Great Whites are more than a fact of life in Byron Bay and its surrounds. The sudden arrival of a cluster of aggressive Whites in the last couple of years presents the surfer with an existential question: to surf or not to surf.
Is dying in the mouth of a shark worth the few seconds of speed or tube time you might experience on a little North Coast wave?
And, so, after overwhelming evidence of Whites Gone Wild, the NSW state government dropped the first 10 of 85 SMART drum-lines ahead of the Christmas holiday break at Lennox Head, South Ballina and Evans Head.
Within two days, five Whites were caught, tagged and released alive. One ten-footer was caught at Sharpes Beach, just north of Ballina, where a surfer was hit in October.
Five Whites, two days.
Does that give you pause for thought?
More than that, it shows that being hit by a White when you surf in Byron ain’t just a theoretical notion.
Yeah, paddle out and you’re in the shark’s lair, don’t be a pussy etc, but at what point does the human animal fight back? Let’s imagine the population of the protected Great White triples over the next few years and surfing becomes an impossibility, a death wish?
Would that be enough to gaff a few of the sonsofbitches, not tag and release?
Or do we shelve the sleds and go skim?
(But don’t skim out too far like the wonderful Austin Keen, below!)
Where your fav writer gets tubed, is served bad salsa and worries about John John's future.
Yesterday was Saturday. Today is Sunday. The contest is, once again, on hold. The surf is, once again, very fun. Just small, by North Shore standards.
Which didn’t keep me from getting one of the better tube slides of my life yesterday. Surfed another out of the way patch. Was explaining the spot to a friend.
“You want to take off behind the section, do your bottom turn, then wait for it to hit the shallow spot inside, bend toward you and grow.”
Always easier said than done. Always run the risk of running your mouth about your supposed knowledge, then getting totally skunked and looking like Mr Big Mouth Barney 5000.
So I was gratified when I found a gem of a nugget mid-session. Set the line, only a minor tuck to fit, saw that lip well out in front. Shamelessly no-claim claimed when I got spat out. Not that I actually got spat out. But I’m a normal human, it was plenty good to give me a memory I’ll hang onto for a while.
The sun reappeared this morning.
Stereotypical idyllic Hawaii weather. Trades are barely blowing, mobs are currently making their way up H2. Course set to clog the roads, litter the beaches with buffoonery. Spray-on sunscreen hanging in the air, filling your nose and torturing your taste buds. How hard it is to rub stuff on your ass? Not very.
Happy Hour at Luibueno’s is still a scene. Enjoyed a good margarita and some okay tacos. Solid by Oahu standards. Sub par by mine.
Their salsa is garbage. Fucking pitiful. Shameful tomato blah.
“We’ve got spicier if you want it,” the waitress said.
“I do want. I do.”
She handed me a bottle of Tapatio. I struggled to resist throwing it back in her face. Not her fault, she’s just works there.
They pack you in tight. I kept elbowing the guy sitting behind me in the spine. Sorry, buddy. Sorry, buddy.
I eavesdropped on their conversation, because I do that. And because they were speaking very loudly. You had to near shout to make yourself heard. Still, though, they were being a bit over the top. Which is how I know all about the boards they ordered, their sponsors, plans for filming.
Thing is, I don’t know who the fuck they were. Didn’t look familiar at all.
It reminded me of the assholes in LA who’d have loud conversations in the lineup about how much they were making on real estate deals. Show off type shit. Look how big I am.
Probably should dial it back a bit. Doesn’t fly too well in a place that puts a strange premium on humility. Don’t make big body, dude.
Signs for John John are everywhere. Outside Haleiwa Joe’s. Spray painted across the barriers outside the skatepark. Nailed to telephone poles and soaped onto car windows.
Poor kid. That shit would put me in a panic. He’s done amazing things, sure to have a long awesome career.
But the problem with accomplishments, there comes a moment you have to go, “Okay, what next?”
The answer is difficult enough when you’re a typical slob. But how the fuck do you improve when you’re already on top?
The king of Pipe recreates his favourite North Shore waves at "big-wave" contest in Oregon!
Growing up on the Oregon coast I pointed my little nose toward the sea rather than the mountain. I was cold and miserable enough and the technicolor dream of California and Hawaii fired my imagination. Oh I went to the hills, to Hoodoo and Willamette Pass and even Mt. Bachelor a handful of times a season and loved but surf had my heart even though the water was near freezing and angry sharks swirled underneath my frozen solid feets.
When I was in the ocean, amongst the waves, I could at least pretend that I was tropical. I was at least doing the same thing that bronzed Australians and even more bronzed Hawaiians were doing.
And I remember like some great tragedy the day that Hawaiian legend Gerry Lopez left Oahu’s North Shore and moved to Bend, Oregon.
“BEND?” I thought. “Why did Gerry Lopez go crazy? What made the poor man lose his mind?”
For those who don’t know, Mr. Lopez is one of the most stylish surfers of all time and Pipeline was his playground. I could not fathom what would make someone move from the warm to the cold. From the sand to the snow. From Hawaii to Oregon.
And then, years later, I snowboarded in powder for the first time and it all made perfect sense. It all clicked.
I crossed paths with Gerry a few years ago. I was waiting on a helicopter out of Bald Face and he had just arrived. The man belongs in both worlds equally and, oddly both world’s belong to each other. And, thus, his surf event at Mt. Bachelor, the Big Wave Challenge, makes perfect sense too. Lopez uses “a series of huge sweeping banked corners, quarter pipes and spines that are shaped into wave-like features for a flowing course bringing the surf to the mountain.”
Runs are meant to approximate Lopez’ old favourites Pipe, Sunset, Ala Moana and Rocky Point. “Remember,” says Lopez, “that Style factors heavily into your score, so style-it wherever you can. The judges are looking at your whole ride, how what you do fits into the course and the flow you maintain. Ride it like a wave. And most of all make sure you have fun.”
Tell me this ain't the world's greatest surfer in sub-three foot waves…
Do you, like me, swoon when the aprés-heat interviewer Rosie Hodge pronounces Filipe Toledo’s first name Phillip? The brave little magician with eyes a soft clubhouse green meets brazen corn-fed beauty, she with the broad South African vowels and hair that flashes like warped gold who towers over her subjects, projecting a comely blend of intimidation and sex appeal.
Oh, but we’ll forgive Rosie anything.
I like the name Phil. It’s gritty, it’s colourful, full of self-mockery and cock-happiness.
Filipe sounds like the gay dancer in a Mariah Carey troupe who, inexplicably, falls in love with his master.
And it was only a blown groin in his semi-final against Matt Wilkinson that ended an expected win, and title run, this year. (It also propelled Wilko into unlikely world title contention).
In waves of three-feet and less, y’can’t get near the kid. Too fast, too light, too practised. And, so, the game is lifted. Boards are surfed lighter. Waves are surfed faster. Airs are higher, and hucked harder.
“Filipe’s technically superior,” says the surf coach and sorta-former-world number-one Brad Gerlach. “And he’s not thinking. He doesn’t know what he’s going to do. And that’s fucking awesome.”
Watch these three shorts and tell me he ain’t unbeatable waist-high and under.
Rory Parker reports from the set of Who is JOB at Pipe!
Day two of the Pipe waiting period broke to another stretch of overcast skies and light drizzle. The steady but barely noticeable rain backed off around mid-day. Not necessarily a good thing. General moistness, lacking wind, is a recipe for muggy sweaty days. You can take a dip to cool off, but nothing really dries. Damp towels, wet boardshorts. It’s not very comfortable.
But the surf was fun! Not competition worthy, but nearly there. Holding off was a very good call. Great job Mr Perrow! Yes, the guys out at Pipe(ish) were killing it. Blasting fins, burying rails, putting on a killer show. But it wasn’t barrelling, and that’s what we want to see.
Not that it’d really make a difference if the Pipe Invitational were run in small surf. Nothing on the heat sheet barrel slayers. Maybe might hand ’em an advantage. Put through the better contest surfers. Set us up for some spoiler heats. Everyone loves those.
But that’s just conjecture.
I started my day with a great little session at another tucked away piece of reef. So many semi-secret spots on the North Shore. Yeah, the Haleiwa to V-land stretch is all the rage, but if you know what you’re doing you can find solitude. Shallow solitude, but you’ve gotta pay to play and it’s worth donating a piece of yourself to the reef if it means you don’t need to paddle battle with the mix of Town clowns and tourists that poke their heads out whenever it’s less than intimidating.
People watching at Ehukai is always a grand time. Monkeys at the zoo. I don’t know what goes on in other peoples’ heads. I can barely understand what goes on in mine. Older gent doing his crossword puzzle was not enjoying my cigarette. Complaining within ear shot, careful not to make eye contact. “Cough cough cough.” It’s the end of the world!
A grown man fighting with his mother. “Mom! No one else wants to leave! If you want to make a scene we’ll make a fucking scene!”
Middle aged fellow with a brand new Arakawa gun, double leash plugs and all, extreme stretching on the water’s edge before splay leg paddling into chest high peaks.
And the women! Oh, the women! Tan and supple and gorgeous. Pretending to take a dip, squatting in waist-deep water for a minute. Getting back out with hair still dry.
We all know you’re peeing, honey. And while I’m not really into that, for you I’d give it a shot.
At around 2:30 I got a message from Derek. He’d lined up JOB for an interview at 4:30. Meet him at Pipe. Can do!
I told him he was responsible for everyone riding boogieboards again, now he’s gonna ruin night surfing too.
I like Jamie O’Brien. Truly. Tons of people like to talk shit online about the guy, but hes on a fun trip. Doing his gig, making some money. Not hurting anyone. And he’s always a good interview. Or almost always.
To be fair, it’s awkward talking about yourself when you’re surrounded by people, in the middle of doing something. It’s important to establish a rapport before an interview. Make some chit chat, make them comfortable. Nearly impossible when their attention is divided.
Also, I really wasn’t prepared. Couldn’t be, in the short time I had. Jamie wasn’t engaged. Probably my fault. Definitely my fault. When the questions are along the lines of:
If someone put a gun to your head and said they’d pull the trigger if you didn’t fuck an animal, what animal would you fuck?
…you’re gonna get a “no comment.” Unless the subject is either drunk or comfortable. Jamie was neither.
I did learn a few interesting things. He’s in the process of making the pilot for a longer form of Who is JOB. Bigger budget, trying to get on TV. I’m on board with that.
I pitched him an idea for the new season. He didn’t seem to like it.
He was once in talks with picking up a Wavestorm sponsorship. They offered him a single free board. So he ended up on Catch Surf.
He has a girlfriend of two years, which explains his reticence when it came to exploring his sex life.
He eventually foisted me off on Poopies. I have a hard time calling a grown man “Poopies.” I’m not a friend, not in on the joke. It seems disrespectful.
Guess not, though. I had a very pleasant chat with Mr Poops. He’s much more intelligent then you’d expect. Kind of a weirdo, in a pleasant makes-the-world-better-by-existing way. Seemed pretty stoked on life, bouncing back and forth between San Diego and Oahu. Earning enough to enjoy life outside the struggle.
Poopies was far more receptive to my questions. He’d fuck a cat, maybe a fish. He also seemed interested in my pitch. The general idea is hidden camera hitchhiker pickup. He’s a semi-famous guy, enough to get recognized by traveling teens he’d pick up.
Get them in, lock the doors. Start getting weird.
“What’s up guys? You wanna get sucked or fucked?”
Poopies spent some time as an amateur gigolo during his early days on the North Shore. Banging a lady they called Auntie Gnar Gnar in exchange for access to her car. I’ve always been surprised that doesn’t happen more often. The area gets flooded with attractive, and broke, young men every year. A sufficiently predatory lady would have no problem keeping herself packed to the gills with trim young pecker.
He should build a stable, I told him. Find the transplant kids whose North Shore dream has turned into a tropical nightmare. Turn them out, earn a buck.
We talked about his involvement, or lack thereof, in the planning of Who is JOB. He just does what he’s told. Isn’t able to put himself in harm’s way willingly. Needs the push, the peer pressure.
Surprisingly, his worst experience filming was riding a waterwheel at Pipe.
“Ask him about his Tinder chick,” Jamie told me. “She was hefty.”
“She was not,” Poopies protested. He made her a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, then fucked her in the backseat of her rental car in the parking lot of the Waimea heiau.
As a whole it worked well. Jamie’s reticence followed by Poopies’s openness. Would have made an excellent podcast. Only problem, it turns out recording beachfront at Pipe is a terrible idea. My brand new, kind of expensive, directional mic picked up almost nothing but the roar of the surf. Garbled words, totally unintelligible.
But it’d be a few hours before I’d learn how badly I fucked up. I left the beach in a great mood, headed to Haleiwa for some sun down drinks at Breakers.
Wasn’t aware it was the night of the Haleiwa Christmas parade. God damn, how I hate that thing. Fucked with my scene every year I live in Haleiwa. Never learned to anticipate it. Ended up trapped on the Town side of Haleiwa, headed up Kam toward the Dole Plantation. Long way out of my way before I could cut over to Wilikina and make my way back to where I’m staying.
So I said ‘fuck it’ drove to Walmart, and bought a burner flip phone. Make my life a little easier for the next two weeks. Gonna toss the thing in the garbage the moment I’m back on Kauai.