surf writing
Vast fortunes are made in the surf writing biz. From left: Matt Warshaw, Nick Carroll, Sean Doherty and the BeachGrit affirmative action squad featuring me, Chas Smith and Rory Parker (head arrogantly swivelled away from camera). | Photo: Peter Taras

5 Rules for the Golden Age of Surf Writing!

Learn to hold a grudge and don't be a coward… 

This is the Golden Age of Surf writing. Chas Smith said it here, so it must be true.

But also, objectively, it is true.

At one end of the spectrum, you have the wise old men of the establishment like Nick Carroll and Shaun Doherty laying down smooth grooves. So trustworthy! So objective!

And, at the other end newer hands with different voices. You like a bit of tropical fruit in your daily word salad? Dell Rielly is your man.

Even fruitier, with impeccable Somalian/Yemeni surf cred and a Tom Wolfian penchant to suffer for style? Chas Smith will delight and infuriate with equal elan.

What about brutal semi-autobiography dripping with 100 proof machismo and Ray Carver word economy? Rory Parker has you all in check baby.

“Wild” Bill Finnegan has got the coolest, most detached New Yorker prose going anywhere outside New York City, even when his gal takes up with a Cuban revolutionary and he discovered Tavarua. Impeccable cool cat! All tastes accounted for!

Surf writing is taking over the world. We are all surf writers now. As we speak university courses are being rolled out in Slovakia, Borneo, Hamburg, Minnesota and many other places including Pakistan. Community colleges in Humboldt County California are struggling to find tutors to keep up with the demand. Everyone wants to luxuriate in the warm international bath of surf writer-hood and why not? Plenty of room for everyone. But please newbie surf writers, let’s try and advance the art form whilst we all enjoy the fruits of the Golden Age.

Here are some simple rules to follow.

  1. Say Something

So simple. So often neglected. Before you sit down to write you have to have something to say, an idea, a premise, a point of view. Facts won’t do. Facts without a narrative are meaningless. This is Kurt Vonneguts first rule of writing in effect: use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time is wasted. The concept of a premise is sometimes easier to understand in the negative. These are examples of non-ideas: a college graduate intern at The Inertia writing a thousand words on a subject of their choice for free, wanting to help your friend by writing an encouraging review of their film/music/writing, re-printing a WSL press release without context, wanting to surf Macaronis with pros and writing about the trip, writing about a pros first day on the CT.

Nothing to say? No problemo hombre. Put the pen down and hit the bricks pal. Go about in the big wide world and do some living.

Tip: Failure is more interesting than success. And easier to access.

2. Don’t write to a word count

Nothing can rescue a shit premise or non-idea, nothing. So don’t compound the error by padding it and making it even it an even more miserable waste of time for the poor sap reading it. Don’t say in a thousand words what you can say in 500 or 50. If your idea is good, strip it naked and send it into the sunlight to dance. If it needs twelve thousand words then defend that to the death against ignoramus editors.

3. Don’t be a comment coward

Is there anything lamer than someone who can punch in the co-ordinates but can’t deliver the ordnance in the comments section? Answer: Nein, non, nyet. Surf writer, you ain’t Moses strolling down from Mount Sinai delivering the Ten Commandments on stone tablets. So wipe that smug grin of your face. Everything you say is contestable and maybe completely wrong. The article is just the entrée, foreplay and nothing else.

It’s in the comments where the surf writer has to show up, get down and turn it loose. If you can’t defend your ideas in the comments then they were probably shit to begin with. Like a major, you drive for show, putt for dough. That is to say, the short game, via social, via the comments, is where the shit goes down. The ancient conceit amongst the old print surf writers is that they are smarter than their audience. For the USA, wrong. For Australian readers, maybe. A safer place to start is the assumption that the commenters are smarter than you and you better get ready to hustle. If you can’t make boogie-woogie in the comments then GTFO.

You got your nose bloodied in the comments surf writer? Get over it, you had it coming!

4. Make the call

Art is long, life is short and success is very far off, said excellent Polish surf writer Joseph Conrad. Except, for the surf writer there is no success. It’s not a career, it’s a calling, an affliction. To rip off Hunter Thompson: a cheap catch-all for fuckoffs and misfits — a false doorway to the backside of life, a filthy piss-ridden little hole nailed off by the building inspector, but just deep enough for a wino to curl up from the sidewalk and masturbate like a chimp in a zoo-cage.

Surf writers are loathed by their fellow surfers, scorned in polite company, destined to always mumble out of the corner of their mouths when asked what they do: “surf writer”. Not real writers. Bush league batters left to die on the diamond. Parasites, low lifes, gutter dwellers according to Miki Dora via Maurice Cole.

What to do then? Make the call. If you saw it, call it as you saw it. As you see it. Don’t lose courage at the critical moment surf writer. All that is required, said Lester Bangs, is to be honest…and…unmerciful. Those people you’re writing about, they ain’t your friends. If you want to write to make them look good then you’re in the wrong neighbourhood. You need the one over there marked PR, with all the fancy homes and good looking girls.

Be like the Godfather of surf writing Freddy Nietzsche, he who “handles his language like a supple blade and feels from his arms down to his toes the perilous delight of the quivering, over sharp steel that wants to bite, hiss, cut.”

The best surf writer is the one having the most fun in hiding from the most people.

5. Hold a grudge

Weird thing: surfing is mostly nothing but a frivolous pastime undertaken by privileged white people but to write about it it has to feel like the most important thing in the world, with high stakes where nothing else matters. To you. That means you take every slight personally, not thanks very much for the feedback like a college circle jerk, but fuck you very much and everyone that you love. You don’t roll over like a cocker spaniel waiting to get it’s tummy tickled when someone slights you.

No writer worth anything a damn hasn’t held a grudge. Norman Mailer punched Gore Vidal in the head after Vidal wrote a negative review of Mailer’s (shitty) book Prisoner of Sex. Vidals’ response: “Once again, words fail Norman Mailer”.

Who was the better writer? Mailer wrote better novels, Gore was the superior essayist. In the end, after more than twenty years, they called a truce. If criticism doesn’t stab you in the heart and make you want to commit bloody homicide then you ain’t no surf writer. Above all though, if it isn’t fun you ain’t doing it right.

To put the cherry on the cake here is the definitive list of the Top 5 Surf writers of all time.

Top five.

  1. Derek Hynd

2. Louie Samuels

3. Blasphemy Rottmouth

4. John Millius (for Apocalypse Now script, Big Wednesday, not so much.)

5. Andrew Kidman

OK,  Top Ten, to quell dissent

6. Miklos Dora

7. Dave Parmenter (despite the appalling error of judgement over SUPS).

8.Chas Smith

9. Cori Schumacher

10.Michel Houllebecq (for Lanzarote, funniest book about German lesbians on a surf island ever).

Filipe Toledo
Filipe arrived at the party and his swagger was back. Gone was the laughing stock of Teahupoo, back was the greasy acrobat. | Photo: WSL

Vertigo: Filipe, Medina, Kerr, Rip Curl Pro!

And Kelly Slater makes surprise appearance (and wins)… 

Were you as surprised as me, thrilled if that’s allowable to admit, when Kelly Slater suddenly turned out in Portugal?

The story of his various disasters in the European leg in the last two years doesn’t need to be retold. Slater is understandably protective enough of his legacy to want to avoid disappearing in our estimations with disastrous heats in waves as appealing as the gull shit that covers everything in these parts. He’d even covered himself, fine-wise, with a talk of a rib injury in France.

In his inimitable style, Slater heard of a spike in swell, and flew to Peniche the night before the contest started.

“I got that injury about 10-12 days ago in France and I thought it was going to be debilitating, I haven’t surfed in about a week and have been taking some time off,” Slater explained. “I felt alright, and when the adrenaline goes you don’t think about it so much. I saw the forecast indicating we could get some really big barrels, and I didn’t want to miss that if it happened.”

But the smoke didn’t come from Kelly Slater on day one, but in the ninety minutes of surfing from Filipe Toledo, Gabriel Medina and Josh Kerr.

As swooning and seductive as aerials might be to the layman, there’s airs and there are… airs.

Filipe got greasy on this one.

Gabriel was a phenomena in the sky. (And Mason Ho!)

Josh Kerr mounted this.

This is a highlights package.

Moche Rip Curl Pro Portugal Round 1 Results:
Heat 1: Filipe Toledo (BRA) 13.17, Tomas Hermes (BRA) 12.83, Jadson Andre (BRA) 8.40
Heat 2: Gabriel Medina (BRA) 14.00, Miguel Pupo (BRA) 12.60, Mason Ho (HAW) 10.86
Heat 3: Keanu Asing (HAW) 12.30, Caio Ibelli (BRA) 12.07, Julian Wilson (AUS) 8.07
Heat 4: Vasco Ribeiro (PRT) 12.17, Michel Bourez (PYF) 11.47, Owen Wright (AUS) 11.07
Heat 5: Frederico Morais (PRT) 16.43, Adriano de Souza (BRA) 16.27, Kolohe Andino (USA) 16.27
Heat 6: Mick Fanning (AUS) 13.24, Tiago Pires (PRT) 10.17, Sebastian Zietz (HAW) 9.10
Heat 7: Kelly Slater (USA) 13.90, Aritz Aranburu (ESP) 11.86, Adrian Buchan (AUS) 8.67
Heat 8: Brett Simpson (USA) 16.13, Joel Parkinson (AUS) 15.33, Italo Ferreira (BRA) 14.60
Heat 9: Matt Wilkinson (AUS) 15.63, Jeremy Flores (FRA) 13.07, Ricardo Christie (NZL) 12.67
Heat 10: Nat Young (USA) 12.60, Kai Otton (AUS) 10.34, Glenn Hall (IRL) 9.54
Heat 11: Bede Durbidge (AUS) 14.17, John John Florence (HAW) 11.60, C.J. Hobgood (USA) 10.16
Heat 1
2: Josh Kerr (AUS) 15.97, Wiggolly Dantas (BRA) 13.94, Adam Melling (AUS) 10.04

Moche Rip Curl Pro Portugal Round 2 Match-Ups:
Heat 1: Adriano De Souza (BRA) vs. Tiago Pires (PRT)
Heat 2: Owen Wright (AUS) vs. Caio Ibelli (BRA)
Heat 3: Julian Wilson (AUS) vs. Mason Ho (HAW)
Heat 4: Italo Ferreira (BRA) vs. Tomas Hermes (BRA)
Heat 5: Jeremy Flores (FRA) vs. Aritz Aranburu (ESP)
Heat 6: Wigolly Dantas (BRA) vs. Ricardo Christie (NZL)
Heat 7: John John Florence (HAW) vs. Glenn Hall (IRL)
Heat 8: Kai Otton (AUS) vs. C.J Hobgood (USA)
Heat 9: Joel Parkinson (AUS) vs. Adam Melling (AUS)
Heat 10: Adrian Buchan (AUS) vs. Sebastian Zietz (HAW)
Heat 11: Jadson Andre (BRA) vs. Kolohe Andino (USA)
Heat 12: Miguel Pupo (BRA) vs. Michel Bourez (PYF)

Judging at the US Open
Is this really how it works? Have the internet commentators been right all along? That the process of judging surfing contests is just a debauched ritual controlled by Men of Power?

Genius: Crowdsourced judging!

Shouldn't the World Surf League give us the champion we deserve?

I woke last night in the witching hours to make a bottle for my baby and Portugal was on. I saw, through bleary eyes, a post of Filipe Toldedo on BeachGrit’s Instagram account (@thebitchycrab! Follow today!) and he was spinning like dervish, hands free, full rote, nailed landing. I scrolled through the comments only to discover that the move netted him an 8.17. In my tired state it seemed not right. It seemed low.

Then I went back to sleep and had a dream.

I had a dream that one day this surfing community rose up and lived out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all surfers are judged equally.”

I had a dream that one day on the beaches of South Africa, the sons of Jeremy Flores and the sons of Ritchie Porta would be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I had a dream that one day even in Brazil, a country sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, would be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I had a dream that my one little baby would live in a world where she would not be judged by the intention of her air but if she somehow, even minutes later, ended up on her feet.

I had a dream!

And it was to crowdsource the judging!

Everyone is crowdsourcing everything these days from driving directions to which rides have the shortest lines at Disneyland. Why not crowdsource the World Surf League’s judging? Wouldn’t it be deliriously fun to wake up and be able to lock in your scores for Adriano de Souza’s power stance’d approach? Or Aritz Aranburu’s gravity defying slow spin? It would suit surfing’s democratic nature so much better than the totalitarianism of today!

The judges do a wonderful job, don’t get me wrong, and they would be given an even larger role in my dream. They would act as Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson. Their expert opinions would be a guidepost and they would each become characters, jabbering back and forth for the camera, discussing the quality of what he have just seen but the power, the final power, would rest with us the people! The Internet can handle it these days. Scores could be locked in from around the globe in the time it takes Ronnie Blakey to roll the marbles from one side of his mouth to the other.

What could possibly go wrong? Nothing that Waze and American Idol have not fixed. It is the perfect solution. The perfect future. Alexis de Tocqueville, famous Frenchman, classical liberal once wrote, “In Democracy the people get the government they deserve.” In surfing shouldn’t we have the champion we deserve?


surfing drop in
This is a surfing drop in! With ass play! An interesting surf photo that requires no skill except grabby hands! | Photo: Pete Taras/

“Sorry: I didn’t think you’d make it!”

Motherfucker, is there a more infuriating phrase in the English language?

I was having a fun session today. Nothing special, but the water’s warm, the sun is shining, and the weird swirly short period wind swell was serving up the occasional runner that would hit the inside sandbar and bottom out. Just one of the awesome days where it doesn’t look very good but you paddle out anyway and are pleasantly surprised.

When the rental van with two boards on the roof pulled up and belched forth a tourist family with two kids in their late teens who made an immediate beeline for me, I wasn’t surprised. Herd mentality and all that. An empty half mile stretch of ocean, people gravitate toward whoever’s already out.

Seen it a million times. Old news.

When they paddled out and proceeded to bookend me and paddle for every bump that came through I was less than pleased. Pretty typical visitor behavior, most likely the source of all the meanie local stories people love to tell.

But I grew up surfing in LA, spent eight years on Oahu, I know how to work a crowd of two. Mean mug, paddle hard, no hello.

I don’t think I’ve been stuffed once since moving to Kauai. People here are pretty friendly, very respectful. And there’s plenty of surf, no reason to be greedy.

So when a fun little nugget popped up right in front of me, and one of the pale skinned little dorks on a brand new brand name turned and burned, I was upset. Not raving lunatic status, but peeved. Not happy. Annoyed. But it was no big deal, really. If only the little fucker hadn’t opened his mouth.

So when a fun little nugget popped up right in front of me, and one of the pale skinned little dorks on a brand new brand name turned and burned, I was upset. Not raving lunatic status, but peeved. Not happy. Annoyed. But it was no big deal, really.

If only the little fucker hadn’t opened his mouth.

“I didn’t think you’d make it.”

Fuck you. So fucking condescending. What a perfect way to push my buttons.

I turned to him and roared. Literally. Nothing but a loud deep chest scream right in his stupid surprised face. An interesting off the cuff response.

I wish I could say it was a planned move, intended to intimidate. “Watch out for the crazy dude with a scraggly beard and unkempt hair. Better give him some space.”

But it was just my natural response, for whatever reason. Whatever shit was running through my head at that moment turned me into a barking dog, declaring his turf, all sorts of threats implied.

And it worked, they paddled a hundred yards down to the nest little sandbar and I had the spot to myself until a half dozen other guys showed up, joined me, and proceeded to take turns. Like decent humans should.

(And, here, unrelated but awesome, skate vid!)

Big surf: Ian Walsh and Makua Rothman in Japan!

Wax up your gun!

With all the catty craziness happening on the big wave scene it’s nice to know there are wonderful souls like Ian Walsh, Makua Rothman, Ezekiel Lau and Danny Fuller. Handsome too. Chris Binns, the world’s most underrated surf journalist, writes, “With back-to-back category-five hurricanes producing 150kph winds and one huge typhoon in the North Pacific, it seems that the boys are assured of success, and spirits are suitably high as they touch down in the Land Of The Rising Son.”

I think he meant sun because I don’t think Chris is a Christian but he should be. In any case, I’d surf big waves in Japan. I am going to surf big waves in Cardiff-by-the-Sea this winter. I have a gun.

 And where in hell did Ian Walsh get that accent? It ain’t Hawaiian. It ain’t Oklahoman. But it somehow sounds Oklahoman. Ian, where did that thing come from?