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.

Opinion: Shark researchers suck!

But what a career!

Playing puppetmaster to the most feared creature in the world… what’s not to love about being a shark researcher?

You get to go out on boats, marvel in the majesty of nature, lure giant beasts into your trap, sew sophisticated little beepers into their guts and then, in a gesture of environmental magnanimity unprecedented in human history, let them go.

Later, back at the lab, you can sit there with your feet on the desk, watching as your pets swim from one surf beach to the next, reassuring yourself that human casualties from your little lovelies are statistically insignificant, especially to the majority of people who don’t even go in the ocean.

And it’s those masses of people, you know, who are lathering your fresh sourdough in Echire. As long as you maintain the rage against “human intervention” in the environment, and never miss an opportunity to emphasise the urgency for more research, your career is guaranteed.

And what a career!

You can condescendingly dismiss people who, in their ignorance, are stupid enough to fear being eaten alive! You will be revered by misanthropes who believe every species on Earth is better, more virtuous and wonderful than humans! Politicians will throw money at your proposals, secure in the knowledge that green money is well spent!

Never mind that your tagging operations are in fact a form of “human intervention” that has dubious results. Environmentalists are never bothered by facts, as long as they dig the vibe of what you’re doing.

And try not to dwell too long on those tags that disappear as soon as they are attached to a shark. Like refugees drowning on their way to Australia, these are the unseen, and therefore acceptable, costs of being seen to care.

Those wonderful, majestic, powerful, awesome sharks that swam away, never to be heard from again. Did they die?

Were they deprived of food because their prey were forewarned of their presence by the very tag you attached?

Did the tag cause them irritation and infection, and possibly kill them?

Best not to think too much about that. But even if those outcomes are correct, that you did contribute to the death of your beloved apex predators, then surely they died knowing that your research was helping them survive.

For more on Australia’s extensive, expensive and mostly futile shark tagging programs, click here…

Sana'a, Yemen and random Saudi death from above.
Sana'a, Yemen and random Saudi death from above.

Travel: “Saudi Arabia is a total shit-bag!”

I'm back from the Middle East with a head screwed on all wrong!

Reality veers sharply to the left, in Islamic lands and I forgot how much I love that. It has been two weeks since I’ve flipped open a computer or typed a word. Two weeks since checking the surf or surf gossip or responding to emails. Two glorious weeks.

I set off, if you recall, to free a boat from civil war torn Yemen and sail her up the Red Sea with two of my best friends. Thirteen years earlier, the three of us explored the coast of Yemen, from one end to the other. I had been back multiple times since, motorcycling one end to the other, driving a gorgeously beat Land Rover one end to the other, driving a clunky Land Cruiser one end to the other. These days, though, one cannot even fly one end to the other. Planes veer sharply to the left, following the new reality, upon leaving Oman and circle as far as they can off the coast before jerking back to their proper heading over Africa. Al-Qaeda, who have taken over the eastern half of the country, have ground-to-air missiles apparently and have them aimed at passengers in the skies.

The plane I was on, anyhow, landed first in Ethiopia and then Djibouti, at the mouth of the Red Sea and the adventure began. I had only a vague notion of Yemen’s civil war in full swing just 90 miles across the Bab al Mandab. I knew a tribe in the north had taken the country’s inland capital, Sana’a, which invoked a wild response from Saudi Arabia. They invaded and bombed with feckless abandon. Like commercial aircraft, Saudi pilots fear the missile so loose payloads very high in the sky. Much too high to accurately target, thus thousands of women and children have been killed. In the south, it is open revolt and Al-Qaeda owns the east.

And the water? It belongs to the Saudis too. They have used their navy to stop arms, food, etc. from reaching the tribes, Al-Qaeda, whomever. Did you know that the Saudi’s spend the third most on their military in the entire world? The United States, first, China, second, Saudi Arabia, third. 87 billion dollars a year. Almost twice the per capita spending of the US, by far more and away the most in the world. Completely and utterly crazy.

A version of garbage Islam that tells them because they are male they are superior and because they are Saudi they are superior and because they are rich they are loved by Allah. Little powdered sugar pieces of shit. And these are the fools running the country today.

Saudi is a total shit bag, in case you were wondering. A human slough. When I used to spend my time in the region I remember seeing Saudis and their goddamn boys and the boys were almost always eating powdered sugar donuts. Powdered sugar dusted their fat cheeks and their fat white man dresses and their black wedge sandals and it would have been impossible to draw up a more reprehensible human being. Those fat powdered sugar boys had entitled sissy ass shit bred directly into their genes. A version of garbage Islam that tells them because they are male they are superior and because they are Saudi they are superior and because they are rich they are loved by Allah. Little powdered sugar pieces of shit. And these are the fools running the country today. These are the powdered sugar dusted leaders spending 87 billion dollars a year on dangerous toys. The Saudis don’t usually/never fight in wars and so trillions of dollars worth of military plane, boat, gun and bomb is being dropped on their poor, oil-less southern neighbor.

The drop in global oil price, though, is straining the kingdom’s financial flexibility and the ill-advised Yemen war against no true enemy is burning resources. It is becoming what Vietnam became to the U.S. What Afghanistan became to the U.S.S.R.

The country is also burdened by crippling unemployment because the powdered sugar boys don’t want to work. They want to sit home and get paid oil revenue simply for being Saudi.

But the leaders have a plan, one they released while I was sweating in Djibouti’s unforgiving clime (Djibouti is the hottest country on earth). The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s way forward, called Vision 2030, is, in part, to build gun factories that will employ its children. Brilliant.

Anyhow look at me, veering sharply to the left with this story, into the economics and social realities of Saudi Arabia. A country with no surf. I’ve become what a very small, dark Djiboutienne man called, “a true Arab.” What he meant by that, I think, is a person who blathers on and on and on both endlessly and pointlessly. Tomorrow I’ll come correct and we shall talk pirates and running naval blockades but today, thank you for having me back. I missed you all.