The eight people who matter in surfing: Right now!

Nat Young (2.0) ain't one of them...

Surfing is an ever changing tableau. Who matters today most likely didn’t matter yesterday and won’t matter tomorrow. Remember Kieren Perrow? Me either. But if the great modern feel-good philosophers have taught us anything it is that this minute right now is the only thing that matters. Or to quote Montaigne, “Rejoice in the things that are present; all else is beyond thee.” Without further ado, feast your eyes and hearts upon:

Dave Prodan: The ASP, soon to be WSL, is running in the red. Employees haven’t been paid in months. The future looks very very dark for professional surfing in its current state but Dave Prodan wakes up each and every morning with a smile on his face. He goes about his job, as marketing director, spinning the bleakest of bleak into sunshiney gold. No money? No problems! When the ASP/WSL officially sinks in a bankrupt pile of its own filth Dave Prodan will go on and get a job in politics. He will drive a Mercedes C-class. He will finally get paid.

Michael Fassbender: It is fantastic when jet-setting Hollywood hits the surfs. There they are, flopping around in the water, limbs askew and tres uncool. Celebrities! They’re just like us! Fassbender, who starred in the sex film Shame, recently graced Bondi Beach with his star power and shredded a yellow single fin. The global press ate it up and he got more views than any professional surfer maybe ever highlighting a) outside of the miniscule surf community, no one cares about surfing and b) Celebrities. They’re really not just like us.

Mark McMorris: He is a snowboarding champion and Canadian heartthrob but he belongs, only, to Coco Ho. They are, currently, action sport’s cutest couple. I saw Mark, on the beach in France, watching Coco shred awful beachbreak with pride in his eye. So supportive. Such an example for the rest of us. And now that the snows are falling in the northern hemisphere, Coco will certainly be in Aspen, next to Mark’s side, cheering him on to gold. For Canada! For love!

Kelly Slater: The champ has quite a hill to climb in order to steal the crown from Brazilian heads but has he ever met a challenge he didn’t overcome? Watching him surf Pipe with the fire is going to be a highlight of the year. Will it be sweet, when he wins number 12 and breaks a nation’s heart or will a precious supply of acai berries suddenly dry up leaving his Purps with one less super fruit?

Graham Stapelberg’s bodyguard: There he is, on the North Shore, standing next to a small South African wondering, “Why are these big and scary Hawaiians so angry? Why did I take this job?” He was, of course, hired by Paul Speaker, my source tells me, to protect Graham from embarrassing and painful slaps, and initially must have thought, “Paid vacation” but now must be thinking that his time would have been better spent doing something else. Anything else.

Albee Layer: Have you seen his film Creative Distractions? Have you seen him punt crazy spinny things and then go surf Jaws? Have you seen his crew? Albee makes surfing, all kinds of surfing, look very fun and not boring and definitely not mechanical. And, as they say, the surfer having the most fun is the best surfer. Don’t they say that? Or something like that?

Matt Warshaw: How would you like to be surfing’s historian? Sitting in mahogany-walled libraries day after day, week after week, cataloging the highs and lows of our favorite pastime? Teasing out the intricacies of Nat Young (2.0)’s illustrious life? Matt smokes a pipe, when he studies. He can read Latin, though it is not usually required of him. He knows everything ever about surf and gives it to you freely right here. If that doesn’t make him matter then I don’t know what does.

You: This time I’m not kidding because, as they say, “The surfer having the most fun wins.” You are on so fun is completely assured or money back!

Stephanie Gilmore
Stephanie Gilmore is… everything. | Photo: Morgan Maassen

Candid: Let us be elegant or die!

Stephanie Gilmore, sprinkle some of your fairy dust on me, make me a better man! A love letter to the world champ… 

The debate as to the most beautiful (or ‘hottest’ – yuck!) women in the world always seems to throw the Victoria’s Secrets ‘angels’ into the fray. Gisele and the gang. Every time the annual runway show appears on the box I flee the scene in fright and hideth under my bed. The clutching fear that one of these modern day Amazonian’s might trample out of the screen and all over my fragile heart is too much.

If these Fembots are the depiction of feminine beauty circa 2014, then gender equality will never come to fruition. The real deal is something far subtler. A pretty face and great tits do not a beautiful woman make.

Enter Stephanie Gilmore.

Watching Stephanie surf reminds me of when I attended the ballet as a boy. I dug my pre-pubescent heels in outside The Royal Opera House with gusto but to no avail. However, seeing Alicia Markova dance the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker laid the foundations for my adoration of women. I was transfixed. The poise, the power, passion, and the elegance. The Tchaikovsky!

I felt something rumbling deep within. Not sex but desire. Fitzgerald wrote that:  “Men get to be a mixture of the charming mannerisms of the women they have known.” Thus the desire. Alicia, Stephanie, sprinkle some of your fairy dust on me, make me a better man!

Stephanie Gilmore is doing more for gender equality than any University-educated soap boxer could ever hope. She conjures a different faculty of male admiration. One completely void of sex. Almost.

Gilmore’s taken a testosterone-saturated field and beautified it infinitely. Men can be beautiful on a surfboard, sure, but it always seems partially contrived. The feminine flow that Steph achieves on an open right wall is pure dance and the epitome of feminine beauty.

Unlike every other female surfer Steph works with her genders physical capabilities, not against them. She understands that flow and well-distributed power and timing are her allies. Women will never be able to reach the progressive high-bar set by the men. Ever.

But why would they want to? They’ve got something that’s uniquely theirs to cherish: elegance and grace.

The fact that Stephanie’s reached cereal-box fame with no jealous boyfriend lurking in the shadows and no overbearing stepfather waiting at the gates just adds to her vehemence. Just a beautiful set of pearly whites and a highline-to-wrap-back combo that puts nine-tenths of male pros to shame.

Steph stands alone, and by gosh that’s attractive. Congratulations Steph Gilmore on your sixth world title, but more importantly, congratulations on being the most beautiful woman in the world.

#LikeAGirl: Is Criticising Women’s Surfing Sexist?

Shrouding women's surfing in some kind of protective film is the worst kind of paternalism…

A few months ago, I posed the following question on BeachGrit that was as simple as it was surprisingly provocative.

“How good is women’s surfing in 2014?” (Click here to read.)

I’d just watched the 26-year-old Stephanie Gilmore swipe her rails and take it to the rim like so very few before her at the Swatch Pro at Trestles, even scoring a perfect 10-point ride en route to the event win

This was as state-of-the-art, as generationally significant, as day two was at Snapper Rocks on the Gold Coast earlier in the year. Better than ninety-nine percent of any non-professional surfer, male, female, transgender, pre-op or even moderately confused. Even the most hateful of misogynists had to admit that, yeah, women’s surfing sure can be electric.

But how far has it come? How does it compare to the men, even the men of 25 years ago? Why is it viewed as an impossibility that that in the future, women can’t compete with men?

And is it sexist to criticise some of the more embarrassing lows, such as the inability to complete relatively simple backside tubes at Cloudbreak or Lakey Peterson winning the Swatch innovation award for a mini-frontside fin-ditch some 10-year-old boys can do in their sleep?

They’re valid questions. The girls aren’t the poor cousins of the men anymore, at least not in the current power structure. In the joint events, competition days are fairly split so both get their fill of good waves. The top women are millionaires. They travel with personal coaches and the best shapers in the world inhale their way to lung cancer to produce their hundreds of custom surfboards.

But, when I asked the question, the reaction from the commentariat was predictable: “Comparing the best surfer in the world (even if it’s 20 years ago) to women’s surfing today isn’t a great debate. Yes, they don’t rip as hard, but you’re just coming off as a sexist douche with a lame, invalid argument.”

Surfing isn’t football or basketball. There is no physical reason why there isn’t at least one woman out there who can be as good as any of the Top 34 men. I get the law of averages. There are way more men than women surfing and, yeah of course, the standard is higher.

But I always think of how girls like Carissa and Stephanie killed it in the menehunes and the juniors against the boys, before they were segregated and how it seemed to…not retard their surfing… but keep it from soaring into any never-before-explored stratosphere.

Can you imagine how good Stephanie and Carissa might be if they slugged it out for a year or two on the Qualifying Series? It isn’t a stretch to imagine Carissa’s occasional finner becoming an every-wave reality or Steph’s tentative forays into the air as reliable hammers.

There’s a hand-scrawled message on the wall of filmmaker Kai Neville’s wall. It reads: Seek criticism. Not praise. 

Shrouding women’s surfing in some kind of protective film is the worst kind of paternalism; it’s sexism at its most ill-defined and applied.

What does it imply? That women can’t be as good as men. Run like a girl? Throw like a girl? Fight like a girl?

Surf like a girl? 

At Honolua Bay in Maui, there were five women who etched lines as good as anything y’might see out of a men’s tour event. The rest jerked down the line in a monstrous approximation of the game of surf. Boards too curved, stance out, timing a full-second off the ball.

Why can’t we criticise without fear of censure? How else do limits get broken, ceilings shattered?

Seek criticism. Not praise. #LikeAGirl

Long read: No waves? No problem!

Oahu is paradise even when the surf goes weird. Pick up a bow and live the dream.

The only thing that sounds good at 3:30 in the morning is suicide. And I am up at 3:30, contemplating suicide, smoking a cigarette, drinking a cup of watery hotel coffee while standing on my small balcony. Waikīkī is dark and quiet below. The air is cool enough for a light layer, and so I put on a thin tweed hunting jacket with leather elbow patches and wander out into the dark quietness. It is time for pig hunting.

I find my rental car and drive north on the Pali Highway before turning east into the town of Kāne‘ohe. I have spent much time in Honolulu, on the North Shore, even searching for ice in ‘Ewa Beach, but I have never been to the east side. If the sun was up, I could see its beauty. Its striking geography. I park in front of a house at the end of a small, middle-class road, turn the lights off, and light another cigarette. Theoretically, this is Mike’s house. Mike will be taking me pig hunting. It is 4:15 in the morning. Still a suicidal hour.

Five minutes pass, and the house lights turn on. I can see a large double-decker dog kennel partially illuminated. The dogs begin to bark, and then I see Mike. He is a boulder of a man. Tall, pure muscle, shaved head, tattooed from neck to fist. He growls at the dogs to be quiet. He wears camouflaged pants and a black T-shirt with the words “Defend Hawaii” wrapped around an M-16. I approach and we shake hands. His grip crushes. His eyes are piercing blue and his voice, as he introduces himself, sounds like gravel. He wears a large knife in a leather case.

We chat about the dogs, which are not barking anymore, and I learn that they are special. Turns out, pig-hunting dogs are not normal, everyday dogs. They are bred from hound, pitbull, birddog and Rhodesian ridgeback stock. They are bred to be tireless, to find the pigs, chase them down, and be fearless in the face of attack. Mike gets his dogs from JC, a pig-hunting legend, who will be joining us today.

We chat about fighting. Mike’s garage is a shrine to the masculine. There are mats rolled up in a corner, punching bags, rusted weights, fingerless MMA boxing gloves, stacks of camouflage gear, and his truck. His truck, which is classically Hawaiian, raised, and caked with just the right amount of red mud. We climb in and drive to a nearby gas station, waiting for JC. It is so damned early. A hunting hour. I have never thought much of hunting one way or the other. I grew up on the Oregon coast, in a small redneck town, and everyone I knew hunted. They duck hunted and elk hunted. I went along for the ride once or twice, and I didn’t feel sorry for the animals, even the deer with eyes full of love, but also wasn’t thrilled. A lot of walking in the woods. Little action. Like fishing on land.

I go into the gas station and get a Spam musubi and it tastes like paradise. So salty and satisfying. Then JC arrives. He is older, solidly built, Hawaiian, and says he has been hunting pigs for 40 years. His voice is deep and warm, like a television news broadcaster. Mike has been hunting with him for the last three years. Their rapport is easy and friendly. They talk about hunting, the hopes and possibilities of the day, and a few wild parties that they have experienced together in the past. The bed of his truck is caged and full of his dogs. They seem eager. We make small talk before climbing back into our respective trucks and driving to the coast.

The sun is still not yet up, but I can see silhouettes of stark beauty. Towering rocks breaking the ocean’s surface close to shore, green cliffs off to the left. We pull to the side of the road, near a cliff, and there is a third hunter waiting by a gate. His name is Brian and he is the Hollywood Hunter because he has the permits to hunt the land where we are right now. Kualoa Ranch. He is younger than Mike and JC but also more avid. He hunts every single day and often alone, which is rare. Pigs are dangerous. He has his own dogs and sports rubber boots with spiked soles, camouflage pants, and a backwards Defend Hawaii baseball hat. On the drive Mike tells me that Brian has a Hawaiian ID that says, “Do not detain this individual.” I ask Brian if I can see it and he shows me. It says he is a resident of the Polynesian Kingdom of Atooi and that he is not to be detained, per the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples pursuant to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, 1961. Amazing. And then we all drive onto the ranch.

Brian’s permit is gold, even more gold than his ID. He is the sole “eradicator” of the property and is the only one allowed to hunt legally. He runs across poachers from time to time and hustles them out of the area with an angry sneer. It is a 4,000-acre working cattle ranch, movie shoot location, and one of the most beautiful corners of O‘ahu. The sun has finally risen and I can see its beauty through honeyed air. The cliffs look like God’s personal handiwork. He did not commission this art. He made it himself. The grass is fresh and green. Cows graze, sleepily, as we park near a stream.

Brian lets his dogs out and JC does too. Mike did not bring his because they are not cattle-trained, meaning they might confuse a calf for a pig and hunt beef instead of pork. The dogs are each fitted with GPS collars, their names put into a handheld locator, and they are turned loose. These dogs are expensive and the art of the hunt. Losing one is critical. Beyond monitoring them with GPS, each hunter carries needle and thread in case the dogs are gored and need a quick on-field repair. The dogs run around, excitedly. They are not suicidal but rather homicidal, and they run up a dirt road toward the ridgeline. We follow.

It is very quiet and surreal. We walk past Journey to the Center of the Earth’s set, which is still standing. It is a high stone arch that looks Persian or maybe Babylonian. We pass signs that show where Jurassic Park was filmed and where 50 First Dates was filmed. 50 First Dates. What a total bust. We walk for a mile before stopping in the elbow of a ridge and watching the dogs flit around on the GPS screen. They have already reached the top of the cliff and are moving, quickly, this way and that. They are trying to pick up the scent and flush out a pig. JC knows that the pigs like to sleep higher on the ridge and that they might still be sleeping. He knows the corners they like to choose. He is a pig behaviorist. Brian has moved off, down another path, to listen for the telltale signs of a chase. We are all quiet. The pigs are smart and listen for humans. I am no longer tired but on edge, trying my hardest to hear a dog’s bark or a pig’s grunt.

The dogs circle the ridge for 30 minutes and maybe chase one or two pigs but can’t keep the trail. JC believes the pigs are hunting food on another ridge to the left and so we all walk ten minutes to the left. The sun is higher now, and the land gets more beautiful, more vivid with each passing minute. The dogs shoot off into the brush again and Brian follows them.

Suddenly, we hear the brush move and a low grunt, but all I can see is Brian. Then the dogs go crazy and fly up the cliff. They have something. I run after Brian and we climb and climb and climb. The earth is wet and the soil is loose. Some of it is turned over. This is where pigs have been rooting for food. I grab for vines and bushes as we climb. I am not wearing camouflage pants but rather black skinny jeans. I am not wearing spiked-sole rubber boots but, rather, red Vans. Aside from my tweed jacket this is not an appropriate hunting kit. I almost slide down the cliff too many times to count.

The higher we climb, the hotter it gets and the more mosquitoes gather and bite like the nasty devils they are. Brian can see that the dogs have stopped moving, which means they either have the pig trapped or they have it killed. A victory, either way. And we finally arrive at their location. They sit with happy faces around a young, dead boar. Brian says the dogs gave it a flat tire, which is what they are trained to do. A “flat tire” means they have chewed the tendons under his front two legs, so that he could not run anymore. And then he died of a heart attack. If he had not died, Brian would have stabbed him with a large hunting knife under one of his arms. These men hunt with knives. They don’t use guns or bows or arrows.

Brian squeezes the urine from the boar first, explaining that boars use their urine to throw the dogs off. Crafty as they are, pigs will urinate in a circle causing the dogs to follow the urine circle instead of the pig. He then draws his knife and cuts the boar’s balls off and hangs them from a branch. The mosquitoes are thick, but I am captivated. The pigs are always gutted before being hauled down the hill. The guts create quick rot and are also needlessly heavy. Brian moves his blade up to the boar’s throat, then slides the blade along the boar’s torso using quick, gentle strokes. The guts spill forth without prompting, like they wanted to escape. They are a deep, dark red and look exactly like guts. They make a vacuum sound when they are pulled out, and they too are hung on a branch. If left on the ground a dog may roll in them later and fill the earth with a horrid stench. Finally, the front right leg is tied to the back right leg, the front left leg tied to the back left leg, and the boar becomes a sort of backpack. Brian picks him up but I insist on carrying him down the hill. “The first boar I killed hooked me,” Brian says, “and now you are hooked.” His eyes are proud.

I hoist the load and feel his warm blood mixing with my warm sweat. My companion does not smell bad. He smells like Hawaiian bush and a stuffed animal. It is a nice smell. And I slip and slide all the way down the ridge feeling like a champion. Mike and JC wait at the bottom and Mike says, “Ho, look at this. Skinny jeans, Vans and a V-neck, and he is carrying the pig.” I feel like a stylish champion.

We walk back to the trucks talking about different pig hunting strategies and the one that got away. Apparently when we heard the brush move and the low grunt it had been a very large boar. But he was smart and tricked the dogs into following the tracks of the smaller one that we captured. JC looks at it and says, “Some days you get nothing at all, some days you get too many. I guess that is why it is called hunting and not catching.”

We drive to another valley, hoping for bigger boars, ones with tusks. The one we caught was too young to start developing them, but the tusks are the trophies. Each hunter keeps the meat. Nothing goes to waste and the meat is smoked, given to friends, barbequed, turned into dog food. But the tusks are the glory. We hike, listen, watch the dogs on GPS, find nothing but signs of rooting pigs, and after three hours part ways. And, Brian was right, I am hooked. I am no longer suicidal. Like the dogs, I am homicidal. Pig hunting is the new sport of kings, or at least stylish champions.

empty wave at Mackenzies Bay
This ain't exactly an everyday occurrence but when the wave in front of Taj's new house is activated by some kinda offshore storm-favourable tide-and-wind combo, he (and maybe you!) can enjoy a brief harmony with the tube. | Photo: Jay Harrison

Gimme: Taj Burrow’s $2.3 million pied-à-terre

There's a left in Sydney that ain't Narrabeen and it… folds. TB's apartment overlooks it… 

A little while back the tour’s second oldest surfer, Taj Burrow, 36, bought himself a slice of Sydney’s most exclusive beach suburb. A top-floor, three-bedroom duplex circa 1950s that overlooks the area’s best wave.

Mackenzies Bay. Y’heard of it?

Oh it’s so special. Multi-multi-million dollar houses and million-dollar-plus apartments created by the city’s best architects (Hello Alex Popov! Kelvin Ho!) hang over either a coastal footpath (Kenneth St) or a narrow road (Gaerloch Avenue) that winds around to the neighbouring beach, Tamarama, where surfers ride either an imperfect left off the northern headland at low-tide and a squishy little rip bowl right near the shore at high tide. Fun enough.

But, Mackenzies, Maccas, K-Bay, when it’s on, which ain’t real often let’s be real, is an honest-to-god square tube. It’s one of the few places left in Australia with a regular pack of bodyboarders. Waves’ll hit a slab of sand in the north corner and hack whoever is on it into the southern headland a little under 50 metres away or send ’em over the falls, a reality for many.

Taj knows real estate. He’s been buying hunks his whole career. He knows it as a wonderful store of value. His Mackenzies Bay three-bedder, with garage, last traded at $493,000 in 1988 and $185,000 in 1986. The investment banker owner, David Sutherland, had tried to offload it in 2010 for two-and-a-half mill but didn’t get any bites.

Nearly two-and-a-half million shekels doesn’t buy a man luxury in this part of town. Y’get a view, a few bedrooms and an old bathroom. But what else do y’need?


Taj scooped it up four years later for 200 gees less. Smart buy? Of course.

This pied-à-terre currently rents for $1500 a week.