Adventure: Back to the Middle East!

"Anyhow, life would be pretty dreary if we always acted reasonably; it does one good to be a little mad at times."

Thirteen years ago I set off for a three month run through Yemen with three other stout souls. Nobody had ever surfed the mainland, as far as any of us knew, and adventure beckoned. The way the coast bent it had to have waves but more importantly was exotic, dangerous, untamed.

I reached out to Sam George at Surfer magazine and told them our idea. First ever in Yemen. They were in and for a few thousand dollars up front. I reached out to totally disgraced surf brand Ocean Pacific and told them we were doing a story about being the first ever in Yemen for Surfer magazine. They were in for a few thousand dollars. The other friend started emailing randoms in Yemen and accidentally connected with the ex-Prime Minister’s son. He told us we would have anything we needed for this exploration from Land Cruisers to bodyguards to visas.

And we did it. We spent three months traveling from Sana’a to Aden where we got chased by terrorists through the streets then up into the hills near ‘Ataq where Al-Qaeda might have come to try and get us only to be beaten back by a company of battle-hardened Yemeni troops then Mukallah where we surfed an amazing right hander and weren’t allowed to stay in the old city because it was deemed unsafe. Too many beards. Too much religious fervor. Then Sayhut, Qishn, Nishtun where a firefight happened between townspeople and pirates, Al Ghayda where the rusty hull of a beached ship leaked oil into the waves, Hawf, where the Arabian peninsula becomes a rain forest before heading out to the island of Soqotra, a place where the trees bleed and the wind sings.

Thirteen years ago is a long time. My path meandered from Middle Eastern adventure into surf and I thought I would maybe never return to Arabic lands. It has gotten weirder over there. Ugly. And so I buried those travels to Yemen and Lebanon and Syria, Oman, Egypt, UAE, etc. into the footnotes of my life.

Except for some reason I need it again. For some reason that I feel deeply yet can’t quite explain I need to taste that very particular sun, to breathe that specific air and exactly as fate would have it, the same crew from thirteen years ago have somehow gotten their hands on a sailboat in civil war torn Aden. We will sail it through the Bab al Mandab, past Yemen, Eritrea, Sudan and up to Egypt. Past pirates, wars and sensibility.

What’s the point? Again, I don’t know but it is something. Something for my beloved wife and gorgeous daughter but I can’t put my finger on exactly what. Or not yet. The great French adventurer Henri de Monfreid wrote, “Anyhow, life would be pretty dreary if we always acted reasonably; it does one good to be a little mad at times.”

See you all in two weeks.

P.S. If anything should happen please book WSL CEO Paul Speaker for the eulogy.

Ozzie Wright Otis Carey Israel

Movie: Ozzie Wright, Otis Carey in Israel!

Let yourself be swallowed by a magical middle eastern adventure!

Earlier this year, the Australian surfers Ozzie Wright and Otis Carey were invited to compete in the Seat Netanya Pro, Israel’s first WSL event. This excited the two surfers very much as neither had been to this magical middle eastern democracy before. The trip presented one small-ish problem, however.

Neither surfer did contests. 

Nothing personal, of course. Both surfers appreciate the skills and focus needed to excel at the highest levels of surfing competition, but, well, why put yourself under that kind of pressure when you can paint, sing and surf (Oz) or paint, model and surf (Otis)?

In any event, the pair dutifully joined the WSL, mowing through all the banalities of contest administration forms and erasing nearly one thousand dollars each on their credit cards in the process.

The level of surfing in the contest was higher than any of us thought (I’d even considered a cameo until I saw Pedro Henrique tag a two-footer a dozen times to the beach), surfers arriving from Portugal, Tahiti and beyond. Still, Ozzie looked like the happiest man on earth as he soared through two heats while Otis, whose talent and youth is stark, made a succession of heats and was only stopped in the quarter finals.

But the trip to Israel was never going to just be about a contest.

Ozzie is treated as a god in this part of the world and wherever he went, crowds of curious onlookers gathered around him.

“He’s more influential than Kelly Slater,” three different surfers, at three different beaches, told me.

The shaper and pro surfer Didu Biton, who owns the company Seadny surfboards, and who operates from a shaping bay behind a beachfront mosque, built Oz a surfboard (Buddha model) that proved a phenomenon in the wind swells.

The noted Israeli filmmaker responsible for the movie, here, Yakir Avrahami, explained that Ozzie was the first surfer to demonstrate how surfing could be more than contests, that it could lead to a fulfilling life, creatively.

It’s why Yakir, fresh from three years in the army, took to directing.

It’s why his graphic designer pal who cornered Ozzie at one of the dazzling bars in Tel Aviv brought a laptop – to show Oz the deep influence he’d had on his work.

At a party presented by the mayor of Netanya, the beach town north of Tel Aviv where the contest was being held, a surfer of no more than eighteen years stopped Oz and told him that 156 Tricks was the best movie of all time and his girlfriend called Oz the “best aerialist in the world.”

This movie, Love and Peace from the Middle East, will require a small leap of faith and I do beg your patience. It isn’t Under a Blue Moon, it isn’t Cluster. The waves are small and onshore. The action, therefore, limited.

It was made by a commercial director determined to give surfers, worldwide, an angle on his country that isn’t coloured by the sensationalist reporting of, say, CNN or The Guardian. 

It is nine-and-a-half minutes long, longer than most surf shorts you’ll watch, although this does include Oz’s own two-minute credits, cut to the song he wrote in Israel, King of the Jews. 

ozzie wright & otis carey // love and peace from the middle east from yakir avrahami on Vimeo.

Bankruptcy: Is the WSL next?

WSL CEO Paul Speaker is basically selling the PacSun model. Oops.

As anti-depressive as our wonderful BeachGrit is, sometimes hard truth must be looked in the eye. And a hard truth is that the surf industry is in deep and abiding depression. The appetite for surf apparel etc. has, more or less, completely dried up after a few decades of rolling good times. Kids in Kansas City don’t want Rip Curl t-shirts anymore. They don’t want to step foot in a PacSun.

The reasons are many and varied. We have a small video presentation on the horizon featuring the wonderful Michael Tomson addressing systemic failure. A major component, though, is that those who don’t surf just don’t care. And while the numbers of actual surfers is growing at a normal-ish rate, it doesn’t grow enough to legitimize massive businesses. And so Quiksilver files for bankruptcy. Then PacSun. Sport Chalet filed yesterday and they carry lots of Hurley, Billabong, etc. Dark-ish days.

And over to the World Surf League. The whole Speaker model is based off non-surfers embracing the action, right? Of non-surfers tuning in because they like the game just like non-baseball players tune in to Major League Baseball or non-football players tune in to the National Football League. Yeah? That’s where his millions upon millions of viewer projections come from. Motherfucking jerseys etc.

CEO Paul Speaker doesn’t surf. You know that, of course, and that is totally fine. The problem, though, is that only surfers consume the product the WSL is peddling. And surfers are the only group they take entirely for granted. I’ve been begging insiders for an interview with CEO Paul Speaker since the inception of your third favorite surf gossip website (BeachGrit). I never hear back and never will hear back even though we are, for better or worse, his market. It would be like NBA commissioner Adam Silver or NFL commissioner Rog Goodell refusing to look at ESPN. Of course we are not ESPN but has Speaker spoken with Surfline, Surfing or Australia’s Surfing Life? No. Because he thinks he has bigger fish to fry. Unfortunately those bigger fish are watching soccer or something.

Ziff money can only take massive losses for five years (I think) before the venture becomes a “hobby” and no longer gets to suck money. Let’s say there are three more years worth of minimal tourist board sponsorship dollars before Ziff tanks the thing. Will we miss it? Will we miss the dream tour?

Unfortunately, and to add to the depression, yes. Or at least I will.

P.S. Mr. WSL CEO Paul Speaker…If you are reading, and I know you are because you definitely have Google Alerts and BeachGrit stories about you account for a full 4/4 of those…I still promise to stop joking about you for one interview. One. Only one. 1. And I won’t even ask about your love of skiing backwards.

Fantasy: “I ride Caio like a steed!”

We are almost 1/3 through the season and how is your fantasy team performing?

We are fast approaching the 1/3 mark of 2016’s World Surf League Championship Tour Season and doesn’t it only seem like four years ago that Snapper first kicked off? Yes, the Australian leg sure did drag its feet at times. Longtom’s assessment was exactly right. Every jot. Every tittle. And now off to Brazil, a country mired in crisis. Social, economic, political, you name the varietal and Brazilians are in the streets gnashing their teeth. Mothers throwing newborn children toward visiting American businessmen and pleading, “Senhor, senhor! Take-a my bebē with-a you to America! Give-a him life!” Fathers weeping openly between sips of caipirinha and samba swivels.

But how is your fantasy team doing? This is the first year I’ve ever played properly, like ever changed my team before events and I am doing very poorly. BeachGrit has a group with 125 souls inside. You can join here, if you are not already a member. 125 and I am 52 making me a little better than average even though all I have to do every day is think about professional surfing.

I had Julian and Italo both on my team for Margaret and they both did good but I also had Kelly and he did dumb. And the heart stays with Jordy even though failure is inevitable. I ride Caio like a steed but his legs buckle before he gets me across the line. Kolohe? Don’t get me started. Don’t even get me fucking started.

And how is a team supposed to be picked? What are your fantasy secrets? Seabass Zietz? Is he your fantasy secret? Well you forward thinking pimp. I’m impressed.

Do you think WSL CEO Paul Speaker plays fantasy surfer? Do you think if you mixed in pictures of the surfers on tour with pictures of players on Leicester City’s football club and showed him asking, “Surfer or Socceroo?” he would guess right even half the time? Less than half?

Mick Fanning

Mick Fanning Leads Adjusted Ratings!

Imagine if the tour ratings reflected average heat totals not heat wins… 

Have you ever wondered what the tour ratings would look like if it was adjusted for a surfer’s average heat total? After all, isn’t that the ultimate measure of a surfer’s entertainment value, his ability to dazzle with consistent high scores, as opposed to his ability to wring heat wins with low totals?

Of course, for all that, you would presume that a surfer’s average heat total would roughly equate to his standing on the ratings. That Matt Wilkinson would be top three-ish, that John John Florence would be well out of the top ten.

A little pen on paper, a few clicks hither and yon, and we discover the wildly divergent nature of average heat totals versus actual heat wins. Mick Fanning rockets from seventeenth to first, Filipe from eighteenth to second.

Sure, there’s the complexity of Filipe having only surfed one contest and Mick only two, but ignore that for a moment and note that John John Florence (third) is almost a full point ahead of current yellow jersey owner Matt Wilkinson (equal thirteenth with Julian Wilson), Gabriel leaves his eighteenth place ghetto for the more salubrious seventh position and Jeremy Flores shoots up 13 places, 23rd to tenth.

Meaningless? A little rainy day mathematic fun? Maybe.

But look at the HTA Top 10 and tell me that ain’t a measure of whose heats you want to watch…


WSL Ratings, adjusted for heat score totals

1. Mick Fanning 15.50

2. Filipe Toledo 15.15

3. John John Florence 14.90

4. Joel Parkinson 14.76

5. Jordy Smith 14.69

6. Sebastian Zietz 14.59

7. Gabriel Medina 14.39

Equal eighth: Kolohe Andino and Nat Young 14.19

10. Jeremy Flores 14.18

Equal eleventh. Wiggoly Dantas and Italo Ferriera 14.16

Equal thirteenth: Matt Wilkinson and Julian Wilson 13.96

14: Adriano De Souza: 13.76

15. Taj Burrow 13.73

16. Conner Coffin 13.58

Equal seventeenth: Ace Buchan and Michel Bourez 13.37

19. Stu Kennedy 13.04

20. Dusty Payne 12.72

21. Caio Ibelli 12.69

22. Adam Melling 12.67

23. Kai Otton 12.36

24. Jadson Andre 12.34

25. Kelly Slater 12.25

26. Matt Banting 12.04

27. Josh Kerr 11.86

28. Davey Cathels 11.81

29. Keanu Asing 11.78

30. Ryan Callinan 11.70

31. Kanoa Igarashi 11.69

32. Miguel Pupo 10.99

Actual WSL ratings

1. Matt Wilkinson

2. Sebastian Zietz

3. Italo Ferreira

4. Kolohe Andino

5. Joel Parkinson

6. Caio Ibelli

Equal seventh: Julian Wilson and Jordy Smith

9. Nat Young

10. Ace Buchan

11. Conner Coffin

12. Stuart Kennedy

Equal thirteenth: Adriano De Souza, Michel Bourez and John John Florence

17. Mick Fanning

Equal eighteenth: Gabriel Medina, Filipe Toledo and Kanoa Igarashi

21. Leonardo Fioravanti

22. Davey Cathels

Equal twenty-third: Jeremy Flores, Davey Cathels, Taj Burrow, Miguel Pupo and Josh Kerr

Equal twenty-eighth: Kelly Slater, Kai Otton, Matt Banting, Jadson Andre, Alejo Muniz, Ryan Callinan, Adam Melling.

35. Dusty Payne

37. Keanu Asing