Summer’s over! Get radical!

The bubble of youth is going to pop! Soon! Milk it!

Big Wednesday is and always will be the only time that Tinsel Town has effectively captured our beloved surf. The themes portrayed in John Millus and Denny Aaberg’s 1978 classic are still totally relatable to the lives of every surfer today, and offer an almost prophecy like sermon on the circular nature of the surfing life.

The film’s major success is that it’s not about surf; it’s about the golden period in every young man’s life that inevitably has to come to an end. Summer’s almost over and every song has an ending, but that’s no reason not to enjoy the music!

Denny Aaberg, the creative prophet behind the film wrote a short story for Surfer magazine called “No Pants Mance,” from which much of the film was based. The piece is short and describes a swinging Malibu party that ends in a brawl and someone urinating in the host’s Mum’s steam iron.

The intro to the piece is most telling as Aaberg describes how the generation of Malibu surfers that came before him, including Miki ‘Da Cat’ Dora, all packed up their trunks at the end the summer of 1962, “the last great summer,” because, “the great days are gone, the real surfing is over and it’s too crowded!”

This is a theme that rolls through Aaberg’s seminal film, but also acts as a metaphor for all things surf. The influx of surfing’s popularity, the government’s influence and the fact that everyone has to grow up, whether they accept it or not, is most potent.

Big Wednesday’s three protagonists effectively cover the spectrum of the weird and wonderful characters that our beloved pastime attracts. Jack Barlow is the talented introvert, a natural company man who’s been influenced by his beach side habitat.

Far over to the left is Leroy the Masochist, a wild dude who lives to “get radical” in the form of recklessly charging big waves and trying to grill himself in the oven at parties.

Smack bang in the middle is Matt Johnson,  “That is Matt Johnson!” –  an Adonis destined to burn briefly, but ever so brightly. Every surf town from Cape Town to Carlsbad has a Matt Johnson. The handsome, humble dude, who between the ages of 18 and 25 has it all. The best haircut/car/chick/sponsor, but inevitably loses it. Being popular in high school never did anyone any favours.

Male-on-male admiration is portrayed beautifully in the film. It’s such an inescapable part of the surfing world, and it’s totally gay! Stephen Fry says that, “The best thing that you can do is to have a hero, someone that you admire,” but Stevie also used to play a game called ‘rudies’ with a childhood pal, which involved watching each other defecate in the woods! So I’ll leave that one up to you.

However, you know that bile-inducing feeling you got when you first learnt the fate of our Andy Irons!? That’s love my friend! The grommets in the messiah-like Bear’s surf shop certainly feel the same about one Matt Johnson. In a moment of indulgent self-deprecation Johnson tried to shrug his endorsement deal with Bear and declares that:

“I don’t want kids looking up to me… I’m a drunk Bear. I only surf because it’s good to go out and ride with your friends. I don’t even have that anymore.”

This sentiment is quintessential to the route to surf stardom (Bonjour messieurs Marzo, Wood, Archbold, Herring) and brings to a head the reason that professional surfing is almost void of characters: If you want to be a professional surfer at the highest level then you literally have to spend the whole of your adolescence surfing!

Everyday, surf, surf, surf, it sure doesn’t make for interesting interviews! Gabby didn’t spend his teens making out with Bridget Bardot types on picnic rugs at beach-blanket burnout style parties and getting in bar-brawls in Tijuana with Leroy the Masochist. But then again that’s why Gabby’s a world champ and the proverbial Matt Johnson ended up cleaning pools for a living.

The scene ends in classic style, when Bear, with gravel in his voice and tears in his eyes, preaches his poignant sermon:

“Growing up’s hard on any kid. But those kids do look up to you whether you like it or not!

(Lengthy trumpet crescendo to theme tune)

“You better pick yourself out a new board now, don’t ya think.”

The “all good things must come to a end” sentiment is perfectly punctuated in art as in life by the Vietnam War. The conscription scene in Big Wednesday is one of the all time classic depictions of youth defiance in cinema history. The boys belting each other in the knees, dousing themselves in fish oil, dressing up as queens and Nazis alike to dodge the shackles of conscription is absolute silver screen gold! But this shit actually happened.

What a cruel twisted fate it was to go from the real golden era of surfing in the early-to -mid -sixties (think striped trunks, Volkswagon beatles, fires on the beach) to being thrust into the filthiest of mosquito-ridden jungles to fight the yellow man. What a wild ride!

Friendship ties into the tale of the golden era of the Malibu surf scene in an eternally relatable manner. It’s the morally incorruptible Bear, once again, who hits the proverbial nail on the head in his wedding day exchange with the newly appointed Los Angeles state lifeguard/excommunicated surfie Jack Barlow.

“For god’s sake Jack it’s my wedding day, have a drink.”

“No I don’t drink.”

“Jack, your friends are the most important thing you’ve got, have a drink.”

“What are we drinking to?”

“Only to your friends, to your friends come hell or high water.”

My best mate’s Dad’s in his fifties and he runs with a gaggle of weekend warriors that we refer to as The Johns. The Johns spend countless hours at the weekend, away from the trouble and strife, driving up and down the coast hanging out in car parks, drinking coffees, and checking the surf endlessly.

They barely ever surf, even when it’s pumping. The unexplained, eternally greener grass nature of this seemingly pointless activity became clear to me in the re-watching of Big Wednesday. The Johns aren’t searching for a better sandbank or a more sheltered cove. They’re searching for Atlantis, the Garden of Eden, a thing that’s gone and lost forever. The golden era of their youth. This powerful potion of nostalgia is the glue that binds the Johns,and it’s totally spawned an industry. Hello  Deus Ex Machina!

If you, like me, are in the apex of your golden years I urge you, I implore you, not to take for granted the rose-tinted phase in with you currently exist. Cherish your friends and your time, because before too long the bubble of youth will pop!

In the haunting words of Matt Johnson:

“Summer’s almost over, let’s get radical!”

mason ho wins 2015 backdoor shootout
Describe your winning strategy, Mason. "At Pipe and Backdoor, it gets really steep. I poke it down, like you poke the nose down, like you're going to poke something else. You just aim it and shoot it as hard as you can."

Interview: Mason Ho wins Backdoor Shootout!

…collects 10-grand and makes new friend in Bruce Irons!

Yesterday, Mason Ho, the just turned 26 year old from Sunset Beach, won a  slightly shortened version of Da Hui’s Backdoor Shootout. Jamie O’Brien strolled into second, Bruce Irons was third, Billy Kemper, third, Makua Rothman, fourth, and Makai McNamara was fifth.

Oh Mason! Such a popular winner! He gets us all drunk on his surfing. Those beautiful idiosyncrasies make his game the epitome of Hawaiian surf.

So let’s rap!

BeachGrit: Why’d you win? 

Mason: Whooooa! Fuck! I don’t know to be honest. Maybe… mmmm… frick… I can’t say that, let me think… wait… damn! I don’t know. I guess I put my heart into it but then I don’t know if those guys were doing the same. Maybe I picked better waves.

Describe what a pretty wave looks like, front door and back door? 

There’s those rights that look like huge teepees, you know what a teepee is, an Indian fucking thing. You want the rights to look like that. And the lefts, anything that looks like it’s coming from Off the Wall. You try and get as deep as you can and you just… poke it.

Poke it? 

At Pipe and Backdoor, it gets really steep. I poke it down, like you poke the nose down, like you’re going to poke something else. You just aim it and shoot it as hard as you can.

How about the winnings? How much y’get? 

Supposedly I won 10 grand. It’s usually 50 grand, that’s what I’ve seen on the cardboard cheques. The reason I got 10 was, usually it’s three heats and they take your best three scores and you get the results on that. This year, they tried to make it three rounds and the top 16 of the 32 guys were going to qualify for another round and then everyone was going to start from zero and then bang it out. So the plan was to have one more day of competition. But they missed one day. We thought yesterday was going to be the best day and it was kinda shitty. At first, everyone was going to get the same amount of money. But I started rousting everybody that had some power to change it. I told ’em straight to their face that the top six should get the same amount of money. They were laughing about how I was telling it straight. And then they said, “We’ll give you 10 and the other guys five.” I was, like, shooooooots (stoked)!

Who were you rousting?

Pretty much every single guy there. From the people running it to the competitors, from last place to fucking second place. Everybody. I needed the money.

What are you going to throw it at? 

Fuck! First purchase is a remote control car, f’sure.

An RC car? 

Somehow, fuck, I’ve been hanging out with Bruce Irons. I never knew the guy before but… wait… here’s a funny story. My friend had an RC car and I was, like, what the fuck? That’s the sickest thing! And so we went to the store in town so I could get one and the guy said, “Bruce Irons comes in here and buys everything!” I’m, like, what? I’m onto something cool. And then I ran into Bruce at the contest and I only know him to say, “Hey, what’s up, how’s your dad?” And after I got a 10 and a nine in my heat he paddled out… psyching! He’s so rock star, he never talks to guys, he just shines ’em and so I’d learned never to interrupt him or talk to him at Pipe. But he came out psyching, saying, “How was your stall! I love how you’re stalling! People just let go of the rail!” I was overwhelmed. I was in shock. The waves I don’t remember too well, but Bruce saying that was my highlight. And before the heat, my dad was sitting at Off the Wall and a remote control car flies by him. And he’s thinking, What is Mason doing playing with his car on the day of the contest? And he looks behind him and it’s Bruce pinning his car all over. And I say to Bruce, tell me my dad wasn’t lying! Were you playing with your RC car before the heat? And Bruce is, like, “I have my whole quiver here! Let’s go play after!” We get to play RC cars? With Bruce Irons? Winning the contest and playing with cars? 2015 is blowing my mind! I’m glad I got to get that off my chest. I had to tell someone.

How about the game of qualifying this year? Gonna happen? 

It’s been my goal since I was a kid to be world champ. I’m not giving up but to be world champ you have to get on tour. So my goal before my goal is to, yeah, qualify.

How you going to do it? 

I’m going to hypnotise myself into how much fun it is. I just want to beat guys in everything.

Surf photographer Ryan Miller at Teahupoo
The New Jersey ice-creamer and surf photographer Ryan Miller captured underwater by the surfer Damien Hobgood. The tuber in the background is the Hawaiian Sebastian Zietz. | Photo: Damien Hobgood

How to Succeed at Surf Photography!

It's so dirty! And your throat will be cut! But such rewards, says New Jersey's Ryan Miller… 

Where do you find success? And, what is success?

Is it bringing thunder to your craft? Is it making money? Or is it, as is the case of New Jersey surf photographer, Ryan Miller, creating a seasonal business lucrative enough to carry you through eight months of travel, including mortgage payments on your crib, every single year.

If you don’t know Ryan, you’ll know his photos. The hard-working ice-cream store owner travels to each event and… works it. His game isn’t the oblique or the abstract but straight sports photography. Ryan doesn’t misfire. And, every single day, his photos are uploaded and distributed. Red Bull is one major corporate client who rain shekels for his work.

I ask Ryan, who is your favourite surfer to photograph and why?

“Good question but fuck, I don’t even know if I think in those terms. I get “where is your favorite place to go?” all the time. I honestly feel like here and now is my favorite place wherever I’m at right then is just fine by me. If you start to think “Oh this place sucks and I can’t wait to get to Fiji or wherever” then you can suck all the life out of that trip real quick. Same logic applies to my favorite surfer. Whoever I’m shooting at the moment is who I’m excited about shooting. I don’t really think in terms of favorites or that would relegate me to thinking if I was shooting anyone other than that favorite person, then I would be having a lesser experience.”

What essential truths has he learned about the pro tour since following it?

“That if you open yourself up to new experiences and learning new things at every step of the way then you really can. I learned more this year on tour by seeking out new experiences than I have learned all other years cumulatively.”

Ryan mixes a solid education (two photography degrees and a fellowship that allowed him to live in Haiti and document that wildly dysfunctional country for one year) with a work ethic borne out of 80-hour weeks at the beachfront ice creamery called Yum Yums he owns with his wife, Cristen.

The pair bought the biz 15 years ago for five gees. Neither had any experience, but Cristen’s parents knew restaurants, and, with a little help, the two 20 year olds made it through the first year. They didn’t make a ton of money, even working from noon to midnight every day, but it was still enough for ’em to take off for the rough east coast winter. The business turned around when they discovered that they both had a natural affinity for small-talk.

“We created a strong bond with the customers. We learnt their names. We remembered their orders. We taught some of ’em how to surf. We even go their houses for dinner,” says Miller.

These days, Cristen is still in the store for the crazy summer, but Ryan, whose photography is starting to pay off, only stalks the counter one day a week.

If you’re on the Jersey Shore (yep, where the MTV reality show was filmed), you find the Millers at 31 John F Kennedy Boulevard. From mid-May to mid-September, the place is absolutely fucking hectic. But then, it’s like France, the place shuts down. The tourists leave. Absolutely everything closes.

As soon as the first of those autumn fronts move in, the pair are riding the gulfstream to more human-friendly climates. It used to be India, Nepal and Thailand, the classic path for travellers chasing adventures in the sun, but ever since Ryan taught Cristen to surf, their destinations now involve sweet beachbreaks.

In a neat twist, Ryan says that his wife Cristen is “responsible for everything. She’s the one who got me into surf photos. It was her initiative to start traveling. It was her initiative to buy the ice-cream store. And, when I taught her to surf, instead of wanting to go to Asia or wherever, she said, fuck India, let’s go surfing on the Gold Coast.”

How good is the gal? Fuck India! Go surf! Four months of work and eight months of fun. It’s a very good definition of success.

Ryan Miller’s 5 tips for success
1. Find your niche: It ain’t easy, but discover what you’re good at, whether it’s running an ice cream store or taking travel photos or being a hellman water photographer, and make your mark. Stand out. Be better than the next guy. Exploit your talent.
2. Bury your ego: Business is so fricken full of being let down. If you carry that ego thing with you, you’ll be buried alive by rejection. Don’t question your self-worth. Keep going! Keep believing!
3. Customer service: Tie up all your loose ends. Answer emails promptly. If someone’s doing biz with you, make it easy for ’em.
4. Be persistent: But, at the same time, don’t be a dick. It’s a fine line. Don’t freak out if your emails aren’t answered within the hour and don’t start sending paranoid shit full of capital letters.
5. Forge great relationships: Be a good guy. You get so fucked, so let down, that it’s easy for the devil to come out. Don’t let it happen. Take rejection in a gentlemanly fashion and keep rolling.

Follow Ryan on Instagram here (click!) or dive into his archived hot tub here (click!). 

At least he still has his teeth?
At least he still has his teeth?

Bustin’ Down the Door II

Another Australian takes one on the chin in Oahu. Did he deserve it? Maybe.

Reminiscent of the beating Wayne “Rabbit” Bartholomew was handed some 25 years ago, another Australian has been shown Hawaiian justice. Multiple news outlets report that, last night, Melbourne native and PGA bottom-dweller Robert Allenby was kidnapped and beaten after missing the cut at the Sony Open in Hawaii.

Allenby, 43, said he was at a wine bar in Waikiki when he was abducted at around 11 p.m. local time, placed in a car, driven 6½ miles away and robbed.

“I didn’t think I was going to survive this one,” Allenby told the Australian Associated Press.

“I was separated from my friend (Anthony Puntoriero) in the bar after we had paid the tab at 10:48 p.m., and he went to the bathroom and next thing you know I’m being dumped in a park miles away.”

“I only know this part because a homeless woman found me and told me she saw a few guys pull up and throw me out of the car. That is where I got the scrapes above my eye from the sidewalk.”

Law enforcement officials are busily following leads but I have only one question.

Wine bar? In Waikiki?

Weekend Read: The Little Surfer Boy at Number Ten

Rejection ain't easy! It's especially hard when it spikes the heart of a little boy… 

The married couple liked to “jog.” The husband had been to America and had brought back an enthusiasm for the new fad years before it was to reach the isolated suburbs of Western Australia. (He imported a thirst for “swinging” too, although his wife was uncooperative.)

Just before the sun rose every morning, the couple would circle the 500- metre crescent where they lived six times.

Every Saturday, as they passed number 10, they would wave at a boy whom they estimated to be seven years old, but who was actually 10, squatting on top of the cream brick letterbox, as if ready to spring an attack on an unknown enemy.

Sometimes, the boy’s shivering was visible and this wasn’t surprising with his uniform of boardshorts, singlet, visor and thongs, even in winter. On the coldest mornings, he would be wrapped in a towel that had the words Ocean and Earth written across it in large block letters. Other days, the towel would be folded on top of the surfboard that leaned against the letterbox. If you were to stop and watch the boy you would see that he checked the large yellow plastic watch on his wrist every few seconds.

Most Saturdays, they would see the boy still sitting there even after they’d jogged their six laps, had gone home for breakfast, and were now taking their Afghan – another American influence – for a walk.

By then, the sun was well above the horizon now and the boy’s shivering had stopped. His freckled face would be cut into a grimace as the sun hit his eyes. If the couple had ever stopped to see what happened next, they would’ve seen the boy’s mother hurry up the driveway in a dressing gown that ballooned in the morning offshore, whisper in the boy’s ear, help him down from the letterbox, and hold his hand as she led him inside, the boy’s surfboard hanging from a strap on his shoulder.

The boy would walk back into his room, prop his surfboard against the wall in the corner, nose down, just as he’d seen it done in the surf shop, and lay down on his bed, looking at the trees outside his window and waiting for the onshore change that always came by nine am.

He would have liked to call his friend, but he was afraid, so afraid, of a definitive rejection. Because, even now, even two hours after the appointed pick-up time, his ears were attuned to any sort of crackle that might signal the arrival of a VW.

Rarely, perhaps once ever six Saturdays, the couple would see the boy climbing into a bright orange Volkswagen station wagon, an older boy smiling at him as he shifted into the back seat. A bearded man would tie his surfboard onto the roof with short lengths of rope.

The boy’s failed vigils disturbed the husband and he often spoke about it with his wife.

Why does the Rielly boy wait for a lift that hardly ever comes?

His wife would shrug and liken it to their passion for “jogging.”

But, it upset her, too.

He was too young to be rejected so blithely.

For the boy’s part, he never felt rejected or ignored.

Of course, he felt sad. And sometimes the sadness was so overwhelming he pushed his face into his pillow until it was damp with tears.

But, only because when you live in Perth and your surfing is limited to weekends and you miss that early offshore window, fuck, wouldn’t you cry too?