WSL drones
If you've been around the Haleiwa Contest site at Ali'i Beach Park (not to be confused with Haleiwa Beach Park, across the harbor, fronting Pua'ena Point), you may have seen the signs the WSL has decided to post. | Photo: @joeseegs

WSL Tries to Own Hawaiian Airspace!

…but maybe they don't have permits. Uh oh!

Aren’t unintended consequences hilarious? When you come across, say, a fun story about how the WSL is attempting to flex its muscle and keep outside sources from flying drones during the Triple Crown, so you call up the Hawaii Film Office with a few questions, only to have things kind of run away from you, and end up setting in motion what looks to be a clusterfuck on their end. Utter comedy.

Which is exactly what just happened. Literally. Like, five minutes ago.

If you’ve been around the Haleiwa Contest site at Ali’i Beach Park (not to be confused with Haleiwa Beach Park, across the harbor, fronting Pua’ena Point), you may have seen the signs the WSL has decided to post.


Something smelled fishy. Obviously the WSL is not a governmental body. To suggest that they have the authority to vet applicants and approve or deny permits is a power move, meant to intimidate people into compliance with their desires.

Which, you know, annoys the hell out of me.

Especially considering the ridiculous amount of special treatment they get from the Honolulu Dept of Parks and Rec in the form of the illegal variances granted for the Pipe contest every year.

Somewhat surprisingly, given the snail’s pace at which Hawaiian bureaucracy typically crawls, a quick call to the Hawaii Film Office got me a very friendly, and very helpful, person who requested I not use her name in this story, but was more than willing to shed some light on the situation.

“Are they using a drone? They’re supposed to get a permit from us. They probably have the drone insurance, whatever the FAA requires, but to film you need to have a permit with us. I do all the permits and I have not issued a drone permit to anyone.”

My suspicion that they could not have sole right to the airspace around the contest proved to be possibly unfounded, then the conversation took an interesting turn.

“Are they using a drone? They’re supposed to get a permit from us. They probably have the drone insurance, whatever the FAA requires, but to film you need to have a permit with us. I do all the permits and I have not issued a drone permit to anyone.”

When asked whether they had the authority to require permits be submitted to them, “I would say no. I’m not sure what they did with the FAA. The FAA might have given them a ‘certificate of authorization,’ and that’s to operate your drone and do all that, but once the footage becomes commercial, and I’m pretty sure that’s commercial, they need to acquire a filming permit from us.”

When asked whether they had the authority to enforce the “No drone zone” policy, she speculated that they might. Kinda.

“If they got a permit from the FAA it’s like getting a permit from us. If you apply for it first you can say that, ‘I have a permit here, I have the right to say no shooting here or whatever.’”

However any violations would fall to the FAA to enforce, meaning the WSL would need to contact them, after which the FAA would go after violators.

So while they may have the permit to fly the drones, the question remained, do they have permits necessary to use them for commercial filming?

“I am positive that they do not. The FAA would not get involved because they probably have all the necessary certifications with the FAA, it’s more our film permits that they would need to acquire. Do you have a contact number I can call?”

Uh oh!

And, you know, what could I do but give one to her? After all, she was very nice, and is only trying to do her job. Which, in this instance, seems to be shutting down the WSL’s ability to film with drones while in Hawaii this year.

Praise: “That board looks fun…”

Is this the greatest compliment the average surfer will ever receive?

I miss our Rory Parker. He is in Nicaragua, surfing on his wife’s dime I presume, and not posting stories. BeachGrit has come to depend on his salt-of-the-earth musings so much so that, in their absence, I have them running through my head. Today, an overweight man walking a dog and I, in car, arrived at a stop sign at the same time. Beach towns, of course, pulse with pedestrian traffic and this is good because pedestrians are saving the environment. He was on a bluetooth headset talking to someone and I would have waved him across before me except he did not see me and proceeded to walk anyhow.

It took fucking forever. Each fat plodding step slower and more deliberate than the step that proceeded it. He was not decrepit, maybe 50, not injured. There was absolutely no reason for him to move so slow and it drove me crazy. Just think if all the fat fucking people in the world hustled across crosswalks. Just think if they put a pep in their step only when crossing the streets. Their hearts would thank them. Their muscles would rejoice. I suppose the same reason that they are fat is why they walk slow across streets, holding up skinny people with places to be. They just don’t care. Fuckers.

In other news, I surfed a fun wedge today on a little 5’2 quad that I surf too much. But today demanded it. Perfect, in fact, for its curves. There were only two others out where I surfed and after I caught a wave in front of one he paddled over and said, “That board looks fun…” I smiled and said, “It is very fun.” And realized “That board looks fun” is the greatest compliment I will ever get in the water. No one will ever tell me that I rip, because I don’t, but if they tell me my board looks fun after watching me loop from top of wave to bottom then it means I didn’t totally bog rail.

Now here’s Van Halen’s Hot for Teacher. Come back soon, Rory. I’m not as good at this as you.

Travis Rice doing what you can't. Or won't.
Travis Rice doing what you can't. Or won't.

The best surf film ever is on its way!

The Fourth Phase will make you want to get barreled or maybe jump off a mountain.

Blake Vincent Kueny and John John Florence’s masterpiece View from a Blue Moon is the topic du jour and it is receiving high praise from all corners. GQ says, “Best!” The HuffPo says, “Wowest!”

Of course it deserves the superlatives. Mr. Kueny is a visionary director, Mr. Florence a surfer at the very top of his game. Their collaboration will live on and be well remembered. But what of technical 4k guts? The look/feel? the soaring spirit? All from the souls of Curt Morgan and Travis Rice.

Mr. Morgan, if you do not know, is the founder of BrainFarm Cinema and, if not a genius then a wildly progressive innovator. The whole action sports game, the entirety of the way we experience film today, is due in large part to him. His mastery of the tools, manic drive to push beyond logic in capturing visuals, love of spending wads and wads and wads of cash has set a bar which he continues to elevate.

And his perfect muse is Travis Rice. I have had the privilege of spending much time with Travis over the past five years. My wife has represented him since he was 19 and the three of them have crafted a truly game-changing narrative. It began with the film The Community Project then That’s It, That’s All before The Art of Flight. They are films which live on a different plane than others. There is something about them that absolutely crackles and they each add a piece to a larger puzzle with Travis at its center.

Travis is unique, I’ll tell you, because he is starving. Starving for experience, starving for knowledge, starving for nature. He wants to see how far he can push it in every situation and there is never a moment of rest. I was with him last in Mexico on Cabo’s barren east cape and there was a fun wave out the front of where we were staying. Travis kept trying to look around the corner. He said, “There’s for sure a wave over there. It’s faster than the one here and barrels…” I went to surf the one I could see. He, somehow, commandeered a jet-ski and went around the corner. Hours later he came paddling back. He did not, in fact, find anything but that is what sort of man he is.

The Fourth Phase, their next movie will certainly elevate the bar once again. It will give birth to more stellar surf sessions than anything that has come before because it will be that sort of film. The sort that makes you want to do something big.

How Wavegarden saved a Welsh town!

Building a wave pool put an economically depressed little town back to work…

Preface: Yes, Surf Snowdonia is closed due to major mechanical repairs. But they will be back in the spring. I was fortunate to surf the pool in their opening week during a trip earlier this year. Obviously, the wave itself is fun but the location and history was the biggest surprise. 

I surveyed the surreal scene around me. I could see the century-old pipes leading down from the mountains toward the adjacent hydroelectric station. I could make out the hustle and bustle of spectators though the chain link fence that prevents any entanglements with the unforgiving machinery of the foil. The infinite Welsh countryside rolled out into the distance.

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Excited? Yeah.

I tentatively paddled out. No salt in the water. There was a bit of wind, the light chop of capillary waves on the surface. A guy who’d just finished his session gave me two pieces of advice: stay close to the pier and paddle hard.

I’d hired a perfectly respectable fish from the on-site surf academy and made my way to the takeoff spot. There was a gurgle and a deep mechanical screech. A ripple gathered speed, quickly evolving into a head-high lump. Instinctively, I turned and started paddling hard.

The £12 million project is more than just a hyped-up-sports facility. It is a regeneration project and the latest chapter in the unlikely story of a small Welsh village of which the principle protagonists are gravity, aluminium, electricity and most importantly water.

Not so instinctively, I got to my feet and bottom turned towards the chain link fence. I raced toward the pier as fast as I could, never reaching it. I did top turns and cutbacks. There was a pitching lip and fast section. This was actually surfing.

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I had a one hour advanced session that gave me and two others about 15 waves. A large contoured membrane lined lagoon is filled with 33,000 cubic liters of tea coloured, UV-filtered Welsh water transported directly from lake Eigau (four miles away) down the same two giant pipelines to the hydro-eclectic plant that once ensured a pioneering aluminium plant had access to cheap, reliable electricity.

Waves and Water Power

That same system now provides Surf Snowdonia with access to the water necessary to provide waves for to 36 surfers at a time. Yet the £12 million project is more than just a hyped-up-sports facility. It is a regeneration project and the latest chapter in the unlikely story of a small Welsh village of which the principle protagonists are gravity, aluminium, electricity and most importantly water.

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Nestled in a glorious slice of the north Welsh countryside seven miles up the winding Conwy valley, the unsuspecting hamelt of Porth Llwyd  was chosen in 1906 to be the site of a large aluminium smelting plant. The hamlet’s fate was sealed by its proximity to the lakes of the Carneddau mountains. Not only where these lakes the source of reliable, clean and plentiful peat brown water but, crucially, they where at elevation.

The Aluminium Cooperation Ltd were blazing a new industrial trail, hedging a bet that they could bring the price of aluminum production down by extracting it from the aluminum ore (bauxite) using the relatively new technique of electrolysis. The clue is in the name. Electrolysis on this scale requires large and readily available amounts of cheap electricity.

The corporation set to work constructing Eigiau, Coedty and Cowlyd dams to raise the levels of the lakes on high ground to the west thus providing the potential for hydro-electrical power generation. Given the rugged and, at times soul-crushingly steep, nature of the local terrain, these were major engineering feats – and engineering feats require workers and their families to bring them to fruition.

Before long, little Porth Llwyd grew into the bustling industrial village of Dolggarog. By 1907, the smelting plant was up and running. Herculean efforts had made it made it possible, not only were several dams constructed but a network of canals had been dug to transport the water from the dams to supply the plant 300 meters below.

A steel pipe had been constructed to negotiate the improbably steep drop at ‘marble arch’ high above the village, along with the construction of railways to transport both materials, finished product and workers around the various sites and to the coast for shipping.

The 1920’s saw the development of purpose built hydro-electric scheme and the  aluminium rolling plant completed. All this activity placed Dolgarrog at the heart of a fledgling industry. For the next one hundred years, water and gravity provided the electricity to drive an industrial operation dedicated to producing refined aluminium to a world hungry for airplanes, caravans and kitchen utensils.

Nothing is more certain than a world that turns and by the end of 2007 the un-profitable aluminum works closed it doors, leaving 170 people to find new work. These would have been dark days for Dolgarrog, suddenly a tiny, relatively quiet backwater of north Wales in a world headed for fiscal meltdown.

The hydroelectric plant remained open but would never be able to provide the employment opportunities necessary to sustain a now-defunct workforce. Even with the incredible vision of Dollgarrog’s forefathers, it’s doubtful anyone would’ve seen what was coming next.

The decommissioned aluminium works remained a prospect-less brown field wasteland until 2012 when it was acquired by Ainscough Strategic Land Ltd who ingeniously and resourcefully set about developing the site.

Three years later, Surf Snowdonia opened its doors to the public. The central pier that runs down the centre of the vinyl lagoon sits between two stout motor houses and drags an elusive top-secret hydrofoil up and down at approximately one minute intervals. The foil creates waves, waves create stoke.

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This revolutionary technology has been developed by the Spanish group, Wavegarden, who have answered the dreams of every landlocked surfer on the planet. At the push of a button, a head-high peak can be mustered from the depths and sent rifling down the lagoon.

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So what’s the deal?

It’s a real wave, but don’t go expecting an ocean wave or you’ll be disappointed. But you can do real surfing here. It’s all been worked out so that everyone gets fun waves. It’s a totally unique experience and something every surfer given the chance should try.

At 45 pounds an hour it isn’t cheap in comparison to the beach, but I didn’t feel ripped off. I suspect the lagoon will come into its own as a learning and training facility for inland grommets who will have a chance to get on a board, get to their feet and wiggle to the vinyl shore, unburdened by the ferocity of the sea.

It’s a great spot for families and groups alike to have fun. Surf Snowdonia have big plans for the future with further water-based activities and events, they have on site accommodation, restaurants, a bar, good transport links and the whole place feels well-thought-out and exciting to be around.

Whatever your view on the place, it’s a regeneration project worthy of celebration. They have a taken a negative and turned it positive, provided local jobs where there were none.

With a projected 75,000 visitors are year, it should be profitable and self-sustaining. They are striving for and achieving a good environmental impacts. The ripple effects from a project like this could really benefit Dolgarrog and the surrounding areas for years to come.

If you are fortunate enough to find yourself riding this mechanical wonderess, try to make some time to explore the local area. It’s a fascinating landscape, steeped in industrial history and full of rugged splendour.

As I paddled back toward the crowded shore, tired and stoked, the next three guys were paddling out, wild in the eyes and excited as hell, just as I had been an hour before.

Dan Kerins is photographer, writer, surfer and horticulturalist specializing in ill-planned and under-funded excursions into the lesser known. Want more of his writing and photography? Click here. 

His old boy Tony Kerins made the map. Click here for his dazzling skills. 

“I’m in love with a Brazilian boy!”

And he rides big waves. Don't this world need a li'l more culture defying romance though?

Pedro”Scooby” Viana is one of my favorite surfers in the world because he is fun and he is brave and rarely do those things go together. I interviewed him a few years back and it is printed below. I hope he wins the XXL Ride of the Year.

Pedro “Scooby” Viana has a neck tattoo, like me, and that alone makes him totally awesome. It makes him my current favorite surfer in the world. But guess what else he has? A movie-star/model wife, an amazing home in Rio de Janeiro, a Nike (Oops! Not anymore!) contract, a fine moustache — when he chooses to shave just so — the most amazing nickname and the world at his fingertips. Scooby is so totally awesome.

He was born in Rio to a surfer father. “My dad was a surfer,” he says, “so I started surfing when I was 5 years old and competing when I was 13.” But competition was not his avenue toward the so totally awesome. No, when Scooby was also 13 he became the first person to pull a kerrupt flip completely nude. He has since surfed macking Pasquales completely nude for two days. Just getting barreled and barreled and barreled in God’s wetsuit. “Surfing makes me happy,” says the now 24-year-old.

Being Brazilian also makes him happy and one star-aligned day, after surfing, he went to Rio’s famous Carnival and attended a party. It was all samba and sangria and capoeira and amazing. And standing there across the room was the sexiest woman on earth. Literally the sexiest woman on earth, as chosen by VIP Magazine. Her name was Luana Piovani and she was a very, very famous Brazilian actress and model. They locked eyes and pow! Magic. “It was love at first sight,” he says, “but her world is very different than mine. It is interesting but it is not all good because we have no privacy. But we get to go to amazing parties. It’s fun!”

Scooby and Luana were married soon after they met and honeymooned in Tahiti, this past year, during the swell. The code-red swell. And Scooby had not packed any tow boards so he called Nike’s team manager (Oops! Not anymore too!), Frankie D’Andrea, and informed him of his dilemma. Frankie sourced a too-small tow board and got it over to the island and Scooby caught a ride out to Teahupo’o. He had never towed before.

As the waves grew and grew he sat on the shoulder and became excited and then it was his turn. His partner whipped him in to one of the biggest waves of the day. A Teahupo’o beast. A bone-crushing giant. And he skittered down the face on his too-small board and got very deeply barreled and then got bone crushed. “I saw the footage,” Frankie says, “and I thought, ‘Oh man…I sent him a coffin, not a board.’” But when a man is so totally awesome he does not become undone by the ocean’s wrath. Scooby popped to the surface laughing.

Big waves are now his passion. He is currently being filmed in a documentary also staring Carlos Burle and Maya Gabeira. He is chasing the beasts. Laughing. Before his Tahitian honeymoon he had a standout North Shore season. “He gets barreled as good as anyone,” Frankie says. “He just looks great out there.” And so he plans on putting in another two North Shore months this coming winter in between chasing more beasts. “I want to keep traveling to find the best and the biggest waves in the world,” he says. “Big waves make me happy.”

What could be better than Scooby? I cannot think of many things and I want him and Luana to move near my wife and I so we can all become best of friends. The waves in lovely Cardiff-by-the-Sea are not large, but San Diego International Airport is nearby and I can make a delicious caipirinha.