Heartfelt: Refugees learn to surf!

The anti-depressive refugee story you've been waiting for!

The world’s refugee crisis is staggering. Opinions fly from both left and right about what should be done, how to stem the flow, where the souls should go and what they should do. Political ideology aside, though, it is all very sad. Very, very sad.

But this is BeachGrit and you come to be anti-depressed so guess what? Here is an anti-depressive refugee story! The Associated Press ran a piece this morning about how asylum seekers are learning to surf in Bondi, Australia. Many refugee journeys involve the ocean and not in a good way. Cramped rotten boats get tossed this way and that way by unforgiving waves. Death, fear, sadness etc.

Kind Australians teach them that the ocean is fun and they can enjoy it just like Filipe Toledo once did. Bon appétit.

They gather under the blazing sun and blue skies of an Australian beach, looking out at the water that once symbolized so much misery: Terrifying boat trips marked by sickness and death and the constant dread that their own lives might be nearing the end. But today, the sea will become their unlikely savior.

For these five asylum-seekers, a novel program introducing them to the iconic Aussie sport of surfing is helping to transform both their feelings toward the ocean and their lives and allowing them, at least for a brief time, to forget the pains of the past.

“We know that getting into the ocean and surfing makes everybody feel good,” says Brenda Miley, surf school director at Let’s Go Surfing, which is providing the lessons. “… I just think it’s a win-win because it helps build confidence, they learn some skills, they learn about being a local Aussie.”

There is a rush of nervous laughter and chitchat as the men file into the Let’s Go shop at Sydney’s famed surf haven, Bondi Beach. Inside, instructors Conrad Pattinson and Will Bigelow demonstrate how to put on wetsuits.

Amin, an asylum-seeker from Iran, flexes his muscles under the neoprene and chuckles. He has been urging his fellow Surfing Without Borders buddies along all morning, eager to get on a surfboard for the first time. But he admits his excitement is tinged with anxiety.

Like the tens of thousands of asylum-seekers who have fled to Australia in recent years, Amin’s trip involved a harrowing ocean crossing that began in Indonesia, where smugglers pack migrants into rickety boats that frequently break down or capsize. Those who survive the journey are often scarred by it.

 Amin’s memories of that trip and the relentless seasickness that came with it are dark. Today, though, he hopes to forget all that.

Down on the beach, Pattinson and Bigelow give the men a pep talk. They explain how the current works and the different parts of the surfboard.

“We’re going to make a plan to keep it safe and get heaps and heaps of waves,” Bigelow says.

Amin eyes the turquoise water, where the swells are gaining strength. He asks how far out they will go. “Not deep,” Bigelow assures him.

The students practice standing on the boards from the safety of the sand. Pattinson warns them that if they don’t use proper form, they’ll lose their balance and “do a helicopter.” At this, he circles his arms wildly. The men crack up.

Finally, it is time to hit the water. The men slide onto their boards and paddle toward a sandbar where the waves are breaking. There, the instructors help maneuver the students’ boards into the proper position. And when Amin is ready, Pattinson pushes him forward onto his first wave.

Amin presses himself up with his hands, pops into a brief, unsteady crouch and…


“Fell down, no good!” he says. Undeterred, he wipes his face, grabs his board and paddles back out.

One by one, the men make their first shaky attempts as Pattinson and Bigelow whistle and cheer. Flanked by other student surfers, they are largely indistinguishable from the rest of the rookies: Their hips wobble, their arms “do the helicopter,” they occasionally collide, and they belly flop more than they stand. But more than anyone else in the water, they laugh.

This kind of joy is exactly what the staff at Settlement Services International hoped to achieve when they launched the surf program last year. They knew their clients were grappling not only with the trauma associated with their boat journeys and the wars and persecution they had fled, but also with the anxiety of settling into a new country.


Jamie Brisick
The writer Jamie Brisick stars in his GoPro-equipped ode to his dead lover Gisela.

Brisick: “The Dazzling Blackness!”

Jamie Brisick's ode to a dead lover… 

(Editor’s note: The American writer Jamie Brisick lost his Brazilian wife Gisela in a traffic accident three years ago. One year after her death, he wrote The Dazzling Blackness, reprinted below, and, recently, made a short film Rhymes with Shove, “an allegory of lost love” which you can watch at the bottom of the page.)

On the morning of April 1, 2013 I woke to a text message from a friend in Rio telling me to call her “now.” I was in New York. I dialed her number. In hysterics, in guttural whimpers I’ll never ever forget, she told me that my wife had died—“She’s gone, Jamie! Gisela died! She’s gone!” Through her sobs, I could just make out that that my wife had been in an accident on her bicycle, hit by a bus on the street in Leblon.

A pain—more than a pain, a seizure, a paroxysm of breathlessness—gushed up from deep inside me. I fell out of bed and writhed on the floor. I wrapped my body around a pillow and, sobbing uncontrollably, pretended it was Gisela. I got up and lurched into the foyer of our apartment. Standing in the corner was a dress form I’d gotten her for Christmas a couple years back. It was clothed in her checked Uniqlo skirt and her powder blue corduroy blazer. I wrapped my arms around it, wrestled it to the floor, and hugged it tightly, hoping it might suddenly come to life as Gisela, the whole thing a bad dream.

So began the most difficult year of my life.

For the first week I was afraid to drink. The sorrow and grief felt like an undertow. I figured one sip might lead to several bottles. I was in shock. The world was a new and unfamiliar place. I did not want to be here. I wasn’t exactly suicidal, but there was no fight left in me. Live? Die? Flip a coin.

I signed up with a good therapist, read several books about grief/loss/depression, added 900mg of St John’s Wort to my day, ate reasonably well, exercised a lot, slept as best I could. None of it seemed to help. I felt hopeless. I didn’t care.

A month or two in I started drinking. Not a whole lot, but, say, ¾ to a full bottle of wine per night, drunk slowly, usually while writing. It wasn’t the quantity I was worried about, it was the vicious circle. I was depressed, I drank alone to quell the depression, I cried constantly, so bad I’d get a new kind of headache, a very specific “crying headache.” I’d wake in the morning with a wine/tears hangover, anxious to get through the day so I could crack the next bottle and start it all over again.

Then there was the sex part. I’d read that it in the throes of grief it’s not uncommon to feel heightened sex drive. I experienced this in a ravenous, painful way. My sad nights consisted of wine, masturbation, self-pity. I just wanted to escape the living hell that I found myself in.

And that’s how most of my 2013 went: going through the motions, a sorrow beyond anything I ever could have conceived of.

There was a push-pull. On the one hand I wanted the pain to let up. On the other, in the depths of my pain, Gisela was most vivid. If someone had said, “I can wave my magic wand and fast-forward you a couple years into the future, the rough days behind you, but of course that means you and Gisela will be further away from each other,” I’d have said without question, “No thanks.”

Typically when life gets challenging we counter with grit, we roll up our sleeves and work harder, we push back. Grief is passive. It’s a ride on which you have no control.

And on some level I took the whole thing personally. It felt as if God had set out to explicitly fuck me. If I’d have run into him on the street, I’d have walked straight up to him, hawked up bile from the depths of my broken innards, and spat it right in his face.

* * * * *

Gisela and I met in New York City in 2001. She was from Sao Paulo; I was from Los Angeles. I felt something unstoppable from the moment I met her. For her it took a while longer. We spent Carnaval 2002 together in Venice, went to Milano and Rome, fell in love. We moved to New York. Married in 2004. We made a wonderful life together, traveled all over, worked hard. She directed TV programs and documentaries; I wrote stories for magazines, books. At the center of our relationship was a giant curiosity and love for the world. We taught each other about loyalty and intimacy, how to share space. “We’re going to grow old together,” she used to say. I’ve never felt closer to another person.

Ten months before she died I went into some sort of mid-life crisis. It’s too long and complicated to get into here, but the upshot was that we were not together at the time of her passing. There was so much we had to work out. So much we were working out.

* * * * *

Here’s where grief posed the biggest challenge: For most of my life I have prided myself on living in the moment. I travel. I surf. I practice yoga. I meet new people. But the looping narrative that played in my head was the antitheses of that. I was stuck on the idea that I’d been wronged, that the world was a terrible place. And to challenge that ten times further still: I did not want to get out of it. I felt I’d earned the right to be negative, to play the victim.

In February of this year I went to Australia for two months. The new surroundings did me all kinds of good. I wrote, surfed, heard a faint voice in my head that said, Hang on, have faith, life will get better, Gisela would want to see you happy. I started caring again.

One night I was telling a good friend about all I’d been through. “There was so much unfinished business between Gisela and me,” I said. “And now all I have left is this one-way conversation with the sky.”

A light seemed to switch on in her face. “Have you ever tried meditating?” she asked, and proceeded to tell me about the couple of bad breakups she’d been through, her bout with depression, the meditation course she’d done and how it helped give her new insights into her life, how she was able to be more detached, more centered, less ragdolling through emotions.

A couple days later another close friend suggested meditation. I took it as a sign.

In March I took a three-day Vedic Meditation workshop. I’d tried to meditate in the past, but never felt like I was doing it right. I had “monkey mind,” i.e., endless chatter. The workshop taught me that this is okay, that it’s a matter of simply observing our thoughts, accepting them, then gently, lovingly directing toward quiet. There’s no real right or wrong; it’s more just the inner gaze that counts, that and doing it everyday.

For me, grief has highlighted our human need for escape—through sex, drugs, sport, TV, movies, music, et al. Meditation accesses something similar, a place where time skips, where we forget ourselves. I’ve been meditating pretty much everyday for the last month. It’s definitely helped. The sublime moments are far and few between, but with practice they seem to be happening more frequently, and lasting longer. That’s enough for me to keep at it.

fake cancer scam
Maybe you, like me, kinda dug the theatre of the scamming, the heart-melting stories. It cost me fifty bucks but I believe, money well spent.

Surf Writer’s Fake Cancer Scam!

BeachGrit bamboozled in theatrical fake cancer stunt!

Well, this is embarrassing. Very embarassing. Like one of those dreams where you’re back in seventh grade and you’re butt naked and all the kids are calling you “shrimp dick.” Only you’re not gonna wake up and feel a terrible sense of relief, because it’s not a fucking dream.

Remember Michael Kocher, the guy wrote a few pieces for your beloved BG somewhere around a year ago?

He talked about being a marine, quitting surfing to sell heroin and his struggle with terminal cancer. 

We linked to his GoFundMe account and some of you donated cash to help him with bills. I didn’t, couldn’t see the point of helping a dying man avoid debt. Hardly a problem, is it?

So, anyway, yeah, it was all bullshit.

Kocher is a cunning junkie, used everyone’s inherent decency to play the “I’m dying” card, and soaked people for some cash he could spend on his habit.

I called Kocher, currently hiding out in a hotel somewhere in Colorado, to ask him just exactly what the fuck he was thinking. Fun conversation, for all his supposed contrition it was just more narcissistic bobbing and weaving. Always trying to deflect blame, reframe the narrative.

You can listen to the half hour plus of audio HERE (The first few minutes of audio are kind of garbled, but it clears up.)

As far as BeachGrit’s culpability in the whole affair, man, I don’t even know what to say. We helped him spread his bullshit, he linked to our site on his GoFundMe page. I always suspected he was lying, didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to be the guy who calls a cancer patient a liar. But I should have. When his stories didn’t add up. When I had a million reasons to doubt his line, I kept quiet. And in doing so became party to his scam.

Which is what bothers me most about the affair. I rarely hesitate to call people out, but I didn’t this time because it might’ve made me look bad. Which was a fucking pussy move. One of which I’m a bit ashamed. Not in a rend-my-clothes-and-slit-my-wrists-way, but it’s a hard lesson learned.

As far as everyone else, people who donated, don’t feel bad. Being compassionate, wanting to help a person in need, that’s a good thing. Sure, there are predators out there who will take advantage, but not many. Which is what makes it so easy for them.

Seriously, who the fuck lies about having cancer?

Look closely behind the winner. Do you see the cute little Airbnb tile between Jeep and GoPro?
Look closely behind the winner. Do you see the cute little Airbnb tile between Jeep and GoPro?

Exclusive: WSL unveils new sponsor!

The WSL and Airbnb ink a monster deal!


Or maybe not $$$$. Maybe just a unique travel experience at a market driven price point. That’s right the World Surf League is proud to announce its partnership with Airbnb! Of course, the partnership was never announced anywhere except on the step-and-repeat behind the Bells winners but still. $$$$! I mean Zzzz!

And what do you think WSL CEO Paul Speaker received from this new union? Do you think Ronnie, Joe, Ross, Pottz, Raspberry and The Condor joined the millions of guests in Airbnb’s trusted community? Do you think they shared the bed in a hippie home?

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Or maybe did some twilight glamping along the Great Ocean Road?

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What about a beautiful room in oceanside Jan Juc just a few minutes drive from the event site? The host asks for only two but the boys work in shifts so maybe they sleep in shifts as well?

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Whatever the situation do you think they got their deposit back? Do you think they were given a five star rating and do you think they gave one in return?

It’ll be exciting to see if Airbnb is only a one event sponsor or if they are so thrilled by the partnership that the boys will also rent in Margaret River? If yes, this zen yoga house looks very cute and the masseuse/yogi looks cute too!

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It’s only $189 a night and those are savings the WSL can put straight back into jersey manufacturing. Wins all around!

Holy Hell: FCS is now 13/13!

FCS, the greatest story in sporting history, rolls on!

Can you believe it? Can you really believe it? Can you believe that a removable fin company is on such a heater? Stop what you are doing right now, please, and dig into your memory bank. Have you ever even heard of such complete and utter domination in modern sporting history? 13/13! Thirteen victories in a row!

Remember when Stab (2004-2016) reported:

Here’s a thing you probably didn’t know: In 2015, every Men’s WSL World Tour event was won by a surfer riding a set of FCS fins. Eleven events, 11 wins on FCS rudders, starting with Filipe Toledo on the Gold Coast almost a year ago, and ending with Adriano De Souza at the Pipe Masters (a fact that wouldn’t have changed even if Gabs had won Pipe, since he rides FCS too).

And then Matt Wilkinson won on the Gold Coast to make an almost unheard of 12/12. And then he won again just yesterday, slashing and carving and hacking his way to victory in thick Bells to make a truly unprecedented 13/13. It must be assumed that the fins he used are in a titanium briefcase right now, handcuffed to a burly man in a dark suit, being flown to the Smithsonian museum in Washington D.C. for display. It must be assumed that lines will stretch around the block when the public is finally allowed to gaze upon them.

I mean, can you fully appreciate the weight of this moment? That we are witnessing something our children’s children’s children will someday read about? It came close to ending yesterday, you know. Jordy Smith rides Futures and there he was in the final so close. I found myself weeping in the middle of that last heat even though Wilko had Jordy in a combination situation. The stress overwhelmed me completely.

My heart soars today, though, like yours. FCS! 13/13! Let’s watch Kolohe take them out of his board! Let’s watch it all day long!