From the movie, Narcose. | Photo: Les Films Engloutis

Parker: “There’s a wonderland below!”

Come freediving and feel total freedom from the hectic hell of land…

I’ll be the first to admit that competitive freediving is a little odd. Especially at the top levels. Pushing your body to its limit, any mistake could be your last.

Yeah. People don’t really die within the confines of competition. Safety is taken seriously. Canned O2 on the surface, emergency staff, safety divers keeping an eye on everyone.

There’s really only been one death in a sanctioned event. But the Nicolas Mevoli incident was more a cause of an overly driven individual than any failure on the part of event staff. Tragic, but hardly indicative of the sport as a whole.

Recreational freediving, either with a spear or without, tends to take a few people each year. Often very capable people, just half-assed safety protocol one time too many. Easy to do, become a tad complacent, forget that even minor depths are dangerous.

It’s hard to convey the appeal to people who, perhaps rightly, view the whole ordeal as kind of dumb. “Worst sport ever. Just put a gun in your mouth and be done with it,” really isn’t far from the mark. Especially if you’ve never experienced the thrill.

The sounds at depth, it’s hardly quiet. The sensation of a slow freefall through water. Your lungs feel full again as they compress to the size of oranges. Total freedom from the hectic hell of land, too focused on your body, your survival, to care about what’s always waiting up top.

It makes for gorgeous video, if you can combine ability with creative talent. Which is a hell of a challenge.

No one does it better than Les Films Engloutis.

Guillaume Néry and Julie Gautier have been producing stunning work revolving around freediving for years. You’ve probably seen some of it.

Freefall did the viral rounds a year ago.

Ocean Gravity did too.

Narcose was beautiful. Visual poetry that comes damn close to capturing the feeling of euphoria you experience just prior to the lights going out.

Their newest piece, Haven, takes a turn to the sinister. Dark, foreboding, brilliantly edited. This time they focused on the fear, rather than the majesty.

Give them all a watch. Book a freedive course. Learn to hold your breath. Stop being a pussy who plays around on the surface without thinking about the wonderland that lies just beneath you.

Shane Dorian
The excellent short Just Passing Through documents this very wave from so many angles. Can you conceive the feeling of a loss of gravity, like Shane here? Lifted and then dropped on a 25-footer? | Photo: WSL

Movie: Dorian Turns the Juice on Full!

Shane Dorian's 2015-16 big-wave season caught in dazzling movie form!

The Hawaiian surfer Shane Dorian polarises nobody. Who can argue with the rugged way Shane handles himself on land (devoted father, self-sufficient hunter) and the way he wrangles big waves?

Shane’s also a creature wise, and even a little mysterious, in his beliefs.

On marriage he advises, “find out if she is an evil bitch BEFORE you take the plunge!”

On the ethics of hunting, he says, “Everyone automatically thinks I’m Satan cause I kill a deer. My friends will go spear fish and you can put 50 million dead fish on Instagram and no-one will ever say a thing. But, if you put one Bambi on Instagram people lose it. I don’t see the difference between fish and deer.”

On the joy of catching a perfect big wave Shane describes it thus: “It’s like being a super fucking ugly guy and having sex with the hottest super model on the planet. It’s like you pulled off the impossible. Because everything in the universe has to align for you to get this ride that you’ll remember for the rest of your life. And there should only be a handful of these in any surfers’ life, waves that you truly remember. That feeling is rare and elusive as hell. It’s a mix of pure elation and accomplishment.”

Below is a short movie made by his sponsor Reef on Shane’s 2015-2016 big-wave season. What’s interesting, I think, is the emotional hit a man, or gal, gets after fronting these sorts of waves.

“The comedown after such a tremendous event,” says Shane, “is almost like postpartum depression. You have this crazy euphoric moment when it’s happening where you’re on this razor’s edge and you feel like you’ve reached the absolute pinnacle of your life but then…almost in slow motion… it starts to fade as you reach the channel. Even though you just rode the wave of your life and you knew it and felt it while you were riding, it evaporates as you flick off and becomes, immediately, past tense. It’s such an emotional swing! You’re definitely not high forever.”

Piracy: “Ain’t what it used to be!”

Youthful dreams die hard on the Horn of Africa.

The sun isn’t quite up but I am, wading through a world soaked in sticky molasses. How do you deal with jet lag? I usually try and soldier as late as possible into the night, exhausting myself through and through. Sleep is usually fitful but I will do the same thing the following night and the following until eventually falling back into a rhythm. In any case, I am awake now and alone and it is very early. Would you be so kind as to sit with me and permit one more Arab-like ramble into non-surf related topics? Can we speak of piracy?

I loved the idea of Somali pirates from the first minute I touched down on the Horn of Africa many years ago. The same friends who had conquered Yemen and I peered west across the Indian Ocean on certain days in those early 2000s and thought, “Somalia must have amazing surf too. Look at the way she fronts the sea. Look at the way she bends!” We were not well-versed in what makes waves actually work, had gotten dumb lucky in Yemen and figured Somalia would be an uncharted surf utopia as well.

It was not. Maybe it is public knowledge, but the continental shelf that scoots off the Horn is so gradual that it might be possible to wade to India. There were no waves or very bad waves but I took something glorious from that adventure and it was piracy.

This was years before the world knew anything of pitch black men terrorizing shipping lanes with small motorized boats and I felt as if I had stumbled upon a modern day fairy tale. Real life pirates! Could anything be better? Could anything be more romantic?

I followed their stories in the news and cheered them on. When Captain Phillips hit theaters and I went and felt giddy surges when Barhad Abdi fixed Tom Hanks in his beady eyes and said, “Look at me. Look at me. I’m the captain now.” Mr. Hanks is one of my least favorite actors and to see not only a boat, but a scene, wrested from his prolific hands sent me to the moon!

As children do with all fairy tales, though, I eventually lost interest. Real life invaded and consumed my days. True stories of of Graham Stapleberg getting slapped in his own house. Of Dane Reynolds and Craig Anderson both quitting Quiksilver. I soon forgot about Somali pirates all together.

Then came the wonderfully half-baked scheme to free a ketch from war torn Yemen and sail it up the Red Sea. For the first time in years I thought about what my pitch black friends were up too. Yachts were not immune to their net. Many had been seized over the years with many casualties.

And so as our flight touched down in Djibouti I wondered if I would finally get to meet my heroes and if pistols would be enough to greet them or if maybe a bouquet of AK-47s might be more appropriate.

Djibouti, if you did not know, is Somalia too, just one colonized by the French and driving though Djibouti-ville’s center that first night brought me straight back. It is the very definition of a hot mess. A decrepit slow burn. A God forsaken Eden.

We eventually wound up at the Sheraton, a hideous blight, and saddled up to the bar next to camouflaged Germans. Camouflaged Germans? What on earth were they doing here? I asked and the answer, delivered in thickly accented tones, was “Anti-piracy.”

Yes. The Germans have an entire anti-piracy unit billeted at the Sheraton. The Japanese and Spanish have anti-piracy units billeted at the much nicer Kempinski across town. The French and Americans also patrol and the Chinese are building their first African military base with the expressed purpose of combating piracy as well but with much larger ambitions. And the pirates? They are done. There have been zero incidents for over a year. Zero.

This new reality made me very wistful. The little Robin Hoods have been stomped out. Their game pieces on the high seas wiped off the board. Romantic piracy is now, officially, a relic replaced by an ugly east African land grab led by the yellow bastards. But I won’t bore you any more today with modern colonization and thank you for keeping me company.

Justin Cameron and Lex Pedersen, founders of SurfStitch, the online retailer that scooped up FCS, Stab, among other enterprises. Now this gorgeous coupling has split. Is good? Is bad?

Just in: SurfStitch Shares Collapse!

Online surf retailer's stock hits record low… 

What are your math skills like? Mine are crummier than yours, I’m guessing, but even these rheumy eyes can deduce that SurfStitch’s share price ain’t what it used to be.

Forty eight cents apiece just then after a second profit warning, down from over a buck a week or so ago and from a high of $2.09 in November last year.

This morning, The Australian newspaper reported,

“Shares in SurfStitch collapsed by more than 50 per cent this morning as investors fled from the online retailer after it issued its second profit warning this year. SurfStitch this morning had plummeted 52 cents, or 50.24 per cent, to a new record low of 51.5c on its shock profit warning as trading conditions across its key markets deteriorated.

“Pre-tax profits are now expected to slump by as much as 75 per cent in 2016.

“And the highly anticipated takeover bid from the former chief executive Mr Cameron, who quit suddenly to join forces with an unnamed private equity firm in March, is yet to materialise, with SurfStitch also announcing in a trading update that it had received to date no communication from its former boss or any private equity group.

“Meanwhile, the loss of the SurfStitch founder and a downturn in trading conditions will leave its mark on the online surfing and sports apparel retailer.

“The management turmoil at SurfStitch has impacted the company’s ability to implement its transformation program and integration of the companies acquired over the last 12 months, SurfStitch warned this morning, which combined has constricted the earnings benefits that were expected to be booked in the second half from its acquisition spree.

“SurfStitch co-founder and joint chief executive Lex Pederson said testing of the businesses it had scooped up in the last year had revealed the integration of the businesses had not been as fast as first hoped, with a downturn in trading also to hit the bottom line.

“These businesses present exciting content and advertising opportunities which will underpin our long term competitive advantage, but the benefits will not flow through into our results until 2017 and beyond,’’ Mr Pederson said.

“The scaled back earnings guidance of $2m to $3m is against an original forecast of EBITDA of between $15m and $18m.”

Is SurfStitch, the online retailer that owns FCS, Swell, Magicseaweed and Stab, a bargain at a little under fifty cents or is 15 cents the likely figure when recently departed co-founder Justin Cameron will step back into the game and buy back the company?

Further reading: Blood Feud! SurfStitch vs SurfStitch! 


William Trubridge
William Trubridge is a maniac. Among the best freedivers in the world. Today Trubridge broke his own record in free immersion, hitting 124 meters (406.8 feet for those of us who can't think in metric) during the Vertical Blue comp at Dean's Blue Hole in the Bahamas. Nuts!

Just in: Man Dives 400 feet!

What an amazing and beautiful vehicle the human body is!

Free immersion is a strange freedive discipline. Pulling yourself down, then up, a rope to depth. More or less pointless, but inexplicably fun.

Easier to hit depth than swimming down. Upper body has smaller muscles, less oxygen gets burnt. The way back to safety is a series of grab-and-yanks, each tug propelling you further as you escape pressure and buoyancy tugs you upwards.

William Trubridge is a maniac. Among the best freedivers in the world. Arguably the best, since Herbert Nitsch’s accident during a no limits dive in 2012. Trubridge is a zero body fat, yoga maniac, aquatic animal.

Today Trubridge broke his own record in free immersion, hitting 124 meters (406.8 feet for those of us who can’t think in metric) during the Vertical Blue comp at Dean’s Blue Hole in the Bahamas.

Absolutely nuts.

There’s no video out, yet. But he went 122 meters down and back a few days ago during the same comp and they put out a nicely edited clip of it.

Lung packing on the surface, POV shots from safety divers. Utter relaxation as he goes limp and freefalls. Surrounding darkness while he grabs the tag and turns around at the bottom. The beginning of motor control loss as he nears the surface, his brain struggling to work its way through safety protocol once he’s made it. Powerful stuff.

Amazing what our bodies can do, given enough effort, drive, and dedication.