Let’s not waste time with words this morning. There is a video making the rounds, from the production arm of the World Surf League, and it is magnificent and eye-popping. It features fourteen-year-old Maui phenomenon Eli Hanneman who rides Matt Biolos shaped surfboards.
The fact that he is so young and surfs so well is both wonderful but also burdensome. If you are 14, going to become 15 then eventually mid-20s, how do you top your younger self? Did John John surf this good when he was 14?
But we here are anti-depressive so let us not project anything. Let us revel in the moment.
Amazing, no? Better than you or I will ever be. Should we give up on the surf game and become scholars instead? Maybe we can study the Hindu gods. Maybe we can begin with that monkey one Hanuman since it is near Hanneman? Let’s start!
While still a baby, Hanuman, the child of a nymph by the wind god, tried to fly up and grab the Sun, which he mistook for a fruit. Indra, the king of the gods, struck Hanuman with a thunderbolt on the jaw (hanu), thus inspiring the name. When Hanuman continued to misbehave, powerful sages cursed him to forget his magic powers, such as the ability to fly or to become infinitely large, until he was reminded of them. Hanuman led the monkeys to help Rama, an avatar (incarnation) of the god Vishnu, recover Rama’s wife, Sita, from the demon Ravana, king of Lanka (likely not the present-day Sri Lanka).
Having been reminded of his powers by Jambavan, the king of the bears, Hanuman crossed the strait between India and Lanka in one leap, despite the efforts of watery demonesses to stop him by swallowing him or his shadow. He was discovered in Lanka, and his tail was set on fire, but he used that fire to burn down Lanka. Hanuman also flew to the Himalayas and returned with a mountain full of medicinal herbs to restore the wounded in Rama’s army.
Hanuman is worshipped as a subsidiary figure in temples dedicated to Rama or directly in shrines dedicated to Hanuman himself. The latter are generally thronged by monkeys, who know that they cannot be mistreated there. In temples throughout India, he appears in the form of a monkey with a red face who stands erect like a human. For his service to Rama, Hanuman is upheld as a model for all human devotion (bhakti).
Do you hate your teeth? The World Surf League has a contest for you!
Do you remember, some ten years ago, when the film Bustin’ Down the Door was released and we all watched Rabbit Bartholomew, Ian Cairns, Mark Richards and Shaun Tomson tell their wonderful story about surfing on Oahu’s North Shore?
I, for one, loved every moment. It had drama, it had action, it had personality, fear and charm.
Oh I can’t believe if you haven’t seen it and would scold you very much if you told me so but just in case… just in case… you lack taste let me give a truncated summary right here.
A pack of brash Australians and a few more genteel but equally radical South Africans descended upon the North Shore in the early 1970s and terrorized the poor Hawaiians by dropping in, shredding, ripping etc. then they went home and published magazine stories about how much better they were than the Hawaiians.
The poor Hawaiians.
Well… the poor Hawaiians didn’t like that and actually weren’t “poor” but rather “way more terrorizing than any before or after” and formed a group called Da Hui to kick the shit out of the offending bastards.
Somehow Eddie Aikau made peace and an uneasy truce between locals and bastards has reigned in the land for many years.
The World Surf League has decided to exacerbate the situation, much like Kim Jong Un, and is wanting to make you party to the demise plus a bunch of missing teeth by collaborating with the Turtle Bay Resort (where the brash Australians hid out in order to not get their door bustin’ down) for a special prize package.
Let’s see what you win!
5 Night Stay at Turtle Bay Resort – located on the famous North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii. Relax, hangout and rest up at Turtle Bay Resort with an epic ocean view room.
Round Trip Shuttle Transportation – You don’t have to worry about finding parking for the event of the year, we’ll shuttle you to and from the Billabong Pipe Masters.
VIP Event Access – Take in the best surf of the year with VIP-access and seating at the Billabong Pipe Masters.
Surf Board Rentals – Four-day board rental from the renowned Hans Hedemann Surf Center, just steps from your room and the beach.
Bar Passes & Swag – You’ll have VIP Back Door Pass which grants you access to any non-ticketed events at Surfer, The Bar along with your Triple Crown of Surfing swag bag.
How hyped are the Pipeline locals going to be when you drop in on a Surf Board rental with the pros?
We live in the shrillest ever of times, don’t you think? Each word that drips out of mouth or onto paper is parsed, discussed, teased and eventually found to have some very racist, sexist, fascist connotation. Oh I’m not excusing anything that is really racist, sexist, fascist. I am just saying shrill is the tone au courant.
And so it was with great wonder that I read a piece last week in TheSan Diego Union Tribune by staff writer Michael Smolens discussing the 1950s-1960s surf thrill with Nazi schtick, comparing it to today’s white nationalist pop. I was expecting rage at our checkered past but instead found nuance.
Let’s read together!
In the late 1950s, a small band of La Jolla surfers dressed up as Nazis and, carrying a Nazi flag, marched down the beach.
Around the same time, swastikas were painted on the infamous Windansea pump house and at Malibu — perhaps Southern California’s most prominent surf meccas of the era.
And there’s a well-circulated, historic photo of a guy in a stylin’ crouch on a multi-stringer surfboard streaking across the face of a wave in fine trim — while wearing a plastic Nazi helmet.
Some elements of surfing’s tight-knit community, long proud of its rebellious nature, certainly veered off into strange territory back in those days.
Oddly, it didn’t seem like that big of a deal at the time, often described, at least in retrospect, as largely “innocuous.” If so, that was then.
With widespread condemnation of recent white supremacist and neo-Nazi rallies and the removal of Confederate monuments everywhere, the notion of people dressing like Nazis for kicks would be no joking matter these days.
So what were these surfers thinking 60 years ago? It wasn’t seen as sympathy for what Nazis did and what they stood for. Rather, it was more a manifestation of their anti-establishment streak.
Greg Noll, the legendary big wave surfer of that era, said it was just another way to flip off society.
“We just did things like that to be outrageous. You paint a swastika on your car, and it would piss people off. So what do you do? You paint on two swastikas,” he said, according to the Encyclopedia of Surfing by Matt Warshaw, surfing’s meticulous historian.
The surfers’ antics were dismissed as a juvenile annoyance by many. The mainstream media denounced such behavior, but that only emboldened some, cementing their image as reprobates.
Interestingly, the initial link between surfing and swastikas was not only innocuous, but actually well-meaning.
In the 1930s, Pacific System Homes in Los Angeles sold the first commercially produced surfboards after the son of the owner went to Hawaii, went surfing and quickly joined the legions of the jazzed. He apparently convinced his father there was a market for surfboards in Southern California.
It was called the Swastika model, a laminated balsa and redwood board that had a small swastika on the tail. At the time, the symbol in certain cultures meant harmony and good luck.
With the rise of Nazi Germany, which turned the swastika into a symbol of something far different, Pacific System changed the name of its product to the Waikiki Surf-Board.
The piece goes on to discuss the use of Nazi symbolism by other subcultures and how broader culture reacted at the time and how it would react today with such measure. It was like a tall glass of cool vodka to the soul.
But what do you think? Do you think surfers should be more apologetic about appropriating Nazi imagery? Do you think surfing’s favorite safe-space, Venice-adjacent’s own The Inertia, believes surfers should pay reparations to the offended of the time?
(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 right here… Prologue, Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5)
The city of Aden is almost 9 hours directly south from Sana’a though it is an entire world away. We drove past qat plantations, old rock towers, goats being tended by boys and the first of many government checkpoints as we dropped from the genteel temperate highland into the sweltering humid cacophony. Horns blared, traffic backed up, sweat dripped from my forehead down underneath my Spy wrap-arounds like a waterfall.
There is something comforting about humidity, though, even at its most oppressive. Dream surf doesn’t break in temperate zones. It breaks in Indonesia and southern Mexico and Fiji and Tahiti. And even though we didn’t figure Aden would have any waves due Somalia’s jutting presence it officially felt like we were on a surf trip.
Our bodyguards, too, seemed thrilled to be out of the house. They were brothers from Marib, that wild city up near Sana’a, and sang its praises but being in Aden meant vacation. They were mostly business during the drive, shuffling through our various government permissions, arguing with the military men who questioned the validity of our trip, flashing just the right amount of anger. But Major Ghamdan al-Shoefy, the elder, got a sly smile when we stopped for an overpriced lunch just outside the city. He went behind the restaurant dressed in his dinner jacket/curved knife and came back in a thin button-up/futa. The futa is what Yemenis call the sarong which is what Balinese ex-pat hippies call the full length skirt. It is worn by He then busily started making arrangements on a beat up Nokia phone with prayer beads attached.
Hunein, the younger, had eyes as big as ours.
Where Sana’a is delicate, Aden is bawdy. It has the perfect decrepit British outpost feeling like Bombay and parts of Hong Kong. Governmental buildings, train stations and schools echo the glory of empire past mixed in with the taste that something could go very wrong at any second. Humanity piled on top of humanity in a tinderbox. We drove though the city in entirety out to an older hotel on Elephant Bay and there, in front of us, were waves. Real waves. Waist high peelers running off a sandbar.
We couldn’t believe it. We were in a bay in a sea so shadowed by Africa that it seemed… impossible. Now I know that waves are never quite where you expect them to be but back then I thought it was a miracle. We pulled the board coffins off the Landrover as quickly as we could, stripped down into below the knee Op and ran straight into the warm bath.
I was higher than I had ever been in my entire life. It was like a bad day at Huntington but, as far as I was concerned, the trip was a massive success. We were surfing.
And we stayed surfing in Yemen until the sun slid into the bay before driving into town for a celebratory fish dinner all salt crusted and sore, toasting cold Canada Drys and laughing. Our bodyguards seemed pleased too. Ghamdan kept up some banter about ladeez and booze. We told him we didn’t come to Yemen for that but it didn’t dim his passion as he kept working on his Nokia.
When we were finished we got back in the Landcruiser to head to the hotel for sleep and then another surf in the morning before pressing on and finding… who knew? Barrels? The next G-Land?
The streets were crowded with city dwellers who had spent the heat of the day crouching in whatever shade they could find and were now alive once again. Futas, small pistols, stares, the call to prayer.
We pulled onto a small side road then onto a bigger one then a pick-up up filled with men pulled up alongside us and they all started barking through heavy beards while waving Kalashnikovs. Ghamdan barked back for a minute before punching it through a crowded intersection with the truck close on our tail.
“What’s going on?” we asked.
“Al-Qaeda” he responded.
His face was neither fearful nor taut but rather pulled into the universal smirk of oh-dang-those-rascal-water-balloon-kids-from-down-the-street-are-after-us. It was a game and he was going to win.
He drove like a bat out of hell, burning around corners, missing fruit carts, racing past angry shouts, looking over his shoulder almost gleeful. Eventually we lost them but then a new game began. He was going to find them and sped around the streets in wild circles looking this way and that but they had disappeared into the heat.
Ghamdan was disappointed and, frankly, so were we. I don’t know what would have happened had we met up again but it all felt like a movie and this is the thing. Terms “Al-Qaeda” and “radical Islamist” and “jihadis” etc. all mean something so specific here. They are cemented. Locked down. Very naughty and purely causative.
A + B = C.
Islam + Radicalization = Terrorist.
There everything seemed as fluid as Canada Dry. I have no idea if the men in the pick-up were actually Al-Qaeda. Maybe they were just religious. I have no idea what they were barking about. Maybe we stole their parking spot. Later we would meet all sorts of men who identified with Al-Qaeda, who believed 9/11 was a good thing, who were excited about the coming destruction of the Great Satan. We would drink coffee and discuss and then discuss other things, like cars or fishing or music videos, before parting with firm handshakes.
Belief in something, in anything, bonds.
But I didn’t know any of this yet. All I knew was the ten minutes spent racing through Aden felt as joyous as finding surf.