Barely Illegal: The surf photog and his teen gal!

She was only 14, but, yes, a different time… 

Yesterday, on the excellent Surfer magazine website, the surf historian Matt Warshaw posted a story on the iconic surf photographer Ron Stoner and his young girlfriend Paulette.

By young, ah, real young. Fourteen. He was 21.

(read here)

Now I ain’t one to swing back in time to 1967 and start pointing 2015 fingers at a man and an almost-woman clearly in love. That same year, the singer Elvis Presley married Priscilla Beaulieu, a girl he met when she was 14.

Ron Stoner and Paulette Martinson
Here we see the once-famous surf photographer Ron Stoner, aged 21, with his nymphet Paulette, then an almost womanly 14.

Meanwhile, American boys were getting shipped off in their thousands, against their will, to die in the muck of Vietnam. Back home, everyone was either soaked in LSD or living in a Mason Family commune in Death Valley. Or both.

Why wouldn’t you chase your kicks?

Anyway, the idea of young girls has always been anathema to me. In year five I had a big-tittied teacher whose uniform was a canary yellow jumpsuit unbuttoned to the naval (did I dream this I often wonder in hindsight?) and, ever since, the sight of an aged, and freckled ideally, cleavage has sent me into the stratosphere.

Which brings me back around to Ron Stoner and Paulette Martinson, the sweet lil 14 year old, he swung with. Apart from the moral question, there was the issue of teen pussy v the seasoned woman.

I had a little back-and-forth with Warshaw on the merits, or not, of both.

BeachGrit: Tooling a 14-year-old?
Warshaw: Fuck, did you even read the post?

BeachGrit: What?
Warshaw: Stoner was, I don’t know what you want to call him — not just schizophrenic, but otherwise damaged. So yes he was 21, and Paulette was 14, and I’m not saying that’s great. But they dug each other, her parents were okay with it, and when Ron went down the tubes, Paulette was pretty much the only person from his past who didn’t bail out. The story here isn’t about sex with a minor. Can you even understand that?

BeachGrit: You’re invested in Stoner, aren’t you.
Warshaw: If you’re a Southern California surfer of a certain age, like I am, Stoner is a touchstone not just for your surfing, but for the whole place, the whole era. He’s Brian Wilson. Terrible beauty and sadness. Paulette, for me, and who knows, maybe I’ve built this up in my head, but Paulette was probably the best thing in Ron’s life. For just a little while, anyway. And how fast it all goes away, it’s like that mid-‘60s period in California surfing. You know the Beach Boys song “Caroline, No”?

BeachGrit: Hmmmm, maybe not.
Warshaw: Paulette was always going to leave Ron, cause of their age difference, and also because schizophrenia was taking over. So yeah, she leaves him, and before Ron falls completely into the abyss, when he’s just heartbroken completely, he does some of his best work with the camera. It’s this last burst of color before his career, his health, his sanity, all of it just gets blacked out. And that’s like Stoner’s version of “Carline, No.” He knows he’s losing it, but still has it together enough to make art. It kills me. The song kills me, and Stoner’s story kills me.

BeachGrit: So the 14-year-old pussy angle. That does nothing for you?
Warshaw: You’re fucking retarded, you know that?

BeachGrit: Answer the question!
Warshaw: Okay, first of all, again, fuck you, you’ve missed the whole point here. But look, I’ll say this. You saw The Graduate?

BeachGrit: Oh my god, yes!
Warshaw: Okay, so . . . Katherine Ross or Anne Bancroft? Daughter or mother?

BeachGrit: Easiest question of the day. Anne Bancroft! Mrs. Robinson!
Warshaw: Yeah, that imprinted on me at age eight. Older woman all the way.

BeachGrit: So what is it about older gals? Describe the thrills you receive.
Warshaw: Older women know how to do subtlety. Sexy-wise, Anne Bancroft does more with an eyebrow and a bit of exhaled cigarette smoke then whatever teenager you’re watching on PornHub right now.

BeachGrit: Oh, Matt, I couldn’t hear you any louder. I’ve been pushing up against older gals since I was a teen and I always found little ones to be unfinished masterpieces, works that wouldn’t be complete until mid-thirties, forties, or later. Nymphets? With their dull, sucked-a-hundred-cocks-already looks? I’m not sure how many people picked it up, but a piece I wrote on Noa Deane’s gal Zoe was all based around Lolita. But, there must be some fire in your groin, for some of the more famous surf teens. Do you like Sage Erickson for example? Malia Manuel?

Matt: Of course. Knockouts, both of them. But I’d crawl over Sage and Malia and a dozen like them to get with Helen Mirren.

Gimme: Kelly Slater’s $2 Mill Gold Coast Crib!

Roughly a hundred footsteps tween tile and sand… 

Palm Beach is what you would call a recovering suburb, at least if you wanted to be kind. There’s a veneer of hipness, like most of the Gold Coast, but you don’t have to scratch too hard to find the hopelessness that lays just beneath.

Dirty apartments with kids curled under dirty fur blankets. Open cans and cigarettes on the floor. The TV on a perpetual whining cycle. Unemployment (yeah, there’s a social security building on the beachside of the highway) is its major trade. Welcome to Palm-y.

But then there’s the beach, a stretch, five or so miles long, from first avenue on its southern border to 28th in the north. It’s sand so the quality varies but, often, with the wind out of the south, and the swell a little east, you’ll be struck by how good it gets. I lived there for a few years and found it a sublime escape from the crowds and the predictability of the points.

Maybe it’s why Kelly Slater just dropped just over two mill for a whole-floor beachfront apartment, with its own lift access, on sexy little Jefferson Lane.

Shall we stroll through its features, as offered by the real estate pages?

“A boutique low-rise that consists of 7 levels, one unit per level with absolute, pure beachfront luxury! Designed to embrace natural light, capture panoramic views from Surfers Paradise to Coolangatta and offer alfresco beach balcony living all year round…Each level is accessed by a security-coded lift that opens directly into your home.

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“It comprises an ultra-modern style of architecture and has reset the benchmark for quality beachfront apartments with high quality fixtures and fittings and standard of quality finish throughout.”

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It ain’t Frank Lloyd Wright, architecture wise, though there are notes of Mies van der Rohe, at least in spirit, but what is on the Gold Coast?

Y’got plenty of room and, best of all, it faces due north-east, which means the stiff summer heat is tempered by a sea breeze.

It isn’t Kelly’s only Gold Coast crib. Ten years ago, he bought a little apartment, with no views, in Tugun, just south of Palm Beach, for $445,000.

Note: all photos are from the same building but not Kelly’s exact apartment. 

Filipe Toledo Tahiti
Five stitches in his elbow, unable to surf during a week of lay-days and not a murmur of complaint! "Have you ever surfed with stitches?" write Chas Smith. "I’m afraid to even touch the ocean water when my skin is sewn together." | Photo: WSL

New evidence: The courageous warrior!

Filipe Toledo and the real reason (?) he did not catch a wave.

Filipe Toledo’s refusal to catch a wave in his round 5 heat versus fellow Brazilian Italian Ferrari caused such a stir! Some calling him a coward, others pointing to strategical blunders as the reason he carried a 0 point total to the final horn.

Back and forth the two sides went like cats on a hot tin roof. Video proof was posted, on both sides, to show that either he was brave or he was scared.

Well, man, I’ve got certain information, alright? Certain things have come to light and, you know, has it ever occurred to you that instead of running around blaming Filipe…well given the nature of all this new shit…this could be a lot more….uhhhh…..uhh.uhhh.uh complex.

I mean it’s not just…It might not be just a simple. Uh. You know?

According to our inside source, young Toledo bonked his elbow even requiring five stitches.

“I was staying with him and he got 5 stitches in his elbow banged it really hard and couldn’t even surf for a week during the laydays. He tried in his rd 4 heat and that night at dinner was saying it was almost impossible to stand up… I thought he wasn’t even gonna surf his rd 5 heat.”

Have you ever surfed with stitches? I’m afraid to even touch the ocean water when my skin is sewn together. Staph infections and things like that are not very funny. So antibiotic resistant these days!

Now how do you feel about your courageous little warrior?

(I’m looking at you Matt Warshaw.)

William Finnegan Barbarian Days
Bill Finnegan at G-Land in the seventies. The waves "looked incredible – long, long, long, fast, empty lefts, six feet on the smaller days, eight-feet plus when the swell pulsed… "

Bill Finnegan on (more than) Barbarian Days

An interview with The New Yorker staffer on a life so beautifully squandered… 

It’s hard to step outside these days without tripping over a review of the William Finnegan book Barbarian Days.

The Wall Street Journal called it “gorgeously written and intensely felt… dare I say that we all need Mr Finnegan… as a role model for a life, thrillingly, lived.”

The LA Times said, “It’s also about a writer’s life and, even more generally, a quester’s life, more carefully observed and precisely rendered than any I’ve read in a long time.”

It threw me under the bus of a two-day obsessive read. I’d dived into Finnegan’s work in the New Yorker before, including an excerpt from the book about his time as a kid in Hawaii (read here) and figured the memoir would be gently entertaining but not especially adventurous. I imagined a writer with a loosely knotted bow-tie and a drooping moustache. A delicate New York gentleman, a flabby enthusiast.

I’d only penetrated three chapters into the book when we suddenly camping on Maui waiting for Honolua Bay to break and, shortly after, camping on the empty beach at Tavarua for a week and surfing a new discovery called Restaurants.

Soon, Grajagan in 1979, Africa and, later, among the big-wave surfers of Ocean Beach, San Francisco, and, then, spending long vacations on Madeira, waiting for Jardim Do Mar’s heavy deep-water right to break.

Photos scattered through the pages showed the author to have visible obliques, was long-haired and tanned. Finnegan was, is, a… stud?

As it turned out, the sixty two year old Finnegan is a pal of the former Surfer editor, pro surfer and Encyclopedia of Surfing curator Matt Warshaw. Matt said he’d cast an email introduction, which he did, and then added,

“You know he plays tennis with Martin Amis.”

(Amis, if you’re late to the reading game, is a very famous British novelist. Try London Fields for an intro to his work.)

Finnegan, Warshaw was implying, is significant.

Yeah, he is.

I’d clamour children underfoot for a chance to hear his eloquence in person. I wanted to be blinded by the glare of his intellect, his adventurous spirit, despite my usual rule of avoiding better men. Where I chase the assurance of perfect safety, Finnegan wasn’t afraid to flaunt his follies in the face of danger.

Maybe I could learn something?

Tell me, I wrote to Finnegan, what is the mind-set that consistently sends a man over the ledge?

“For me, it’s usually a much more conscious decision when I don’t go,” he wrote. “That’s when I actually do some thinking, and doubt creeps in, and discretion becomes the better part of valor. This goes for paddling out on a scary day as well as stroking into a scary wave.

“Once I’m scared, I usually stop surfing, or certainly stop surfing as well as I do when not scared. That tipping point has rational content, usually, based on your experience, which in my case is a lot of years now. But it also has irrational parts, which I try to control and tamp down with little pep talks to myself. Unfortunately, I’ve sometimes succeeded in calming myself down to the point that I’ve tried to surf waves I truly didn’t have the board for, or simply couldn’t handle, and had no business attempting, and have then come close to drowning.

“The decision to paddle out on a bigger day is, for me, sometimes a quite separate thing. Often, you can’t actually see from shore what it’s doing. If there seems to be a reliable channel, I’ll sometimes paddle out with the decision about whether to actually surf still reserved. I’m just going out to see what it looks like. I did that a couple of years ago at Tres Palmas, Puerto Rico, on a big swell. I’d never surfed the place before, and we could just catch glimpses of a couple of guys towing way outside, but we couldn’t really see what the waves were doing – we could only see the tops. But I had a gun, so I paddled out.

“It turned out to be incredibly good, and not that hairy – one guy was even ripping on a shortboard. Nobody could see any of our rides from shore. But for me that decision to paddle out usually turns on my own weird fear–a visceral, anticipatory fear of the feeling I get after I don’t paddle out. That sickening, I-didn’t-even-try feeling. It’s the worst. Actually worse, in my experience, than the traumatized, jesus-I-nearly-drowned feeling. Of course, there have been many times I didn’t paddle out and I was sure I made the right decision. Big Pipe, Maverick’s, Waimea, huge Ocean Beach, maxed-out Jardim, etc. Those decisions don’t haunt me. It’s the judgment calls where afterward I think I chickened out that kill me.”

If he could swing back decades, back into surfing prime, in those days when he was all over Tavarua and Grajagan, would he do anything different?

“I would paddle a few hundred yards down the reef at Grajagan and surf the right fucking spots instead of wasting a glorious, super-clean, week-long swell riding big mushburgers up at what later got named Kong’s. That was 1979, and there was nobody around, and my friends and I had never been there before. We were camping in a half-collapsed tree house, and there were only two of us surfing. The place was already famous, and we had heard about these long fast barreling lefts. But we somehow never figured out that the great waves – Money Trees, Speed Reef, I think they’re called – were way down inside someplace. That was the single stupidest thing I’ve done surfing. Otherwise – there are definitely waves I should have gone on, barrels I should have pulled into. But most of the times that I didn’t push hard enough were probably for the best. I got myself into enough trouble. I’m grateful that things didn’t turn out worse.”

Not that he isn’t adverse to a little dance with fate, even in his harvest years.

“At 62, I’m still looking for the same old kicks, I think. Of course, I don’t surf as well as I once did, which is horrible. And there are places, starting with Puerto Escondido, that I know I shouldn’t go back to. I can’t say I’m not tempted, though, especially when it’s flat around here in July. Two winters ago, I got two intense barrels back-to-back on the North Shore. That was just a few weeks after my 60th birthday. No fool like an old fool!”

When I asked if he thought surfing was elevating or just another pointless pursuit he wrote, “It’s supremely useless, I think, and not at all ennobling. Which is not to say that a great many people, starting with you and me, don’t get a great deal out of it – even a reason to live. It just does nothing, obviously, for anybody else. It’s the ultimate selfish pursuit. You could argue that it teaches its devotees a few things about self-reliance and the grandeur of Nature – maybe even a little humility – and I guess I wouldn’t argue with that. But in the end surfing, in my opinion, does little or nothing to build or improve character. As we all know, a lot of assholes surf, and some of them surf well.”

On the plus slide, “a lot of my best friends surf, and it can be a great deep thing to share with people you really like,” he wrote. “Non-surfers are certainly never going to understand it.”

Finnegan’s been a staff reporter at The New Yorker since 1987. No one reports better than the New Yorker. How, I asked, could surfing be reported better?

“I’m not a press critic,” he wrote. “But what I do read is way too advertiser-friendly. BeachGrit seems to be an exception. (Am I right?) Readers can smell where a mag’s loyalties lie, and if those are not largely with the readers, everybody knows it. Surfing is an unusual journalism niche because the interests of the surf industry, which very largely finances the surf media, are fundamentally at odds with the interests of most surfers, at least as I understand them. They want to ‘grow’ the sport. We’d like it to shrink, reducing crowds.

“So we look at mags that are obviously in bed with the corporations trying to sell us stuff – and always trying, naturally, to find more customers – and we know that those mags are in some basic way not on our side, and that they will never take an honest, independent look at those corporations – at their reliance on Chinese sweatshops, say, to produce boards, board shorts, etc, just to take the most obvious example.

“Not every surfer is concerned about sweatshops, of course, but the journalistic bad faith underneath the relationship between most glossy surf mags and their readers has a stench that, at some level, everybody over the age of 12 is aware of. It’s simply not a straightforward relationship. They’re not just trying to entertain and inform us. They’re trying to sell us shit, and not only through the ads but through editorial. Now let me see if I can find my way off this soapbox without turning an ankle.”

Buy Barbarian Days here.

Subscribe to The New Yorker here. 

Fact: Surfing is better than skating!

In every way but also two very important ones.

Our own Rory Parker wrote, passionately and eloquently, not one week ago that skateboarding is better than surfing. “Other than the whole slamming-face-first-onto-concrete side of the sport, skating is pretty much better than surfing in every way…” he says.

He included progression, lack of interest in contests, superior art in his reasoning and when I read, and saw the attached Big Brother magazine photos and older videos I thought, “Oh Rory…you are wonderful but also wonderfully wrong!”

I’ve met hundreds, maybe thousands, of people who point to skate’s superiority over surf and most of them also point to Big Brother. “So raw!” they crow. “So unafraid!” But do you want to know something? Big Brother stopped publishing magazines in 2004, over a decade ago or an eternity in popular culture terms. It is no longer relevant in any way, shape or form.

Today’s skateboarding is different. Totally fine but not better than surfing and I won’t give three reasons, I’ll give two. Li’l Wayne and Justin Bieber.

The pop stars have embraced skateboarding like no famous person has maybe ever embraced surfing. Li’l Wayne has started a skate label (Trukfit) and Bieber’s newest music video is a pure skate feat. Ryan Sheckler (who sparkles) but also himself doing nollies or something. They both go to skate contests. They both feel comfortable showing off their skillz. And they shouldn’t! I’ve seen Weezy skate and he is terrible. A total embarrassment. Yet when he shows up at skate films the crowd erupts. I would like to think that if he showed up at surf films, after bogging rail, the crowd would boo. Also Bieber is as awkward on a skateboard as he is dancing. I don’t know why they feel so comfortable embracing skate publicly. I don’t know why skate lets themselves be embraced so publicly but it ain’t a great look.


Certainly many famous people surf, or try to surf, but none of them start labels and none of them make surf videos. And Cody Simpson doesn’t count as famous.

Surfing is better because it self-regulates, ruthlessly. It is the most fascist subculture on earth save Neo-Nazism (I once edited a whole Stab issue under this theme! You can maybe buy it here!) In any case, surfing is the narrow path and that makes it gorgeous but also, and really, getting into the saltwater and gliding on God’s energy beats everything but sex. And it always will.