.

In any case, the official reasons for no Hawaii, USA or France will remain a mystery. Calls to the ISA headquarters in La Jolla, California went unreturned.

At the close of each day of surf competition, the sport's fans turn to Australian Sean Doherty for his daily analysis. Why does he do it? How can he squeeze such beautiful prose out of his fingers when the money and conditions are so poor? "The great conundrum in writing surf online for chicken feed is that when you’re being paid $150 for a story you fall into the trap of writing $150 worth of pure mediocrity. The problem then comes when the Internet keeps your horseshit contest report alive for eternity with your byline stuck to it in 40-point type. The trick is to write like your story is going to hang around and either help you or haunt you forever." This photo was taken during the Globe Fiji event a while ago and demonstrates Sean's indefatigable spirit. Always up late, always hunting stories. | Photo: Derek Rielly

Revealed! The best surf reporter in the world!

Maybe you can guess, maybe you can't. He ain't pretty like Chas but he's good!

Sean Doherty! Did you guess already? Of course you did! There ain’t a surf fan who doesn’t pine for Sean’s spiked analysis of each day’s surf competition.

If you haven’t seen, met, or sighted a photograph of Sean, you must let me describe. He’s a little under the old six-foot measure (more than a little, but let’s be kind! Short people ain’t got the humour us regs do), he has the strong torso of a lifelong surfer (which is surprising because he likes to put away beer), must be very close to forty years old, his crown is relieved of the burden of hair, and as for his surfing ability… yes. He surfs!

And he’s good enough to combo a wave from mouth to ass and enter and exit a tube. On his passport are enough stamps for Hawaii to guarantee his bone fides when it’s over four foot.

Sean is also the author of the definitive biography, MP: the life of Michael Peterson. I feel so bad when I think of this book because when it came out in 2003 I was just launching Stab with my friend Sam McIntosh. We both worked with Sean at emap and while we enjoyed, very much, his company, we felt his style at Tracks was on the wrong side of the surfer-as-patriot line. All those old-school metaphors!

And so when I reviewed the book, which is something like an historical artefact in hindsight, I concentrated not on the skill of the man who pulled it all together but on the character failings of the surfer it covered. And when I saw Sean at some kinda movie premiere shortly afterward he wore his heart on his sleeve and it was bloodied as all hell.

“I was disappointed with what you wrote,” he said.

I acted tough (“Well, fuck, man, that’s what I felt”) but I burned inside. What book had I written? What compelling paragraph had I constructed, even?

Anyway, times change, and over the last couple of years, in particular, I’ve grown to love Sean’s reportage. He’s been in the biz long enough to have good contacts. People trust him. He listens. He watches. He’ll drink at the bar all night if the bro’s are in a fever and so he is included among the pro surfing fraternity, unlike me who constantly frets over his weight and panics if he isn’t asleep by midnight.

In every other sport there’s a handful of writers who define a sport and who write its history, and by history I don’t mean in retrospect, I mean when it’s happening. Sean is surfing’s poet laureate. It’s man of letters.

And so I had many questions to ask. For instance, what is good surf writing?

“The act of surfing itself is quite boring to write about and few people ever do it well,” he says. “My pet hate is the over-romanticising of riding a wave – gliding like a dolphin, soaring like an albatross, that kinda shit – turning surfing into some existential masturbatory act. I like writing that illuminates the characters who do it, because most people I know who surf tend to be unhinged in some way while magnificent in others.”

Sean is  the only person that I’m aware of that actually…reports… from surf events. Why does he think this is so?

“No one else seems stupid enough. The great conundrum in writing surf online for chicken feed is that when you’re being paid $150 for a story you fall into the trap of writing $150 worth of pure mediocrity. The problem then comes when the Internet keeps your horseshit contest report alive for eternity with your byline stuck to it in 40-point type. The trick is to write like your story is going to hang around and either help you or haunt you forever. It’s the same principle you should apply to all the menial jobs in your life… lavish the detail on the small things and the big things take care of themselves.”

Does he enjoy this lack of competition?

“I occasionally feel like the last Tasmanian Tiger wandering around the cage in Hobart Zoo,” he says. “It was great for a while when guys like Steve Shearer were writing and there was a bit of a rising tide happening but those days sadly seem long gone.”

Sean’s reporting style is of the purist kind (“I’m the wanker with the notebook,” he says). He isn’t in the media scrum and he eschews the use of cameras.

“The better stories tend to gestate inside bars, in car parks and at parties,” he says. “And I like quirky observational shit. Like, on day one at Snapper this year, the first heat of the first event under the new ASP, and their quest to modernise pro surfing kicked off with Creed’s Arms Wide Open blaring over the PA. It was raining cheese and that was truly a gift from above. You couldn’t make that shit up. But it’s always fun fossicking for a crumb of meaning amongst the general soullessness of pro surfing… and even more fun thrusting meaning upon things that don’t have it. It’s like making a dog talk.”

I say to Sean, I’ve noticed your writing has become more sophisticated over the last year. Have their been external influences? Have you been reading more?

“The only thing I read growing up was the back of an Orchy bottle so I’ve spent my later years trying to backfill the classics,” he says. “I’m pretty voracious these days trying to catch up. It’s amazing how elastic and regenerative the brain can be even after 15 years of sticky green punishment.”

I feel like the best writing comes when you can accurately record, on the page, how you actually feel. So often, I write something, and it doesn’t communicate exactly what I want it to communicate. What about Sean? Is he happy with his results? The cat is honest.

“Not particularly. It all seems a bit disjointed and lost and I don’t really seem to have a voice. I also tend to fall into the habit of plagiarising narratives from whatever book I’m reading at the time and overlaying it on whatever the fuck is going on in the water at the time. It works sometimes… other times not so much. I was reading Mailer’s The Fight during Pipeline last year with Mick and Kelly going for the title and it fitted snugly. Mick and Kelly resolved nicely into Foreman and Ali respectively. One of my favourite characterisations ever came from this book when Mailer described how Foreman dreamed of pummeling Ali and turning him into a “long thin dying clown”. Other times it doesn’t work quite as well. I was reading Morrissey’s autobiography during Snapper this year, but sadly there’s a shortage of misanthropic dandies on tour these days to play the role.”

Is there any ultimate aim in his writing?

“I never really work with a higher purpose, which may explain why I’m stuck writing about surfing,” he says.

What are the keys to becoming a great reporter?

“I suppose you have to highlight the distinction here that you are reporting on surfing and not on American interventionism in the Middle East or a car crashing into an orphanage, so you got to make it fun. Again, it’s just surfing.”

And what advice could first-class surf reporter Sean Doherty give someone wanting to break into the game?

“For the love of God, don’t.”

Read Sean Doherty’s work on and at Surfer magazine. Click here! 

So you land at Puerto Escondido airport and while the rest of the drab surf crowd is shuttling off to whatever hotel, you're coming… home. Pour yourself a drink. You've earned it!


Who doesn't want to towel modern life for a meaningless existence in Mexico?

Who doesn’t wanna throw away the city dream and migrate to a land where the people smile every single second of every single day and the living is so cheap and breezy!

This house in Oaxaca province in Mexico is a super authentic three-bedder, is absolute oceanfront (with the most grinding tubes a shortish walk away), has its own pool, a vast showering area (get sexing!), filtered water (it’s hot and the stuff out of the tap is pure gunk) and it even has its own maid service (you’ll sleep on the crispest sheets!).

It’s Mexico, too, so drugs are plentiful if that’s your kink. Get on the spike and no one cares!

What’s it all cost? Less than half-a-mill! Click here to buy.

view from Puerto Escondido house
So you land at Puerto Escondido airport and while the rest of the drab surf crowd is shuttling off to whatever hotel, you’re coming… home. Pour yourself a drink. You’ve earned it!


house in puerto escondido with pool
Between sessions, imagine this, sexing and drinking and maybe even having underwater lap contests at your house’s pool, sandwiched between the two pavilions.


View from Puerto Escondido house
And this is the library or smoking lounge or opium den or orgy room. Maybe everything! Life is there to be lived!
view from house in Puerto Escondido
No one’s coming to bother you here! On your striped lounge you can lay back and ponder the essential meaningless (and awesomeness!) of life.

Stephanie Gilmore is a true surfer. She is in touch with God, with the universe. | Photo: Morgan Maassen

Become a better lover (and surfer) right now!

The universe has a rhythm! Y'gotta plug in, baby!

The universe has a rhythm and it is fast/slow/fast or slow/fast/slow and those who operate in any other way appear jarring like Scarlett Johannson’s singing career.

Yes, the alternation between slow and fast, fast and slow, in methodical, purposeful, directed ways makes for magic. Let us look, for instance, at the music of Led Zeppelin. Let us look at Stairway to Heaven.

There is a lady who knows all that glitters is gold and she’s bu-u-uying a stairway to heaven.

The masterpiece starts slow, a lullaby for the awakened, but somewhere in the middle of its seven plus minute running time it spikes. Furious strumming of double-necked electric guitars. The pounding of booze-soaked drum heads. Your head is humming and it won’t go, in case you don’t know. The slow comforts us, the furious excites us and when the song ends slow (And she’s bu-u-uying a stairway to hea-e-ven) we have reached auditory orgasm. Stairway to Heaven mirrors the rhythm of the universe.

Let us look at sex. The man who enters and pounds at a punk rock pace until he has finished is the most worthless sort of lover. Sometimes, yes, a woman wants to be manhandled, she wants to be abused, but the man is only abusing himself if he refuses for one instance to change pace. He must let himself breathe. He must feel the enjoyment building. The best lover starts slow, builds to a wild hair-pulling pace, and then, without awkward hiccup, returns to slow. Or he starts recklessly and then slows like he is swaying in a rowboat on a tranquil lake, so peaceful, before returning to his icky thump. She will moan with the truest of pleasures and he will too.

Let us look at film. Al Scarface Pacino does not enter the first frame lighting up the silver screen with bullet and cocaine. No. He enters as a poor Cuban criminal. He enters slow and of humble origin though arrogant. And later he falls in love and later still he lights up the silver screen with swears and angry red eyes. And then he is shot in the back. Slow to rapid fire to dead (slow).

Let us look at marathoners. The gun cracks and they are off! They run quickly to best position themselves and then they slow. They pace themselves properly for the long haul. They move methodically as if in a trance. And then the end is in sight and they move like wobbly lightening in order to finish strong.

And, finally, let us look at surfing. Some ill-breds who are out of touch with nature itself paddle into waves and they peer down the line and they think, “speed!” And so they pump their legs like pistons and they beat the wave. They change neither pace nor direction for theirs is only a straight line of fast and it is painful to witness. Others, usually on longer, thicker boards, set their course and don’t move a muscle. Slow. Only slow. And their stiffness is hardly witness-able.

But the true surfer, the one in touch with God, drops in and does a luscious bottom turn and then creeps back up toward the lip. She then shimmies fast and hits the lip. Pow! And another slow arcing cutback to slow himself and a fresh burst to finish with an air reverse. Or she bends his knees and maxes out the throttle on his first move and wham! into the sky before slamming the breaks in the form of a slidey tail something before picking it up once more with a burst of turbo before stopping entirely with a frontside 360 foam climb.

The best music, sex, film, long distance running and surfing all follow the formula of fast/slow/fast or slow/fast/slow and if the reader is still unclear let him watch softcore porn on late night HBO.

He will understand the essence of life and his surfing will greatly improve.