Is this the Greatest Surf Film of all time?

In which, among other things, Mark Occhilupo admits his largest regret.

Gerard Butler stood at the urinal pissing a vigorous stream. He had been holding it in all the way down the red carpet, those infernal camera flashes flashing. Through the interviews. Past empty conversations with drones. Fame was a heavy burden. Heaviest, maybe, on his bladder.

But, for the moment, he was free and his flow was strong. He looked to his left and it was empty. And he looked to his right. There, he saw a handsome young man with a chestnut brown face and lips as soft as pillows.

“You in the biz?” he asked.

“No, I’m just Sterling,” the young man responded. “Abby’s brother.”

Gerard squinted his eyes, recognizing certain features shared by his most recent co-star Abby, or Abigail, Spencer. “I see it,” he confirmed, before continuing, “Do you know who Rob Lowe is? Damn it. You look just like Rob Lowe…”

The young man said nothing. Gerard kept looking at him, sighed his approval, then zipped up and waltzed into the night feeling like a new man.

Sterling Spencer also left, feeling very good but not because he had a satisfying micturition. He had, in fact, been unable to perform while Gerard Butler stared directly into his face. He felt very good because he was not Rob Lowe. He was, rather, what Rob Lowe dreamed of being. A professional surfer and he knew he was on the brink of his own total fame.

Surf has, for the past sixty years, held a unique place in America’s cultural mythology. It represents vitality, youth, sun, perfection in a way nothing else quite does. Tom Wolfe wrote it better, though, in his essay about La Jolla called The Pump House Gang. “Surf is yip yip yow and the bronzed surfer is a-oooooga a-oooooga honk honk zow!”

And even though surf is being represented everywhere these days, from Chanel to Mazda to Visa to the Point Break remake and even though everyone, including Rob Lowe, wants to be a surfer, surf’s true stars are unknown outside of the cloister. Kelly Slater would maybe get a second glance on the street but that is mostly because he dated Pamela Anderson. And Gisele Bundchen. And Cameron Diaz.

Sterling was born knowing that even though everyone wants to be a surfer, to become truly famous, as a surfer, is a very difficult nut. He knew because his father, Yancy III, is a legend in surf circles. Sometimes called “The Duke of Gulf” and other times the “Godfather of East Coast Surfing,” Yancy III brought the sport of kings to Floridian rednecks. A statue has been erected in his honor in the town of Pensacola. But outside, Yancy’s legend means nothing. Initially, Sterling didn’t care. He looked up to his dad and wanted to be a surfer just like him.

He had the skill and the inimitable style born of great genetics. He danced on waves. His turns were almost perfect and his airs were second to none. The people on the beach went crazy anytime Sterling paddled out. They just couldn’t get enough.

He started competing on the east coast National Scholastic Surf Association tour when he was very young. The E.C. NSSAs are, in many regards, more difficult than surfing’s World Championship Tour where Kelly Slater has won twelve titles, smashing a field of drunks and heroin addicts. The competition is stiffer in the NSSAs and the stakes higher. Sterling shrugged off the pressure and surfed better than anyone, eventually winning four titles in a row. He was sponsored by surfwear manufacturer Billabong and laughing all the way to the bank. He was getting paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to float in the ocean. Then he laughed at Billabong and traded them in for Rusty.

One night, though, fate intervened in the form of a centaur. Sterling says it was not dreaming. He says he was wide awake when he walked outside the family home to the woods. There, a half man, half horse approached him and said, “You will never be famous.” Sterling responded, “What? I’m four time NSSA champion. I’m sponsored by Billabong and someday Rusty.” but the centaur was unimpressed. He shook his head and said, “No. You will never be famous.” Sterling decided, then and there, to prove him wrong.

His older sister, Abby, had already taken a more direct route to fame via Hollywood. She has been lauded for roles in Mad Men, This Means War, Rectify, Oz the Great and Powerful and alongside Gerard Butler in Chasing Mavericks. Sterling, though, decided to get famous as a surfer. He quit competing knowing that anyone outside of the surf world could not care less about titles and started a blog showcasing his unique ability, soon winning Surfer Magazine’s Battle of the Blogs. He became a big swell daredevil, snagging one of the largest waves ever ridden in the world off the coast of Alabama. He was interviewed by CNN’s Anderson Cooper. And he just finished filming his biopic titled “Gold.” James Franco recently caught a private screening and told Sterling, “I’m speechless. I’ve never seen anything this good in my entire life.” They subsequently became best friends.

Fame, real fame, is now within his grasp. Sterling is fairly nonchalant about it though, saying, “Surfing and being number one are really easy for me.” The ease can be seen in this film where a young Sterling finds his Occy. The greatest surf film of all time? Probably.

Flashback Boomerang from SterlingSpencer on Vimeo.

Dusty Payne: I’d rather be playing NFL

Today's winner of the Reef Hawaiian Pro, Haleiwa, talks life-dreams and the day his dad nearly throttled him to death!

Who doesn’t love a tragedy with a happy ending? Two men from the famous class of ’88 gone for all money, both left on the sidewalk of broken dreams, suddenly amplified by the spectre of ignominy.

Julian Wilson, the world-title apparent gasping for breath on the World Tour; Dusty Payne swishing around in the most unimpressive 97th spot on the Qualifying Series, 50 places below Argentina’s Santiago Muniz, even more behind Australia’s Stu Kennedy.

But, here, today, in a final that also included Jeremy Flores and Adam Melling, Julian hit two nines, Dusty, two nines and a bit. Such defiant displays of power! “Some of the most incredible surfing I’ve seen,” said Taj Burrow. “Dusty Payne you are weapon!”

Dusty is now 24th on the QS though is unlikely to qualify; Julian is fifth and will.

Now let’s prise open the reluctant tonsils of Mr Dusty Payne, from Maui.

BeachGrit: What’s the biggest mental hurdle you’ve had to overcome? 

Dusty: Competing. You don’t feel good when you lose. I get really bummed out and disappointed and down on myself. I get about a thousand voices in my head talking to me. Stuff like, “I’m such such a kook.” I get real negative. So I’m working on turning those negatives around and being positive on the whole thing. But it’s not easy. It’s harder than going and training physically. You have to constantly work on it. Not every event is going to be perfect for you.

Have you ever truly believed you were about to die? 

Yeah, I’ve had a few of those. When I was younger, maybe 17, when I was just getting into towing with my Dad, we were out one day and he let me go into a wave. And when he came back to pick me up the rope went around me and then a wave came. My Dad had to leave and he went around the other side and the rope did a full circle around me. Underwater, I felt the rope tighten against my neck. My Dad was taking off on the ski and the rope tightened all the way, choking me. I was thinking, “Oh my goodness, this is the end” as it pulled harder and harder. All of a sudden, the handle hit me in the head right before I blacked out. I really thought that was it. My neck was bleeding, I had no air, I thought I was going to die. Afterwards people looked at me funny for a bit. They thought the rope burn on my neck was a suicide attempt.

What do you dream about? 

Beating Kelly Slater. That’s my dream. I thought I’d had him so many times, I’ve come so close, but then he just bumps me. I thought I had him one time at the US Open and he did a huge backside air and got a 9.8. That would’ve been a good one to win. Damn it Kelly! I just want one!

What about real-life, childhood dreams? 

I always wanted to be in the air force here in the US, an air force pilot and fly those fighter jets. My dad was a pilot for Aloha airlines, my Uncle was in the navy and I totally looked up my Dad and my Uncle. Later, I got terrified of flying. I still hate it.

Ultimate sense of happiness? 

Sitting on the couch on Sunday watching football.

When you lie in bed, late at night into dark, what do you think about? 

That I wish I was playing in the NFL. That’s my ultimate dream. I always think about it.

What’s your biggest fear? 

Flying is my biggest fear, for sure. I remember this one flight on the way to California when I was younger and we hit turbulence and I was, like, what…is…going…on? Ever since then I’ve been scared of flying. Turbulence is the worst thing in the world. But I’ve come to peace with it. If a plane goes down it’s God’s way of saying it’s my time. But it’d be a bummer to die in a plane crash. I’ve always thought of bringing a parachute on an airplane. Like, it starts going down and I open the door and say, “Peace! I’m out!”

Do you think about fate? 

I know you can control your own fate but there are things that are just out of your hands. There are certain things you can’t control.

What do you like about your body? 

My teeth are straight.

What do you dislike about your body? 

I wish my knee was better.

Have you ever felt love? 

Yeah, my parents love me. I’ve never had a girlfriend or nothing. I dunno why. I haven’t found the right one.

What’s the worst insult you’ve ever received?

Being told my hair is reddish-blond from you.

What one person do you hate most in the world? 

Osama Bin Laden. Hitler.

Have you ever felt  truly hated by someone? 

I’m sure there is. But I don’t know ’em. To them I say, I’m sorry! Whatever it is I’ve done!

Matt Meola at Jaws
Don't make stupid decisions for a trophy and a check, says Maui's Matt Meola.

I have zero interest in the big-wave tour

Surfing is art, not sport says Maui's Matt Meola… 

You know a surf movie is good when writers drag out the thesaurus to search for alternatives to “awesome” and “unbelievable.”

Kindhearted folk who typically struggle with the conjugation of a simple verb (guilty!) cram as many adjectives into a single sentence as if it was 1995 and each was still worth 50 cents. Behold just one example bestowed upon Attractive Distractions, released this week on iTunes to rapturous applause.

“Attractive Distractions is a creative masterpiece that follows some of the most talented surfers into some of the most wave-rich destinations around the world,” says The Inertia. “It is a comprehensive piece that has the perfect balance of frothy tubes, mind-blowing aerials, top-level rail game, and big wave surfing for your viewing pleasure.”

Big call? Maybe, but Matt Meola, one-third of the creative team behind the flick describes it as thus.

“We are just hoping that this movie proves we are capable of making cool shit,” says Meola. “Maybe next time we can get a super solid budget for something even better.”

Either way, the movie’s likely to live up to the hype, how could a flick starring Meola, Albee Layer, John John, Clay Marzo and a bunch of other A-listers not? Yes, the film does indeed have “the perfect balance of frothy tubes mind-blowing aerials and much “top-level rail game”, but what it also has is Jaws. Lots of it.

Given their ability in the air, we sometimes forget how good guys like Meola and Layer are in the juice. And in case you’ve been out of Wi-Fi range the past couple days, Jaws just dropped a load and Meola, Layer and pals flew, drove and walked in to ride it.

The day before it broke, Meola told BeachGrit of the mind space he enters into once the buoys start to bobble. “The week before a swell can be pretty stressful. It’s not easy knowing your gonna put yourself in a life-threatening situating in the next few days,’’ he said. “But, I have a love-hate relationship with the place. Every day is different. Some days I wake up feeling super confident and some days I just don’t feel it. I just like to show up, check it and if I’m feeling it I’ll try catch a few.”

Oddly enough though, Meola says he has no urge to turn his lust for big waves into a career on the recently anointed ASP Big Wave World Tour. “It’ll be be insane to watch but I have zero interest in  competing on it.” he says.

Why? Well, an absence of the ingredient we like to call soul, for one.

“I started surfing for the love of it and how it made me feel and I see surfing to be more of an art form than a sport anyways. Every wave is different and everybody will ride that wave differently. But, that’s just my personal opinion. It doesn’t mean I don’t like to watch surf competitions.”

Meola even has a warning for competitors.

“I just hope everybody stays safe and they don’t make stupid decisions for a check and a trophy!”


Luke Stedman on Mr Porter
The world's biggest men's online clothing store falls in love with the Mona Vale surfer Luke Stedman. You will too! Over and over again!

Luke Stedman on Mr Porter

Online clothing juggernaut celebrates the pro surfer turned clothing designer with a most lavish profile… 

To make to the home page of the world’s biggest men’s online clothing store y’gotta either be a style icon like James Dean or Steve McQueen or a gorgeous figure such as Eddie Redmayne. Easy? No it ain’t.

The last time Mr Porter came to Australia doin’ shoots my old mag, Stab, was in the frontline and me and my biz partner were lined up. They got here with all their stylists and photographers and men in tight suits with ankles showing and pocket squares tapping away at big phones, howevs, and never called.

Our distress was amplified  when our pals from Monster Children were dressed “street style” and feted in its journal. When I saw, the loudest gasp popped out of me while my biz partner sobbed silently.

Anyway, Luke Stedman, the 38-year-old one-time world tour competitor, has begun cutting himself a slice out of the fashion pie with his brand Instedwesmile. 

High-ish fashion meets surf is how you’d describe it if you wanted to avoid the usual platitudes. Four collections a year; sixty pieces in each.

Click here to inspect. 

And so when Mr Porter came to Australia looking for men to yank into style-stardom, it was suggested by the editor-in-chief of Russh magazine, Jess Blanch, that they’d be doing the world a disservice if they didn’t profile Steds. He is, after all, something of a big dish, and his surfing bona fides are impeccable. Eleventh in the world at one point.

Don’t you just want to bury your face in the weave of his pants?

Read it here! 


Rory Parker diving
"What was surprising, and not in a fun oh-you-shouldn't-have type way, " writes Rory, "was the life threatening infection it had caused in my mastoid (the honeycomb skull bone behind your ear.) The doctor told me that it had most likely been there for a decade or more, and had been slowly dissolving my skull the entire time. What I'd thought were ear infections had been pus leaking from the bone infection through a hole that it had eaten into my ear canal. It had destroyed the bone between the infection and my brain until there was only a wafer thin bit left between me and meningitis. The doctor said, 'You've been diving with this?' 'Well, yeah. I've been trying to get to two hundred feet.' 'The pressure should have pushed the infection into your brain and killed you a long time ago.' Fuck me. | Photo:

Horror story: You got brain cancer! No you don’t! Wait!

In a split-second I'd just lost my entire identity. Who am I now? How the fuck do I live?

“The radiologist took a look at your CT scan, we need you to come in tomorrow to talk about the results.  I know you’re very active in the ocean, we’re going to need to talk about your future…”

Two months ago, my wife woke me up in the middle of the night and told me she was taking me to the emergency room. I’d been fine went we went to bed, sometime around 3 AM I started running a fever, and my left ear had sprouted a growth the size of a racquetball. I wrote it off as a bad case of swimmer’s ear and tried to go back to sleep. But there’s not much more persuasive than a concerned spouse. I was in the car and on my way to Wahiawa General 10 minutes later.

The ER doctor agreed with my opinion. It was a very bad case of swimmer’s ear. Just use the drops, it’ll be better in a few weeks.

I’ve had ear problems my entire life. It’s just something I’d learned to deal with. Wipe the filthy crust from your ear, put in the drops, wait for improvement, go back in the water. Repeat as needed. You get used to things, and by now, in my mid-thirties, ear pain and pus leakage is just part of doing business. I mean, what are you going to do?  Stay dry?  Play golf?  Kill yourself?

This time things didn’t improve. The growth got bigger, and the resulting pressure became excruciating. It was pretty obvious something was seriously wrong.

Hawaii doesn’t have the best medical care in the world. We do have great health insurance (if you work more than 20 hours a week your employer is required to provide it), but being isolated in the middle of the Pacific Ocean means that you deal with a lack of options, some being terribly lazy doctors, others being overbooked and unable to see you in a timely manner. This causes problems when you’re dealing with something terrifying, painful, and unusual.

I’ll spare you the details. They’re more or less boring to an outsider, though to me they were white knuckle inducing. In short, I was told I had cancer, then I didn’t, then I might, wait, no, definitely not cancer. And that fucking sucks.

A CT-scan later they figured out that I had a skin abscess. A quick outpatient procedure drained, literally, a pint of pus from my head. Bandaged me up and sent me home.

My wife had recently been offered an awesome job on Kauai, but it started in three weeks. We couldn’t wait to leave the packed hustle and bustle of Oahu for the Garden Isle, so I put any concerns about the hole in my head that was slowly weeping a foul smelling pus.

After two weeks on Kauai things still hadn’t improved. The moment our health insurance went into effect I made an appointment with a local ENT to see what was up.

It wasn’t good. I was finally fortunate to be seen by a diligent, intelligent, MD, and the first thing he did was start cutting into me to relief the abscess.

“This isn’t good, Rory. I’m seeing a lot of granulated tissue, and I should have hit your skull, but I haven’t.”

Okay, well, I don’t really know what that means. I gave him a copy of my CT and went home to wait for his call.

Which is how I found myself sitting in front of a computer screen flanked by doctors as a radiologist walked me through some panic inducing news. I had a cholesteatoma on my left ear drum. It’s a type of tumour/cyst caused by repeated ear infections and ruptured ear drums. I’ve had hundreds of ear infections in my life, and have perforated both ear drums multiple times, so that wasn’t especially surprising news.

What was surprising, and not in a fun oh-you-shouldn’t-have type way, was the life-threatening infection it had caused in my mastoid (the honeycomb skull bone behind your ear). The doctor told me that it had most likely been there for a decade or more, and had been slowly dissolving my skull the entire time. What I’d though were ear infections had been pus leaking from the bone infection through a hole that it had eaten into my ear canal. Furthermore, it had destroyed the bone between the infection and my brain until there was only a wafer thin bit left between me and meningitis.

“You’ve been diving with this?”

“Well, yeah. I’ve been trying to get to two hundred feet.”

“You’re very lucky, Rory. The pressure should have pushed the infection into your brain and killed you a long time ago.”

Fuck me.

So, okay, I should be dead, but I’m not. Let’s move forward, what next?

I needed surgery, urgently. It was a miracle I was still standing, the infection could spread to my brain at any moment, and, boom, lights out. Best case scenario, I survive and spend the next year learning to walk and talk again while my wife wipes my ass and I pray for death.

Funnily enough, I could handle that. I mean, sure, shit’s scary, but the problem had been identified, it was fixable. Surgery is never fun, but what are you going to do?

But that wasn’t all. They walked me through what would need to be done: shaving infected bone, removing the cholesteatoma- and the consequences of the surgery, hearing loss (no big deal) and…

I’d most likely never be able to surf or free dive or even put my head underwater ever again.

What the fuck is that madness? I can’t go in the water?  Why not?

The surgery would leave me with almost no bone left in my skull in the area and the hole from my ear canal into the void would leave me at risk of life threatening infections for the rest of my life.

How the fuck am I supposed to deal with that news?

To be clear, I like to think that I’m a very good surfer. But, by no stretch of the imagination am I naturally talented. I’m a big guy and I don’t have great balance. Any ability I have is the result of decades of trying my hardest, of constantly struggling while watching other people surf better while putting in half the effort. I’ve put everything I have into this fucking sport, I don’t know how to do anything else. Every pursuit I enjoy involves being in the water. Without that stuff I don’t know what to do with myself.

In a split-second I’d just lost my entire identity. Everything I enjoy, everything I’d ever worked towards, gone. I managed to keep it together in the doctor’s office, then broke down sobbing in the parking lot.

I scared the shit out of some poor lady. She turned a corner to find a 6’2″, 220 lb guy curled in a ball between some bushes bawling his eyes out.  A pretty embarrassing moment, especially since this is a small island, and I know I’ll run into her again one day.

It’s hard dealing with this type of news. I was hesitant to share it with too many people, and the few I did lapsed into your standard, “Everything is going to be okay” platitudes. Which is hard to deal with. Because, I mean, I know they mean well, but shit isn’t going to be okay.

Who am I now? How the fuck do I live without the things that make life worth living? I focused so much on this stuff without them I’m a worthless waste of space.

In a sick way I started hoping I’d die. I’m not suicidal, but having the lights turned out seemed so much better than facing an existence where I was totally rudderless. My dreams, my goals, my future were all dead, not much point in keeping my diseased hunk of flesh I call a body ambulatory.

Thank heavens for good health insurance. Three days later I was on a plane to LA, to a specialist at the House Ear Clinic, to the one person who could save my life and let me return to a normal existence, if anyone could. The nature of the infection meant I got bumped to the front of the operating list and after few pre-op appointments and a physical I was doped up, strapped to an operating table, and cut on, bone reconstructed by modern medical magic.

And so here I am. Stone deaf in my left ear, missing part of my sense of taste (a strange side effect, but one I’ve been reassured will improve with time) and looking forward to a time in two months or so when I’ve been told I’ll be able to return to the ocean and all the things  love.

But I just can’t escape how close I came to losing everything. The idea that it could still be taken away, that something could go wrong, either now or in the future, lurks there in the background all the time. I need to expand my horizons, to stop being a one-dimensional person who focuses everything they have on one tiny aspect of life. But I just don’t know what to do.

How the fuck do other people live?