Podcast: “Kelly Slater decapitates surfing!”

Or the mad raving of a luddite. You decide!

Wave Ranch came fully online a little over 24 hours ago and I have been mired in bottomless depression since. I watched it, like you, from home. I watched blurry Instagram stories morph into giddy Stab boys peeking over the fence morph into an embarrassingly written World Surf League “live blog” morph into a very rich friend, who had been invited, texting me videos of Eddie Vedder changing Yellow Ledbetter lyrics to praise Kelly Slater’s creation. “Thank you Kelly for bringing us to this place…”

A slow motion accident.

A fucking nightmare.

And I realized that I hate Wave Ranch. I hate it with everything in me and with no pulled punch in vague hopes of getting invited to surf it one day. I hate it with a hatred reserved for drunks who speed through red lights near elementary schools and the Apple Genius Bar.

Hate.

Because it is officially over. The dream has died. Surfing has been successfully and cleanly amputated from “surfing.” The simple physical act from one of the most wonderful, most indescribable joys on earth.

You have, of course, read William Finnegan’s brilliant Barbarian Days. What I love most is the book’s pacing. Mr. Finnegan slowly meandering through his life and showing how surfing is tied to each strand of his DNA, inextricably woven, and even though he is very important as a real journalist for a real magazine when it came time to write his memoirs he wrote it about surfing. About A Surfing Life.

A surfing life.

Surfing has infected me, too, since the very first time I saw it playing out in cold Santa Cruz waters. And infected me all the way. It has dictated where I have lived, the cars I have bought, the women I have loved, the places I have gone. Seagulls, Lighthouse Beach, Bolsa Chic, Baja, Xanadu, Rockin’ Fig, JC, black sand, tar, smokey skies, burning sunsets, Soqotra, Lebanon, More Core Division, flat tires, warm beer, Mukalla, salt. It has been my adventure and my curse. The physical act of surfing is only part of the broader surfing life but the iteration that took place behind a fence in green fresh water underneath manure scented skies being watched by very rich potential investors was only about the physical act. Cleanly amputated. Genetically modified. Re-grafted.

Of the Instagram clips I watched on that fateful day, one summed up my feelings succinctly. Previous pool clips had been edited professionally and from either behind or straight ln. The surfer in the middle of the frame, the wave breaking behind and the shoulder running ahead. Except the shoulder isn’t running ahead, is it. The clip I watched featured Carissa Moore surfing fantastically and being chased by a jet-ski. Just feet behind her was that near perfect barrel that we’ve all marveled at. Just feet ahead of her was a giant wall. The mechanical guts of the oversized plow running underwater and creating the phantasm. A wall. The surfer surfs the entire wave facing this wall.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BZRGms2DNEq/?taken-by=mayhemb3_mattbiolos

When I close my eyes, amongst the best memories I conjure are dropping into a wave, looking down the line and seeing endless possibility. Seeing the gentle curve or the section far away that might pitch or the terror inducing double up. Seeing the unknown. Feeling the unknown.

Oh I know this reads like the mad raving of a luddite and maybe it is. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Wave Ranch and each next iteration is a glorious egalitarian utopia but I seriously doubt it. It feels more like the purposeful unraveling of a great mystery. Like man’s forever folly.

And here you can also listen to the mad raving of a luddite. I don’t ever recall ever approaching a surf topic with such deadpanned passion. Listen and tell me that I’m wrong. Tell me that this ain’t the end.


Does the idea of thrown heats make you want to weep? Or does it add a little dirty sugar to the game? (Obviously, I mean…obviously… there is no suggestion Gabriel has ever thrown a heat or ever would. The photo here is to illustrate the potential for many tears.)

“Surf contests perfect for match-fixing!”

You’d struggle to design a better platform. No other sport is so relentlessly, plausibly unpredictable. 

Are you familiar with The Dogs? Do you have The Dogs in Australia and/or America? Maybe you do and maybe it’s the same as our The Dogs, but maybe not.

The Dogs is dog racing. The Dogs is men with hard, lined faces and harder-to-understand dialects. The Dogs is a dilapidated stadium beside an industrial estate on the periphery of a city. The Dogs is Portakabins selling burgers and imitation tomato ketchup. The Dogs is sheepskin jackets, flat caps and wads of cash. The Dogs is gambling on animals running circles round sandy tracks. The Dogs is where the common man goes when he doesn’t have a nice enough hat or a double-barrelled surname to wear to the horses.

Chas Smith would probably go to the horses, but would call himself Charlie that day. The dogs is for men like Nick Carroll. Men with gruff voices, thick fingers, and questionable internet browsing history. Longtom might also go to the dogs, just to make sure Doherty wasn’t in bed with any of them.

So you get The Dogs.

The Dogs is also an almighty fucking con.

I know this to be true because I went to The Dogs once. It was a little like Chas stooping to listen to The People, except that I am The People. Sort of. I actually occupy a sort of chameleon hinterland.

Anyway, I went once with a friend whose father was very well known. (He worked in crime. Committing, not combating).

Shortly after we arrived a man with a shaved head and wearing a leather jacket sidled up beside my friend, tapped him on the shoulder and hushed cryptically in his ear: “Number 6. From your dad. Keep it quiet” before vanishing into the crowd.

Number 6, it turned out, was a scrawny, desperate looking greyhound that was slavering and sweating in the trap below us, waiting to start the next race. To the punters, Number 6 merely represented a number on an animated, living roulette wheel. To us, Number 6 was the dog seemingly predetermined to win the next race.

And so it was.

My friend hadn’t expected this tip. He was taken aback as we were. He hadn’t even told his father we would be there. His old man always seemed to know things. None of us questioned it at the time or since. None of us fancied wearing concrete boots at the bottom of the river.

I’ve always been fond of a punt. Before I became persona non-grata with most of the bookies (another story) I gambled, in earnest, on surfing. Lots of times I’ve felt the same as I did that day at The Dogs. That it was all rigged and I wasn’t part of it.

And The Dogs isn’t exactly an outlier. There is controversy related to suspicious betting patterns in almost every sport, at every level.

Surfing might not be rigged.

But if it isn’t I’d ask two questions. Why not? And how long before it is? It’s tailor-made for match-fixing and gambling corruption. You’d struggle to design a better platform. I can’t think of another activity so relentlessly, plausibly unpredictable.

Surfing is not bound by the rigidity of finish lines or the integrity of stopwatches or goal line technology. It’s merely subjective. It would seem monumentally foolish to gamble on the outcome of something subject to the opinions of strangers, or the mercy of the weather, or the whims of Richie Portly.

And none of the controversy over shocking decisions ever amounts to anything, does it? No-one is ever held accountable. No-one is ever moderated. Sure, there’ll be a bit of internet furore, but it soon drifts away, free of repercussion.

Determining the winner of a surf competition is considerably more arbitrary than determining if one dog can run faster than another. It’s much easier to manufacture a desired outcome and make it look genuine.

Surfing is not bound by the rigidity of finish lines or the integrity of stopwatches or goal line technology. It’s merely subjective. It would seem monumentally foolish to gamble on the outcome of something subject to the opinions of strangers, or the mercy of the weather, or the whims of Richie Portly.

A much easier way to profit from pro surfing is simply the willing (or unwilling) cooperation of someone involved. For the most part that’s one human being. One low-to-mid-tier surfer who can make a shit lot more cash by not catching waves rather than catching them. It might be late into a season, they might be backed up on the QS, on course for mid-table obscurity. What do they have to lose?

Who cares about another 25th place when you can compensate with enough illicit cash to feed your family or fund another campaign? All for simply throwing a heat and shouldering a little guilt. Perhaps you don’t even need to be coerced, perhaps you just bet on yourself to lose.

Think of the alibis!

I didn’t think it was going to be a good one…the wind wasn’t right…I didn’t hear the score…I fell off…I just didn’t get the best waves…the foam ball got me…he/she just surfed better…

A surfer might reasonably convince himself that he didn’t throw the heat on purpose. Memories of surf rarely reflect reality. The permutations of how to throw a heat and make it look (or perhaps even feel) completely plausible are endless.

Surfing and gambling are a match rigged in heaven. It’s only a matter of time until it goes to the dogs.


Aloha Hawaii: John John Joins Team America!

Hawaiian surfing rejoins the union.

Ahhh the wonderful gifts that Leemore, CA keeps giving the world of surfing.

Leemore.

First, discovered by Dr. Lovern Lee More from France in April of 1871. See that? “Lee More”? Second, discovered by sir Kelly Slater as the site for the world’s greatest man made wave. And finally, the site where American surfing reclaims its competitive edge against the feisty Aussies and the Brazilian Storm.

Could Dr. Lee More have ever guessed that France would gift America with something even more patriotically valuable than the Statue of Liberty?

Let’s take a closer look at today’s festivities at the WSL’s KS Wave Co “The Test” event. Amongst the muted ranch fueled colors of the “Future Classic’s” jerseys are some very telling signs.

Are Carissa and John John bearing the American flag?

Why, yes they are!

(Do you remember when Hawaii, led by the ASP seceded from the USA? Read here.)

John John, team USA.
Goodbye Hawaii! Back when Rabbit Bartholomew was prez of pro surfing he recognised Hawaii as a separate nation to mainland USA. ‘The ASP recognises Hawaii as its own, solemn, surfing nation,’ he said. Not anymore.

A sign of things to come with all of the newly rumored changes to the WSL?

A sneaky unapproved nationalistic move by Kelly?

Pre-Olympics team building?

Will JJF be hanging in with Kolohe eating alot of meat along side his titanium Traeger grill? Will Coco, Zeke, Carissa and Tati be sharing in the filets?

Will the black shorts revolt?

Will the American Avalanche start to roll?!?

So so much to consider!


Wave Ranch: “Elitist and Slimy!”

"Did I hear Coldplay? Fuck that."

I won’t lie. I have spent the day swallowing bitter gal. Nasty bile. Stomach churning ugh. I was rebuffed from attending the event of the week, the first ever competitive run at Kelly Slater’s Surf Ranch in Lemoore, California. Stab crushed your dear old BeachGrit by sending Mikey Ciaramella and Morg Williamson up to cherry-picker and drone the event. And I toddled around home, editing Cocaine + Surfing: A Love Story into a foreign bluetooth keyboard since I drowned my laptop’s in vodka/pampelmousse late last night, picking a four-year-old up from preschool and taking her to tennis lessons.

Depressed.

But then I read the best piece ever about the event and my spirit soared.

Oh of course it didn’t come from Mike C. nor did it come from Morg W. nor did it come from the ghastly intern writing the World Surf League’s live blog.

No.

It came from What Youth’s Travis Ferre.

Travis, lest you forget, is the godfather of progressive surfing. Through his tenure at Surfing and then What Youth he was only and all about the next and a mile ahead of anyone else. And while we were all slobbering over Wave Ranch he wrote:

All day today there’s been a lot of hype, speculation and excitement around the WSL’s specialty event at Kelly Slater’s wave pool. I’ve spoken to people at the wave and people who rode the wave and people who attended the event — some invited and some not invited. We’ve texted with Kelly (who I must say has always been very accommodating to our ridiculous questions and concerns), some bystanders and gotten a glimpse inside with varying degrees of success. And while it’s definitely a bizarre spectacle they’ve created and has surely started a never-ending conversation that I’m going to have with every relative I have this Christmas, it’s becoming something I want nothing to do with.

Now don’t get me wrong, as a surfer, you’d be lying if you weren’t a little buzzed watching that thing peel down the line. It’s surreal. A fucking dream wave come true. But I get the same way when a car splashes in my gutter and makes a mini wave peel. Same reaction. We like to look at waves — I’m cursed by it. But after getting my glimpses at what’s going on behind the very closed doors at the Wave Park: I just don’t have any interest in their elite surf country club or the likely very sterile events they’ll be holding inside. Did I hear Coldplay is playing? Coldplay? Fuck that.

The way this whole wave-pool-WSL thing has been introduced to the world feels slimy. Elitist and weird. And while I can’t argue that riding it, watching it and the general excitement around the whole thing is noteworthy, I get the same quesy feeling I get around private golf courses and churches. Or when I hear the awkward clop of flip flops. I just don’t think I can buy into this cultish wave pool culture. I’m happy to stick to what I’ve got in the ocean. It’s never gotten old. Not once. Even the flat spells, obnoxious tides, difficult travel, shifting sandbars and reef bounces — it’s all that that keeps me around. The unknown. The fun. All I know about my chances at riding a wave in the KS Wave Park include waiting in line for a wave and a grape soda and I’ll no doubt be surrounded by corporate executives in WSL polos looking to buy a wave park of their own. And I’ll hack my golf ball down any old street before I pay to play that course.

“Did I hear Coldplay? Fuck that” is as near to genius as surf writing has come in the last decade plus.

And so Travis, thank you for correcting my course. And Coldplay? Totally fuck you!


John John Florence ain't riding a unicorn, Lemoore, California. | Photo: WSL

Warshaw: “We’ve traded magic for perfection!”

"Kelly’s wave is End of Days. It's heartbreaking."

With its historic location, farms and casinos sticky with margarita mix, Lemoore, California, was the oddest place to find the greatest collection of professional surfers, past and present, ever.

But Kelly and the WSL did it.

All because…everyone… you, me, Rabbit Bartholomew, Filipe and so on, was dying to see, maybe even ride, Kelly’s secretive pool. The sorta-event, called The Test at Surf Ranch, ran behind closed doors, the WSL providing a live-ish blog.

Now that the pool has revealed itself a little more, let’s pan back and examine the ramifications. Are they good, are they bad, what thrills and what don’t? I asked the custodian of surf history, Mr Matt Warshaw for his learned opinion.

BeachGrit: First, are you excited by the pool event?

Warshaw: Only in that we’re getting a broader, less-filtered look at the place. “Excited” isn’t the word, though. I’ve got a dread obsession with Kelly’s wave. I can’t look away. I’m turned on and despondent at the same time. Mostly despondent. For the surfer in me, Kelly’s wave is End of Days. We’ve traded magic for perfection, and it’s heartbreaking.

BeachGrit: Do you think this is Kelly’s coup de grâce? Now that world titles are out of reach, he redefines what surfing and pro surfing is?

Warshaw: Yes. Despite what I’ve said above, Kelly hasn’t done anything wrong, or evil. Mechanical surf was always in our future. Kelly was smart enough, and had enough juice, to get it there faster that it might have done otherwise. And yes, like you say, he gets to further reshape the sport way beyond whatever he’s done as a wave-riding innovator and champion.

BeachGrit: Let’s do a little role call. He’s got John John, Filipe, Gabriel, Carissa, Steph, alongside Hemmings, MR, Shaun, Rabbit, himself. Have you ever heard of such a gathering? And to do it in a shitty town peppered with crummy motels and an Indian casino four hours from LA. It’s a masterclass in PR.

Warshaw: There you go. Only Kelly could do that.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BZPCaQwHr1m/?taken-by=chris_mauro

BeachGrit: Tell me, gut instinct. Non surfing UFC guy and new non-surfing-former-tennis-pro CEO Sophie Goldschmidt running the show. Good, bad?

Warshaw: Gut instinct is, it has to be good, for no other reason than they know that WSL thus far has mostly failed, and needs a massive restructuring. But I’ll hedge my bet. If we’re looking at small events, some jet-setting when necessary, if we’re into a Mentawai playoff scenario — fantastic. But if wavepools are the end game, pro surfing is well and truly fucked.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BZPQd5OAA-e/?taken-by=wsl

BeachGrit: Read this quote from today’s event and tell me what you think: “Put simply: this is a research and development exercise that allows all the stakeholders involved in any future event to understand the wide array of opportunities available. Everyone from competitors, organizers, judges, broadcasters, sponsors and even a delegation of the sport’s founders are on hand to witness the technology that will have a dramatic effect on the future of surfing’s evolution”

Warshaw: Oh. I hadn’t seen that. I guess we’re 25 degrees closer to well and truly fucked.

BeachGrit: After Steph, Filipe and John, I felt like I saw all that was going to happen. Did you have a similar experience? 

Warshaw: Every wave is a 10. You’re just ticking down point fractions. That, and as a viewer, you’ve already ridden each wave in your mind before it starts.

BeachGrit: In your opinion, as custodian of the sport’s history, what’s next?

Warshaw: As custodian of the sport’s history, I’ll remind people that, before automated surf shot it out from beneath us, we were riding the unicorn of sports.