Are you a kook or “competent amateur?”

Clever matrix determines your ability level!

Surfing has an odd way of cutting into your bones and menacing your well-being. One day you’re king of the hill, debonair as anything on each wave and close to complete mastery; the next your legs refuse to unfold upon lift-off and your feet feel as if they belong to a different man.

From plans of surfing until your death-bed to dismal thoughts of giving the game away. Surfing I love but you’re bringing me down and so on.

So if we all perform at dramatically different levels from one surf to the next, how can we definitely say we’re a kook or, say, a competent amateur?

I remember once, years ago, having played a sweet hot jazz on a few waves in a row, believing that the learning days were over. That I’d secured my rung as a gifted surfer.

The next day, of course, I surfed abominably. And the next etc.

Am I a kook or a competent amateur? Depends on who you ask.

While scrolling through the Wikipedia entry on Surfing today I came across a helpful matrix that identifies “Surfer Skill Level” as applied to “Wave Type.”

It makes a fascinating study.

For instance, a competent surfer rides waves with a “peel angle” of forty to fifty degrees, with heights of up to three metres and “section speeds” of twenty clicks. The waves I should enjoy, if I am indeed a competent amateur, would be Kirra and Burleigh Heads.

The “Top Amateur”, with his ability to ride a thirty-degree wave, can apply for sets at Bingin and Padang in Bali.

The beginner? He, and she, necessarily, must never venture beyond waves with an aspect of seventy degrees. He (she etc) should live in Atlantic Beach, Florida.

Where do you squeeze in? Top Amateur? Top World Surfer?

Or are you one of those Intermediates who surfs Bells Beach or New  Zealand?

Where do you fit in?

Pragmatic: Surfrider strikes back!

Environment group says, "Give 'em hell!"

Do you recall, just last week, when I wondered out loud about Surfrider’s relative silence on the “burying nuclear waste in the sands of San Onofre” issue?

Of course you do!

And this shoot first, question later is the BeachGrit way. Not only do we get a fun debate out the gate, we also maybe get an informed response later. The Surfrider Foundation reached out to me on multiple fronts. Never before had I experienced such activism and it made me think, “Well hell. Good on ’em!” Also, “Thank God I’m not a congressman!”

The story I posted gently prodded the environmental group for pushing the oceanfront-nuclear-waste issue deep down in their website and off their California initiatives. Doesn’t the possibility of radiated surf from Tijuana to Seal Beach seem… well… like the worst thing ever?

And Surfrider’s CEO, Chad Nelson, says, “Yes!” He has been at the helm for two years but before that was in Surfrider’s science policy department for sixteen. I called him up yesterday afternoon and we had a very fine conversation about nuclear waste at San Onofre and Surfrider’s position on the matter.

They don’t want it!

He told me that while Surfrider cares very much about what appears front and center on their website, the real, concerted push is at the national level.

I totally get with Fukushima and all that why this issue totally freaks people out. It freaks me out. And San Clemente’s city government doesn’t want the waste there, on site, either. The problem is, there is no national storage facility for nuclear waste. Every single nuclear plant that has been decommissioned is storing its nuclear waste on site. It is definitely not ideal that it is being stored at the plant but, for now, there is no other option. Surfrider is very focused on the national picture, lobbying the federal government in order to establish a storage facility for this waste. Those are the two most important things. One, find a place. Two, make them take it there.

He then encouraged anyone who cares about this issue, and lives locally, to call his/her congressperson and raise hell. Or maybe not raise hell but… “build critical mass.”

You can read more about Surfrider’s position and actions here.

And, generally, about the issue here.

And aren’t you happy that you’re not a congressman too? Or wait. Are you one?

World-record: “The Circle of Honor!”

Huntington Beach seeks to smash the previous paddle out record!

Oh I’ve written about paddle outs before, here, though I can’t recall if we have come to a consensus on their relative merit. Like, do you want a paddle out when you die? How many people? Will I be invited? What sort of board should I bring?

While you are deciding, Huntington Beach today is attempting to host a Guinness World Record paddle out today at the pier to honor International Surfing Day even though it is dumb and already past. It is also to thank the International Olympic Organization for including surfing in the Olympics. It is also to show the International Olympic Organization that lots of people in southern California like to paddle surfboards (even though StabStitch says surfing is dead here for the foreseeable future). It is also to tell Los Angeles that if the city snags the 2024 Games it should hold its surfing in Huntington Beach.

The “Circle of Honor” paddle out is hoping to attract 500 surfers.

But real quick, if Los Angeles snags the 2024 Games where should the surfing be held? Certainly not Huntington. But where? Trestles? Malibu? Maverick? Botany Bay?

Read more about the “Circle of Honor” here and you can go and report if you live in Huntington.

Also, have you decided yet what sort of board I should bring to your paddle out?

From another planet...

Watch: Surfing’s Small Wave Savant!

Like nothing you've seen before!

Have you heard of Puerto Rico’s Hector Santamaria?

I mentioned him not three days ago and isn’t it crazy how the world works? I sent Hector’s name into the universe and two days later POW!  We get this clip.

Now, there are many talented wave-riders in this world, but very few surfing savants. Before we go any further, I want to clarify what I mean by that.

There is a gray area, at least in my mind, when it comes to defining a “savant”. According to Merriam-Webster, the undisputed power-couple of English vernacular, a savant is:

1: a person of learning; especially : one with detailed knowledge in some specialized field (as of science or literature)
2: a person affected with a mental disability (such as autism or mental retardation) who exhibits exceptional skill or brilliance in some limited field (such as mathematics or music);

In my world, savant is more often used to describe definition number two. Definition one is just a nerd.

That said, not all the people I’d determine as a surfing savant have a mental illness. They were just born with incredible natural talent and an unmatched understanding of the ocean. That characterization relates to neither definition one or two but it’s enough, in my mind, to justify giving them a special label.

So maybe savant isn’t the technically correct word, but it’s the word I’m gonna use to describe a person who demonstrates an unfathomable connection with their surfboard and the sea. A person who was well and truly born to surf.

So, who’ve we got?

Clay Marzo, Kelly Slater, John Florence, Stephanie Gilmore, Tommy Wit and now, in waves that slap just above the pecker, Hector Santamaria! The world’s superior small wave surfer!

Please watch the following video for evidence. Specifically, pay attention to the elasticity of his forehand whip, the cutty-to-air-rev on a legit one-footer (0:50), and the stoopid loops at the end.


Now take a moment to soak it all in. Rewatch if necessary, and really try absorb what you just saw. Hector’s surfing is unmatched.

In a wonderful twist of fate, the above filmmaker included snippets of mortal surfers for reference. Notice how much less connected to their boards, and to the waves themselves, that these poor blokes appear to be. They’re not even bad surfers, but the contrast between their forced completions and Hector’s artistry is striking.

Dare I say that no one, and I will look Filipe Toledo square in the eye when I say this, is more dexterous and innovative in waist-high surf. Hector is a small wave savant and a chi-infused alien.

Kelly Slater, when visiting for the Rip Curl Search event in 2011, allegedly described Hector as, “one of the best surfer’s I’ve ever seen.”

Savant recognize savant.

Would you look at these studs? Man (and woman) held together by the glue of survival!

Adventure: Here comes the Hokule’a!

This ancient canoe just traversed the globe for three years! Raw!

Yesterday the double-hulled, replica Polynesian canoe, the Hokule’a, made its triumphant return to Honolulu after a three-year global voyage. Sixty thousand miles, navigation by the stars, movement of the clouds, the waves etc, exactly how the ancient Polynesians did it three thousand years ago.

Raw and spirited. A formidable achievement etc.

Click on here to discover adventure. 

But that name, the Hokule’a.

It ring a bell don’t it. Don’t it?

It does if you know even basic surf history.

Let’s peel open the Encyclopedia of Surfing just briefly (its owner Matt Warshaw correctly expects readers to subscribe to penetrate the sanctum to read these stories. Click here to subscribe).

In 1978, Aikau gained a berth on the Hokule’a, a replica of the double-hulled canoe used by ancient Polynesians to sail between Hawaii and Tahiti. On March 16, Aikau and 15 other Hokule’a crew members left Honolulu for a 2,400-mile voyage that would reenact the midocean crossing; five hours into the trip, the starboard hull sprung a leak and the boat capsized, leaving the crew hanging on to the port hull. At 10:30 the following morning, Aikau took a life vest, rain slicker, knife, and strobe light, and set out on a 10-foot surfboard for the island of Lanai, 12 miles to the east. Later that day the Hokule’a crew was picked up by a rescue team. Coast Guard rescuers searched for a week, but Aikau’s body wasn’t found.

Did you know Hokule’a also means Star of Joy?

And did you know it was how the Polynesians, the most fierce and wonderful and bloodthirsty of warriors, like monochromatically inverse Vikings, came to own the Pacific?

And do you think, as you look at your iPhone, reading, maybe you’re on a bus or a train surrounded by people with their heads bowed, that you need a little adventure in your life?

That it might just be a wonderful thing to get your head out of computer screens, off the drip of Instagram, and to be on the ocean, staring at a canopy of stars, your body moving with the swaying of the hull, your skin tattooed a pleasing brown and so forth?

Would it be lovely?

Or would you find it all an uncomfortable inconvenience?