Movie: The Seven Mile Miracle!

A slick seven-minute edit of John John Florence and pals on the Shore… 

Here’s an edit from the North Shore season that shows John John Florence and pals being reduced to banks of rubble in wild beachbreak ledges as well as uprooting tubes.

The film is by Hayden Brosnan and the surfers featured are: John and his little bro Nathan, Koa Smith, Kai Mana Henry, Mason Ho, Bal Stack, Zeke Lau, Dusty Payne and others.

Is there anything more to life than sunbathing, surfing, gossiping and dancing?

Anthony Ruffo meth
Ruffo, in court, hears his sentence.

Interview: Why I made the Ruffo film!

Rocky Romano on the motivation behind his controversial film, Learning to Breathe…

Rocky Romano is the man behind the big-wave centric production company, The Go Big Project. Romano’s first film project began in 2010, following Anthony Ruffo as he struggled with drug addiction, dealing, and the resulting legal consequences.

Previously only available on iTunes or Amazon, the film was recently released for free, for 72 hours, on BeachGrit. and has sparked a heated conversation about an often avoided subject matter in the surf world. I spent an hour with Rocky to hear more about Ruffo, the film’s backstory, and the cast of characters he’ll share next. Listen here or read below.

BeachGrit: As a first time filmmaker, what about Anthony Ruffo inspired you to commit two-plus years of your life to this story?
Romano: I was in Santa Cruz and saw in the newspaper that Ruffo was being busted for the third time. His background as a surfer and an iconic figure in the community who was now struggling so publicly made it a compelling story. But I was also trepidatious because the subject matter is so illicit and ugly. Then I realized, to be the storyteller that I wanted to be, I was going to have to tell the hard stories, not just the beautiful stories. So I reached out to Anthony and suggested that it might be a good idea to share his struggle. Ultimately, after thinking about it, he agreed that he wanted to share his story.

I lived in rehab during parts of the process, and stayed in people’s spare bedrooms. I slept in an abandoned office on my dog’s bed while evading the Feds who were trying to seize my hard drives. They knew about the interviews that I’d been conducting and suspected that they might find evidence that would help implicate people for crimes committed. I didn’t have enough money to make copies of the hard drive nor persevere that kind of setback. Thankfully I was tipped off and I was able to hide out until it blew over.

What was the process of filming?
I began the filming process while Anthony was still struggling with addiction and was awaiting trial. It was intimidating to make introductions into the West Side surfing community, but Ruffo is so charismatic and made me comfortable in such an intimate and personal setting. I filmed him for 2 years, through rehab, through the trials, through jail and everything. I abandoned all other obligations. I paid for the entire project with no sponsor support. I had surf industry sponsors early on, but they all bailed as soon as they saw how raw some of the story really was.
I lived in rehab during parts of the process, and stayed in people’s spare bedrooms. I slept in an abandoned office on my dog’s bed while evading the Feds who were trying to seize my hard drives. They knew about the interviews that I’d been conducting and suspected that they might find evidence that would help implicate people for crimes committed. I didn’t have enough money to make copies of the hard drive nor persevere that kind of setback. Thankfully I was tipped off and I was able to hide out until it blew over. At the end of those 2 years, I had 68 interviews all together. Multiple with Ruffo, of course, one being 4 hours straight. There was 1,000 hours of footage, a lot of which never left the cutting room floor. Interviews with Peter Townend and Michael Ho, among others never made it into the film.

Being a transplant snowboarder from the mountains, it’s interesting that Ruffo and the Santa Cruz surf community would allow you such access into their world.
I think the timing was key. A lot of people were ready to tell their stories to try to make a difference. Santa Cruz has changed a lot in the last couple decades and I think that the movie became vehicle for people to say some things that they’d been wanting to say for a long time.

What has the response been from those involved in the film? Pete Mel, for example, has since become the Big Wave World Tour commissioner. I wonder if his employers have an opinion about his admissions in the film.
I can’t speak for Pete, nor anyone else, but I would think that everyone would be proud of Pete and his honesty. In a world where things are so often swept under the rug, his example of honestly, perseverance and accomplishment are an incredible example.
The film was well received on the festival circuit and won a bunch of awards, but distributors have shied away because of the subject matter. We’ve always just wanted the film to be seen. I lost money of the film, but the goal was always to just get the message out. That’s why we offered the film for free for 72 hours. If the comment section on BeachGrit represent’s public opinion, I’d say that opinions about the film ranged from every possible angle. And more importantly, it sparked a conversation and that was the purpose of the film from the beginning.
I wanted to tell the story because I come from the action sports community and I wanted us to discuss our own problem, rather than having an outside entity expose it. But I also wanted to give an accurate depiction of drug use and the dangers, not like the old “This is your brain on drugs” campaign that just becomes a parody.

You don’t plan to make a profit on Learning to Breathe. How does one make a living as a filmmaker in the surf realm nowadays?
I can only tell you my path. I never made “surf porn”, which seems to be a more common path into the industry. My motivation has always been to tell stories. Ruffo fascinated me as a character with a very rich story. I’m particularly compelled by big wave surfing and the characters who devote their lives to riding giants boards in giant surf. I never viewed filmmaking as way to earn money, but thankfully, by following my passion we’ve been commissioned to produce content. Ultimately, we saw television as the opportunity to earn a living and share these stories with a broader audience. So I moved to LA and we focused on positioning our content towards that goal. We started with our Mavericks’ Moments series where we follow various big wave surfers as they struggle to balance their personal life with their passion for chasing massive swells. We used that model to create three different thirteen-episode series that we pitched at sold to various networks. Then, thankfully, we’ve also been contracted to produce 50 hours of UHD (Ultra High Definition, 4,000k+ resolution) action sports television in 2016. It’s really exciting and will allow us to fully explore storytelling and filmmaking.

The Ruffo story is compelling, but are there any other characters who’s stories you’d like to tease before we see all these shows that you’re producing?
Jeff Denholm is one of the best stories. He’s an East coast surfer who got into Hemingway. He looked around and realized he wasn’t surrounding by men, so he went off and became a commercial fisherman. He was in the Bering Sea when he fell into the gearbox on the ship and had his arm ripped off. He survived a 17 hour evacuation to a hospital where they saved his life. Then he went back to the East Coast and developed a prosthetic arm with a flipper which he then used it to paddle into Mavericks. Just an absolutely amazing story. He travels with Kohl Christenson and some other guys who you’d know.
There are so many working class hero, blue collar stories in big wave surfing. Up in Oregon, near Nelscott Reef, Eric Akiskalian works as a car salesman and rides those massive, frigid waves in relative anonymity. And then we have guys like Garrett McNamara at Nazare during that December swell where he was charging waves and rescuing guys; full superhero feats and such a sensational personality and family. Will Skudin and Treveor Sven Carlson are two stories of perseverance as they struggle to find a spot on the Big Wave World Tour, both featured in our big wave show. Coco Nogales down in Mexico. So many men and women. So many stories. I could go on and on. We tell all those stories in our “Mavericks’ Moment” series.

Get Learning to Breathe here.  And follow Rocky Romano’s work here. 

(As an interesting addendum, please find below a story Chas Smith wrote about Anthony Ruffo in 2007 whereupon Ruffo is likened to Buddha.)



Methamphetamine is the most awesome drug that I’ve ever, ever heard of. Ever. You can make it in your fucking bathtub. All you need is some Sudafed, Drano and a ”can-do” ‘tude. It opens the doors of perception for weeks, not hours, and is, like, a third of the price of cocaine. It’s the people’s drug. The working man’s high. I’m soooo so sick of all these bourgeois shithead doctors/policemen/politicians/mums who are trying to “purge” it from our streets. Fuck them. They don’t know how to party like enlightened sages. Truckers, prisoners, Hell’s Angels and a growing number surfers do know how, darling. Party like a plugged-in Kate Moss circa last year. From California to Hawaii to Australia to Indonesia, everybody’s drooling for a giant swell of Devil Dust. Call it what you want: glass, amp, crank, speed, white cross… it’s all ice. Ice, baby.The surfer/speed connection ain’t as new as it seems. In 1989, San Diego was considered the Crystal Capital of North America. Yet, it’s always been stigmatised. The drug-enjoying surf community will think nothing of marijuanee, special k or coke, but don’t bring no methamphetamine around. No, no, no. It’s yucky. It’s low-brow.

Like I said, though, underground use is growing! It’s considered an “epidemic” on the North Shore, a “very serious problem” on the Goldie and a “cancer” in Bali. Fuckin’ good news for a fuckin’ great drug! Seriously, at the present growth rate, each and every one of us going to be addicted to the shit pretty soon. It looks like it follows good waves around, so unless your homebreak is Penrith, west Sydney, you are going to be snorting pre-surf lines of crystal off your cracked dashboard. Nobody stops “epidemic serious problem cancers.” The thing to do is roll with it, baby. Ice, Ice baby.

There’s only one element we need (besides baggies of evil yellow), and that’s a leader. Someone who has walked the path of the white dragon. Someone who can show us all how to live in our tweaky new world. Someone who has been to methamphetamine nirvana and returned to earth; an awakened one. A Blanco Buddha.

Stop right there, because before shab-soaked Pipe, Kirra and Uluwatu there was Steamer Lane. There was Anthony Ruffo.

Anthony Ruffo is a Santa Cruz surf icon, tow pioneer, Teahupoo charger, enlightened meth buddha and convicted felon. He was busted on July 28, 2005 for “possession and sales” of methamphetamine. Fuck, yeah! Sounds good… sounds like he was walking the walk! What the world knows about the show is courtesy of the boring ol’ media. Newspapers, magazines and television stations across the country jumped all over his story like hipsters into skinny jeans.

Santa Cruz CA: Professional surfer Anthony Ruffo was beat like a drum last night. Narcotics officers invaded his house and found him shoving blue funk into the veins of a 12-year-old girl. He was subsequently arrested and will spend his life behind bars sharing a cell with Charles Manson. Burn in fucking hell, Mr. Ruffo. Back to you in the studio! Ruffo was treated badly. Very, very badly. His good name was dragged through Northern Californian dirt by respected, highly-valued, chaste news outlets and… GIVE ME A FUCKING BREAK. Like, newsmen don’t all snort coke together at the end of a tough day? All of them, in their ugly ties and foam covered microphones, lining up around a giant glass coffee table piled high with yayo taking turns licking and snorting and babbling incoherently about Bill Clinton’s sweet titties. Fucking please.

Oh, and the surf community jumped right in, too.

Ruffo is a disgrace to everything we stand for. We hate his poohead guts. He’s a jerk. He did very naughty drugs and now our squeaky clean alternative sport won’t be as beloved in the Midwest. Boooo on A. Ruffo. Booo all over him. (Toke toke. Snort snort). Assholes.

He was tried and convicted a junkie pervert in the court of public opinion. Luckily, he had a better lawyer for the court of law (a waaaay better lawyer, but we’ll get to that). After doing his “time”, Ruffo gave a couple interviews to the magazines that smeared him, apologising for his wayward life and said he was a changed man. “I got in a little to deep; I’m glad that everything is behind me…blah, blah, blah… .I’m a bad guy…blah blah blah.”

What tkind of shitty, ham-fisted drivel do you expect when douchebag editors are asking, how’s it going staying clean?

Dumb. Boring. Unoriginal. Not helpful.

With his legal situation in check Anthony’s determined to make only good come from the bad. ARGH! Fuck that motherfucking shit! Ruffo is like a saffron robe-wearing Tony Montana, sitting cross-legged underneath the lighthouse at Steamer Lane. I decided to go on a pilgrimage to fucking Santa Cruz to talk with Bohdisattva Anthony Ruffo myself. I will find him sitting under that lighthouse and bring his experience of enlightenment back to the surfing masses so that we, too, can walk his path.

When I got to the Lane, Ruffo wasn’t meditating meth nirvana. He was ripping a five-foot swell. This whole place is his domain, anyhow: from the lighthouse out to middle peak. He is the top dog, height of the foodchain. Westside shot-caller par excellence. Awakened one. In a vicious lineup, no one dropped in on him for two hours. Three helpful guys standing on the bluff pointed out which neoprene water dot was Ruffo. I told ‘em I was going to have a chat with him. They said he was the best left-handed surfer at the Lane and told me to have fun with the cons. (If there were cons around it was going to be sick! At that point, I knew no more then you do now. Anthony Ruffo had been busted for meth-am-phet-a-mine and had reached enlightenment. I really hoped there would be cons around.)

Ruffo soon exited the freezingness and fielded congratulatory “Way to go, bro” from his comrades. They love him here, or at least the guys who matter. I marched up and told him my name was Charlie and I was there to interview him. “Coooooool, bro.”

His voice was soft, sunny warm and full of secret knowledge. He introduced me to all his buddies and called me “Scottie.” It’s cool, dude. All Santa Cruz surfers have nicknames: Condor, Skindog, Ratboy, Barney. I guess mine was now Scottie. Charlie “Scottie” Smith. Fuckin’ badass. His bros were Darryl “Flea” Virotsko, Anthony “Taz” Tashnik and Nathan “Cromagnatard” Fletcher. Flea suggested that everyone join him at his house, hopped into his 1972 pimped-out purple Impala, picked up two stray girls and sped out of the lot. I followed in my recently wrecked, bottom-ofthe- line Saturn sedan. Fucking badass, Scottie.

The moment I walked in to Flea’s house I knew that Ruffo held the keys to enlightenmeth. The house was a total fucking disaster. Mungey clothing strewn empty shot glass all over a blackleather couch underneath a glass bong no fish in an algaefied fishtank giant cardboard cheque decorated wall disaster. Ruffo tailed me in, pushed some shit off the couch and crossed his legs. “So bro, what do you want to know?” “Please, please… tell me how to get to Yellow Barn Nirvana. I’m not like those others, those hypocrites. Show me the way. Tell me what I need to know.”

He began to share his noble eightfold path.


It all started when Ruffo was a grom, a little fella. At the time, the older Santa Cruz surfers were making a living off surfing, but they weren’t sponsored (in the traditional sense). They were selling Thai weed and coke in order to support their surf habit. Self-sponsored, making good money, surfing everyday, and not having to answer to some dickhead “team manager.” Every so often, they’d throw lil’ Ruffo bags of weed to roll.

Here, kid. Get to work. Wide-eyed future Meth Buddha soaking it all in.

These self-sponsored older surfers had chicks and waves. Ruff was like, “Fuck, all I want to do is surf everyday.” As he got older, he started to rip, which meant olde fashioned regular surf co. sponsorship… but the image of those guys, those early guys, was always in the back of his head. So, pretty soon he started growing weed in his backyard to pay off the surf trips he accumulated on his credit card. That was his thing, his boogie.

He got into sweet sha-bang in either 2000 or 2001 because his dogs died, and…“Meth? It’s a good high, man…very unlike coke.”

Coke is a 15-minute up and down then you want more, more, more. Leave the coke to WCT judges.

“The high off coke is crampy, you know? It’s so fucking… I don’t know… the high when you do a line of meth… you’re way more clear. It’s not an up and down thing. Snorting a line, it hurts, but your high is 10-to-12 hours.” He could see where it wasn’t good for everyone, but for Ruffo – the shit was the shit.


So, he was hanging around with these different people (aka former convicted felons), doing his shizznittlebang, but wasn’t making a lot of money. He just barely scraped by with sponsorship and side jobs.

Then, it hit him. Hit him like a giant sacred fig falling from a Bodhi branch. He perceived a void, an emptiness, and thought, “Fuck, there are people who want this shit and, I know, A plus B… I can put them together and I can make some money.”

Enlightened fucking epiphany, baby. Sir Isaac Newton sitting under the apple tree; Pythagoras discovering that the world is round; Buddha’s awakening – epiphany.

Ruffo didn’t start selling to be cool. He was already cool. He simply saw that he could make good money and, again, surf all the time. A self-sponsored pro. Just like his forefathers.

Meth wasn’t big in Santa Cruz at that time. The white wave hadn’t washed through. Of course, everybody had heard of it from places like biker bars, and fucked-up backwoods towns, but nobody was really using it. Plus, it was looked down upon. Stigmatised. Everyone using coke would say that they were worried about the guys doing twack. Yet, they would preach this shit while high as fuck on cocaine.

Ruffo was like, “I’ll listen to you, bro, if you’re telling me this at three in the afternoon instead of three in the morning. Look at you right now. You’re a mess. You’re doin’ an eight ball, and I did one line of fuckin’ the shit and you’ve done – how many lines now? Six or seven already? I mean, I’m worried about you, bro.”

Weird social clashes. Ruffo had to keep his shit low key. Under the ray-dar.


Along with methamphetamine sales came some new friends. Now Ruffo had two whole separate sets of pals. His surfing bros helped him patrol the Westside line-ups, tow into macking Mavericks, and party like a rock star.

His convict buds helped him move the quartz to all those enlightenmentstarved souls… and also party like a rock star. The cons are actually called Norteños (or Nuestra Familia), and are a prison gang that started in 1960’s California. American jails have always been a slice of shower rape hell, but you know what they say, When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

Northern California Mexicans had it doubly tough because their Southern California counterparts thought they were farmer douchebags, and would beat the shit out of them. Thus they got doubly going and started to kick ass. Drugs, guns, drugs, death, drugs. It’s their ruthless cut-your-fucking-headoff- while-you-sleep commitment that has made them one of today’s most powerful gangs, in and out of prison. They are armed to the gills, wear red, claim the number 14 and rule large swatches of the American drug trade. Ruffo was cool with them because he was a trustworthy dharma cat, which is rare in the game. He had hundreds of thousands of dollars coming in and going out. Tempting to dip into the coffers… unless you’re awakened. He also had other gangs coming after him, trying to co-opt his network. No worries, mate. The family provtected him. Nortenos run all out mafia style. Shot-callers, hitmen, muscle, omerta. The full 14 yards.

Usually things went alright for Ruff-O’s awakened business venture, but there were times he had to call on the gangster “know-how.” If guys were being pricks and not paying, then they would get “dealt with”. That’s the way the boogie went. Fist-flying extravaganzas of pain resulting in immediate restitution. Sometimes these “scuffles” would happen at his house, and he witnessed how powerful those Norteños were. Blood-stained carpets. Samsara, baby.

The ever-important cycle of suffering dished out on those who needed some correction. “Now go, my child, and next time DO NOT FUCK WITH BOHDISATTVA RUFFO!”


He never made the shit (mashing up the Sudafed with the Drano, etc. etc.). That is for mountain hicks, and Ruffo ain’t no mountain hick. He was a distributor, a first-class salesman.

“The shit” was all coming out of Mexico. First it would come out as crank, the raw, orange-y junk. Then, “certain people” would turn it into “shards.” Shards, for the uneducated, is what you have when the orange-y junk is purged. They clean it which makes it more powerful, potent. Pretty soon, it was just coming in as shards (crystal), because they were purifying it in Mexico. The dudes who were bringing it up lived in Nor Cal, but had their ties down south, so they’d just go over the border, get their boogie and bring it back. Smuggle it in. Ruffo simply received the quantity and got rid of it. Easy as 1,2,3. He had guys working under him who were engineering most of the person-to-person sales. Ruffo, the ever-powerful businessman and networker, was great at his job. He reached Fizz Wizz Nirvana. Fully awakened. Now he was the Master, tweaking under the Bodhi tree.

Film: The Dill & Beeg Project

A wonderfully simple film. But might it lead to a Blood Feud?

Surf film has come the longest way. Technology, skill, ability, etc. have trended upward for both surfer and auteur and we, as fans, have an embarrassment of riches. Sometimes, though, it is the simple things that stir the loins.

Take this offering from Dillon Perillo and Brendon Gibbons. It gently follows the two over the course of one year and many waves. Slow music, slow pace, fine surfing. And what? You are not a fan of Dillon or B.G.? Well of course you are. I think they may well be the only two professional surfers that I have never ever heard one cross word about. And what? You have one cross word? Do share! I need a blood feud!

Kaiborg suffers heart attack

Well wishes and an excerpt.

It has been widely reported that Kai “Borg” Garcia has suffered a heart attack but is doing ok after surgery. Difficult to think about such a tower being brought low like that. Difficult and sad. I have sat a few times with Borg, drinking in sunsets. He is something else. Truly bigger than life. I wrote about him in my book and here is that chapter and here is to hoping the man recovers completely and soon.

I have arrived back on the North shore, fresh from honolulu and a piña colada, momentary respite, and a revelation that maybe this is all really and truly paradise. That is the violence and commitment to violence by wave and men that makes it such. I have passed all the familiar landmarks and I am ready to get my head fucking cracked as a personal ablution. I always imagined that I wanted peace and tranquility and a garden and saint Bernard. But I am defective. I have had traditional peace. I have owned a won- derful little prewar house in hipster Eagle Rock, Los angeles, with the wife that I hated, and we had a saint Bernard and I would come home from near-death Middle East experiences and think, “Never again.” I would rub my saint on his big fluffy head and think, “I have done enough.” But three weeks later I would be thinking about adventure and five weeks later I would be on an adventure, running from arabs holding rifles. sweating. Cursing. Damn me. Damn my own degenerate heart. But maybe not. Maybe this is all the way, the truth, the life. Whatever. Even today I want to go climb Mount Ever- est to prove that it is not very difficult and the people that I love very much do not want me to but I will anyhow because I cannot stop and so I passed Waimea, I passed Foodland, and I passed the Billabong house before slamming my car onto the shoulder in front of sunset Beach Elementary school and thinking about an adven- ture with Kaiborg. I needed his story. he told me, once, when we talked about andy Irons, that whatever I needed he would give me. I wanted to push this further. To see if there is more to feel on the North shore. To see if I can fall even further down the rabbity hole. To see if I can get further consumed, as if I am not consumed enough already. I had turned the radio from Top 40 to a hawaiian station and Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, or Bruddah Iz to da locals, is singing a ukulele cover. “somewhere over the rainbow, way up high, and the dreams that you dream of once in a lullaby . . .”

The contest had just ended for the day and would commence again early tomorrow morning but there were parties to be had and the road was full with fans and surfers trying to decide what to do. What their next steps should be. I push through them toward the small sand trail and stood between the two Volcom houses. Their gates flank me like zombies who would eat my brains. I decide to go into the original house gate. I pull the lock and enter and feel cold and not well.

I cannot see Kaiborg but do see a derelict sitting on the deck hoot- ing at the surfers in the water. anytime a contest ends tens, maybe hundreds, of surfers huddle on the shoulder until the final horn and then they scramble to the peak, trying to catch the first wave of the postcontest day. Today there are maybe fifty surfers scrambling around, dropping in, getting spit out. and the derelict hoots them. “Whoooooohooooo!” I ask him where Kaiborg is and he responds in two syllables, “ ‘a’ house,” without looking my way. he is not ha- waiian but old enough to be the sort of non-hawaiian clown grand- fathered in. he is wearing shorts. and so I leave, kicking a Coors can into the bush before opening the gate back to the sandy path and through the a-team house gate.

The a-team house feels different, nicer, but it is still dark. Its deck is not rotted. Its grass is not trampled to an early death. There are no couches on cinder blocks. I approach and spot a broom and scratch at my feet furiously before moving from grass to wood. I make sure there are no specs of sand this time.

Dean Morrison is sitting on the porch, nursing a beer. he is the smallest Gold Coast surfer, of Maori descent, and cute but also loves his drink. he once used to surf on the World Championship Tour but no longer. he still loves his drink and has been accused of being a bit of a cheater. Once, during last year’s Pipe Masters, he surfed a heat against Damien hobgood and it was a real scrappy, close heat. Toward the end Damien had priority and a great wave came toward him and he paddled for it. Inexplicably he slipped and went over the falls, awkwardly. It would have been a great wave and Damien might have won but, instead, Dean won. Back on shore Damien found the head judge and started barking about how Dean had ac- tually tugged his leash, sending him over the falls. a dirty move.

And now he nurses his beer on the Volcom a-team house deck. I ask him if Kaiborg is around and he says, “Yeah, he’s inside sleep- ing. Go wake him up.” I may be many things but I am not totally oblivious. still, it is tempting. I look through the sliding glass door and see Kaiborg asleep, a sleeping giant, and it feels like being at a zoo and wanting to stick a troublemaking hand into the tiger’s cage. I resist, though, and sit next to Dean instead, and watch Pipe fire and watch the sun slip farther down the sky. It is still too cold but the sunset will be gorgeous for sure. sunsets on the North shore are almost always gorgeous.

after fifteen minutes Kaiborg stumbles out onto the porch scratching his stomach and stretching. he looks out toward Pipe for a long time. he arches his back. he is a giant of a man. as big as a house. arms like Toyota Land Cruisers. he towers above me be- cause I am sitting next to Dean but he would tower above me even if I was standing. Even though I am slightly taller. and, looking up, Kaiborg blocks the sky. he is all I can see. he is a specimen. he is handsome like a Roman gladiator. “Kai,” I say in my friendly voice, and my friendly voice always grates my ears because my nose has been broken so many times that my friendly voice sounds like a nasal Muppet. “Do you have a minute to talk?” I only like my voice at three a.m. after one pack of Camel Reds and five whiskey sodas. he studies me with freshly woken eyes and then responds, “hoooo, Chas, yeah brah, let’s go over to the other house.” I am climbing Everest just to do it. Just because I can’t stop. I am entering into the real possibility of big trouble for the sake of getting into big trouble, or maybe to serve my ablution, but I also need to hear more and I don’t know exactly what. I need to feel more. Eddie and Kaiborg in the same wicked day is a real double-down. how can simply talking to another man be so bad? Because this is the North shore. and asking personal questions is worse.

I follow him through both gates, brushing my feet like a fiend again, before joining him on the cinder block couch.

We both watch the waves, quietly, for a few moments. We watch an unknown surfer get barreled and spit out. We watch a haole paddle awkwardly in the way of a hawaiian and there will definitely be blood spilt before the sun sets completely. I ask Kaiborg about how it used to be on the North shore. he looks at me and his voice answers. It is not like Eddie’s. It is not a guttural mess but instead sort of sweet, inflected with the islands. “ahhhhhh, how do you say . . . those were caveman days. Paleolithic. a trip, brah. This is our spot, our place . . .” he said, referring to the rampant territorialism of surf and of the North shore “We’d learn from our uncles, who would paddle out and beat the shit out of people and then they’d tell us to beat them up. and we thought that was normal. We didn’t know anything else, you know? sad to say but it’s just how it was. Not how it is anymore.” Bullshit. Bull fucking shit. The past is always and forever seen as harder, rougher, deadlier, tougher. Grandparents talk about walking to school uphill both ways. Parents talk about the exorbitant cost of shoes and things today. The past is always seen through a different filter and events can take on greater, rougher, better, worse connotations. I was not on the North shore in those early days. But, truthfully, I have seen more fear in the eyes on the North shore than anywhere on earth. I can’t imag- ine more fear than there is today. Kaiborg is wrong. he is accentuating history and minimizing the present. But there is no fucking way I will tell him he is wrong and so I merely respond, “Yeah? seems pretty rough to me still, I mean . . . ” and he looks over at me, all two hundred fifty muscled pounds of him, and says, “No no no. It’s so different now. Back then there was nobody even around, not near the amount of people that are here today. What we did . . . It was just straight territorial trip. It was . . . back then we thought it was all cool and right on, this is what we do cuz we didn’t know any better, but now that I’m older and look back on it I’m like, whoa. Wow.” I still think bull fucking shit. I believe, full well, that Kai- borg doesn’t crack as many heads today as he used to but that is only because he has done Malcolm Gladwell’s ten thousand hours. Malcolm Gladwell quoted neurologist Daniel Levin, in his book outliers: “The emerging picture from such studies is that ten thou- sand hours of practice is required with being a world-class expert in anything.” Kaiborg has cracked the metaphorical ten thousand heads and now nobody will mess with him. Or very very few people will mess with him. Word on the coconut wireless is that Kai and Eddie have beef. That they don’t like each other. and also there is another at the Volcom house, Tai Van Dyke, who is looking to take over as big man and run Kaiborg off. Kaiborg used to party. he used to go as wild as anyone. Wilder than maybe everyone, exclud- ing andy and Bruce. But he has since cleaned up, completely. he doesn’t even drink anymore, and this frustrates some. It frustrates Bruce and so Bruce is on a mission to replace his old great friend with another dark party animal, Tai Van Dyke. Bruce does not hide his contempt, nor his ambition. Kaiborg has a whiteboard where he writes the workout schedule for the groms. after John John won the Triple Crown, Bruce marched downstairs and scrubbed out the workout schedule and wrote, “Big fucking rager tonight,” signing underneath in his own scrawl, “BRUCE IRONs.” a proper affront to the power structure at the Volcom houses. Derek Dunfee, a big- wave surfer from La Jolla, California, sponsored by Volcom, who has done many tour of duties, later told me, “I have never felt it that way at all, that unhinged. Literally. I had my bags packed the entire time I stayed there in case shit really went down. I’ve never done that before but it felt like all-out war was imminent at any moment and I was ready to fucking bail.”

The North shore has always been rough. It is rough today, and it was rough when Kaiborg first started coming. I ask him when, in fact, he did come first and he answers, “I started coming to the North shore when I was sixteen. First trip stayed with Marvin Foster. I came with my brother and, like I said, those were the kind of people we looked up to. We looked up to the kind of people that most people don’t look up to. and it was the exact same thing we got thrown in over here like it was over there. But over here we had to prove ourself even more.” Over there is Kauai, where he grew up and where he learned to pound and crack and surf. Marvin Foster was one of the toughest men to ever wander the North shore. he was a genuine star in the 1980s, one of Quiksilver’s prized surfers, charging every oversized swell, but he also got into the drug trade, spending eighteen months in prison in the early 1990s on a weapons charge. he also, later, landed on hawaii’s top-ten-most-wanted list. Marvin Foster died by hanging himself from a tree in 2010. This was Kaiborg’s moral compass.

But how does it all work? What happens? how does a sixteen-year- old Kauai kid come to the North shore and become a legend? What did Kaiborg do to prove himself? and so I ask as the sun slides far- ther and farther down the sky, which continues to fire. Which con- tinues to look like a painting. Kaiborg looks at the sun and lets out a long and low “Psssssssshhhhhhhhhht” before pausing long. how to answer? “Just doing all the wrong things. You know. ‘Doing the work,’ as they like to say now. Doing the dirt for everyone. Like they said, ‘Go lick that guy.’ You gotta do it.” It sounds, to me, like hell. It sounds, to me, like jail and so I ask, “Was it like jail?” and his voice goes very high in response, his head kicks back, and he locks his fingers behind his head. a small smile creeps over his face. “It wasn’t . . . it wasn’t . . . it wasn’t like jail or anything like that because it was all we knew. You know? Like now that I’m older and everything . . . it’s basically like, I don’t live in the past, but I don’t shut the door on it either. When I see people out in the water now or whatever, hey, I’ll start character assassinating but then I’ll check myself and go, ‘hey, these guys are just out here to have a good time too.’ I ain’t telling nobody to beat it. I ain’t telling . . . I don’t yell at nobody in the water I don’t . . .” he trails off, thinking more. Thinking about his past and what it meant to him and what it means to him. “and that’s all from where I was to where I am. and now I don’t say any- thing. I do my trip and that’s it. I’m not the most friendly guy in the water but I’m not loudmouthing off or, you know, I’m just out there to get my waves, get my daily reprieve and come in all happy. But, you know, sometimes you gotta put that vibe off out in the water because some people take your kindness for weakness and they’ll start hustling you and, fuck that, brah, you know . . . I don’t know if it’s like, self-entitlement or, whatever, but I’ve put my time in and I’m cherry-picking. I’m not a little kid paddling for every wave. I’m waiting for mine and when they come to me, if you’re behind me, that’s your problem. I’m going. I’m not going to yell at you, or what- ever, just don’t drop in on me. and everybody knows the deal.”

No person would ever drop in on Kaiborg, full stop. he is huge and one does not have to be intimately aware of any regional hierar- chy to know a huge man is not to be toyed with.

But still, how long does it take for a man, an outsider for that matter, to climb to the top of the North shore’s very specific, very rough, hierarchy? Eddie came from Philadelphia and climbed to the top in a matter of years. Kaiborg, though, is different. “You’re always climbing ’til today.” and then he chuckles because he is not climbing and maybe he never was. “Nahhh, honestly I can’t say when or what but I’ve never really had a problem because I’ve always been with all the crew. I’ve never been on the short end of the stick, basically. and what that develops, when you start to turn into a young man, is a lot of fucken unwarranted pride and ego. and it’s ugly. That whole mind-frame is just . . . so wrong. That . . . but hey. It’s life. If you don’t know any better and . . . basically we all come from broken homes, the whole shit, so we don’t know the ways like everybody around us, since we were like five, so . . . you’re a product of your environment no matter what. and as you get older, you start learning. The key is to try and break the cycle and not repeat it with where you are with the kids under you because . . . it’s just a shitty fucken thing.”

Kaiborg’s introspection is intriguing. he is here, on the cinder- block-raised couch, in his fiefdom, talking about breaking cycles of violence and the ugliness of ego and being a product of an envi- ronment. his fiefdom. It is Eddie’s kingdom, but Kaiborg rules the one thing that matters most. he rules Pipeline. This is not what I expected at all. I expected bravado or harsh vibing or a slap or ag- gressive platitudes about respect and such. But he seems so Zen and what he is saying seems genuine. Or maybe I have been totally and completely consumed and everything I hear on the island is now completely reasonable. I tell him he is a Zen thug and he laughs. “You know, it’s all simple. I see guys come and go left and right and it’s bad. You’ve got to appreciate everything. You’ve got to enjoy the ride until it’s the end. You’ve got to wiggle and waggle and try and make a career out of surfing or being here, you know, but the bottom line is that you’ve got to stay grateful and happy. There’s so much worse things in life you could be doing than sitting here talking to me. We’re blessed to do what we do. It’s just . . . appreciate and stay grateful and, like the kids, I try to instill in all these kids to give them a little structure in life. You know, clean up after themselves. To go do the work when the waves are flat, cuz the waves aren’t good all the time. That’s when you train. Making good choices in life. It’s all that stuff. Try to live clean. Watch out for all the fucken hanger- oners and all the bad choices that they make real easily. But only they can do it. alls I can do is show them here’s the path, hopefully you stay on it, and if they stray off of it, hopefully they can get right back on it.”

such a Zen thug but even if he is a Zen thug, even if he is enlight- ened, even if I am not seeing clearly, I know that he is still the Kaiborg of myth/reality legend and that he is greatly feared. Kaiborg stories and Eddie stories are told with equal amounts of petrified eyes and quavering voices. he is still considered a monster and I tell him and, again, he lets out a long and low “Psssssssshhhhhh- hhhht” before continuing, “I don’t like that at all. But. You know what . . . . Ffffff. I created it and that’s why I’m changing it now. I’ve never been the most open and friendly guy but you know now I’m trying to like . . . this year I told myself, try to tell everybody hi. I’ll be on the bike path walking down, or on the back road, and guys will see me coming and they’ll be putting their head down and get- ting all squirrely and I’ll be like, ‘What’s up?’ and they’ll be like, ‘Whoooaaa.’ and I’ll be like . . . ffff, whatever. But you know, it’s life. You live and learn. You gotta go through the process and it’s a pro- cess and I wanted that . . . of course I wanted that mystique at some point, but then you’re over it and it doesn’t just end when you’re over it. I’ll probably always have it, but whatever. It serves me well cuz when I speak up they better listen. hey, I’m not perfect. I still have my, you know, my inner demons like everybody but at least I recog- nize it now and I try to keep them down and don’t overreact and fly off the handle.” he laughs loudly. “I don’t want to be perceived like that anymore, though. I’m a father and a husband and basically . . . I do what I say, and say what I mean. alls we have in our life is our word. Everything else is fucking bullshit.”

The wisdom continues to pour. The enlightenment of Kai “Kai- borg” Garcia. and it may be even greater than the enlightenment of siddhartha Gautama “Buddha” himself because of the distance traveled. Buddha moved from spoiled rich child to enlightened one, which is a great climb, but Kaiborg moved from monster in one of the the heaviest places on earth to . . . I don’t even know. To some- thing far greater. Wisdom. and I am feeeeeling it, baby. “ahhhh yeah, it’s hard to make a change in your life. super hard. Really hard. We’re creatures of habit. This guy told me a year ago, ‘You’re gonna have to change one thing about your life,’ and I really look up to that guy, and I was like, ‘Oh yeah? What’s that?’ and he was all, ‘Everything.’ and I was all, “Ffffffuuuuuuuuu.’ But he was right. You know. I did. and I’m trying to change everything. It’s not easy but I’m working on it, you know? The bottom line is we’re imperfect and it’s progress, not perfection, so if you make a little progress every day, you know, you’re doing OK. at the end of my day, I’ll sit down and think about my day and be brutally honest with myself, be like, ‘OK, how could I have made my day better? how could I have made people better around me?’ We all have our moments, but as long as I sit down there and reflect every day then I can wake up and try and make a little progress the next day. Day by day. One foot over an- other. It’s hard to grasp but when you start getting it, you start get- ting it. You start seeing what life is about, not just existing through life—you start living again. You’re not all blinded. You start looking at the ocean and the rainbows and you start seeing the leaves falling off the trees. You know, stuff like that. I don’t know. I could be fine this year and I could flip the switch next year, you know? You just never know.” Fuck sacred fig trees. Kaiborg found enlightenment under a palm.

The sun is all the way beneath the earth’s rim and the sky is on fire. It is all the colors of red and we both pause to look at it. It is, truly, paradise. But at the same time it is always truly hell. and since I am feeling all metaphysical I ask him about the hell, about Eddie and the politics of a place outside the law. I tell him that word on the Ke Nui is that Eddie and him are not on friendly terms. he stretches again and speaks, “ahhhh we’re fine. We’re all one family. Just, ev- eryone is on their different path. You know, I’m kinda looking for enlightenment. Just staying levelheaded. hey, we all get along. We all argue and bicker and shit, but that’s part of it. But at the end of the day, we all got each other’s back. and the North shore politics? You know what . . . I love this place, and politics? I could give a f—a rat’s ass, you know. I’m powerless over people, places, and things. If that guy is an asshole out there, hey, you know what, I’m not gonna worry about him. I can’t change him. I’ll let him wallow in his own shit. Just don’t bring it. Boundaries, you know? I’ve got my boundar- ies. Don’t, you know . . . stay out of my boundaries and it’s all good. I don’t care what you’re doing, running around being an asshole, whatever. That’s your trip. I just mind my own business now.” and I am feeling all warm and in love. he is an apologist for everything that is the North shore. he is also validating my own personal ass- hole trip by not judging it. Beautiful. Love. Warm. Deluded? I don’t care anymore. Getting to the bottom of a story—selling out Eddie, Kaiborg, the North shore—had been swallowed by a general feeling that I belong here.

at that moment an older, eccentric local talking jibberish comes crashing through the Volcom house gate and into the yard. he is dripping wet, just having gotten out of the water, and is jabbering about how Pipe almost crushed him but he got fully barreled and whoosh! and bam! and pow! Kaiborg laughs at him and says, “We’re more grassroots over here. We’re more core. We have all of the local surfers come hang out here, you know what I mean? Nike down the road and Quiksilver, they have their guys and they all stay in their little bubble. They’re all bubble-ized. Over here we got guys like”— and he gestures over to the older, eccentric local—“Donnie don’t go hang out at Quiksilver. You know what I mean? We got every fucken creature walking around here. We keep it real. It’s how we were all raised and we’re not fucken exclusive or . . . we’re not better and no less than anyone. It’s pretty much open arms over here.” and it is pretty much totally not but that is the way that Kaiborg feels and so I just guffaw, slightly, and tug on my pink shirtsleeve and continue to look at the fire-red sky.

The gate opens again and a young Volcom grom comes through and nods, submissively, in Kaiborg’s direction before scooting out of sight. Kaiborg doesn’t notice him but I do and ask him about the process of being a grom in the house. standard lines about being a family and cleaning up and the dungeon and working out and living the dream because of the free bed thirty short steps away from Pipe, free food, access, and never having to fear getting beaten up in the water. But I still want to know how that came to be. how did these houses come to rule? Kaiborg listens to my question and then looks at me and then answers, “Look at me. I’m six two, two forty, you know. surfers are fucken what? Five eight, one fifty? It’s like . . . plus I’ve trained my whole life. I’m not a normal guy, you know, so. The groms are here, they’re part of it, and they know better. If you go out there and drop in on a guy blatantly, or whatever, you’re gonna get your head slapped. But it’s mellow now. Everybody knows where they belong. It’s not like the old days.”

The old days. The old rough days, which to men like Kaiborg are over and we are all living in the soft present, and to men like Graham stapelberg are not over because he is getting his face slapped right off, and to men like me are not over because the North shore is scarier than any war zone. The past is always amplified but I will say that the North shore exists in perpetual violence and it always has. Maybe the violence looked or felt different in the past but it is not less today. Only different and only realized differently.

The fire reds are turning into powder blues and darker blues. Pipeline is still thundering, shaking the Volcom deck, which shakes the cinder blocks, which shakes the couch. The contest will be run- ning again tomorrow. Booom! and Kaiborg is gazing out and is not talking to me anymore but talking to Poseidon. “That’s a heavy wave. This place is scary.” I ask him if it still scares him and he responds honestly, “ahhhh yeah. I want nothing to do with it.” and he says this even though he surfs Pipe every big swell. “hey, we change. she don’t. We get older and slower. she does not let up. Every time . . . there’s a bunch of times when I been out there and I’m like, fuck . . . ” he lets his thought trail off as another wave explodes “That’s what she does out here.” Booom!

I pull myself off the couch and we shake hands and I leave him sitting there, looking out at Pipe. a Zen thug. I didn’t serve my ablution on the couch today, but I believe he will still knock my head completely off if he needs to, or wants to, someday. he has been training in jujitsu for eighteen years. he has trained under the greatest mixed martial arts Brazilian master, Royce Gracie. he has fought in the octagon, or modern version of gladiator battle, many times. he is six foot two, two hundred forty pounds but seems like Gerard Butler’s King Leonidas in the film 300.

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