Once, Lewis Samuels was the biggest thing in surf lit. Oh how we miss his raspy, lung cancerous tone!
The dessert spoon overflows with choux pastry and chocolate-flavoured crème patissiere. The surf blogger is nervous at first and uses a sentence with the word “gay” in it. His protests are short.
Like every other man before him, he soon begs for the éclair, mouth open. I upturn the spoon upon his tongue, which greedily rims the crème patissiere, suddenly free to explore and experience.
“Delicious?” I ask.
“This is a joke! This is a joke,” he repeats, suddenly ashamed.
One hour later, Lewis, the half-Jewish surf blogger from Bolinas, 45 minutes north of San Francisco, is sitting naked and cross-legged, his naturally-curly hair teased into a brown ball, MacBook balanced in his lap.
Lewis is at Stab magazine, an Australian surf title that I once edited and owned. He had agreed to an interview and to a studio portrait that you can find here. The interview, that I’ve reproduced below, charts the rise of the online surf community he created for his now-defunct website PostSurf, praises him for the sharpness of his keystrokes and his excellent sense of humour, but puts him to sword for his dreadful Andy Irons interview for Surfline in 2009 and for his juvenile liptstick communism.
I asked Kelly Slater for his opinion about Lewis. Kelly replied: “Lewis just basically riles you up and puts a flame under your weaknesses and does his best to expose you and keep you honest. Every sport has it’s detractors but few actually get through on a personal and visible level to a lot of athletes but that’s probably cause of the nature of surfing and the lifestyle and accessibility surfers have to people around them. I have emailed with him a few times. Not sure if it was between heats meaning I was needing a pep talk or something but may have been between rounds. I think he’s funny. My brother wanted to punch him out for what he had written recently cause he didn’t see the humour in it and was being protective. He tends to ride the line with people and will probably get punched by someone soon or barred from going places comfortably. That’s kind of genius to put your true thoughts and opinions out there for people to read like he does. Not a lot of people are truly honest in this world with what they are thinking cause they’re scared of the repercussions. He definitely rattled a few cages in his short surf-writing career. He did probably inspire me to step it up at Trestles after gassing out at J-Bay to Taj. Probably helped me stay more aware of keeping myself fit and ready and hydrated during contests. He actually has gifts for people if they take it the right way.”
DR: On your website PostSurf you once wrote: “I feel for Dane. It’s professional courtesy – one false messiah tipping his hat to another. It’s a tough business, leading from on high, tacked on that cross.” Do you think you are seen as a messiah, and are you false, and are you crucified?
Lewis: People give a little too much credit to what I write and they take it too seriously. In terms of being crucified, what I was alluding to for both Dane and I, was that people expect you to have some great importance when realistically most of the things we do in our lives don’t have much importance.
You are the biggest thing in surfing, word-wise. You are the leader, the thought-provoker and the trendsetter. Is it a revenge of the nerds scenario? Skinny Jewish kid, sorry half-Jew, uses keyboard to slaughter the jocks?
There’s an interesting trend in popular culture and you see it in the hipster thing and in movies like Juno where everyone wants to be the quirky, unique one. Getting credit for their ideas, not just fitting in, non-conformity being a plus instead of a minus. There’s an aspect of that to it.
Are you thrilled that top pro surfers hang on your every keystroke?
It’s baffling they read it or care. I don’t blame them for being affected by it. It’s pretty gnarly reading what people say about you. At the same time, it never occurred to me that they’d take it seriously. Why the fuck would they care what I had to say? There’s no reason to. It’s trying to say the things that haven’t been said because the surf media’s pretty controlled, there’s a pretty tight lid on it. And, you just wanna be able to see that discourse that you hear when you’re at a party, having a drink and talking about surfing. You just wanna hear those things said out loud.
You often write about your hardboiled drinking. Yet, when we drank together you nearly fainted after a couple of long-balls and a few vodkas. What is drinking to you and how hardboiled are you?
It’s all about a consistent intake during working hours. Staying consistently drunk in your working hours, that’s where I’m at.
Does drinking give you a feeling of boldness?
It’s not about being in the office and conveying things in a responsible manner, it’s about trying to get to the heart of the emotions behind it and that comes out better with alcohol on your breath. That’s all it is. It’s not so much that I’m constantly drunk, but consistently drinking.
A constant theme on postsurf is the lack of spine in surf media. Yet, I must put you to the sword for your dreadful Andy Irons interview. In the middle of AI’s public meltdown, you didn’t go near the reasons or causes. Like the rest of us, you crumble at the moment of truth. Tell me about the feeling of capitulation and weakness.
Ohhhh, man. The Andy Irons thing. At that point, I was still trying to play the game. And the numbers were huge. And the repercussions were huge even if people like you read it, snickered, and said, “Aw, that’s a bulls**t piece.” Some of the frustration with that experience manifested itself in creating Postsurf. At a certain point, I no longer was happy writing stuff that was controlled by a corporation that had relationships with advertisers and managers and surfers. I just wanted to say the things I wanted to say. And, now it means I don’t have an active mainstream career in the surf media.
On your site you wrote, the three biggest problems in surfing are: shithouse writers, jiu-jitsu and Joel Tudor.
Well, I’m responsible for one of those three problems. The jiu-jitsu thing, on the other hand… where I live, if men want to have sex with other men, they just do it.
You mentioned the ironically named Fred Van Dyke saying big-wave riders are “latent homosexuals”. Latent homos, as you know, never consciously express their desires. It is a covert, not overt, desire. But, isn’t jiu-jitsu an overt expression of a desire to hold men? Can I ask you this: do you think Joel Tudor wrestles for sensual pleasure rather than to satisfy a competitive urge?
You can definitely draw some conclusions that there are sexual undertones. I’m not noticing the technical holds or the moves. I’m just going, there’s a man’s face and there’s Joel’s crotch. And the man’s face is being grasped and pulled into Joel’s crotch. By Joel.
What’s the problem with Joel?
People look at him like another false Messiah. If he’s really that talented of an athlete I would love to see him ride functional surfboards instead of archaic pieces of shit. He’s never really challenged himself to go ride modern equipment in perfect waves to see what would happen; just to see. For me, there’s a place for that stuff, when the waves suck. When it’s big and barreling, why do you want to hold yourself back? It’s a marketing gimmick. Technology has offered us better equipment to enjoy surfing. Better wetsuits, trunks, legropes. And, I’m not sure why, but when it comes to surfboards some of us ride shitty surfboards from 35 years ago that barely work. There was a great quote from Wayne Lynch, years back, on how Joel was trying to get some vintage Wayne Lynch board to ride at Tavarua and Wayne laughed at him and said: “The board sucked at the time and it sucks now, so why waste your time riding it.” And, that’s my feeling.
You are the self-proclaimed most hated man in surfing. Is there a pressure to keep the insults coming?
I definitely don’t think I’m the voice of a generation when it comes to surfing. I just think that there are some crazy motherfuckers out there who take what I say way too seriously. I’m just taking the piss in the end. – Derek Rielly.