Exclusive: “The metallic taste of fear…”

Come watch a never-been-released big wave teaser!

The madmen who have a kink for giant surf will always fascinate me. I wait for their feats, as northern hemisphere winter rolls around again, with bated breath. This year’s El Nino is certain to go absolutely wild, they say, and so I will watch the purple blobs with even more anticipation. How do they do it? How do they sit out in rolling insanity and then throw themselves over the ledge? How? How?

South African filmmaker Michael Oblowitz shares my driving curiosity. Before his latest, Heavy Water, there was Twiggy. He followed his countryman and champion big wave surfer Grant “Twiggy” Baker out to Mavericks and captured the fury of the ocean and was captured himself. He tells me:

“I was able to go undercover out there with a super fast twin hulled speedboat and two ultra high speed Red Cameras with Hydroflex mounts and gets as close to the action as possible without a jet ski or swimming. The incredibly powerful slow motion close up footage of Mavericks breaking became the impetus along with meeting Nathan for Heavy Water.”

And I get it. I get not being able to tear eyes away from the horrible sea at its worst. We share an addiction, I suppose. Not the addiction of those who ride but the addiction of those who try to figure out what dwells in the heart of the exceptional man. Twiggy and Heavy Water are two sessions on a therapists couch. Two stabs at defining the closest thing on earth to Nietzche’s ubermensch.

Watch here…

TWIGGY from Stephen Eckelberry on Vimeo.

Mason Ho Sunset

Mason Ho Wolfs, Jives, Sunset Beach

Thrive on the energy this predatory little man expels…

This three-minute short of Mason Ho at Sunset Beach is something that bears watching. It constitutes, according to its architect, 26-year-old Mason, of ” trying a new 7’1” from last year’s quiver at Sunset Beach on Oct.3.2015. I grabbed it, surfed it and put it away thinking it was my 6’10″, then we went through the clips and I realized it was my 7’1″. Filming by Rory Pringle.”

There is also, he writes, “footage from Nick Pollet of my first trip to Chopes (Tahiti). There was a clip or two not used in the Rip Curl edit that I kinda liked (the beat downs). *CANT wait to go back there with MY boards and APPLY what I’m thinking. The song is Neil Young, Cowgirl in the Sand …chopped.

Anyway, the Sunset gear reminded me of an interview I did with Mason after he won a contest there two years ago. The story was called Mason Ho on the Horns of a Sunset Bull.

Forever does this little maestro dazzle me.

Is that the Sunset Master? The Prince of Power?
MASON: (Laughter) Fuck. That.
Tell me about your speech. There may be a pedantic troll or two online who’ll say otherwise, but, personally, I loved it. So light, so breezy, so you! Oh my gosh, that thing is… terrible. I don’t really remember it to be honest. I just remember screwing up.
You even used the word “surreal”! I just remember when I said that everyone kinda looked at me, like… what? That was funny. I shoulda just shut up.
You grew up at Backyards, there, did you always have yourself pencilled in for a win at Sunset some day? Driving past there every day I try and make some eye contact with it and think about it, like, “Come on, I gotta win one time, I gotta win this place.” That was super cool to win, right there. But it’s a baby step. It feels like a little baby step. I want more, yeah. I want more.
What did your dad, the four-time winner, say before the final? The only thing he did ask, I remember, I’d run over to wax my board real quick and he called and my friend’s, like, “Oh Brah! Your Dad’s on the phone” and then I talked to him and he’s, like, “What, do I have time? I wanna run home and grab a beer! Can I drink one before your final?” And I’m, “No you got no time, you gotta stay right there” ’cause he was helping me spot the lineup. I said, “You can’t go anywhere. I’ll be lost if you’re not there in the spot!” And he’s, like, ok whatever, and then when we started the final I was looking for him and I couldn’t find him. A couple of minutes later I saw him back in his spot and I was like, that fucker went and grabbed a beer! Heavy!
You throw much of a party? Yeah, man, we had a little thing for sure. I came home and… yep… drank a couple of beers with Pottz (Martin Potter). And then ate a little bit of food and then we dug out. We went to the Surfer Bar (at the Turtle Bay Hilton), just snipered it. Got pretty screwed up.
You want to light up on the high point? To be honest, I forgot a little… spurt… of it. But the craziest thing I witnessed that night was Burger’s (Keoni Nozaki) entry into the place. I was there already. I went with a couple of friends and we couldn’t get in touch with Cheeseburger and we’re in there and we’re all taking this group photo and it was mellow, everyone was buzzed, it was pretty cool, and all of a sudden Burger came in and the Surfer Bar, they’re already timid on all of us, we’ve used all our strings already, so any time we show up the question is, if they’ll let us in or not. Are you going to be mellow this time? Yeah, please, let us in! So we’re trying to be good and Burger came in just so hot. Yeah baby! Screaming at the top of his lungs. Jumping up and down trying to break the floor or his ankles, whatever could break first. I kept looking at security and grabbing Burger by the mouth and, like, “Brah, shoosh, shut up, you gotta be quiet!” And Burger was screaming FUCK THAT! FUCK YEAH! YEAH! YEAH! Luckily, we got away with it. That was the high point for me.
When you win a big contest, experience suggests pretty gals want to pal up. How was your experience? Ho ho ho. I thought I got a pretty good chick that night. I mean, I didn’t know where all the girls were, it was all rained out everywhere, so we got lucky. The Surfer Bar had the usuals, a nice little group of chicks and we all picked one and went our ways. I was stoked ’cause I always thought that if I won I was gonna bomb and get a nice hot girl and dig out. It was funny cause we did it like we do it every night when we go out. I had a chick at the Surfer Bar and I could’ve gone home and shut it short but then I was like, we’re gonna go, we’re doing the rounds. So we ended up a the Oakley house and just staying til four in the morning. And I remember towards the end of the night I was, like, yeah, this is how I want it, this is how I want to do it every night, just looking at a couple of handfuls of the boys, a couple of chicks, the last ones who could handle.
Gals try harder for champs. I think she gave me a little more time. Usually, they would’ve been, fuck this guy already, I can’t believe he’s making me wait this long. But she was kicking back… kept checking on me… and I was, yeah, this is sick…
Ain’t it great being a champ. Ha! Fuck! I don’t know. Being the champ. Fuck. It feels super good to win but I just remember the whole ceremony, you get chaired onto this podium first and you’re sitting there all by yourself. It’s all lonely. I was, like, come on boys, hurry up and get on with this thing. It feels awkward winning. But, it’s cool, I live for that.

Surfing: more important than you think!

And therefore we should ice a few man-eaters. Here’s why…

On Saturday, broadsheet newspaper The Australian, published an anti-shark piece, one in a series by Fred Pawle.

The story is called Surfing, the pursuit that opened war-torn eyes to natural pleasure and it is tumescent with surfing’s rich history. It’s this history, writes Pawle, that puts the surfer above the man-eating shark in importance, at least when it comes to near coastal waters.

Considering the story is locked behind a (not altogether unreasonable) pay-wall, let’s examine as much as is legal to print online:

“When people say ‘stay out of the water’, they are almost always referring to surfers. That’s not only because surfers are the most prominent victims and critics of sharks but are in the ocean for purely hedonistic, and therefore insignificant, reasons.

You want to manage shark numbers so you can go … surfing? Gaia’s worshippers are infuriated by any form of deliberate ‘human intervention’ on the environment, but they are especially scornful of anyone whose objectives are merely recreational.

“What these landlubbing preachers fail to realise is that surfing helped shape the happy, optimistic, prosperous world in which they live. Surfing was, according to some historians, the discovery that helped awaken European civilisation from its puritanical, introspective, morbid dreariness and gave it a new reason to love life.

“When French explorer Louis-Antoine de Bougainville sailed into Tahiti in 1768, he discovered what he thought was the Garden of Eden, where food was plentiful and life was leisurely; the moderate climate made clothing barely necessary; the people were athletic, healthy and beautiful; and polygamous sex was a recreational activity. “The very air which the people breathe; their songs, their dances, almost constantly attended with indecent postures, all conspire to call to mind the sweets of love,” he wrote in his memoir. ­“Accustomed to live continually immersed in pleasure, the people of Tahiti have acquired a witty and humorous temper, which is the offspring of ease and of joy.”

“Surfing was an integral part of this strange new culture. William Anderson, a surgeon on Captain James Cook’s journey to Tahiti, described in 1777 a man riding waves in a canoe. It is thought to be the first written account of surfing, and ends thus: “I could not help concluding that this man felt the most supreme pleasure while he was driven on so fast and so smoothly by the sea.”

If Fred Pawle’s name rings familiar, it’s because he has a gilded career as a writer. In 2008, he was nominated for a Walkey Award, Australia’s highest journalistic honour, for a story I commissioned about surfing’s first openly gay pro surfer, Matt Branson.

(Read here) 

Pawle also broke the story of surf photographer Paul Sargeant’s, how do you want to phrase this…his fall from grace?

(Read here) 

Lately, he’s been painting an apocalyptic picture of the Byron Bay area as besieged by great white sharks. He ain’t wrong, at least according to my sources.

“But, sadly,” he writes, “the ‘stay out of the water’  crowd is winning. Many surfers in northern NSW are adhering to the advice and leaving their boards at home. If they are surfing, they are seeking the most crowded breaks, which is not what surfing is about. The effects on coastal communities, especially those relying on surf tourism, has been significant and unnecessary. If anything, it is the environmentalists who are being the most self-indulgent here. And they are forcing ocean-lovers to pay the price.”

Is Fred Pawle an audacious visionary or is he a  puss-puss who shouldn’t watch so many shows on Shark Week?

(Read here, if y’subscribe)


Ritual: Being chaired up the beach

"It is a great evil and it should be stopped."

There are few guarantees in life, fewer in surfing, but you can rest assured that if a man or woman wins a surf contest, two friends, acquaintances, countrymen or sponsors will be there to chair him or her up the beach.

In theory it is wonderful. There she are, held above the adoring masses who cheer her accomplishment. She floats through them, like royalty, carried by overwhelming support until finally reaching the stage. A frenzy of applause as she takes her trophy and blows kisses. She is queen of the world!

In practice it is awkward. Maybe once a year, maybe once every other, at one professional surfing contest is the crowd actually thick enough to extend from beach to stage, you see. Thus when his two friends, acquaintances, countrymen, sponsors arrive at water’s edge they are alone with maybe a cameraman standing nearby. They lift him up, not gracefully, placing one buttock on each of their shoulders. Often the hoisters are not the same height leading to severe bending of the spine. Onlookers, standing many yards away, wonder, “Does he have scoliosis?” No he does not. He is merely getting chaired up the beach.

The walk through empty patches of sand is arduous. It is difficult to walk gracefully though sand under any circumstance, but having one buttock on a shoulder makes it completely impossible. And so the trio stumbles, victor shouting loudly because he must because the onlookers are standing many yards away wondering, “Does he have Tourretes?” No he does not. He is merely getting chaired up the beach.

The trip takes far too long, bumbling along, onlookers giving even more room then usual because the scene has a messy quality. And when the victor takes the stage his legs are often asleep leading to more bumbling. Onlookers, fleeing, wonder, “What evil has descended to the beach this day?”

Yes, chairing a man or woman up the beach is evil and it should be stopped.

Kolohe Andino
“Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavour," says Kolohe Andino, the world #1 (but qualifying series not CT). | Photo: WSL

Kolohe Andino Just Won a Surfing Contest!

And you thought he was washed away by the Brazilian tide?

Earlier today, the Californian surfer Kolohe Andino, who is 21, won the Allianz Billabong Pro Cascais over Caio Ibelli (BRA), 21, in “four-to-five foot surf at the backup venue of Praia do Guincho.”

I normally don’t like to quote press releases so early in a story, but this piece builds a mood so well, underpinning Kolohe’s existential desperation.

The back story is this:

Kolohe Andino, rated #29, or close to last on the CT, is a goner, a has-been, washed away by the Brazilian tide. As relevant as beards or cold-drip coffee in 2015.

But suddenly, here he is, sending shivers down our spine.

Kolohe Andino, rated #29, or close to last on the CT, is a goner, a has-been, washed away by the Brazilian tide. As relevant as beards or cold-drip coffee in 2015.

Let’s read.

“Andino came firing right out of the gates in the final with a solid display of power surfing on his backhand for a 7.67 and the heat lead in the first instants of the 35-minute bout. A quick exchange on successive righthanders gave both surfers limited opportunities, but Andino with an average score increased his lead over the Brazilian.

Ibelli launched his campaign 15 minutes in, with a similar lefthander to Andino’s opening ride to collect a 7.10 and get right back in the mix for first place. Both surfers continued to surf the clean lefthanders back-to-back, without changing the situation as they were only able to post medium scores.

On the five-minute mark, Andino found a bigger, cleaner set wave and performed two beautiful turns including a huge vertical blast against the closing section for an impressive 8.90 and eventually the win.”


“Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavour,” Kolohe told BeachGrit after.

Watch his elaborate rotation in the semi final. It’s operatic!

And the final! Finger biter!