Second place is the first loser

A horrific story of almost famous.

Thirty-four thousand played Fantasy Surfer last year. I finished second.

Not first, who won an all expenses paid week vacation for two to the North Shore’s Turtle Bay Resort, and not sitting somewhere between 2000th and 20000th like the majority of the frothers that try their luck. No, I came in 75 lousy points behind the winner. The equivalent of a couple minor victories over the entire 561 heats ran over the 11-stop Tour. What are the odds? I’ll tell you god damn it. One in thirty-four thousand! And what did the corporate owned Fantasy Surf League give out to the obviously genius runner up?

First, let’s break it down so you too can be a loser. My strategy started off loose. I like my regular footers, even at lefts. And I also lean toward the cool factor: stylish outside the water, good looking even. These things matter. Luke Stedman is the greatest surfer to ever don a jersey and that’s science. Let the record state I’d previously never finished in the Top 10000 following this formula.

So it was cool, non-passionate, regular footers only. Then, by chance, a funny thing happened. At Margaret’s my overachieving team that would make any women swoon finished 3rd overall. I thought it was a typo. Then another top placing followed at the despised Bells Beach. It was time to get serious. Turtle Bay was to be mine. So I crunched stats and put an actual strategy together for my Rio Pro team. I bombed. Two dropped scored out of 4 events. Not good, but I still had visions of the glitz and glamour of winning FS. I needed to tap into something otherworldly – a spirit animal. So I ‘became’ Peter Brand (Jonah Hill’s brainy character from Money Ball) and created a similarly sophisticated sabermetric approach – but tailored to competitive surfing – and used it to analyze and pick athletes.

My new teams disgusted the real me. Brazilians and their claiming. Gross. Goofy footers. Much worse! But it worked. Event after event the points were there.

Coming into Hawaii I was a dark horse, narrowly sitting outside the top 20. Exactly where I wanted. If you dropped the leader board’s lowest events I was actually in the lead. I could taste Mai Tai on my tongue. How many could I drink in one week? 100? A mental list was made with whom I was going to take. Babe or buddy? It would be a tough choice.

The Pipe heat matchups were drawn and I discovered Insiders on the beach were giving me tips on who was in form. I double-checked the forecast and no doubt I was getting all 8 past the 3rd round. That’s the secret.

Everything was in place and the huge NW swell hit. Then KP didn’t say #Itson. Then the forecast changed. I was fucked. My team was not built for a head high Backdoor shootout. They were warriors ready to meet their maker at classic, meaty Pipe. I gave up. Crushed, I don’t even remember if I watched the final. But I logged in to FS a couple hours just to see how I faired. Maybe I’d remained in the Top 100?

I didn’t even have to click off the homepage. There it was beside my avatar Jonah Hill’s chubby little face – 2nd. The first loser, but also… SECOND! Fuck yeah! What was I gonna win… some surfboards? Some wetties? A lifetime worth of boxy tee’s and tech boardies that I could donate to the less fortunate? A quick email to the mates at SURFER was returned with this:

Hi Swayzar,

Congrats on finishing second. That’s pretty impressive. Unfortunately we don’t have a prize for second place, but we’re working on that for this year. We’re also looking to give prizes out at each event. I know that doesn’t help you now, but keep the momentum rolling. You’ll be raking in prizes if you do.

– SURFER staff member

Nothing! You win absolutely nothing!!! Images of storming the Turtle Bay stage with fingers raised played in my mind. But still… SECOND! I am a prophet.

Fast-forward to 2015 and my new side-hustle: a FS ghost team picker. Multiple industry bros wanted help for their intercompany “team building” Fantasy Surf Leagues. Some are close friends; others cold called, either way I get a healthy cut of all their winnings. On top of this I’m registered in a handful of private clubs with cash money prizes. Once I sweep these gambling rings and cash out I’ll book my own damn trip to Turtle Bay and drink as many Mai Tai’s as I want!

Note: Currently, I sit on the cusp of falling outside the top 10 000. Prizes are not being raked in. The dream is over.

Strider Wasilewski
Strider Wasilewski, the owner of the greatest tits that ever lived! Sea Bass ain't even game to look at those attack dogs!

“I went to a Chumash Indian sweat lodge in Malibu”

Strider Wasilewski and the best surf profile of the year.

It is not often that great surf pieces appear in non-surf publications but the free LA Weekly just threw down a hammer on the great Strider Wasilewski. It is the best profile of the year, for certain, and I won’t spoil with my words. So enjoy.

If you think you can surf the world’s most powerful waves, you’re fooling yourself. It takes magical thinking to put your flesh and bones in the path of nature’s fury.

“You gotta lie to yourself,” Strider Wasilewski says.

He maintained that lie until one day in 2003, when he faced Andy Irons and other pros in the early rounds of a world tour event at the Tahitian meat grinder known as Teahupo’o. One of the participants, a French local, scraped for an impossible wave — and his failure infected Wasilewski with a mortal truth.

“I could see the fear in his eyes,” Wasilewski says. “And he went and got sent over the falls. And he couldn’t see when he finally came up. He had been underwater for so long his oxygen was gone, and water was coming out of his nose. Nothing was working for him. He couldn’t paddle. He was flopping around, waving. I went to help him, and I was trippin’ on him: Fuck, that was so gnarly. And then I was sitting and a wave came right to me, and I started questioning myself at that moment.”

Until then, Wasilewski had never truly understood fear. But somehow, the French surfer’s fear became Wasilewski’s own.

“And I remember Andy seeing that questioning in my eye. And he took off on the wave, cut back and got the sickest pit. He won the heat. He had the edge from that moment on for the rest of our lives.”

That’s Wasilewski’s perception of it, anyway.

It turns out that, a year earlier, Irons had faced his own life-changing wave — at the same spot. In a video, Irons would describe dropping in on a “dredging” 15-footer that heaved over Teahupo’o’s notorious barbed-wire reef. Irons said that he’d been gripped by fear, unable to catch one wave during that session. He charged only to elbow out his competitive brother, Bruce, who was looking at the same monster. “I pulled back on five waves,” Irons said, “and my balls were just up in my stomach. … I’m scared. I can’t do it.”

He made the wave, though, and he made it look easy. Eight years after the experience, in 2010, Irons would die in a Texas hotel room of a heart attack, likely brought on by all the drugs in his system, including Alprazolam, Zolpidem, methadone, cocaine and methamphetamine.

That could have been Wasilewski’s path. Maybe it should have been.

(Read the rest here)


Shark marketing: “A bite into credibility!”

Mick and Julian's post shark attack news conference called out in Australia's news.

I think, for most writers, taking the path into marketing is a tempting proposition. It’s really not much more than lying with a straight face, and that’s easy. Especially if you’re more or less morally bankrupt and approach most strangers with some small species of contempt.I think the only thing that spared me the indignity of professional employment of rhetorical devices in order to flog a garbage product is my total inability to cooperate with others.

The thing with marketing, it’s like sucking cock. There’s nothing wrong with it, some people really enjoy it. But to do it for a living…Go ahead, but keep it private. Maybe think twice about flouting how good you are at it.

Today’s Sydney Morning Herald (tomorrow’s, from my perspective, thanks to my location on the other side of the international dateline) included an article by Andrew Hughes “a lecturer in marketing in the Australia National University’s Research School of Management, where he acts as the Director of the MBA.” Titled, Shark attack: Mick Fanning’s sponsors fail by being noticed. It examines the product placement at hand during a press conference Julian and Mick held in the wake of the recent shark attack.

Hughes pays lip service to the notion of authenticity, the idea that good marketing is indistinguishable as such. Ideally we’re sold to subliminally, “If the consumer notices the marketing your campaign goes from natural to manufactured very quickly and loses its impact and effectiveness.”

He goes on, “Similarly if a consumer doesn’t notice the difference, then it’s hello to viral distribution and huge impact and engagement.”

At issue is the prominent product placement enjoyed by both Red Bull and Rip Curl during the press conference, “It was a brand message too far. A bite into the credibility of the very brands themselves. Using the media to carry the message like this went past PR and into advertising.”

Red Bull holds a strange place in my heart. On one hand it’s really just an addictive concoction of sugar and caffeine that’s marketed, very successfully, to stupid children. On the other hand, the company pumps an obscene amount of money into really cool projects, and I don’t like children anyway. If the newest crop of internet addicted crotch fruit ripens into an entire generation of attention deficit slobs I’ll be a happy camper. Less competition for work in the coming decades.

Rip Curl sells tide watches. In 2015. Because you desperately need a tide watch. It’s not like we have some sort of magical square in our pocket that tells us the time, gives us surf reports, and can deliver up copious amounts of pornography at the wave of a hand.

Either way, there’s not a whole lot of actual authentic “authenticity” to be had. Not unless you really believe that ADS and Mick and Julian and Jordy want nothing more than a lukewarm energy the moment they finish a heat.

Manufactured authenticity, though, what a concept. Are people so foolish as to be blind to the manipulation?Probably, I guess. Like George Carlin said, “Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that.”

I know that when I was an empty headed pubescent grommet I couldn’t wait to piss away my money on whatever hot brand my fave surfer was wearing. Andy’s rocking MCD? Gotta grab a pair of shin length boardies! Taylor Steele is riding for No Fear? Is No Fear cool again? Okay, sign me up.

We do grow up, though, and Hughes may be overestimating the efficacy of his profession when he says, “Athlete endorsements help brands leverage into that natural and authentic space easily. They help develop a personality for the brand that is used to develop a relationship with customers that can last for decades.” Little lasts for decades, and in the easy come and easy go surf world you need to cash in while you can. Just because surfing is cool now there’s no indication it’ll still be so in a year. The skate industry has understood that since the 60’s, catering to the whims of childish affectation is a feast or famine livelihood.

Hughes leads into his wrap up with the statement, “And the more natural you are as an athlete the better. Just ask Shane Warne or Greg Norman, both of whom have successful product ranges and personal brand portfolios.”

All I can say to that is, who the fuck are Shane Warne and Greg Norman?

wavegarden at night
Sharks? Who needs 'em!

Scared of sharks? Go to Spain!

It is the smart thing to do.

The Wavegarten or Wave Garden or Wavegarden is up and running gorgeously far away from the ocean and the ocean’s pesky animals.

Sharks? Who needs ’em!

And so if J-Bay and Mick Fanning has put you completely off touching toe to sea (it totally should. Who needs it!) then book your ticket to Spain. Or Wales. Or Portugal. Or Austin, Texas. Or wherever it is.

There are no sharks there and maybe no locals so just go and shred in complete innocence. Or in a disco. With lots of cocaine. Or MDMA. Or whatever it is.

Thank you, science, for being such a bro.

Barbarian Days with Bill Finnegan

The heavy weight champion of surf writing speaks.

William Finnegan is the World Heavyweight Champion of surf writing. He’s held the title since 1992, when his story, “Playing Doc’s Games” arrived in two sequential issues of the mighty New Yorker, where he’s been a staff writer since ’84.

A considerable talent in the water, “Playing Doc’s Games” is Finnegan’s love letter to San Francisco, and to surfing’s bygone era of committed individualism, as seen through the eyes of world-class weirdo and big wave adventurer, Doc Renneker.

It’s also a sprawling, dense, lush 35,000-word triumph, resolved by one of the most gorgeous passages I’ve ever read—in The New Yorker, or elsewhere—exploring Finnegan’s feelings about a photo that hangs on his Manhattan office wall, of him “half crouched inside a slate-gray barrel off Noriega Street, Ocean Beach.”

Bill is clearly visible in the shot. Had the photographer waited to drop the hammer a fraction of a second longer, Bill would have been hidden from view, fully slotted.

“That’s the shot I covet,” Finnegan writes: “The wave alone, with the knowledge that I am in there, drawing a high line behind the thick, pouring, silver-beaded curtain. That invisible passage, not this moment of anticipation, was the heart of the ride. But pictures are not about what a ride felt like; they are about what it looked like to others. This picture shows a dark sea; my memory of that wave is drenched with silver light. That’s because I was looking south while I navigated its depths, and as I slipped through its brilliant almond eye back into the world.”

Last month Finnegan published his memoir, Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, built around the original New Yorker piece. The book chronicles Finnegan’s relationship to surfing from adolescence through adult- and fatherhood. And while it isn’t quite the epiphany that “Playing Doc’s Games” was, it’s the best chance we’ve got at a book about surfing finding a more general audience.

Yesterday, Finnegan sat down with NPR’s Morning Edition to discuss his life not as a New Yorker staffer, but as Surfer. Here are a few of the interview’s nuggets:

On chasing perfect waves: “I think I and a lot of my friends had our career goals seriously warped by [Endless Summer]. I didn’t really even think about it. It just sort of felt mandatory. I’d have to go looking for waves.”

On perfection: “Perfect is a terrible word, actually. Surfers have kind of a perfection fetish. “And it was perfect!”Waves are not stationary objects in nature. They’re not diamonds or roses or something that you just look at. They’re the end of a long process, it’s an explosion across a reef and wind, tide, everything affects every wave.”

On finding Tavarua after four years of searching: “I was on a yacht that had some surfers also looking for waves, some Australians. And I heard, or one of those guys overheard, broadcasts between two other boats — something about a perfect 300 yard left. And we searched and searched and got quite lucky. I mean the fishermen we got to take us across the channel to this little uninhabited island — they had never seen a surfboard before. They didn’t believe that we could stand up on them — they thought they were airplane wings. And so it was really a sort of the dawn of discovery of that place, which is now one of the most famous waves in the world.”

On getting old: “I mean it’s horrifying to lose your quickness and strength. But, I think I’ve gained an appreciation of, you know, a good day in the water. I mean, I think when I was younger, it was easier to take it for granted that it would go on forever. You know as you get older you know it’s not going to go on forever.”

You can listen to the entire interview here (and shit if his voice isn’t as handsome as his prose).