Jack Robinson portrait
The signing of teen Jack Robinson is just one of the smart commercial decisions made by Billabong in the past two years. | Photo: Morgan Maassen

Opinion: To surf or not to surf

It's the most profound decision you'll ever have to make. It's life or death!

I am frothing. 

I pull up to the waist-high beach break with you and immediately jump out to grab my board. You say wait a minute it’s not so good because it’s small and the swell is not here yet and the wind has just come up. I say I see waist high A-frames with rampy peaks and blow-tail end sections. You do not go out. I definitely go out because I am frothing.

I am 12 years old and out of school for the summer. I am not doing Junior Lifeguards so I will not miss the best dawn patrol waves because I have to swim around a buoy or run on the sand. I am frothing.

I am 18 years old and I am going to college on the California coast (or University of Hawaii if I can get in). I will live in the Oceanside or Ocean Beach or Cayucos ghetto so I can be the first on it and check it after classes. I am frothing.

I am 24 years old and I turn down a good paying job inland because I will not commute away from the ocean. I make ends meet at a lower wage job but I surf every day before work. I am frothing.

I am 46 years old and I make about half the amount of money as other people my age. But I have twice the hair and I am healthy and fit because my work schedule is second to my surf schedule. I surf five to seven days a week before or after work. I am in the best shape of my life. I am frothing.

I am 65 years old and I am collecting social security. I surf every day because I never stopped and now I never have to because I have saved some money to go along with the retirement check. I am in the best shape of any senior citizen I know because I am in touch with the ocean every day. I am frothing.

I am frothing and you have decided not to paddle out.

I’ll text you to let you know how good it is and what you have been missing all this time…

… when I get out.

When Big-Wave Surfers Find Love

Garrett McNamara likes to plough down the world's mighty waves! And now he's in love!

Critics? Sure, Garrett McNamara has a few. He knows it, you know it but here’s the thing… he ain’t gonna die wondering.

A quick Google search in the wake of those last two gigantic swells that hit Nazaré and Mavericks will throw up endless images of G-Mac ploughing down the face. At Naz, Garrett and Australian big-waver Ross Clarke-Jones not only traded waves but also a trip underwater after Garrett went in to rescue Ross after a heavy wipe-out.

“It’s really cool what Garrett’s done both with his surfing and moving surfing into the mainstream,” says Ross. “I am so proud of him and a bit envious I guess given his association with Mercedes, I’d love to have something like with Porsche!”

The respect goes both ways, with Garrett claiming Ross, “is the only big wave surfer I’ve ever looked up to. His Aussie approach to the riding big waves is just perfect. He never runs from the wave and always goes as deep as possible. I love the guy and I was so, so stoked he made it to Portugal.”

But it was perhaps the Mavericks swell that may have surprised Garrett’s harshest critics, who lavished him with scorn after the drop-in incident and subsequent near drowning of Greg Long in 2012. Indeed it was Long, says Garrett, who convinced him the swell headed to Mavericks would be worth the trip. “I started getting excited by that swell while I still in Portugal,” says Garrett. “And I spoke to Greg about it and he convinced me it was going to a A plus swell and worth it. So I went.”

And went he did, relying solely on paddle power to catch some of the day’s biggest waves. Not that Garrett didn’t give a passing thought to the potential of being towed in though. “There were so many waves that went unridden and if we were towing we would have gotten the biggest barrels you’d ever get at Mavericks,’’ he says. “But paddling was just the most exciting fun and really, really challenging and the thing is, despite the crowds, there were so many waves that if you wanted a bomb, they were there for the taking.”

Wth two swells worth of XXL waves under his belt, the man known as G-Mac finds himself at home on Oahu, surrounded by kids, his wife and like so many others this time of year, a long list of jobs to do.

“I’m so so stoked there’s no major swells on the horizon for the time being,” he says. “I get to spend time with my kids, time with my wife and just put my feet up for a while.”

But don’t be alarm big-wave surf fans. Y’still get your slice of G-Mac! Click on the play button up top and bathe in his unselfconscious, non-ironic surfer-falls-in-love short…


Duke Kahanamoku on movie set
So here's the jam. The Duke came to Australia in 1915 for a little surf-riding exhibition. He takes a gal out at Dee Why for a tandem ride. Oral storytelling switches Dee Why for Freshwater. The girl, Isabel Letham, never marries and claims her heart was stolen by the Duke. But maybe Iz didn't dig buck Hawaiians at all! Maybe she liked a little beaver! Who doesn't!

Shattered: Australia’s Most Enduring Surf Myth!

Hawaiian legend fails to turn closet lesbian; Australia's first-ever surfer ain't who it seems!

In a sizzling reveal, The Australian newspaper reported yesterday that Australia’s first-ever surfer wasn’t Isabel Letham nor the Hawaiian Duke Kahanamoku but a Manly surfer, Tommy Walker, who exhibited the sport on a two-dollar surfboard three years earlier.

“Oral storytelling, particularly about new and radical experiences, forms a large part of surf culture,” writes Fred Pawle. “As a result, surfers, who are not the most literary bunch, are prone to exaggeration. But even by their hyperbolic standards, the Letham story is extraordinary. The truth, as usual, is even more fascinating .

“A reassessment of Letham is overdue, partly because her status in surfing has become ludicrously high, and partly because the centenary of her alleged achievement is approaching, and it would be a shame if the planned celebrations on Sydney’s Freshwater beach on January 8 commemorated a fallacy.”

Even better, writes Pawle, the now-legendary Ms Letham hid her sapphic tendencies behind a wall of supposed longing for the former Olympian.

“Letham herself repeatedly gave the impression that she, if not Kahanamoku, established a deep emotional bond on the day they supposedly rode together at Freshwater,” writes Fred Pawle. “But Sandra Kimberley Hall, Kahanamoku’s official biographer, is not convinced. ‘Any romantic interaction between a 15-year-old white girl and a 24-year-old dark-skinned Hawaiian in Australia in 1915 stretches the bounds of plausibility,’ she says. ‘Nowhere in Duke or Isabel’s archives is there anything that would lead researchers to believe there was a romance, a fling, or even a friendship between the two of them. It’s laughably ridiculous.’”

The story really is a remarkable piece, in its research and its shattering of an enduring myth.

Read the entire story here!

Mick Fanning is from Australia's east. Kolohe Andino from America's west. Kolohe is a better person.
Mick Fanning is from Australia's east. Kolohe Andino from America's west. Kolohe is a better person. | Photo: Morgan Maassen

Australia’s east coast vs. America’s west

Which one is better? Come inside and be floored by irrefutable evidence

Every coastal nation has a best coast, north, south, east or west. One coast trumps the other. In France, the west coast is better than the south Mediterranean coast. In Panama the east Caribbean coast is better than the west Pacific. In the United States’ California west is better than the urbane Eastern Seaboard. And in Australia the urbane east coast is better than its wild wild west. But when California is pitted against Australia’s Gold, Sunshine, Sydney coast which wins? Which is best of all?

Australia’s east coast features one very fine town and that town is Sydney. Some will say Byron Bay or Nambucca Heads or Forster (pronounced “Foster”) are equally fine but they are wrong. And Sydney is dreamy. There is shopping, dining, delicious models and surf. Australia’s east coast also features the Gold Coast and while Surfers Paradise is both a grammatical and architectural travesty the surf is amazing. There are waves for every desire.

California features two very fine towns, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Los Angeles may be perfect. It has everything including the film industry and all the actresses who come for it. Everything except good surf but good surf is easily accessible via automobile. San Francisco is called the Paris of the west and it, too, has everything except attractive women. Australia’s east coast has Snapper Rocks. California has Trestles. Australia’s east coast has Nicole Kidman. California has her too.

Australia’s east coast has beer. California has wine country. Australia’s east coast has Splendour in the Grass. California has Coachella. Australia’s
 east coast has that harsh, unfiltered east coast light. The sort that makes a man feel bad about his past and not dreamy. The same sort as New York City. California has golden light filtered in that way that all light is filtered on west coasts. The past is forgotten. Only the future exists.

And, therefore, California is better than Australia’s east coast. California might be better 
than anywhere else on earth.

John John Florence tube.
…and this is the collision of Dominic Mosqueira's wide-angle work, eight-foot Teahupoo and John John Florence who's steered upwards on the face to avoid another surfer duck diving. The spit of the tube that is coming straight at the camera, dulls the sharpness of the photo but gives it a dynamism often missing from water photos. The irony here is Dom, who is super critical of his own work, didn't send the shot to any magazine, any advertiser although it has since become one of his favourites. BeachGrit too! | Photo: Dom Mosqueira

When Domenic Met John John

The Tahitian photographic ace Domenic Mosqueira and his superstar muse…

When your game is wide-angle surf photography, your muse is John John Florence and your home ground is Teahupoo and the psycho reefs that surround it, it ain’t all high-fives in the channel.

And, so here, and for just a moment, let’s place ourselves in the mind of the 36-year-old Mexico-born photographer Domenic Mosqueira as he endeavours to snatch a water photo, with wide-angle lens, of John John Florence at a wave we’ll refer to as The Right. Not far from Teahupoo, it is a wave suited to North Shore Hawaiians and natives of French Polynesia, specifically, those surfers of better than average talent around Teahupoo.

The wave has elements of Pipeline, in its unpredictability. Will it break here, there? Will the wave closeout or will it allow entry and exit? The reef, meanwhile, is what Domenic calls “pure evil.”

On the day pictured, below, Dom was swimming, always a brave thing to do at The Right, for two reasons. One, you can’t see clearly much above a few feet out of the water and, two, if there’s a 15-foot closeout set, there isn’t a lot you can do except, perhaps, find solace in the arms of your God.

And this day, the 15-foot closeout appeared. Dom could hear all the jet-skis revving and thought, ‘What’s happening?’ He turned around and the wave was almost on top of him. He dived underneath the wave and saw a tiny space where the violent columns of whitewater weren’t hitting and grabbed hold of the bottom. He knew he must not let go until the wave had passed him. Slowly he dragged one hand in front of the other to gain distance. All the time he was waiting for that bolt of whitewater to land on top and “obliterate me. I waited as long as I could, and I made it. I made it. I survived the nightmare wave. I was the happiest kid ever.”

John John Florence inside a righthand barrel Tahiti
Mostly a straight closeout, this righthander not far from Teahupoo occasionally lines up across the reef, giving an entry and an exit. And when it does? It’s as perfect as they come, although the simple lines and calmness of John John do belie its danger.


John John inside barrel, right, Tahiti
“That wave is scary,” says Dom, who believed he was to die during this session when he was caught inside while trying to shoot, crazily enough, wide-angle water photos. Twelve-to-15 feet and John rode it on a 5’10” with a busted-off nose, effectively five feet and eight inches between him and the reef.

But who isn’t going to try a little harder when they’ve become the go-to water guy for the best surfer in the world? Dom was put on John’s radar when the Hawaiian photographer Daniel Russo (see his outrageous work here) asked him to shoot the stills for an O’Neill campaign while he shot RED slow-mo. That was three years ago. And, now, whenever a swell is about to hit, Dom ain’t surprised when the name John illuminates on his iPhone 5.

John John at Teahupoo
This stall in the mist was for an O’Neill campaign in 2011. Dom was introduced to John by the great Daniel Russo, who was shooting RED video and needed a stills photographer with game. “This photo motivated me to keep going. It made me think, maybe I… can… do it.”

“When I see his name I feel adrenalin,” says Dom, “’cause as soon as he calls, it’s go-time. He’s always excited to surf and you know you’re going to have your hands full for a week. It’s exciting and motivating to have that much talent and you don’t want to let him down. It lights a fire under your ass.”

John John, Teahupoo, 2011, black and white
This is John, with shaved head from the swell of 2011. “That wave will forever be ingrained in my mind,” says Dom. “I knew that wave would define that swell. He stood so talk and tranquil inside it while I was panicking about being sucked over.”

Dom ain’t one to boast and if you ask him why he thinks John has made him his number one shooter in Tahiti, he says, “I think that I’m discreet. I don’t make too much of a fuss and I respect what he wants to do with the images. He’s a wonderful man, a nice guy, that’s calm and not sped up.”

Nice, sure, but in rhythm like no one else, as least far as the Fly-in-Fly-Out gang goes. “The wonderful thing about John is he shows up and he seems to be in rhythm with Teahupoo every time. He’s always on the best wave and the way that he surfs it is as stylish and it is apparently simple. He seems to stroke and paddle a lot less than most people. He draws such amazing lines on the wave and he looks so casual when most people are fearing for their lives, the Kamikaze look at the bottom turn, the strung-out look on their face as they grab the rail… John is calm from beginning to end. It’s obvious he’s got some sort of link to Teahupoo. It’s in synch with him.”