5 Dumb Questions to Ask Pro Surfers!

Can I have your board? Can I tell you about my experiences with concave?

I won’t even begin to pretend that, at various points in my career, I haven’t felt overwhelmed, subjugated, under spell, by high-end pro surfers.

It’s a fame thing. I get it. I see it.

The way a pro surfer will swing in to my little town and his acolytes will follow, always arranged in a subconscious hierarchy in a line as they march to a bar, to a restaurant, the number one pal half-a-step behind the pro star, number five at the back of the pack. The way their heads are turned away when the dinner bill comes and the high-end pro surfer, depending upon his generosity rating, either discreetly slips his card into the leather billfold or uselessly searches for…someone… to make a token gesture at payment.

Can you imagine being surrounded by yes-men and dumb, beautiful girls who’ll fall into a deep squat just because of your fame, even if you’re paunchy and charmless. No one but the famous can appreciate the power of true harlotry.

But, as life ain’t all cake, fame isn’t always singing with seduction and worship.

Can you imagine the dumb, intrusive questions y’have to live with?

Small price, sure, and yes if only, but tell me you would be worn thin if, every day, every contest you were asked:

Can I have your board? 

I travel as what is loosely termed a “journalist” on surf trips. Sometimes I have to write something, sometimes shoot a film, sometimes I just surf and observe. And, every single day, a pro will have someone engage ‘em in conversation, be all pally, and, before you know it… can I have your board? Who asks such a thing? Would you walk up to Leo Decap and say, nice 100-foot boat, can I have? Yeah, I get that pros get free boards, and most ‘em do leave most of ‘em around the world, for kids, for the families they stay with, but why would they wanna give away a sled to someone who was non-existent in their lives five minutes previous? Say what you want about pros, but I’m always amazed by their patience, by their kindness in refusal.

Is that a single-double concave into a slight vee through the tail? 

It ain’t a secret that light concaves and vee through the tail are invisible to everyone except shapers in fluorescent-lit shaping bays. But, when you’re a pro surfer, everyone wants to talk design. They’ll grab your board, spin it on its side, run a cupped hand along the rail, say things like: Blockier than I thought. Or, I’m guessing this is 32 litres. How much do you weigh? And, most painfully, the fan will engage in deep philosophical discussion about the merits of single and double concave and vee in the tail, and how it has impacted upon their own surfing.

Can I have a tail-pad? 

I know one pro surfer, helluva of a guy, helluva surfer, and he says how difficult it is to stop his pals from raiding every tail-pad delivery. Think about it. A high-end pro mows through a hundred or so boards a year. That’s a real big box of pads. Now imagine all the times he gets asked for one of his tail-pads. My pal says he always ends up buying at least half-a-dozen at 60 bucks a shot. I know, don’t feel sorry for the millionaire sonofabitch. But, fuck.

Who are you sponsored by? 

There he stands, our dazzling hero, in head to thong Billabong, with VonZipper glasses, wearing a Nixon watch and holding a surfboard that confirms his employers.

Do you have a wife-girlfriend? 

The dumbest question! No!

Mikey Wright
Hello Mikey Wright! Are you the wild man the tour needs? | Photo: Quiksilver

Power Rankings: 2016 Rookies Pre-Snapper!

Are they the freshest air or do they stink of chemical products floating on the breeze?

Are the seven WSL rookies for 2016 a breath of the freshest air or do they stink of chemical products floating on the breeze? Let’s meet!

#1 Ciao Ibelli, Brazil

For those who doubt the peloton effect, watch this rookie come on tour as a fully-fledged man amongst men, slipstreaming right into the psychological advantage of the Brazilian front-runners.

Proof that supply side economics does work in rare instances. ie. a rising tide does float all boats. We saw that with the way De Souza learnt to ride Pipe, Gabby likewise at Pipe and Chopes, Filipe on the right path.

Ibelli has the most powerful bottom turn on tour, before he even starts. Rookie of the Year.

#2 Ryan Callinan, Australia

Chinese I Ching, the Book of Changes, would say the timing is propitious for Ryan Callinan. An ecological niche has become vacant on tour with the retirements of CJ Hopgood and Freddie P, namely, working class goofyfooter.

Actually, Callinan is a bit more than that. Of all the rookies, he’s the only one I can get excited about. Very classy repertoire: progressive, powerful. More than a hint of Clay Marzo minus the Aspergers. Craig Anderson with a functioning back leg. You think I’m being a parochial jackass, backing an aussie goofyfooter? Watch this video and make up your own mind. 

Callinan has already been through a mild version of hype, come out the other side as a smart, well-adjusted kid. He’s obviously got the chops and is smart enough to figure out the game. Is he dumb enough to think that it matters?

From the I Ching: Trial and tribulation can hone exceptional character to a razor edge that slices deftly through every challenge. 
Action prevails where words will fail.

#3 Connor Coffin, USA

There’s everything to like about CC’s surfing and nothing to hate. Smooth, on rail, stylish, progressive, seems like a lovely kid, Santa Babs style as deep as the Mariana trench, made Sunset Beach look good etc… and yet, taken as a whole the package seems a bit… a bit I don’t know, pseudo, a bit soft.

I like it, it’s just I don’t feel anything when I see it.

I see you Bradley Gerlach, flying down the 805 in your convertible getting all red-faced and apoplectic, come on down and defend your boy. Tell me I’m a worthless internet hack who couldn’t surf his way out of a wet paper bag and whose opinion is worth five-eighths of fuck all. Bring the noise, but first look into your heart of hearts and tell me honestly you wouldn’t like to see Connor with just a touch more Andy Irons, a smidgin of Bobby Martinez, a bit more mongrel about him before he launches into a pro career. You do don’t you!

That’s all I’m saying, baby.

You can coach technique but you can’t coach character. Parker = new improved Taylor Knox?

#4 Jack Freestone, Australia

Taking an omniscient view of the good ship “Jack Freestones career” we spy from our vantage three dangerous shoals ahead.

The first is genetic.

Jack is tall timber and his specialty is a progressive aerial repertoire. As we saw last year during his Snapper wildcard, when it’s small and weak he looks underpowered and cumbersome. Against smaller opponents like Filipe Toledo in three-foot surf his genetic attributes become a drag. He needs to quickly develop more big turn carving and shift water, as well as learn to manhandle heavy lefts.

The second shoal is expectation, or the weight of unrealised expectation. Freestone has been talked up since he won the world junior title and it was expected he would quickly slipstream his Coolangatta homies Parko and Fanning. Not so. In the meantime his peers and those younger than him have won events and world titles. That could be motivation in the right hands, in the wrong ones a disincentive to do the work required.

Which leads to the third hazard ahead. Attitude. Freestone has already won the prize: Instagram followers, Alana Blanchard etc etc. Why does he even need to be on tour? He’s already expressed ambivalence, he can’t come out of the gates at Snapper tentative, trying to feel his way in, wondering if all this hassle is worth it. Snapper and Bells suit his surfing.

If he lacks impact there he risks being an easy-beat by June with a still born career by December. That’s nothing but real talk.

#5 Kanoa Igarashi, USA

I’m wracking my brain trying to think of another pro sport where athletes can come onto the main stage with such undercooked skill sets at some of the main locations. Can you think of any? Pro surfing seems to specialize in this particular dish: the rookie who can barely make the drop at Teahupoo, looks as graceful and sure-footed as a new born foal at J-Bay and gets lost in the glare of the headlights at Pipeline.

That might be unfair to Kanoa, who has said he wants results at Teahupoo and Pipe, where he is not expected to do well. Wanting to do well though, and doing well are two different things, especially at waves where there are no shortcuts to mastery.

Has he been there, put the hours in? I can’t find any video evidence to say either way. Most of the video of Igarashi seems to have been shot when he was a kid and looked like a cartoon character of a small forest animal. Maybe this kid is carved from harder timber than he looks but at the moment and until proven otherwise he looks like wounded gazelle on the savannah.

#6 Davey Cathels, Australia

Let’s play word association. First word that comes to mind. No cheating, no googling.

Davey Cathels.
Davey Cathels.
Davey Cathels.

Get anything? Ring any bells?

Any mental images come to mind? Nah, me neither.

All I could come up with is a tow headed kid from North Narrabeen that did alright at an Oakley pro junior a few years back, friends with Laura Enever. Thats a problem for young Davey. Pro surfing is much closer to rock and roll wrestling than NFL.

Judges aren’t automatons. They are feeling, subjective beings, prone to error, bias, and most importantly, entanglement in the surf culture, where decisions about who is ripping are made routinely, unconsciously, decisively.

First rule of Pro Surfing: a sellable story, a personality, an image that engages, moves product and gets eyeballs on monitors matters far more than any physical stat unless your name is Bede Durbidge. Highest examples: Craig Anderson, Rob Machado.

Judges aren’t automatons. They are feeling, subjective beings, prone to error, bias, and most importantly, entanglement in the surf culture, where decisions about who is ripping are made routinely, unconsciously, decisively.

Davey needs to insert himself into that stream, bust down the door a little and then see where the momentum takes him. Even if his image is no image he needs to sell it, or remain a regional talent.

#7 Mikey Wright, Australia

Throwback to a time of wild men on tour, some of whom are no longer with us.

And it’s real, not something manufactured by Quik to sell boardshorts. He only needs to follow the template set by brother Owen in 2009. Viz, show no respect to opponents and go big at every occasion.

Forget strategy. Falling is not failing.

If the stars align he could be on tour next year, hopefully as partner and not replacement to his injured brother.

dumb surfers

Surf Quiz: What Would You Do?

Hot daughter of surf pal, a car park vulture, kid wave hog… 

Scenario #1:

Bob’s a surf friend. You don’t know his wife, you’ve never been to his house, but you’re both regulars at the same spot. Over the years you’ve grown familiar enough to chat between sets, just small talk, never anything deep. He’s got a tow-headed little girl, kind of obnoxious in a precocious my-parents-love-me-soooo-much kind of way, who you watched grow from a tiny little thing on one of her dad’s old shortboards into an awkward tween on her own custom shape.

Life happens and one of you has a minor schedule adjustment. Your sessions don’t link up anymore, it’s just head nods and waves on the way in and out of the parking lot for a few years.

Now it’s the first day of kind-of Summer. Sunny, windless, warm. The water temp is in the high 60’s (20 Celsius), a little chilly, but just warm enough for the first bareback session of the year.

The waves aren’t great, but there’s something, and it’s just too nice out to not surf. So you grab a log and paddle out.

Twenty minutes into your session along comes Bob. How’s it going? Oh great, great. Daughter just got her driver’s license, can you believe it? She’s on her way down. I offered to give her a ride, but you know how teenagers are.

There she is now, he says, pointing to a statuesque blonde on the beach.

Holy hell, ugly duckling in full effect. She’s grown a foot since you last saw her, looks like a full-grown woman.

As you’re floating there, mulling over your slow march toward death, she knee paddles out on her single fin, causing two rapid fire thoughts.

Jesus Christ!

When did teenagers start waxing?

As the second spins across your brain Bob turns his head, glances over, catches you looking.

What would you do?

Scenario #2

It’s a three day weekend, the beach is packed, and you’ve just spent the last half hour circling the streets looking for parking. Finally, there it is, an empty spot! Score!

You pop on your turn signal, hit the brakes, and the guy behind you whips into oncoming traffic and snakes your spot. Toot your horn, hands raised, what the fuck?, but he just pretends not to see you. Whatever, deep breath, move on.

You end up parking ten blocks inland and hoofing it down.

Strolling across the sand you see the guy who stole your spot catch a wave. He’s a very good surfer,  dismantles the thing all the way to the beach.

Twenty minutes later you’re paddling back to the peak after a fun one, when you see Mr Dickhead take off on the wave of the day. He fades, sets up for a barrel, and you find yourself in the perfect position to ruin him.

What would you do?

Scenario #3

Winter break has rolled around, and your normally uncrowded mid-morning weekday session is packed full of stupid fucking children. Laughing and yelling and just being general annoyances. The young are the worst, flexible little bastards with no etiquette, safe in the knowledge they can do whatever they want without any consequences.

One particular little bastard is burning everyone in the lineup. Seventeen or so, stickers all over his sparkling white new board, not even trying to position himself properly, just going in front on every wave.

He stuffs you three waves in a row, rather than lose your cool you catch a wave in and decide not to surf until all the rotten little fuckers are back in class.

A couple months later you’re suiting up in the parking lot as he’s getting ready to leave. He starts his car, pops it in reverse, and you notice he’s left his board on the ground behind his car. He’s staring at his phone, texting away, not paying attention.

What would you do?

Master Class: John John teaches barrel!

John John, Kelly and Bruce Irons instruct you how to flow, backside!

Who are the men you love watching most surf Oahu’s famed Pipeline? Jamie O? Mason Ho? Kelly? John John? Bruce Irons? Well guess what the fantastic filmmaker Tyge Landa has for you here?

Kelly, John John and Bruce! And in extremely super slo-mo! Extremely super slo-mo, drones and the GoPro angle are the gifts of this decade. Which is your favorite? My least favorite is the GoPro angle but my most favorite is extremely super slo-mo. It puts me in a very jazzy mood. I also like to kid myself that I am learning how to surf better in observing extremely super slowed down technique. “So that’s how John John does it…” I say to myself. Then paddle out at my home break and go over the falls just like I’ve been doing for years.

Neil Young plays the soundtrack. Do you like him solo or as part of the quartet Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young? Or not at all?

Kelly / John / Bruce / Pipeline 1800mm 400fps from Tyge Landa on Vimeo.

How to: torture your wife!

Bringing surf dad mentality into the marital bed… 

The last few months I’ve been on a mission to teach my wife how to read the ocean. She’s a strong swimmer, talented free diver, but an utter coward if there’s a touch of swell or scrap of exposed reef. Which is a problem, since we regularly swim long distances to shoot fish, and you can’t always count on using an easy keyhole to exit the water. And you never really know in Hawaii, a storm or gnarly little wind swell can spring up out of nowhere. Safely dragging your carcass, plus a bunch of very expensive gear, up the rocks as you’re battered by the ocean takes some learning.

It’s a hard thing to explain to my wife, the need to become comfortable in the surf.

“I just won’t go out when there are waves.”

“But you can’t know exactly when a swell hits.”

“Just check the surf report.”

“It doesn’t work like that.”

“Why not?”

“It just doesn’t. Look, you need to learn how to time waves. What if we get caught by a current and swept to a place where there’s no safe way out.”

“You shouldn’t be taking me somewhere like that.”

“Shits happens. You need to be ready.”

“No, if there’s a chance of that happening I just won’t go out.”

“Then you never can.”

It’s my fault, kinda. She said she wanted to surf a few years back, so I took her out on a small day at Laniakea. She got her ass handed to her.

To hear her tell the story, which I have, too many times, it was double overhead and I’m an irresponsible asshole for encouraging her to paddle out. It was chest high, max, and soft. Nothing dangerous , maybe a little too big to take out a green barney like her. But laying down and looking up throws off your perspective, and there’s no convincing her.

The million trips I’ve taken to the ER over the last fifteen years don’t help matters. She doesn’t trust me to keep her out of the danger I put myself in.

To hear her tell the story, which I have, too many times, it was double overhead and I’m an irresponsible asshole for encouraging her to paddle out. It was chest high, max, and soft. Nothing dangerous , maybe a little too big to take out a green barney like her. But laying down and looking up throws off your perspective, and there’s no convincing her.

So she hates surfing now. I’m more than fine with that. If she’d embraced the sport I’d be stuck ferrying her to shit surf, rather than having fun on my own. And some of the stuff she wanted me to do, like paddle her board out through the waves then hand it over once we’re outside… it’s just embarrassing. I’m married to an aspiring kook. It’s hard living with that knowledge.

Still, I’m going to beat this knowledge into her head if I have to use a stick to do it. She loves diving, and I’m a firm believer that you need to behave as though lifeguards don’t exist. Always be able to self rescue. Learn to use currents to your advantage, understand why, sometimes, the longest way in is the easiest. Sometimes you need to take a few beatings.

If you’re married, you probably already know, telling your wife anything works poorly.

So I let her make bad decisions. Yeah, I can see the current rampaging out through the channel, but when she insists that’s the best way to go I let her learn from her own mistakes. I kick over towards the reef and let a two foot swell push me in, then watch from shore as she grinds her way to exhaustion. Then I tease her for it. It’s a dick move, but I know what I’m doing and it frustrates me when someone who doesn’t second guesses me. And it’s not like she’s gonna leave me. No pre-nup, and my income is laughable.

That may be why I have such a love for playing in the ocean, the fact that knowledge goes so far to ameliorate danger. People can, and regularly do, die on days that are totally tame. They get swept into deep water, panic, drown. Number one cause of tourist death in Hawaii is snorkeling. It boggles the mind. It ain’t the ocean that’s killing them, water filled lungs notwithstanding. It’s fear and inexperience doing the deed.

Laughing and playing in water that will kill the typical landlubber is pure rapture. The culmination of decades of work. And that taste of terror and confidence on a big day, is there any better flavor?

Crazy how far it extends, that safety experience brings. I like to surf “big” waves, though whether they’re actually “big” is debatable, as the bar keeps hitting new heights. Let’s call it a sliding scale, it’s plenty large long before Dorian starts sweating.

It’s calculated risk, once you’ve got things dialed. Not foolhardy death wish territory. Yes, you can always die, but most likely you’ll just get hurt. Modern medicine is amazing. I’ve got a dead man’s ligament holding my arm together, and a nifty titanium gadget inside my head that lets me hear. A plastic surgeon kept me pretty after a freak accident fin to the face.

You’ve gotta have health insurance though, without it I’d be crippled. Both literally and financially.