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Beach Grit

The 20 Best Surfers in the World (Part 4)!


by Longtom

The final torrid instalment!

Find out why Jordy Smith needs to learn the true meaning of jihad. Why Gabriel Medina’s backflip was evidence of “tectonic stasis rather than progress”. Why the public is a bitch and how it relates to Dane Reynolds. How Kelly Slater accidentally represents the dark side of capitalism and why John John Florence is the necessary catalyst for a renewed tour.

5. Jordy Smith

According to Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the chief architect of salafi jihadism, America is the most decadent culture in human history, obsessed by the pursuit of wealth and luxury, corrupted by a depth of moral licentiousness never before seen. On pain of beheading I respectfully disagree.

I’m sick to death of writing that Jordy has no ticker. You can imagine a thousand pathways to a world title for Jordy but none of them involve winning a showdown at real Pipe.

I find Americans just about the stoutest and staunchest citizens on Earth. My only beef is when Americans use the word cunt. From puritan mouths it sounds queer and mean. It’s a convict term of endearment and it should remain so. That digression because I’m sick to death of writing that Jordy has no ticker. You can imagine a thousand pathways to a world title for Jordy but none of them involve winning a showdown at real Pipe.

Al-Zawahiri’s other intellectual achievement was the sanctification of what he terms “matrydom operations”, a concept our beloved South African/American could borrow when it comes to hucking the ledge at Pipe. Am I saying Jordy needs a bit of jihad in his soul to stiffen his resolve? I guess I am.

4. Gabs Medina

I know people are going to call me a glass half-empty miserable son of a bitch, even though I’m not. In real life I’m cheerful as a sky full of swallows. But I saw the Medina Rio backflip (what, forgotten already?) as a sign of tectonic stasis rather than progress. Flynn Novak pulled it off around the end of the last Ice Age, way back in 2010. That was the era of Kai Neville and the Kustom Airstrike, if you recall. Boat-load of the best progressive surfers on the planet in Indo with Kai cutting edits from it. Hard to believe they haven’t live streamed one like it yet.

Competitively, it was the last opening for a true progressive vision of the sport to emerge. Dane had effectively welded an avant-garde amalgamation of tail-high aerial surfing to brutal power hacks, Kelly had risen to the challenge, bringing new lines and fresh approaches to old venues. Natural heirs like Julian Wilson, Owen Wright and Jordy Smith were ready to punch through the hole into a radical future.

My heart pains to say that judges faced with radical choice cowardly turned back to the conservatism of traditional Aussie power surfing. Dane quit. The historical opening closed. We got Parkinson, Fanning and De Souza. Parker’s Dead Ball Era. In that context Medina could be the last best hope for a radical recurrence.

3. Dane Reynolds

Seen from the perspective of an omniscient, omnipresent narrator Dane’s career shimmers as the ultimate rock-n-roll swindle. Quit the tour on a high and slit the throat of the Quiksilver fatted calf with the biggest payday in history. One that forced the hand of CEO Andrew Mooney to turn away from “athletes”, make Kelly an offer he couldn’t accept and left a bloodless corpse to be picked apart by the vultures of predatory capitalism.

How to kill a company, by Dane Reynolds. Chapter 11: Redemption. Did you thrill,while watching Ch 11, to realise the wilderness hadn’t been empty save cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon but was in fact a dark night of the soul and Dane was now happy and on the other side?

Did you think, like I, that those good ole Ventucky boys Dane grew up with were reading from the book of Right-On when they proclaimed pro surfing as an aberration, a weeping syphilitic chancre on the flaccid cock of modern surfing?

The public are bitches. They turn on you in a heartbeat. In each of us lives a person who wants to be loved for himself or herself and not for his or her abilities, or even qualities. Value per se, intrinsic. A dangerously anti-instrumental, anti-capital orientation. Therein lies the motivation for Ch 11.

I understand panic attacks at pro surfing contests, having suffered a similar malaise for years. It’s a mark of exquisite taste that a man should feel spiritual and physical death descend at these events. Is it now too much to ask that Dane lets C-Kat bring the weird with the falcons and gives us what we want, what we desire from the WSL but rarely receive: raw, elegant brutality, no insipid 75% compromise, innovation? In short, the best surfing in the world. You’re no huckster Dane, so the question is: Is you is or is you ain’t going to bring the fucking gas money for the rest of the trip?

Sincerely L. Tom.

Chapter 11 from Marine Layer on Vimeo.

2. Kelly Slater

Capitalism is an insatiable bitch, is it not comrades? Despite being a digital entrepreneur and a sub-human redneck wastrel I hate it intensely*, more than Noam Chomsky, more than Naomi Klein, more than Yanis Varoufakis, more than Bernie, more even than all the nude hippies in Morning of the Earth smoking chillums in the cave at Ulus.

In the future, the one percent are going to own everything and milk us dry, charging fees on everything. They’re going to shred us all into tiny atomized monsters fighting each other in a bottom-feeding frenzy for scraps of paper trickling down through the gig economy.

The future is five minutes ago in the USA, five minutes away in Oz. Granted, hating capitalism is a fashionable shape to throw in public, one Kelly Slater loves to strike. He loves to swing for the fences with Monsanto who, after all, did nothing more than democratise GM seeds (true). They took jah’s seed and privatised it for profit, he took jah’s wave and did the same thing, in a process he described as “spiritual”.

Funny what folks find anti-depressive. Dark visions thrill me. When I’m down I love to imagine the smoking ruins of capitalism are nigh and the four horsemen wielding burning Merricks are galloping over the hill ready to storm the hated symbol of corporate oppression: the Slater Wave Tub. The blade falls and the surfing prole hoists the white flag of freedom.

Suited greedheads have been eyeing off surfing since the eighties, the seventies even, but we never imagined the person delivering the Judas kiss would be the greatest surfer of all time. Slater has finally achieved what business has yearned for but never been able to achieve: he’s turned the essence of the surfing experience, riding a wave, into a pure transaction. A wave as good to be sold in the free market for profit.

For that, for feeding what was left alive of surfing to the bitch of capitalism, and on behalf of the surfing prole I say: fuck you very much Kelly. Kelly’s legacy is now set in stone, hitched to the wavepool wagon for good or ill.

In the interim, while history arms itself against the rise of the wave-machines and their “unforeseen consequences”, there is a more pressing issue for Kelly to deal with: one last swing at a Title in 2017. Chances? Depends on Snapper. He can’t afford to be dead in the water after the Aussie Leg.

*Still available for freelance gigs. Special South Pacific and wave-tub rates available now! Call me Kelly!

1. JJF

I love it when a writer handles his subject with a cool, light touch, wields the scalpel so deftly the subject doesn’t even feel the hot sting of the blade. But I love it more when passion for the subject overwhelms them, when they lose restraint and start bludgeoning everything in sight like a viking on an orgiastic rampage. That is character. True Character. Like Dell on Israel, Chas on Yemen and Rory on Costco workers.

As for writers, same for musicians and surfers. When they let loose, when are they completely overcome in the moment is when the real shit happens. That’s why watching JJF in Rio and in the Portugal Final was so viscerally satisfying. There was no holding back. No “mind.”

How’d you like your world champ’s year? This’ll be as popular as a turd in the sangria bowl but I found it a tad… under-cooked. The biggest tour cheerleaders would find it hard to spin a narrative claiming the tour brings out the best in JJF. Low-energy lineups orphan his surfing in a haze of opioid indifference.

He sits there, and he waits, and he sits. As for Fiji, apart from round three did he not underwhelm, slightly but ever so surely? Well-beaten twice in succession in perfect six-to-eight-foot surf by Matt Wilko.

More than Pipe, more than Teahupoo, more than any other reefbreak in the world, CB demands a cerebral approach, a constant thinking and rethinking that just seemed to be beyond JJF. Easily surrendered to Fanning in the J-Bay Final, Slater at Chopes.

What he has is the inverse of what Damien Jurado sang about in Return to Maraqopa: Out there is nowhere but inside is endless-taking up room till you run out of space. He has endless space out there but inside is limited.

An algorithm can’t create now, or ever, the kind of surf which elevates him from the amazing to the sublime. What he did in the chaos of Rio, in Portugal, at Pipeline is a supra-intelligent transcending of chaos.

The tour must be restructured, in format and location, to do justice to the talent or suffer the slow burn of potential greatness dying on the vine. The Slater Era is dead. The JJF Era must proceed in a different biosphere. He is the greatest argument for renewal.