Submarine captain
"I will always remember my time as a submarine captain with a mixture of pride and satisfaction," says Chas Smith.

What it feels like to captain a submarine

Some surf, professionally. Others steer tons of steel beneath the seas.

The sea is the greatest place to ply a trade, and professional surfing is a wonderful example, but for those whose top turns do not differentiate, substantively, from their bottoms, there are many other opportunities to toil with sun in the eyes and saltwater in the hair. There is the Steinbeckian longshoreman, hardy and stout. The city lifeguard watching over bronzed youth in the throes of summer passion. The rescue diver, pulling corpses from Davey Jones’s icy grip. There is the proud submarine captain. Very few have experienced gliding a giant vessel under the surface. I am one of those few.

The submarine voyage begins with the captain pushing a button that releases a whistle and a deep, baritone voice telling the crew to secure the ship for sea, single up all lines, cast off fore, cast off aft etc. then eases the boat out of its moorings. Passengers below see bubbles, as the dive begins, down to ten fathoms, and a veritable plethora of sealife right outside their small windows. Lobsters, crabs, sea turtles. These amphibian patriarchs of the deep are direct decedents of the dinosaurs and have changed little in the past 200 million years.

The captain continues right, swinging past the Matterhorn. Below, the passengers see groupers, or giant sea bass and giant clams. They have fluted shells that can weigh over a quarter of a ton. The moray eel with its powerful tooth-filled jaws ambushes unwary prey from holes and crevices in the reef.

Next comes the cave, or “polar icecaps.” Below, passengers see a graveyard of sunken ships. A stronghold of lost treasure. Here, the submarine captain can have the most fun. His vessel is out of view and so he can bump the sub in front of him, causing the passengers to smash their faces on their small windows or press the kill switch and break down the ride for four hours while small children wail. But if he doesn’t push the kill switch, Atlantis, mermaids and an underwater volcano appear. It takes a deft hand to steer through this minefield. A googley-eyed sea serpent will appear last and the captain must make emergency maneuvers but does not put it in the official log because no one would believe it anyway. And then he eases the boat back into the dock.

I will always remember my time as a submarine captain with a mixture of pride and satisfaction. My white uniform gleamed. My aviator sunglasses reflected both the Southern California sun and the lusty stares from envious men and desirous women. I was a king of the sea.

Kelly Slater portrait with banana
"I can't remember Kelly having these odds against him for a final showdown at Pipe," says ASP Tour Manager Al Hunt. Slater knows, he remembers 1995 (Sunny's choke and Machado's high-five) and 1998, when Mick Campbell and Danny Wills trained for Pipe by climbing sandhills. "I love this scenario," he says. | Photo: Morgan Maassen

Interview: Kelly’s Impossible Odds (“I love this scenario!”)

You think what has to happen for Kelly to win at Pipe is too fantastic? Wait. He's done it before. Twice… 

Kelly Slater isn’t just the most enduring and surprising (and clean!) athlete in history. His native intelligence is married to an acute sense of history and precedent and so he knows…really knows… just how theoretically possible his chances of a world title win at Pipe are.

What a way to bookend his career, with the most stunning of come-from-behind wins, better even than 1995 (when Sunny choked and Rob Machado high-fived) and 1998 when Danny Wills and Mick Campbell’s sandhill training counted for nought in the Pipeline lineup.

Right now, the prevailing wind of opinion is that he’s pretty much out of contention at Pipeline.

“I can’t remember Kelly having these odds against him for a final showdown at Pipe,” says ASP Tour Manager Al Hunt.

“I don’t think Kelly ever won a title when ONLY the victory would matter and, remember, Kelly can still win Pipe and not be the champion,” says World Championship Tour Manager Renato Hickel.

Let’s ask Kelly about his famous ’95 win.

“In 95, sunny had to get 9th or less and got 17th, I believe. Rob was then in the lead after out semifinal and I had to win to pass him. I think this one is just about the same but if medina gets a 9th and I win I would lose by 300 points. Mick and I will likely both be on bottom of draw and I could theoretically have him in the semis and would have to win the final to pass him if I beat him in that. It would be about as far fetched as it gets in my corner.”

Far fetched, maybe, but it’s the anything-is-possible  mindset of Kelly that keeps him moving. Before Kelly, who’d imagine a surfer coming along and winning 11 world titles, including 54 events, and still be challenging for the crown at nearly 43?

“I love the scenario ’cause it’s a very outside chance for myself but not unrealistic,” says Kelly. “I’ve won on average every three years at Pipe so I have that chance. Mick’s best in man-on-man years is a third last year and it he repeats that and I win I would pass him. Medina has had a 5th I believe but his other two results would give me an open chance. That being said, I estimate my chances at about 5% or 1 in 20. It’s been 19 years since it was this scenario but it went my way that time. 1998 was very similar also.”

And Gabriel, if he wins, won’t he steal Kelly’s record for youngest-ever world champion? God no!

“No matter what happens, Medina is older than I was when I won. He’ll be 21 in December and I turned 21 in Feb after winning. I also won prior to Hawaii in October so I’m guessing that remains no matter what.”

It’s also instructive to note that if Kelly wins at Pipe, it’ll be his eighth Pipe Masters. Kelly won his first in 1992 (when he was 20) and also last year, 2013 (aged 41).

Rob Bain breaks neck
How y'going to feel after being scalped and busting your neck? This is Rob Bain, a one-time title contender, after head-butting the reef at North Avalon in Sydney, Australia. "It's the worst thing but it was also a beautiful thing," he says. Listen to his most compelling story below…

Spoken Word: The day I broke my neck (and was scalped)!

Life can be violently extinguished or instantly ruined. Here, Rob Bain recalls the day his world changed…

Five yeas ago, the one-time world title contender, Rob Bain, head-butted a reef, was scalped and broke his neck.

“It was the worst thing but it was also a beautiful thing,” says Rob.

Click below to listen to his radical story, knowing he was “broken inside” of “feeling like I was going to die” of hearing the paramedics and the doctor arguing over what to do with his terrible injuries and the aftermath of a catastrophic injury.


Asher Pacey portrait
One morning last winter, I woke up, went surfing, and Asher Pacey was, um, beautiful. And the crummy airs were replaced with expressive and patient brushstrokes! It's true. Handsome men do surf better. | Photo: Otis sunglasses

Theory: Handsome Men Surf Better

They are wholly confident. And their aesthetic beauty translates to the wave… 

“How beautiful maleness is, if it finds its right expression.” D.H. Lawrence

The first time I came across Asher Pacey was in an issue of Tracks, circa 2004. It was a cropped picture of him standing victorious on the podium of a nameless airshow held in a gutless city beach break. This picture however, was not celebrating his achievement; it was ridiculing him for the state of his oral health. The tracks in his mouth were the harshest of metals. My estranged stepfather is a dentist and I showed him the picture.

“That’s clearly Malocclusions caused by moderate to severe crowding,” he said.

The next time I encountered Asher was years later in the Snapper car park. His hair was long and peroxide tipped. His teeth were perfect. Fresh Rhythm stickers graced the medley of fresh crafts in the back of his Holden Commodore as did what looked to be a box of fresh veggies.A beautiful girl sat in the front seat in a floppy felt hat, the first I’d seen. If it wasn’t for my completely useless, stalkeresque selective memory that allows me to recognise every mid-range pro surfer from 2001-2008, I wouldn’t have picked this as the same man from the glossy pages of Tracks. Upon his entering the water I witnessed that the makeover was complete. Gone were the froggy airs and in their place were the most expressive and patient brush strokes you’ll find on the Gold Coast points.

Handsome men surf better. They are wholly confident. Kelly Slater himself documented his own plight with self-confidence/vanity (they’re totally linked in case you hadn’t realised) in his seminal 2004 autobiography Pipedreams. He explained that as a young man he suffered from considerable acne. As the post-Tom Curren Great American Hope the spotlight was fierce and oft shoved right in young Slater’s pustule ridden face.

His dermatological insecurity was highlighted when, while waiting in the Surfer magazine headquarters in California, Kelly read some graffiti scribbled on the wall.

“Kelly Slater has pimples!”

Envy manifests itself like most other forces: by taking the path of least resistance. For proof see the Stab message boards. If somebody’s obviously aesthetically flawed, despite their athletic ability, then it’s easy to highlight. Dane’s fat, Filipe’s ugly, Jordy’s nipples are too close together. It makes arm-chair critics feel better about themselves but it makes the pro’s weep.

Imagine how Asher must have felt, that first day the swells, winds and tides of Snapper Rocks aligned in symphony with the shedding of his train tracks. Like the Berliners the first sunny day after the fall of the wall! Asher’s Instagram (@asher_pacey) depicts the perfect Australian waterman, circa right now. He fishes, surfs (a lot) and has that knack of avoiding overwhelming cheese in staged lifestyle shots. He just looks right. Marketing 101. Asher’s also a damn fine protagonist of riding an alaia, which is akin to pleasuring two women simultaneously: It takes a man with perfect balance, and almost meditative concentration to get the job done.

The web clips produced by Asher and Auteur Matt Kleiner are mesmerising. It might not be the fastest, biggest, most radical or cutting edge surfing, but the waves are East coast blue, the music melancholic, the lifestyle shots reflective of place and time, and Asher’s surfing is truly handsome.

SUSTENANCE from Matt Kleiner on Vimeo.


I feel handsome sometimes but not always. I felt handsome the other night. White chinos, cream cashmere sweater, brogues, a new haircut, and a fresh tan. Stepping out into the cool southerly I found my step filled with a rarely realised confidence. The confidence of aesthetic beauty.

My arrival at that night’s function was met with an assortment of pseudo-compliments blended with undertones of jealous mockery. I simply smiled until my greatest friend at the gathering pulled me aside.

“You know you look good, hey.”

Our eyes met, and a burst of shared laughter blew away in the breeze. I knew.

Eddie whispers, "Dear Laird, you can't know how thrilled I am to see you again, to save me from the V-Landers."

V-Land Locals Unkind to Surf Icon Eddie Vedder

Nineties punk-lite singer litters famous Hawaiian beach. Pays ultimate price!

The North Shore of today is going to become one of those places immortalized, dissected, and condemned in a New York Times Sunday Edition Op-Ed by someone who frequently updates their Linked In profile just as how pre-9/11 Manhattan is currently talked about. Countless people will lament about personal run-ins with the Hawaiian “bigs”, the best surfers, ice heads, and the occasional celebrity.

It’s impossible to spend any amount of time on the North Shore and not have a run in with someone who has starred in a movie or something. Those interactions will be the most boring story you leave the North Shore with because they’re often the most boring people on the plant. But if you’re the type that fantasizes about taking a selfie with Taylor Swift or Josh Hutcherson than you’re probably boring too. A short trip down the Kam Highway to Foodland to fetch some food could turn into a 36-hour bender in town with weird Burning Man fire dancers and a barbeque at Sandys wedged somewhere in between, or it could mean running into a famed musician.

You can tell a lot about a person based off of how they act on the beach. Those with metal detectors are usually hermits collecting misplaced treasures in hopes of one day buying a Real Doll, while those that wear gym shorts and basketball jerseys have probably never read a book in their life.

One time, I was walking towards Velzyland after a session out at Backyards. The waves were about four-foot Hawaiian and the wave, known as Freddyland, situated between the two spots was barely breaking. It’s a great spot for anyone who isn’t ready for some of the real surf breaks on the North Shore. I walked towards the Phantoms channel where a large group of my friends had been sitting. They were chatting and pointing at a long-haired man wearing a lanyard necklace and homemade tank top. It was Eddie Vedder sitting with his family.

Old Eddie had been renting out the house up the block from where my apartment was as he was working on his ukulele album. As I walked up to my where my friends were sitting, a neighbours of mine, originally from some middle-of-the-country suburban hellhole, began yelling in her newly acquired pidgin accent about how Eddie Vedder had been throwing orange peels on the beach.  I wished I could have seen Eddie’s face as a transplant from the mainland patronized him for throwing his orange peels on the beach.

Eventually Eddie paddled out to surf a wave that wasn’t really breaking. A one-foot set came through and the lead singer of Pearl Jam paddled as deep as he could and stood up on the wave. He didn’t pump and he didn’t need to pump. He was Eddie Vedder.

Somewhere, a gentleman sweeping the beaches is listening to Better Man as he stockpiles lost jewlery in hopes of one day purchasing a Real Doll.