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?

Worst surf sequence ever?

South Africa's shred scene has never looked so bad.

There have been, throughout history, some classically bad surfing clips… the opening bit of Bad Surfers on Poor Waves (part 1), Dusty Payne’s 2014 Hurley Pro video trials submission, Chasing Mavericks…but none match this South African film for pure ugly. I mean, wow.

Our traveler hits the shred at the 20 second mark after visiting Nelson Mandela’s prison and a vineyard and proceeds to….I don’t know exactly. Surf? I mean, yikes. I mean, Jordy Smith? Why did your country put this out? Why?

(Photo of Jordy Smith, above, by the ever-fabulous Jack English/Surf Images. Go to his website here!)  

Shaun Tomson (middle) is short. Zach Weisberg (far right) barely reaches his shoulder.
Shaun Tomson (middle) is short. Zach Weisberg (far right) barely reaches his shoulder.

To hell with The Inertia

It is high time we put the "war" back in "media war."

I love war very much and a pitched media battle most of all. The two sides, safe at offices or homes or business class flights to Montreal, haranguing each other in print. Oh the vindictive put downs. Oh the slings and arrows of outrageous adjectives. I’ve fomented one or two, in my day, but my favorite will always be Chas Smith vs. The Inertia.

Founded in 2010 by ex-Surfer editor Zach Weisberg, The Inertia set out to be the place where “thinking surfers” congregate. The idea grew from a trip Zach took to New York. There he saw Arianna Huffington speak and, “I listened to her talk and her vision at the moment; I felt that it could work perfectly in the world of surf and action sports. I decided to give it a shot, to try and build that.” It seemed so ripe for unprovoked aggression that I quickly mobilized, penning the now classic Open for Daddy, which included these choice darts…

“…Thinking surfers are socialists. Thinking surfers like you, if you are a thinking surfer. Thinking surfers don’t like you, if you make money and/or disagree. Thinking surfers are Trotskyites. Thinking surfers hate fruity cocktails. Thinking surfers love bad, thick coffee. Thinking surfers don’t know how to synch their fundamental belief in the poor working class with their desire to have a home on the beach. Thinking surfers drink beer at a party. Thinking surfers complain if the beer at a party is not from a small batch brewery. Thinking surfers never bring beer to a party. Thinking surfers are Marxists. Thinking surfers would be social Darwinists if they were fit. Thinking surfers are the exact sorts of people that flourish underneath the fluorescent lighting and prepared bedside meal deliveries and incontinence and visiting hours of nursing homes…”

Zach responded with an actually thoughtful projectile (here) but how grand! We were at war and it felt as right as it did good. Years passed and I tired to drop a bomb or two on my sworn enemy’s head when I remembered but then one morning I woke up and realized, that son of a bitch has actually created something both good and interesting and valuable. And I click on it from time to time and learn and chuckle. And I like him as a person. And I like many of his staff as people. Coals upon my head. But that isn’t fun, is it? This love? So I have decided to muster the troops once again and march back to battle. To hell with you, The Inertia! Your tribute to Doc Paskowitz was as informative as it was warm! Wait, no. Your wipeout compilation is well-curated! No. Your position on shark culling is very nuanced! Shit. The average height of your staff is 5’2! That’s the one. Suck it, Oompa Loompas.


Ugly brands have been dancing in surfing's glory for too long. No more!

And here I sit, on my veranda, flipping through the latest Vanity Fair whilst sipping Dr. Pepper from a paper cup. It is an almost perfect cloudy day and yet my eyes hurt because they are being assaulted by very hideous Michael Kors advertisements. One after the other after the other featuring saturated tones, pouty faced models and clichéd copy.

For those who don’t know, Michael Kors is a very gauche American fashion brand that aspires to mimic high-end labels at a price point. Its collections are neither inspiring nor innovative. It aims directly at what the middle class consumer thinks is fancy. And it is totally working. Last year, the company did over three billion in revenue and its stock is booming.

The masses enjoy Kors’s take because they can feel luxe without actually being luxe but, really, it ain’t good. It is ugly. And reductive. And gauche. And for sure Vanity Fair’s staff know it ain’t good but will gladly take the company’s dollar bills because publishing is a tough biz and gift horses are not to be looked in the mouth.

But VF staff should look that gift horse directly in the mouth and think to themselves, “Away with you. We are an institution. We set the tone of what is worth conversing about and Micheal Kors, just like True Religion and Von Dutch before, is not it. Yuck!”

Which, of course, brings us to surfing. I spent a few minutes perusing various surf websites this morning and had the same general feeling. What the hell is D’Blanc doing “presenting” anything? Its product offering may not be the worst thing ever but its utterly tacky messaging sure is. The company was created instantly and overnight from a large wad of private investment cash but imbued with grime in order to mimic some sort of salt-of-the-earth hipster sensibility. A straight marketing ploy bereft of spirit. And why is Neff allowed to play? Neff is so bright gumball goobery that I am really at a loss for words. It is really the most goobery thing I have seen in years. Just say the damn word. Neff. Neff. Neff. It sounds like Michael Kors.

Publishing can be an ugly business and Vanity Fair and surf media are so scared of folding that both will take almost any dollars they can find. The art of curating taste and demanding beauty is long gone or maybe in the case of surf media never was. But remember those awesome Schroff ads or …Lost ads or the 1998 ad from Guinness beer (above). Watch it five times in a row and feel that heart beat. Amazing advertising, you see, is transcendent. It makes the spirit soar. The kids get inspired and make better things and learn the difference between real and dumb and we all benefit. But how do the kids know what to eschew when the media companies show no difference between the genius and the base?

At the end of the day, I don’t pretend to know what the best fashion/image is but I know what is not. And, thus, I can say, here on beautiful BeachGrit, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled Neff yucking masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of your teeming Rip Curl’d shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, Vissla-loathing to me: 
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

compare this nastiness to the beautiful art above.
compare this nastiness to the art above.

Mitch Crews portrait
The tour rookie Mitch Crews regrets a lot of things: the tattoo of a taco on his leg, falling in love, splitting from school, hurting gals (physically!) and climbing into little planes. But don't he look pretty here! Who doesn't dream of unwrapping this androgynous gift! | Photo: Mitch Crews

Candid: Mitch Crews and the unbearable pain of being

The tour rookie regrets so many things: Hurting a gal (physically!), splitting school and posting under the influence…

Mitch Crews is the 24-year-old surfer from the Gold Coast for whom the World Tour is likely to be a singular orbit. Mitch is rated 30th on the World Tour ratings (only the top 22 remain on tour) and is nowhere to be seen on the qualifying series ratings. Wouldn’t that just rope you in the guts. All that training, all those contests, y’make it into the league, then it all disappears within a year.

Yet there is so much to like about Mitch. He dresses in wigs and wears lipsticks and prefers leopard prints over pastels. He also has minty breath and his face looks like a stone carving. Precious.

BeachGrit asked Mitch to list his 10 biggest mistakes.

1. BEING UNEDUCATED: I regret that I never gave my schooling years 110%. I squeaked through as a 55% to 60% kinda guy and would take any chance I could get to get a day off to surf. I have no ranking to get into a university or a grade to get me into a good school. If I stopped surfing right now, I would love to be able to go straight into three years at a top school, get a degree and educate myself on a subject that I’m interested outside of surfing. Unfortunately I can’t. It would be cool to challenge myself intellectually instead of physical sporting achievements one day. I feel naked only knowing how to get by in the surf world and not whats’ going outside this bubble and realising all the other opportunities in life.

2. MY FIRST TATTOO: I was in California with my Lifewithoutandy friends Mitch, Mitchell and Brandon. I was 19. They were like older brothers to me. I was injured with a busted ankle at the time and they took me around and showed me a true USA experience. We all had such a great trip together that we all decided we should get a tattoo to represent how good a time we had on that trip. We decided to get a Taco tattoo (like the edible mexican food) on the inside of our leg. My taco is there for life now.

3. FALLING IN LOVE TOO EARLY: I know what love is. I worked it out and… it’s fucked. I met this girl once, she was gorgeous and she showed a slight interest in me. I fell for her right away, thought she was a full-on keeper. I chased her round for a year-and-a-half thinking I was killing it having her as my girlfriend because she was pretty. It took me a while but I realised she was an absolute idiot. My friends thought I was retarded being with her especially when I was 21 and in my prime. After that relationship I can’t manage to be open to meeting women without criticising every little annoying thing they do and I come off as an asshole. I have a vendetta or something. It’s so bad.

4. DRUNK INSTAGRAMMING: I grew up in the Social Network generation (Myspace and shit) so this is a bigger issue for me than drunk-dialling. Anytime I am intoxicated I start trawling through my Instagram feed and writing absolute nonsense on people’s photos. Liking a shitload of random hot girls pics and commenting on how beautiful they are. I usually put up a photo that I’ve ran through three filter applications and I think it looks creative because I’m really pissed. Then I notice the next morning that it’s actually a horrible photo. It’s a blurry, over-sharpened pic of me arm-in-arm with some random blokes at a bar or something.

5. MOVING OUT OF HOME: Thought it was a really good idea to move out of home a couple years ago and rent my own apartment. I wanted freedom, to be independent and more responsible for myself. That year I was probably home a third of the year because I was travelling around the world doing WQS events so it just sat there empty. It definitely wasn’t the smartest financial decision. The only good it was for was having friends around for dinners and parties but that would then just lead to a week’s worth of cleaning. Living at home is incredible, my parents are the best roommates ever.

6. EMBARRASSING MY FORMAL DATE: Had a shocker at my year 10 formal. Somehow managed to get this girl to go with me. She was very pretty, way out of my league. I’m sure she just agreed to go with me because she felt sorry for me. She arrived looking stunning, absolutely glowing. My suit I picked up from the Salvation Army the day before. It smelt like a dead person and was two sizes too big. I was wearing a trucker cap to hide my salty hair and had a wetsuit neck tan. She didn’t even want to sit next to me on the bus. I’ve learnt to at least run a comb through my hair before formal occasions now days.

7. LOVING AUSTRALIAN HIP HOP: I heard the song by Hilltop Hoods, Nosebleed Section, when I was 14. Used to think it was the best song ever made. When I hear that shit on the radio now days, I can’t fathom how that garbage is even put live on air. What a mistake.

8. SLIDE TACKLING A GIRL: This didn’t really impact my life too much but I definitely made a mistake this day. I used to play soccer in my early teens. My position was centre mid-fielder, which basically meant do whatever the fuck you want. I was pretty competitive and I loved hogging the ball. This day the opposing team had a girl playing on their side, she got possession of the ball and I just ran in and put a huge slide tackle to steal the ball off her. I tripped her pretty bad, she fell over and hurt herself and started crying. I got a red card and got sent off. All the adults were very disappointed in me.

9. NOT TAKING PICTURES: I’ve been to some amazing places in the world. Seen some incredible things and experienced different cultures and I’m really lucky I get to do that as a job. People my age save years to go on an overseas trip and I complain about jetting off to Brazil for a week for an event. I wish I had taken more pictures to remind me of my life travelling around the world. I never wanted to think of myself as ungrateful. So I should start now I guess. But it’s so groovy and hip taking pictures nowadays so I’m kinda doomed.

10. TAKING A CHARTER FLIGHT WITH A FULL BLADDER: My first time to the Telo islands this year and I was with Noa Deane and Jay Davis. We were flying from Medan to Telo and it’s usually a 40-minute flight. We rushed to catch the flight and I didn’t have time to dash off to the bathroom. We ran into quite a severe storm and we were all absolutely terrified. We thought our plane was going down for sure. Amongst all of this I was busting for a piss and our flight route was delayed for an extra hour due to the weather. So the thought of dying mixed with the feeling of my bladder about to burst was one of the worst moments I’ve had.