John John Florence and Jamie O'Brien, vintage photo
John John survived Jamie's vicious childhood hazings and came through with rockets on. Now their souls hold hands and cling together even when they bicker!

My Tortured Relationship with John John

Jamie O'Brien on why John John refuses to surf Pipe if he's out… 

Jamie was right there on the Shore when John John started to fool around in the water. He got John into contests and pushed him into waves during his first-ever heat, when the kid was four.

But, “Jamie used to tease John,” says John’s mama Alex. “He used to cross the line. He’d throw dog poops at the kids.”

And their relationship now? Listen to the thirty-ish Jamie in this wonderful short talk about his protege. “Our relationship is not like anyone else’s. We bicker and we hate each other and we love it. Sometimes he doesn’t even want to surf Pipe because I take his waves from him… He wants the waves I want and I want the waves he wants and that makes me wanna surf more.”

Jamie O’Brien talking about his relationship with John John Florence. from I Want My North Shore 2 on Vimeo.


Grant Twiggy Baker at Jaws
Twig at Jaws, a favourite photo of his. "The fear of drowning is always present," says Twig. "But for me, everyone has to die and does it really matter in the big picture if it's today or in 30 years time? | Photo: Richard Hallman

How to kill the yips in big waves

"It's a circus ride underwater," says big-wave world champ and ESPN "hellman" Grant "Twiggy" Baker…

<strong>My Dad was a professional golfer and he always used to talk about the yips</strong> and how they can knock you right out of contention on any given day.

But what about big waves? Can we kill 'em? Or can we at least avoid 'em? Who wants to be trembling with fear when a big-wave comes, anyway?

The fear of drowning is always present but for me, I figure, everyone has to die and does it really matter in the big picture if it's today or in 30 years time. So rather then letting that fear govern what you do, use it in positive ways. Use it to make smart choices in surfing and in life and use it to push yourself as far as you can. For me the fear of serious injury is more apparent then the fear of death. I hate being injured.

When I see a 30-footer about to land on my head, I stop thinking. What happens is a trance-like state comes over me and I click into a head-space that's hard to explain. One where everything slows down and you are acutely aware of yourself and what you need to do to survive. Instinct takes over and all the experience and training you have, helps you to the other side. Or, uh, not.

For a lot of surfers it's not so much a fear of the wave they're going to ride but the fear of the unseen clean-up set. But getting caught inside is not nearly as bad as a wipeout even though it seems that way. Durning a wipeout you only get a quick breath and you have no control over your body while being caught inside gives you time to breathe up, fill your lungs, calm yourself and control your body position.

My first foray into big-wave surfing was done at Bawa in Indonesia in the early 90's. I would spend a few months a year camped out on the beach and it would get… <em>big</em>… often. So much so that eventually I had a quiver of nine-foot-plus surfboards stored there. I had some days looking back now that were easily in the 15-foot-plus range and my time there really prepared me for what was to come later.

The biggest wave I've ridden tow is 70-to-90 feet on that infamous day at Cortez in 2009 when Greg Long, Brad Gerlach, Mike Parsons and I went out between two huge storms on photographer Rob Brown's little boat and scored bigger waves then I have ever seen anywhere else. We were surfing the end section of the wave and up the reef it looked twice the size. This session made me believe that the 100-foot wave is easily achievable.

Paddle, I've ridden 50-to-60 feet on occasions: Mavericks during the 2010 event, Dungeons during the 2009 event,  Pe'ahi in 2013 and Cortez last year. I still believe my tallest-ever wave was at Dungeons but unfortunately no photo of it exists which is a true fisherman's story. My goal this northern-hemi season is to break the current paddle record held by Sean Dollar at 61 feet.

I've found that if you have mental issues with big-waves you can overcome 'em with physical conditioning. For me, it's all about being as physically prepared as possible so that you have no excuses mentally. In the past we have been far less prepared, and have managed to survive, so nowadays it seems like we are readier to tackle the waves we do.

Hold-downs that come very close to being grave existential crises do happen, however. And the best advice I've had was "Don't panic after you panic" which came from the legends of Waimea Bay. I try to remember this underwater. There will always be a certain amount of panic wanting to flood your body but if you can recognise this and focus on it, then you can change its course and stay calm.

Breath training is important, too. It ain't just a gimmick. It teaches you to be comfortable underwater and to know your limits which are, in fact, way further then you can imagine. In turn, that teaches you to stay calm, control your panic and enjoy the sensation of being held down by one of the most powerful forces in nature. It really is the ultimate circus ride!

That said, my record static breath hold is five minutes which I believe will give me around 40 seconds on a hold-down which is between a two-and-three-wave hold-down. Any longer then that and I will need to rely on my safety team to help out. An average hold-down would be around 12 seconds but even a medium-size wave with a long period will hold you down longer.

As for our limits, and particularly paddle surf, I don't think there are any. We are just setting the standard for future generations to shatter. New waves will be discovered, better equipment designed and fitter, stronger surfers ready to go. I can't wait to sit on my couch and watch them do it. Maybe it's you!

Gisele surfs Cloudbreak + Teahupoo for Chanel

…in this bewitching short directed by Baz Luhrmann… 

Brazilians are officially ruling the world. And is it any surprise? The leggy Brazilian once dated King of the Waves, Kelly Slater himself.

This spot for Chanel no. 5 was directed by legendary Australian Baz Luhrmann and tells a story of a woman who rips, is a mom, and very rich. But she wants love! Don’t we all?

Danny Fuller has it all and he has also appeared in Chanel commercials. In any case, watch and enjoy. Enjoy the steely resolve Gisele maintains in the barrel. Enjoy the home she built on the beach in Tahiti/Fiji. Enjoy that no one else is out surfing on this day, except Gisele. Enjoy that, unlike Gisele, you will never have it all because guess what? You are not Brazilian!

I know lots more about this mini-film but I can’t say anything at this time due to non-disclosure but it’s coming and you will have more than you do right now (which still won’t be it all because guess what? You are still not Brazilian!).

John John Florence wins Quiksilver Pro France
John John Florence was suddenly propelled into world title contention when he won the Quiksilver Pro, France, in difficult (but not for him!) six-to-eight-foot beachbreaks. "The waves were enough to drown Lebron James and send Derek Jeter crying to Mariah Carey," says Matt Biolos. | Photo: ASP/Kirstin Scholtz

Why pro surfing is better than any sport on earth

To hell with cry-babies Jeter and Lebron! Matt "Mayhem" Biolos on the miracle of the ASP…

The ASP has put together the most dynamic, ever-changing, globally diverse group of athletes, with the widest age group, in the most elite field of competitors of any organised sport in the world today.

The tour is that good. Let me explain.

This year I decided to focus more on my work with athletes on the world tour. That means travelling more to the events rather than just sitting here at Trestles all year waiting for the US Open and The Hurley Pro.

The first stop was Snapper. Then I went to Rio for the Brazil event. I dragged my entire family of six to South Africa for the Ballito Prime and the J-Bay Pro. Back home for the US Open at HB and, of course, we settled in for the Hurley Pro at my home break of Lowers.

In September, we loaded up the four kids and hit the road to Europe for the Roxy and Quik Pro in Hossegor. This made for five men’s world tour events and, with HB being a CT for the girls, five women’s events that I attended in person. When you watch that many events up close you start to really realise the scope of this tour and the challenges it puts on these elite athletes.

And this is without even being at the South Pacific events which are the heaviest waves on the schedule.

And what about France? What these guys do is paddle out in what is essentially impossible-to-paddle-out-to, closed-out wash-throughs  in low-tide beachbreaks that were enough to drown Lebron James and send Derek Jeter crying to Mariah Carey.

But what of the qualifying series? When you watch a few of the bigger events like the Mr Price Ballito or the US Open you realise that of the 100 or so athletes in these events only a handful have a chance to qualify. Meaning only a handful look good enough.

Even more telling is that of the yearly qualifiers. Many don’t look like they could compete at the level required to make it on the world tour anyway. It’s just so elite. It’s becoming a tour of super freaks. I cant think of anything else like it except maybe the genetic curios of sprinting.

I love the the global-ness of the tour. Other tours travel the world but a tennis court is man-made, golf courses are man-made, even downhill ski races are on tracks cut out of the mountain and groomed by tractors.

The ever-changing playing field in surfing is like no other. No other sport is so intertwined with nature. The variety of the waves on tour are impressive and can be even more diverse with a few tweaks. Bring back a slab like Chile or The Box. Maybe a radical cold-water expedition or a truly big-wave spot.

The humanity of the pro tour is also something that lights up every town it stops at. The tour surfers are very visible and for a couple weeks each year become pert of the fabric of the community. Pro surfers are everywhere: the coffee shops, bars, restaurants, and most importantly for our little culture to thrive, the surf spots. Every day, the guys and girls are out searching and surfing the local breaks. Not just the contest peak but all over. This is exciting and inspires the local kids and adult surfers alike.

In what other sport can you interact with the world’s best while they warm-up or practise for the next heat? Split a peak with Slater at Lowers? Priceless. You want to chat with Jordy between sets at J-Bay? Just paddle up and ask “Howzit?”

That point is also a double-edged sword. It’s the only sport I can think of where the athletes don’t have a closed-off, designated place to warm-up or practise. Six am, contest day, Trestles and Gabe Medina wants to warm up a little. There are 80 of his closest friends waiting to greet and compete with him for waves. It’s just not like that in any other sport.

And what about the dramatic age differences? For a man-on-man sport of high athletic demand, it’s got to be the most diverse age group going. Sure, there are specialists in various team sports who can remain valuable to a team into their mid 40’s. And surely some golfers can stay competitive pretty long in the tooth, but can you imagine an Olympic gymnast or ATP tennis player competing at a top level over 35, even 40. It doesn’t happen.

As for the webcasts, these are the single most unifying thing in the global surf community today. You can be on a beach on Bondi or Dubai, Trestles or Tel Aviv, and have the same conversation with the local surfers about the intricacies of a wave or heat or score for any one of these tour athletes.

We don’t all watch every little freesurf web edit that gets whipped up and drops on the internet at an alarming rate, but (especially with heats on demand, replays, and the highlight reels) more than any other time in the sports history, it seems like everyone is watching these events.

The presentations are slick, the announcers are doing a good job, and the back-end productions are solid. Honestly, its an incredible product they are giving us.

But lest the ASP should get any ideas about pay-per-view, listen: the broadcasts have to remain free. I mean, we don’t pay to watch Monday Night Football or the Baseball or NBA playoffs. Why should we need to pay to watch our surfing? The sponsors are paying to “Present” as in a Christmas Present, right?

Now if they could have just not made that godforsaken name change…

Scott Soens plies his trade on land.
Scott Soens plies his trade on land.

The water cinematographer is dying

Yet he is the strongest man you will ever meet.

The water cinematographer will surprise you, upon first meeting, with his girth. Handshake firmed from gripping thirty pounds of motion picture equipment in angry seas. Chest broad from three wave hold downs. Thighs filled from hours and hours of kicking. He is taller than you expect and confident because he faces nature’s worst and regularly survives.

But even though he is the picture of health and of masculinity, and even though his skin is bronze and his shoulders are round, he is dying a slow death. It is difficult to swing a Canon 7D on any beach and not hit at least seven water photographers in the mealy face, but you would have to travel to Daniel Russo’s house to hit a water cinematographer. Or Dave Holmes’s house. Or Rick Jacovich’s house. Or Chris Bryan’s house. Or Scott Soens’s house. The water cinematographer is rare and increasingly so.

I met with Scott Soens on a perfect Los Angeles morning not at his house but at the luxurious Milk studios, and he spoke, at length, about the art of surf cinematography, how beautiful it is, how difficult it is. I asked why it is a dying art and he responded. “It’s really hard to make a living purely shooting water. The equipment is expensive and takes time to master, for one. And, think about it, if you are shooting stills in the water a surfer can take off do a bottom turn, do a top turn then fall off. You’ve still got three shots. But if you are shooting it as a clip, the whole thing is ruined. So people are just not practicing it as much, or at all, and it is becoming, as you say, a dying art.”

Which is heartbreaking. Ask me, what is better than a very slow barrel clip shot from the water? I will answer nothing. It sums up everything elegant and everything perfect about surfing.

With Sonny Miller’s recent and tragic literal dying, the world lost another man’s man. Young child, if you aspire to grow into the very picture of virility, I implore you to pick up the RED and start swimming. We all need more flesh and blood heroes.

Scott Soens in his element.
Scott Soens in his element.