Leo Fioravanti Stephen Bell
Leo and step-daddy Belly. The thing about Belly is he instinctively knows what's…right… and I think there lies the essence of his brilliance. | Photo: WSL

Interview: Belly on Leo/Kelly!

Kelly's agonising form, Leo's ascent and "massive generational change."

The fifty-something Stephen “Belly” Bell, best friend to Kelly, step-daddy to Leo, also owns a piece of my heart. For the two years I lived in Hossegor, through the grey cloak of the long winters and the saturated golds of the too-short summers, he was kinder than he ever needed to be.

Maybe it was our mutual love of titties, short trips to Spain and whistling sand-bottom tubes that clapped like thunder across the town’s sandbanks, but it felt real.

Belly moved from Victoria to France in the mid-nineteen eighties and set up a glassing shop called Euroglass. He had the contract to build all the Quiksilver boards for Europe which, in the honey surf industry days at the turn of the century, meant everyone was coming to Belly for boards, Kelly Slater and the sixties icon Miki Dora included.

Because he was Australian, and more Australian than anyone I’d ever met (although fluent in French), Belly was the hub around which that country’s surfers revolved during the European leg of the tour.

Once Belly asked me to affix a tail-pad onto a board that was bound for Quicksilver’s flagship store in Paris. It was, ostensibly, an ex-Slater board, but it wasn’t. I put the K-Grip pad on a crooked angle and while it would’ve been justified for him to be agitated and cruel, a hard kidney punch at least, he gave me a fatherly smile and said, “you fucking idiot.”

“Loved by all” is a hoary old phrase to throw around, but it really is true.

Stephen Bell, a little man with a bald head and baggy pants, is all heart, no ego.

Did you know he also rips?

This morning, the World Surf League posted an interview with Belly on their website, covering such topics as Kelly’s agonising form, Leo’s sparkle, and how he came to be the boo of Leo’s mama.


On his pro surfers losing:

Kelly’s in a bit of that situation at the moment. And we’ve spent long periods of time talking about it. We were at the same house in Margaret River when Kelly lost, and he spent the next day with Leo giving him his wisdom. And that was one way of dealing with his own frustrations. I wouldn’t go past frustration, period, to describe it.

He won the Pipe contest at the start of the year, and came in fifth at the Eddie Aikau. I said, ‘Hang on a minute. Just because you’ve had three tough events, you’re the greatest surfer on the planet.’ I think he realizes, it’s a frustration point, he didn’t get good waves, versus ‘Oh my god, it’s the end of the world.’

But for the kids, it can be like that. And the QS is worse — to get to those stages, and come so close to qualifying. It’s like having my surfboard business two week away from bankruptcy.

On what separates winners from losers:

That’s a matter of how badly you want something. I will not be beaten and I’m going to do whatever morally correct thing it takes to get me there, and I’ll be smart about it. That goes with every facet of life. With my staff at the surfboard factory, I say if you want something, go and do it.

I say the same thing to the younger team riders. There’s a rider I invited to Hawaii. He said, ‘I don’t have the money.’ I said, ‘I’ll give you a free house and food, all you have to do is get a ticket. Go out, work two jobs — you get what you want in life.’ Talent comes in many forms, and I’ve seen much less talented surfers make it further competitively than more talented surfers who don’t have that drive or resourcefulness.

On generational change: 

We’re right in the crisis now of a massive generation change. From 2004 to 2011, you had your quarterfinals with Andy Irons, Kelly Slater, Joel Parkinson, Mick Fanning, Taj Burrow. You’d have — pardon my French — kids shitting themselves, scared shitless of being there. And the other guys would eat them alive.

And then those five guys have pretty much retired, or just about on the edge. And with the Matt Wilkinson and others, they’re not afraid to win anymore. 

Read more here! 

Parker: “I love Confrontation!”

I actively seek it out. I love the thrill of a battle of wills.

I might find too much joy in confrontation. Actively seek it out. Love the thrill of a battle of wills.

Returned a busted laptop to Costco yesterday. It was a bottom of the line HP hunk of shit. Dropped $350 on it, didn’t expect it to last long at that price. Ordered a decent Asus to replace it last week. But it’s gotta go to LA first, thanks to restrictions on shipping lithium batteries to Hawaii.

Safety concerns or something. Amazon won’t send it to me, so it heads to my dad first. In-laws are bringing it out in a few weeks because I’m a cheap bastard. Care more about my money than their convenience.

Planned to make do with my hunk of shit ’til then. No big deal. Word processor, torrents, and porn delivery’s all I need. Thing worked fine for that.

So stoked when a hinge exploded. Two year extended warranty on laptops. Just had to call up the concierge service, email them some pics. Spend an hour on the phone talking the guy into approving a replacement, rather than repair. I need my computer, buddy. Can’t go without for a few weeks. C’mon, be a pal. Hook me up.

Sure thing! Just head down to the warehouse. I’ve approved a refund or replacement. It’s at the manager’s discretion.

Right on. New computer. I ain’t leaving without an upgrade.

Wife came with. Thought I’d end up in cuffs after making a scene. Not unlikely. There was an incident at Best Buy many years ago. But I’ve learned a lot since then. Don’t yell. Don’t threaten. Keep your volume low. Be the river. Slow, sure, obstinate. Wear them down, bit by bit.

Might’ve picked up the ability through surfing. Head down against a current. Slow progress until you’re where you want to be. Battle out through beach break bombs. Just grind and grind and grind.

Gotta fight my way past the returns lady. Sorry, I can only provide a refund.

I don’t want a refund, I want a new computer. Can I speak to your manager.

Sorry, I don’t have the authority to provide a replacement. Only the general manager does.

Can I speak to the general manager?

I’d won already. Head honcho’s a busy guy. Got better things to do than argue with me for hours. But I’ve got nowhere to be.

I can’t do it. The closest comparable laptop is $300 more than what you paid.


I can’t give upgrades on returns.

Why not?

I just can’t.



You won’t. You say can’t, but you mean won’t. You could comp me the difference, but you won’t.

It isn’t policy.

You’re in charge. You make the policy.

I can’t do it. Every person…

Won’t. You won’t.

…Every person with a return wants more. I can’t do it for everyone.

I’m not asking you to do it for everyone. Just for me. Right now.

Back and forth. Back and forth. Forever and ever.

I love watching a man crack. So long as I don’t raise my voice, don’t insult him, he’s my captive. Can’t tell me to fuck off. Can’t have security escort me out. But he wants to, so bad. In his position I’d’ve lost it long ago. Which is why I’ve been fired from multiple retail jobs.

Look, I’ll give it to you for four hundred. You pay the difference plus tax.

No. I want a replacement. I know you can do it. Why are you making this so difficult?

He was so angry!

Left two hours after I’d arrived with a spring in my step, a smile on my face, and a box under my arm. What a victory!

Wife said good job. She enjoyed the show.

But I would have just paid the difference.


My time’s worth more than that. I need to get to work.

Hadn’t considered that. She’s a good lawyer. Her rate’s astronomical. By Kauai standards.

But my time’s worthless. And the experience was priceless.

And the warranty reset, so they’ll be seeing me again in a year or so.

Curse: The dreaded white man!

He is a lead weight on the developing world!

I am still in Mexico and I don’t write this to boast nor to apologize for my laughably poor effort over the last few days. I write it only as a fact and also a preface. The waves, you see, are small fronting the quaint mainland beachside hamlet giving me much time to wander, swim, drink and people watch and I see too many of one sort of person. The mid-30s dreadlocked white man and his traveling companion.

The mid-30s dreadlocked white man is, in my estimation, next to corruption, silly tariffs, high unemployment and aging infrastructure, the biggest drag on developing economies. You know the one. He made a little bit in America, Australia or western Europe plying some trade then went on vacation to Mexico, Indonesia, India and realized that he could live twice the life for half the money. He quits the west and moves, full time, to his new developing homeland living poorer and poorer each passing month. Eventually he turns a uniform brown, from skin to tattered Billabong boardshort to hemp necklace, with toes spread wide from never wearing shoes. He sits in the town square selling some version of hemp necklace and gathering around him, like a mother hen, various hostelers.

He feels he is living like a brown dreadlocked king without a care in the world. He feels he has gamed the system but really he is a lead weight and if I were a benevolent dictator/corrupt public official of Mexico/Indonesia/India I should have the dreadlocked white man shipped home, COD, via rickety bus.

Matt Biolos
"There's no fucking doubt in my mind that the ultra-light, white, high-performance, fall-apart, minimalist pro surfer board was and always will be the highest form of surfboard manufacturing," says Matt Biolos, Lost Surfboards shaper, owner. | Photo: Mick Curley/Lost Indonesia

Biolos: The Pro Board Is Everything!

"Anyone can fucking make a bat-wing-quad-swallow-tail wood keel…"

Yesterday afternoon, I was seated at a cafe specialising in splendid organic dishes on Bali’s Bukit peninsula. I generally prefer a Spanish paella to modern fusion, but the beggar cannot be the chooser as they say, particularly in these parts.

Across the small wooden table was the surfboard shaper Matt Biolos. He is a great character whom I’ve written about many times and who, earlier, had ridden a six-eight channel with tenderness and freedom in six-foot waves. (In contrast, my campaign, on a five-nine, was comedic.)

Shortly after being served, he leant over the organic avocado-and-quinoa burrito filling my plate and swiped my 2013 issue of What Youth (#4, Creed McTaggart cover).

“I’ve got a story in this,” he said.

The story, actually too short to be a story if we’re to be frank, more like a three-paragraph muse, was a riff on why the pro surfer board is…everything… to a shaper.

I enjoyed the piece so much I asked Matt to reprise and expand on the idea.

“The high-performance surfboard is the most elevated form of the craft,” Matt says. “There’s no fucking doubt in my mind that the ultra-light, white, high-performance, fall-apart, minimalist pro surfer board was and always will be the highest form of surfboard manufacturing. Why? Because of the scrutiny and the detail needed to please the most discerning customer that can possibly ride a surfboard. And that’s a pro athlete.”

To the trend for resin-tint cutie pie sleds he says, “Anyone can fucking make a resin tint. And anyone can make a bat-wing-quad-swallow-tail wood keel. Spend some time and do it. It’s bitchin’. (But) it’s a hobby.”

Listen to the seven-minute audio interview here.

How to: Become a degenerate!

You already have one bad habit (surfing). Why not develop another?

Many people fall into bad habits and practice them absentmindedly with neither passion nor flair. They smoke, for example, and are sitting in a restaurant feeling vaguely satisfied but vaguely uneasy and so they get up from the table and step outside and light a cigarette. No great pleasure comes to them, only a slight uptick in overall well-being because they did not choose this habit. This habit chose them. Maybe they were young children and their parents smoked and they emulated. Maybe they were in school and saw posters of James Dean and emulated. Maybe they were post-college and in da club and watched boom-chick-boom-chick-boom-chick smoke and emulated. Whichever the case, they all begin with emulation and end with chemical dependence. They do once, twice, three times and then Lady Nicotine reaches her yellow stained fingers into the ventral tegmentum and the result is as reptilian as it is bland.

Passion and flair require choice. They require the practioner to think about what bad habit he or she would like to develop and then set about actively changing their very brain chemistry by do do doing that thing over and over. And the best kind of bad habit? A gambling habit.

My cousin was once an honorable man. He served in the military. He went to medical school and became a nurse. And then he started gambling. One thing led to another led to another led to him stealing chips from a table, to feed his bad habit, and going to jail. When he got out he started robbing banks to feed his bad habit and robbed 27 banks before getting caught. When he got out again he promptly disappeared. I think he may be in Kathmandu but cannot be sure. In any case, living on the lam in Kathmandu as an ex-bank robber is very much better than being a nurse. Here’s how to develop your own habit:

Go to fabulous Las Vegas: If you learned anything from the previous column, how to live in the desert, you know that Las Vegas is the best part of the desert and this is because gambling. Gambling built luxurious hotels with fine thread-counted sheets. Gambling brings James Beard award winning chefs du cuisine and even Michelin starred ones to chic restaurants. Gambling. And so find your game. Play the roulette. Play black jack. Play craps. But end in the poker room. Poker is the only game to really get addicted to. It is too difficult to win or lose massive amounts of money at once in the other games. Also poker feels like a skill whereas roulette, black jack and craps all feel like luck. It is really all luck but who cares. Poker. But also thread count and James Beard.

Go back to Las Vegas but less fabulous: Cancel all trips that don’t involve Las Vegas or maybe Reno or Atlantic City. Spend more time in the smoky back rooms and less time in the thread count or with James Beard. Find the casinos that specialize in that game. They will not be the glitzy ones. They will be the obscure ones, away from the strip, and you will be shoulder to shoulder with pockmark face’d white men wearing trucker hats and double chins and picking $5 t-bone steaks from between their crooked teeth with small twigs. The external pleasures of beauty, comfort, fun are beginning to fade. The bad habit is beginning to form.

Don’t go back to Las Vegas or anywhere else: Find your local Indian casino, the one nearest your home, and settle down. The back rooms will be even smokier and the company less pleasant. You will now be shoulder to shoulder with wide Chinese men featuring dead faces and slacks from Hong Kong. Their breath will be so bad that if health workers could enter (they can’t because the casino is considered sovereign because it is Indian) the building would be condemned. The whole situation will be, in fact, so repugnant that lesser souls would vomit simply by entering where you spend six to seven hours each night ecstatically. Your eyes, burning red, see only one thing. Royal flush.

Go to jail: Except you usually do not see “royal flush” you see various shades of “bust” and your money dwindles and you devise a plan to get more money so you can continue to play. The bad habit is now fully set and wonderful. At first you gamble to get more money so you can gamble but then that somehow doesn’t work and so you steal a car. You, however, are not a car thief, you are a gambler, and so the police quickly find you and lock you up. After getting out you have even less money and so you gamble but then steal diamonds because they are smaller than cars and easier to conceal but, again, you are not a jewel thief, you are a gambler and so the police find you once again and once again lock you up.

Go to Kathmandu: Because there must be fantastic poker in Kathmandu or because you are trying to shake your bad habit in a place that has no poker and only slacks from Hong Kong. In any case, you are car thief jewel thief degenerate living near the roof of the world and isn’t that better than what you are right now?