Wilko don't look real thrilled but he gonna win. | Photo: WSL/Ed Sloane

Fiji Pro: “This contest is a stubborn mule!”

Pushing this stubborn mule of a contest over the hump into a manageable finals day… 

Four heats of round four completed in a somnolent South Pacific. Pushing this stubborn mule of a contest over the hump into a manageable Finals Day.

Anything to learn? Maybe an upgrade of the finals call from Kennedy/Wilkinson to Bourez/Wilkinson. Wilko looks sharp, looks tight. If it’s barrelling he can go in low and slow, like he did against JJF last year and come out with drama. I’s a Tommy Carroll line.

Horrible day here, flood rain and a howling wind from the south-east courtesy of an ill-tempered storm just to seaward, but I had to wash the computer grime off me so I went for a surf at the Pass. Someone I knew (a BeachGrit commenter?) yelled at me:,“Oi Longbong, no more fucking littry talk, stick to the facts”.

Nick Dee was that you? Memories of the time one of the honchos from the (then) ASP, accompanied by security (the now departed Woody, bless his soul), pulled me out of the press room at Bells to inform me that people in high places had taken exception to the tone of my coverage.

I gave him the Rosie Hodge defence.

“I was just trying to offer a ‘point of difference’, your honour.”

Aren’t her and Ronnie are making a beautiful team, even if her Californian inspired high self-esteem therapy speak becomes a little cloying at times. I pine for her to take the advice Kevin Spacey’s character President Frank offered his wife in House of Cards: “Put some steel back into your game.”

Yesterday’s comments led me to my daily focus of five minutes on insider/access journalism, usually performed by the good soldiers and true believers of pro surfing whose instincts, inasmuch as we can divine them, are to protect rather than reveal to hinder our understanding if it contrasts too  sharply from the official narrative.

As Nick Carroll constantly reminded us in his biography of Tom Carroll when referencing the drug culture on Tour, “ I didn’t write about the drugs.”

Who can blame him? Who would? Who would destroy relationships and the cosy, clubby atmosphere of being amongst friends and equals – of being accepted – by lifting the carpet and counting the scuttling cockroaches that fled from the light? Better to look away and be a myth-maker.

It’s why the best writing about surfing always comes from outside the inner circle. Our beloved Fred Pawle got a Pulitzer for his expose on Sarge or was it a Walkley for his story about gay tour surfer Matt Branson? Same difference.

Goddamm it, I just wasted a half hour on this tight deadline thumbing my paperback copy of Hunter Thompson’s greatest book, The Great Shark Hunt, looking for the quote where Hunter describes just this clubby band of insider journalists and how they end up becoming good Germans and useful idiots.

Ah, here it is! Take it away Hunter.

“The most consistent and ultimately damaging failure of surf* journalism in America has it’s roots in the clubby/cocktail personal relationships that inevitably develop between politicians and journalists… When professional antagonists become after hours drinking buddies they are not likely to turn each other in… especially not for minor infractions of rules that neither side takes seriously; and on the rare occasions when minor infractions suddenly become major there is panic at both ends”.

Surf journalists as PR agents for pro surfers. Coaches as commentators. A sport that was handed over without a cent to an opaque organisation financed by a reclusive billionaire to be bleached and whitewashed to within an inch of its life, a blind eye turned to human catastrophes like Sarge’s sexual predation and AI. This is a sport that has had conflict of interest baked into it for so long it’s forgotten it’s there.

Thing is though, as Chas Smith showed in Welcome to Paradise now Go to Hell (shamefully, I’ve only read the free excerpts), we can all stomach the truth better than a handful of lies.

Enough? No Nick Dee, the joos aren’t to blame. Great times, the greatest to be a surf journalist!

We can write the truth and we only have libel laws to fear.

And being unable to visit Hawaii. And being coward punched by someone we pissed off.

And, ah, our own cowardice. And stuff.  Miaow.

Tune in tomorrow for the Finals Wrap sports fans.

*He said political.

Round 4 Results:
Heat 1: Matt Wilkinson (AUS) 14.27, Julian Wilson (AUS) 13.93, Ian Gouveia (BRA) 10.40
Heat 2: Michel Bourez (PYF) 15.73, Leonardo Fioravanti (ITA) 10.77, Italo Ferreira (BRA) 8.50
Heat 3: Connor O’Leary (AUS) 13.66, Joan Duru (FRA) 13.50, Joel Parkinson (AUS) 10.83
Heat 4: Bede Durbidge (AUS) 11.10, Stuart Kennedy (AUS) 5.54, Sebastian Zietz (HAW) 4.67

Round 5 Match-Ups:
Heat 1: Julian Wilson (AUS) vs. Italo Ferreira (BRA)
Heat 2: Leonardo Fioravanti (ITA) vs. Ian Gouveia (BRA)
Heat 3: Joan Duru (FRA) vs. Sebastian Zietz (HAW)
Heat 4: Stuart Kennedy (AUS) vs. Joel Parkinson (AUS)

Chas: “I want to sink that piece of shit!”

BeachGrit principal in podcast interview. Find out who Chas wants to sink!

On a recent Thursday afternoon, the writer and BeachGrit principal Chas Smith was invited to participate on the Surf Splendor podcast. 

Smith, of course, upholds the standard for candour and in this almost hour-long interview chisels dangerous topics with an assured and passioned improvisation.


On slinging mud: 

“I would invite people to write whatver they wanted about me. For fun! I could lob grenades all day into peoples’ houses, drive home and there wouldn’t be one grenade at my house. I’m confused. Why not have fun? Nobody, ever, ever. I try, I really try to get some kind of response from other surf media. But they’re lifeless.”

The host responds that The Inertia gets half-a-million clicks a month so why should they care about Chas’ grenades.

“I completely understand that reasoning. What I don’t understand is that we’re still surfers at the end. We can still have fun.”

On The Inertia

“I would love to sink that piece of shit! It’s terrible. I would love to bring it all down. I think I can say it’s the worst website on the internet. It’s worse than Brietbart, it’s worse than the lefty version, it’s worse than anything. Why? Because it has no point of view. There’s this weird ‘We celebrate all points of views’ but they really don’t. It’s curated toward a specific goal. And not to admit it, to pretend that you don’t and you’re the definitive voice of thinking surfers, is absolutely ludicrous.”

Ummmmm which side do we take?
Ummmmm which side do we take?

When I encountered him (The Inertia creator Zach Weisberg) at a party, he was throwing his own writers under the bus saying, we don’t support everything our writers say. If I wrote for you, and you were at a party and saying you didn’t support your writers, what kind of crappy thing is that? That’s awful! Whether you agree or disagree is one thing, but to distance yourself? If it goes up, you should totally stand behind it.”

At this point, the interviewer, the very good David Scales, says, “They’re catering to a guy who rides a soft top, who bought it at Costco, who lives away from the coast, Arizona maybe, but he comes out every summer and surfs.”

Chas responds,

“Do you think he does? I would be shocked if even the soft-top riding surfer from Arizona is typing in, www.theinertia.com. I’ve never met one surfer who went to The Inertia or liked it.”

More, oh much more, if you press the little yellow button. Chas Smith might be a genuine asshole, but he is a stupefyingly gifted one.

To saddle up or straighten out? Only Balaram has the answer. | Photo: Ben Gulliver

Watch: A Chilling Surf Trailer!

Hold your nose, the sea is icicles!

It’s about time for another legit surf film, don’t ya think? The last I can recall is Julian Wilson’s Wayward and that arrived in March. Like a fetus conceived in August 2016, we are long overdue.

Now, I can’t say I’ve never been fooled by a catchy trailer (damn you, Faster and Furiouser 12), but doesn’t this particular piece of cinema, captured and presented by Benjamin Gulliver, engorge your furry chest bumps? If not with its beauty then with its distinct chill? Please watch!

And… wow! Even the second time around I am enthralled. Maybe it’s because, coming from New Jersey, I hold cold water surfing close to my heart (Chas? Can you agree from Mexico?), or maybe it’s the artistry with which Mr. Gulliver filmed and edited this masterpiece.

Either way, it made me care — and not just in a wooooo look a big air! kind of way. This is rare in surf cinematography.

The film is called ‘The Seawolf’ and it will feature surfers Pete DeVries, Balaram Stack, Chippa Wilson, Noah Waggy and more. The entire movie, it appears, will take place in cold water and be wolf-themed. I’m not sure how that’s gonna work but we’ll see come July!

Day 3, Fiji Pro: “I can’t wait to go home!”

Kelly, John John, Mick, Adriano, Jordy, Kolohe, all washed out of the Fiji Pro.

Welcome back to the Grit coverage of the Indo-Pacific leg. It’s June so it must still be Fiji, right?

I know, it feels a lifetime ago we last watched a heat at Cloudy. As we say in Australia, Lest we forget.

If you have children, and are of a certain socio-economic standing and reside in the coastal suburbs of Sydney or Byron or Costa Mesa or Fair Oaks or Long Beach or Berkeley, believe the White shark is gods favoured creature, you may send your kids to a Steiner/Waldorf school.

I did, until White sharks started leaving my friends grey on the beach with no legs and the fees damn near bankrupted me.

But fruitcake or genius, Rudolph Steiner had some functional ideas, one of which was that to develop objective thinking you should focus on something, and nothing else, for five minutes a day.

So I spent the lay days spending five minutes a day thinking about pro surfing, so you wouldn’t have to. You’re welcome.

Last article a knowledgeable commenter, Wayne Murphy, compared pro surfing to cricket test matches that stretch over five days and are a mostly a snooze-fest where the highlight can often be a seagull shitting on someone’s head.

It’s a perfect analogy. A vestige of a bygone era when people had nothing better to do, but even cricket with its centuries old hidebound traditions managed to evolve the game into more modern and exciting formats. One day formats, 20/20 games that are over in six hours etc etc.

American sports mostly evolved in isolation but being more modern are usually over in a day. But they take the luck factor out by having a series. Like the NBA finals going on as we speak.

You get to see the best guys in the best teams continually having to produce the best performances under pressure.

You see where I’m going with this right?

We get to see the best guys once or twice and if it’s a scrappy heat where luck rules, like at Cloudbreak today, they’re gone. Speaker wanted to emulate American sports but didn’t look at the most crucial aspect: format.

This should have been run and done in two days. We could, we should, be somewhere in Indo watching Slater/Florence take advantage of a bombing Indian Ocean, not seeing QS surfers in QS conditions disembowelling high seeds stuck in a loop of frustrated expectations like the rest of us.

The problem: you need four days of high-quality surf in the waiting period, and it just ain’t there most of the time. Square peg, meet the round hole of pro surfing anti-climax.

Enough fantasy, let’s riff on reality. Bourez has an equipment advantage with Firewires in small lefts. He brutalised Fanning in the worst surf of the day.

John Florence took on Leo Fioravanti. Perfect opportunity in a low-energy, confused lineup for the Italian rookie to knock out the champ. Leo went full Brazilian with the opening hassle, paddling right up the reef.

For fifteen long minutes, no wave was ridden and Barton was forced into very hard yards as the “insight” guy to elevate this into something resembling sport. John paddled away back down the reef. A flying fish skittered out of the reef edge like shard of broken glass and John flinched as it came towards him. Nerves.

John took a lead with surfing elevated beyond meat and potatoes by flared final manouevres on the coral. He looked the goods. I found the Italian Stallion irritating. Too much of an overpowering odour of a manufactured surf star for my liking, but then he nabbed a set and spiked it repeatedly. It was a superior ride and he repeated the dose to, in the end, dispatch Florence comfortably. I had to upgrade my opinion of Fioravanti big time. He’s legit. Cloudbreak remains problematic for Florence, somehow.

Are you a surf gambler? I’m not but I want to be.

I wanted to bet against Slater, which in effect is betting against the the house. I would have bet my house against Slater, if I owned one. Connor started with a series of errors but didn’t look rattled. Rosie and Ronnie riffed on J-Bay. Rosie in the most wistful voice imaginable, so soft as to be almost inaudible said, “ I can’t wait to go home, Ronnie.” It was the most honest thing to come out of the booth all year.

Carnivorous judges wanted the red meat of fully marbled turns and Slater gave them a mixed bag of lollies. It was sweet and quirky surfing but it failed to broach a seven, a number that has become a barrier for the goat.

With four minutes remaining Kelly needed a four. Rosie had sweaty palms, I had sweaty palms.

A wide set loomed and went unridden. The cruel clocked ticked down. This is how the champ goes out, with a whimper, needing a four. Famed Brazilian surf writer Julio Adler described Kelly loss as “melancholic.” Even more melancholy was the presser on the mothership where a disoriented Kelly couldn’t comprehend the loss, thought there was nothing else he could do. It was like watching an old man wandering the streets who has forgotten the way home.

Everyone expected De Souza to capitalise. The push was on in the commentary booth. I desperately wanted a Stu Kennedy victory. That to me, in backlit lefts that looked tantalising, would be a beautiful achievement to cap a mostly forgettable day.

Stu threw red meat to the judges straight away and they ate it up. I’d seen Stu surfing at one of Ballinas sharkiest spots and I knew his backhand was sharper than the perceived wisdom.

With a minute remaining De Souza sold him on a small runner and then snagged a set. It fell short and I, like Stu, said “Thank God.”

See, belief in a higher power can pay dividends.

This thing has to finish strong, surely.

I say Matt Wilkinson v Stu Kennedy Final. What say you?

Round 3 Results:
Heat 5: Michel Bourez (PYF) 13.53 def. Mick Fanning (AUS) 11.20
Heat 6: Leonardo Fioravanti (ITA) 16.83 def. John John Florence (HAW) 13.33
Heat 7: Joan Duru (FRA) 17.60 def. Jordy Smith (ZAF) 11.73
Heat 8: Connor O’Leary (AUS) 10.74 def. Kelly Slater (USA) 10.34
Heat 9: Joel Parkinson (AUS) 15.30 def. Jeremy Flores (FRA) 13.84
Heat 10: Bede Durbidge (AUS) 16.10 def. Kolohe Andino (USA) 11.90
Heat 11: Sebastian Zietz (HAW) 12.93 def. Wiggolly Dantas (BRA) 12.80
Heat 12: Stuart Kennedy (AUS) 14.83 def. Adriano de Souza (BRA) 14.33

Round 4 Match-Ups:
Heat 1: Ian Gouveia (BRA), Julian Wilson (AUS), Matt Wilkinson (AUS)
Heat 2: Italo Ferreira (BRA), Michel Bourez (PYF), Leonardo Fioravanti (ITA)
Heat 3: Joan Duru (FRA), Connor O’Leary (AUS), Joel Parkinson (AUS)
Heat 4: Bede Durbidge (AUS), Sebastian Zietz (HAW), Stuart Kennedy (AUS)

Take a slice. I don't hear anyone barking. | Photo: Morgan Maassen

Dilemma: to go or no go!

Surfer on the inside either yells Go! or No! What do you do?

Excuse my silence and not to rub it in but I am on a surf trip to deep southern Mexico with a busted computer. Yesterday I surfed one of the best right points of my life and ooooo-ee!

Pure ecstasy.

I can’t say, with any real certainty, how big it was. Head-and-a-half on the sets? I can say that when paddling, catching, looking down the line I felt like I was in some grand surf movie and did my best mid-face cutbacks that would have garnered at least a 2.7 on the World Championship Tour.

At the very least.

There were maybe 15 other expat surfers in the water, most American, and since the waves were so good, and so plentiful, the mood was light. Much banter. Many laughs.

On one wave in particular a talented blonde carrying a few extra beers in his midsection came flying down the line. He had caught the wave at the tip of the point and it was lining up almost perfectly with a mid section rising up to form its own peak. My good friend was giving this slight variation a good natured paddle, just in case, when the blonde shouted what sounded like “oh!”

The eternal dilemma!

Did he shout “go!” or “no!”

My good friend pulled back and the blonde came popping over the back of the wave too holding his hands in the air like “why didn’t you go?”

My good friend answered, “I didn’t know if you were yelling “go” or “no.”

The blonde said, “Go! Totally snake me out here. Who gives a fuck?”

Such a fine attitude but also it is time to put the “no” “go” dilemma to bed forever. Let’s never yell “no” again. Let’s yell “fuck” or “shit” or something one syllable but guttural for “no” and keep “go” as the invitation to share.

Don’t you think this is a good plan?