This morning I went for a surf on my new asymmetrical surfboard from Album. The waves were small, walled and dumpy. I had a fantastic time and will discuss the revelation of asymmetry soon but in the meantime we have something very important to consider.
The pre-surf change.
I had forgotten my towel, you see, and stood there behind my car in black APC jeans looking at my trunks. What to do? Get my car, close the doors and try to be discreet? Use my shirt as a makeshift towel? Not surf?
Then I thought back to the very first time I visited Derek Rielly in Australia. I had come to write something for Stab and Derek and Sam picked me up at the airport, said there were waves and we were going surfing. Nothing but nothing beats washing off a transpacific flight like salt water so I was happy. We went to some beach south, or maybe north, of Sydney, got out of the car and the waves looked fun.
Derek proceeded to get all the way naked in order to get into his wetsuit. I can’t remember what Sam did but I do remember thinking “Wow! Australia is so much more progressive! So much less uptight than America!”
I assumed that everyone naked changed in Australia and only realized this was not the case days later when, in Bondi’s carpark watched Derek get full nude again and watched the upset stares from passersby.
In any case, Derek was progressive and as I stood behind my car I thought, “Fuck towels (except Leuswho make an exceptional product)” and got nude myself.
I stood for a minute, out in the open and felt… free.
Then I went out and had a fantastic time in slop.
When I came in I saw all manner of men changing from wetsuit or trunk to pant or short and vice versa. Some had normal towels. Others had long dumb panchos. Some were standing on mats with their towels. Others were standing on the street with their panchos.
If they only knew what true liberty really felt like. If they only knew that shame needn’t control their lives. If only we could all be free.
You won’t find me in a towel again (unless its by Leus). I encourage you to be bold too.
Nothing raises a surfer's hackles like the racket and the ball!
One long ten days ago I asked, right here, who is surfing’s natural enemy? We all need an enemy. Someone to kick against. Someone to really oooooooooooh just hate. And as I thought about surfing it felt like we didn’t have one.
You, of course, were so helpful suggesting mental health, work, chaffing, self, $2 parking, etc. and I would gladly accept any of these and form committees to combat and write hate messages about on my surfboard. But just this morning as I sat down with my delivered daily copy of Olympics.org that surfing chose an enemy six short years ago and has been chaffing against ever since.
Oh you recall the original harangue. It is in our hall of fame!
And since then I have read various passive-aggressive bashes against tennis culminating in surfing’s Olympic ambassador, the reason our boys will fight for gold in three medium years. Reef’s ex-owner, Argentina’s own Fernando Aguerre just today!
He told Olympics.org:
“We had paddled out but there were no waves,” Aguerre said. “We kind of figured out that waves were going to come at some point but we didn’t really know when they were going to come because they were out of our control.”
“Then he got elected and started talking about Agenda 2020 and it was approved and then I realised this looked like real waves.”
Suddenly things began to tumble into place. First, in 2015 surfing was unanimously voted on to the programme for the 2019 Pan American Games, in Lima, Peru. And then came the big one, in Rio de Janeiro, on the eve of the 2016 Olympic Games.
The “real work” has started now and the high is, for Aguerre, clearly still intoxicating.
“Now they (young people) don’t need to become tennis players or track and field athletes, they can be surfers and Olympians,” the Argentine said with obvious pride.
But I don’t get it. What makes tennis so bad? It’s played outside, the scoring is not subjective, the men are handsome, the women are beautiful, the money is good. It’s both easy to understand and enjoyable to watch.
Not all surfers living in vans are pretty things blogging for cash.
The images of #Vanlife that ripple across our little telephone screens ignite an insatiable fire, equal parts lust, travel, freedom.
Do you remember when The New Yorkerwrote about all these pretty surfers laying around undressed in camper vans, doors open to reveal startlingly beautiful vistas?
The reality of #vanlife, of life, is vastly different.
If, at a certain point, and age, you’re living in a van, it’s not because you blog for cash and have a gorgeous thing to share it with.
It ain’t #van life. It’s living in a van. No hashtags.
The job disappears. You get divorced. Maybe you make a bad decision, get in fight, a lover’s spat turns into a court case, and you spend a year or so in the can.
All the money goes. It ain’t easy to cover rent. So you figure you’ll spend a few weeks in your car until the storm passes and life rights itself.
But it doesn’t.
And then you start to like the freedom that only hitting the bottom can bring. Work when necessary, as little as possible if we’re going to be honest, and days spent swept up by the ocean, not by the office cube.
Like Bob, here, who lives in the most rudimentary of vans and calls the Avalon beachfront carpark home.
I wouldn’t call this film an inspiring call to arms, more a terrifying example of what happens if you don’t get your shit together while you’re young.
And, yet, as a document of a man trying to get by in life as best he can, handed lemons, makes the metaphorical lemonade stand, it really is quite beautiful.
If you listened to the latest Grit! podcast (Do now here! It is noted not surf journalist J.P. Currie approved!) you know my position on the shaka. I find it a wonderful bond that ties all surfers together and should be used by us regularly and exclusively. Oh sure it is uncomfortable when you first start but that’s what irony is for. Toss ironically until it becomes second nature.
I also broadcasted my position on the pocket shaka or the “poka” which is used by Zach Weisberg of Venice-adjacent’s favorite longboard skateboard website The Inertia.
If memory serves I called it, “A pathetic attempt to be both edgy and impossibly short at the same time…”
But now I’m rethinking. Should we be doing this every time we put our hands in our impossibly small pockets?
Chapter 5: Boys acquire Landcruisers and watch Sean Paul.
(I am writing a series about Yemen because what is currently happening there is terrible beyond. My inaction disgusts me and so I am going to introduce you to to the country because… the place, people, culture all deserve to be saved. Catch up, if you wish, on the links below…)
One of Yemen’s most celebrated pastime, prior to getting bombed, was kidnapping foreigners and ransoming them back to family/business/country or origin. It was a pure financial play, not religious or political, and the kidnapers seemed to know the market value well, never going bananas and, say, asking for millions of dollars for a teacher or hundreds of thousands for a journalist.
A new road was needed through town so a person would be borrowed and the road would get built. A new well? Borrow and build. It was part of the ebb and flow of daily life with Yemenis even kidnapping other Yemenis, and generally fun for all. Foreigners who were kidnapped discussed the hospitality of their hosts, marveling about the one-of-a-kind experience they were afforded.
And it was with this in the back of our minds that we spent those first few days wandering the streets of Sana’a with neither passport nor any real way to leave town. Yemen was as tribal then as it is now with the central government maintaining only the loosest control outside of the capital. Still, Yemeni troops were spread from one edge of the country to the other and in order to travel one had to have permission slips for each region from the government.
But Sana’a was fantastically magical enough to hold our attention. The old city was an almost untouched medieval throwback. Donkeys navigated the maze-like pathways between ancient towers. Men sat in the shade chewing qat. Women didn’t exist. I had been to the Middle East twice before. I had climbed the great pyramids in Egypt (totally illegally and a wonderful story). I had climbed Mt. Sinai before dawn and watched the sun come up. I had hospitaled in Aqaba for an entire week. I thought I was an Orientalist expert but Sana’a forever altered what I deemed “exotic.”
We found the Arabic school J. was “attending” in order to fill out the rest of our travel budget via UCLA scholarship. It was the same that Johnny Walker Lindh attended for a year before running off to Afghanistan in order to fight the infidel invaders in 2002. Do you remember him? The “American Taliban?” He was grabbed by the Afghan Northern Forces in the city of Kuduz, tried by military tribunal, convicted of conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals, providing material support for terrorist organizations, etc. and currently serving his sentence in Terre Haute, Indiana until 2020 or such.
One of J.’s Islamic Studies classmates was also attending. A wonderfully eclectic boy who wore Blue Blockers and vintage Jean-Paul Gaultier sandals and was dating a Japanese diplomat who worked in Yemen’s Japanese embassy. He had a camera and so we gang-pressed him into service as a “surf photographer.” Who needs academia when you’ve got surf?
We found the Iraqi embassy, around the corner from the apartment we were staying, and wondered if Saddam Hussein might be hiding out. He had just been deposed and it would have made perfect sense for him to end run to Yemen and wait for George W. Bush not to find his weapons of mass and then apologize. I knocked on its door and the guard angrily shoed us away.
We sat in our mafraj and chewed qat ourselves. The leaf is such a staple of Yemeni lives that even the smallest home is outfitted with a room dedicated to its enjoyment. The mafraj is an open space with cushions pushed against each wall for lounging. The leaf is grown in Yemen’s highlands at the same elevations as coffee. The supple shoots are harvested, wrapped in plastic and sold in qat souqs. The growers and sellers are as dedicated to their craft as viticulturists and sommeliers are theirs. Good qat is expensive even by American standards and our new photographer insisted that we bought good qat since he had developed a full on addiction.
We waited for H.
And then after five days he arrived, calling in the afternoon and apologizing for being held up in Dubai. He said would pick us up for dinner that evening and before we finished our daily music video binge (music video channels are the best in the Middle East. Between Lebanon, Egypt, Bahrain and Qatar there is a steady diet of European club hits, forgotten American gems, Bollywood bangers and flabby Lebanese weirdness) he was there in a cloud of brand new black Mercedes G-Wagon smoke. He told us in his odd Rhode Island meets Dubai accent that we were going to sushi and sped though the streets while showing us a brand new black Uzi he kept under his seat in a neat briefcase.
“Sushi?” I thought.
But it was good and maybe had something to do with the Japanese Embassy. H. was maybe 40, tall, thin, paired awkwardly brand new designer jeans with crisp button-ups and seemed neither surprised nor dismayed by our plan to surf his country’s coast. He told us some of the provinces were basically lawless and that the government wasn’t issuing permission for foreigners to travel them but… “no problem. I’ll get permission for you. And I’ll send my two best bodyguards along. How many Landcruisers will you need?” We told him one and that we didn’t need any bodyguards. He insisted on two bodyguards and two Landcruisers. We told him our whopping budget was something like $3,000 for three months.
“Guuuuuys…you’re guests. It’s no problem…” he said and then ate a bite of delicately seasoned cat tongue. “…Come to my house tomorrow and you can get on the road.”