Yemen: The most perfect wave ever!

Chapter 8: Or how Al-Qaeda smashes Kelly Slater.

(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, Chapter 6, Chapter 7)

And so we left the mountains and its Al-Qaeda in order to return to the coastline and its unexplored potential. And its Al-Qaeda too. It took half a day to wind from Ataq down to Bir Ali. I remember watching the countryside pass by the open window. The homes engineered throughout the centuries to keep men away from women. Towers that hid secret stairways and doorways. Goats out front chewing scrub. Bower Horse sold in random side road kiosk.

Bir Ali was the first place on the map that looked like it would have surf. By “looked” I don’t mean a careful bathymetrical plumbing or any accounting of swell direction. No. I mean it was the first place up the coast from Aden where there was any variation in the coastline on our giant foldable map. Bays and spits etc. Coastal variation, to my mostly Oregonian mind, meant surf. When the land stuck out like a tongue or formed a cove then waves would appear.

We arrived into the wall of sweltering coastal humidity with my anticipation at an all time high. Bir Ali. It sounded good, sounded exotic, and would also look good on the page next to my feathering barrel. Bir Ali. Barrel Ali.

Yet there was nothing. Not even ankle slappers. We drove up and down the coast, into the bays, out on the spits. We climbed a large hill that might have been the buried remnants of an ancient fort and peered to the northeast and nothing and peered to the southwest and nothing. Major Ghamdan entertained himself by shooting his Kalashnikov at two young men on the beach. I remember them rushing away and Ghamdan’s laugh.


We rented a boat from a regal looking fisherman and he took us to the places we couldn’t see and nothing. I was almost devastated. If nothing in Bir Ali and waist high Aden was our best find how angry would Sam George be? Son of a bitch. He would be angry.

The heat. The heat and the dust. And depression began to set in. We had been on the road for maybe two weeks at this point and had two and a half months to go. Two and a half months for waist high Aden. Middle eastern travel, especially when the roads turn to dust and the heat is inescapable and Arab music videos can’t be found challenges even the stoutest disposition. Did you ever watch the film Jarhead? I am not generally a Jake Gyllenhaal fan but he captured its essence perfectly in that movie. Perfectly. Maybe it is the 5000 extra years of history bearing down. Maybe it is the lack of alcohol. Maybe it is the way the sun hits the dust then hits the soul. All I know is when depression hits in the middle east it hits. And hits hard.

I went to bed that night in some hot room depressed and woke up the next morning depressed. J. and N. wanted to explore further. I wanted to leave and continue toward the next town, Mukallah and must have bitched to the point of forcing the issue because we left Barrel Ali in our rearview and we left its semi-combed over potential.

Depressed. I remember feeling depressed then, staring out the window at the flat coastline as it passed by. We curved inland for a minute, ate lunch, probably bought qat, then back to the coastline.

And waves.


They were unrideable, messy, slamming into small rock cliffs but waves. Waves. Magic. Waves. We were all craning our necks, driving stupidly slow, holding our breaths and then rounded one more corner. 10 kilometers outside Mukallah there was a wave breaking that had a left and a right.

And fuck.

We pulled over immediately, ripped the coffin from the Landcruiser’s roof, pulled boards out and trunks on and stepped down huge rocks into the water. Waves.

We paddled shoulder to shoulder not knowing how deep it was or anything else. The water was thick and murky. And warm. We made it outside. Sat. And then a wave stood up. I paddled, caught, dropped in, popped up and ecstasy. Pure unbridled ecstasy.

Photographic evidence shows I was wearing a long-sleeved rashguard and that the wave was generously head high but it was a wave. A proper wave. And we surfed that thing for five hours that day, until the sun set all the way. I couldn’t believe it at the time and the emotions of that day have been so branded onto my heart that it is impossible to write about it objectively.

It was the best wave in the entire world. A right and a left. Head high and ridiculously fun. Uncrowded because we were the first people to ever surf it. It had gone unridden for 5000 years. A wave. An honest to goodness wave dead smack in the middle of Yemen. I was so in love that I begged to name it after my wife, the one I am thankfully divorced from today and hate. That wave is still the highlight of my surfing life.

That wave is probably why I hate Kelly Slater’s Surf Ranch so much. His inland atrocity is the opposite of adventure. It is guarantee. And it is in my ex-wife’s backyard. Fuck them both. Long live uncertainty. Long adventure.

Long live Yemen.

Stephanie Gilmore
"I'm not trying to be adorable. I'm trying to be ferocious."

Visit: Steph Gilmore’s Port Dume Rental!

The bleak hopelessness of Tweed Heads swapped for Malibu!

Yesterday, the video channel Nowness, which is owned by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, posted a lovely three-minute short of Stephanie Gilmore at her Point Dume beach house.

Stephanie shares the modest, although one uses the term modest in relative terms for the area is an enclave of the wealthy, with her sister-manager Whitney and, without being too cruel, is so superior, so vastly different, to her old hometown in Tweed Heads that it must feel, sometimes, as she’s living on a different planet.

Malibu/Dume: dazzled by wealth and stars. Leo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson, Ellen DeGeneres and so on.

Tweed Heads: homelessness, drug abuse, poverty. Seven years ago, Stephanie was belted with an iron bar by a homeless stalker, busting her wrist and cutting open her head, her attacker jailed for four years.

These sorts of edits, where the celebrity peels back the curtain of their living quarters, where they eat, dance, make love, cry, laugh, plot, succeed and fail, are compelling voyeurism.

Of course, Stephanie Gilmore isn’t the only famous surfer living in Point Dume.

Come visit the Man with the Attack Dog Tits here. 

And watch Stephanie at home, here.

The dreamiest years!
The dreamiest years!

Economics: Is the “Dream Tour” dead?

Time to embrace the dystopia!

Do you remember when the World Surf League, then called the Association of Surfing Professionals, shifted focus from hosting contests in population centers to having the “world’s best surfers on the world’s best waves?”

What a novel idea! What a boon to surf fans everywhere! Now instead of watching the Huntington Hop we would get gifted iconic locations, generally good conditions and all for free. It truly was a wild fantasy.

Times change, though, and people change and I wonder if the “dream tour” model is now officially dead in the water, as it were.

The events are expensive, costing some 2 -3 million per. Online traffic is stable but not seeing stratospheric growth. Blue-chip sponsors are not knocking down the door trying to get a piece of the market. The rumors that first appeared on BeachGrit wrapped in irony then Stab in a more appropriately serious tone do make sense. The field will likely be trimmed and the locations might be trimmed too.

And now we have the official announcement that the WSL will host its first proper event at Surf Ranch in May 2018 (coincidentally the same time the highly anticipated Cocaine + Surfing: A Love Story! is set to release).

I am seeing a future where Pipe, Teahupo’o, J-Bay and Rio are sprinkled in to five different pool competitions and that is the tour. Not exactly a dream but… I don’t know. Beggars can’t be choosers.

Sophie Goldschmidt

Revolting: WSL Fans Turn on New CEO!

The perilous magic of being a non-surfer in a surfer's world!

Let’s drive the French Revolution metaphor into the dirt, yes? Last Tuesday, the WSL’s new CEO, the former tennis pro Sophie Goldschmidt, wrote a kind letter to surf fans explaining the surf ranch event, which appeared on the organisation’s website.

Let’s read a small part.

Today, we’ve brought a cross-section of the world’s best surfers here to test this groundbreaking new WSL facility, technology and also showcase what an event can be like and we’re very excited. Having the ability to replicate, even partially, the power and shape of ocean waves for anyone in the world, in any location and at any time is a truly magical thing.

One thing that will never change for the WSL, however, is that surfing in the ocean remains foundational to what the WSL is and we will always have ocean competitions. As this technology continues to evolve, we see significant opportunities in the competitive arena…and we look forward to bringing you along with us when that happens.

But while the tone of the letter was beige with the business-speak that so bedevilled Billabong and Quiksilver and SurfStitch as they chased corporate gold, I found it charming in its inoffensiveness.

Readers on the WSL site, however, were stirred into action.

Oh they combusted!

From Mik:


since you have no idea what’s happening in the surf world, here’s a plan:

find out how many viewers are online @ each location

find out the total cost of award money plus cost of event staging

find out the total income from advertisers

then determine a fee for online access to @ event, and package deal for entire season.

If there’s a million viewers, then $5 per event / $29 entire season.

no fee for wave pool event. because we’re not paying, and after 10 minutes,we’re not watching.

eliminate the shit waves and replace with Indo or similar. cheaper because less scaffolding costs. film from boats.

maintain contest structure and overall sequence. it works.

get rid of the 3 of 5 Aussie Judge bias: throw Porta overboard and 1 other Aussie Judge — whomever else is also most blatantly crook. replace with equal representation from USA Oz Hawaii Brazil EU; all former pro surfers.

And again,

Yeah. wave pools are fun. this one is the best.

but what happens if there are 50 of them in the USA; and they are training 200 newbies a month. 12 x 200 = 2400 newbies a year x 50 wave-ranches = 120,000 new surfers a year, with skills, heading to the better surf spots, of which there may be 30 truly good spots in CA. That’s 40,000 potential more people heading your way. The first year.

Do the math, know it all.

I can surf BTW. Cloud break, Pipeline, Indo, entire West Coast… Probably better than you…

And I’m not stoked about this possibility.

The WSL is dreaming if they think people will watch wave pool events in the same way as real surf spots. They’ll watch 15 minutes, and done.

If Sophie doesn’t realize this, then the WSL just hired a CEO-clone of Carly Fiorina.

Ask HP how that went?

John: How does this not end up like Olympic snowboarding? ( how can we make sure this doesn’t become sanitized and predictable? )

Bad Medicine: Thank you for taking us back 22 years to a classic AOL style live blog and chatroom style event that most of the readers of this comment section were not even alive to witness at the time. At least the video clips are higher res!

And, cuttingly…

Nicholas Tee: Welcome Sophie …. which waves were you surfing in London?

The perilous magic of a non-surfer in a surfer’s world!

Sensitive gentleman of the jury, let me ask: will the new CEO last?

Best of: Surfer Out of Water Portraits!

Come and witness the best non-surf photography around!

You and I both know that professional surfers are photogenic masterpieces when plying their craft. A picture of Filipe Toledo hanging in the air or Michel Bourez planted deep in a tube is enough to rock our worlds and to rock them for days. We dream in the medium of surf action photo but ain’t it grand when our favorites get out of the water and look just as stunning?

And I would like to share with you my favorite from a collection I keep called Surfer Out Of Water Portrait. Someday its entirety will end up in the Broad Museum but here’s a sneak peek. For you.

Who’s that up above, floating on a magic carpet? It’s world number 2 Taj Burrow. Oh sure he’s not exactly “out of water” but his joy is impossibly infectious. Here’s to you, Taj!

And who is this? It’s Anastasia Ashley captured crossing the street in New York City. So casual yet so… not.

Yoga? Did I hear you say yoga? Well sure it straightens the spine and is good for the diaphragm but Julian Wilson shows it’s also good for the eyes.

Jogging is an upper middle class hallmark and who better than to do, and to do nude, than Kelly Slater? Near perfection!

We all get tired and here John John Florence is tired in front of the great designer/artist Hedi Slimane. Do you get tired? Do you even know Hedi Slimane?

Ooooee it’s hard to professional surf for a living. Sometimes you just need a super casual beer with your super casual friend. Know what I mean?

That’s all I gots for now. Do you have some photos stashed away of surfers not surfing? Would you like to share?