HR connects one satisfying word with his time back in the waves: “Happiness.” | Photo: Photo courtesy HR

Long Read: Surf Saves Bad Brains Frontman!

Ocean gives punk icon HR an anti-depressive lift!

HR strolled into the grand lobby of the Lord Baltimore hotel where he was awaiting the premiere of Finding Joseph I, the story of his rise, struggle, and return to Jamaican waters.

Selfishly, I wanted him to jump up onto the glass coffee table, unleash a desperate roar, then spring into a perfect backflip.

But HR, leader of the pioneering punk rock group Bad Brains is not this person. His gait is measured and at times uncertain. His words are few and gently drift out of a small sixty-one-year-old frame. He is fragile.

Yet somewhere in this man exists a history of all of us who heard his voice screaming inside our heads as we furiously paddled: CHARGE! It’s no coincidence that Bad Brains’ anthems brought life to countless surf videos; HR knows the ocean and its power.

HR still retains a bit of the unique style that attracted so many kids to him, his music, and his Positive Mental Attitude, or PMA, over the last four decades.  Reclining in a silver Adidas track suit with matching shoes, Rasta-colored knit hat and fat gold watch — clasped outside of the sleeve, of course—  he opens up.

But HR doesn’t share much about the watch, the music or the PMA. He talks about his first memories of swimming on the shores of Jamaica and playing in the waves of Hawaii.

He wants to talk about the ocean.

“When I was a boy living in Waikiki, I once dove into the water after a sailboat anchored way in the distance. I thought I could make it there underwater but quickly realized that I was drowning. I was too far from that boat and too far from shore,” he says.  “Then I see my father dive in.”

HR closes his eyes and smiles. “He saved my life.”

Growing up on the beaches of Hawaii gave HR (Human Rights), born Paul Hudson, the opportunity to develop an intimate relationship with the water. He and brother Earl (also Bad Brains’ drummer) wanted to imitate the surfers they saw and idolized including the Duke, whom HR declares as his favorite.

The two boys shaped primitive skim boards with their father’s tools in the garage and spend their days throwing themselves into the shore break.

“They worked really good,” he explains as his eyes light up. “But, you know, it depended on who was riding them.”

HR laughs, a modest nod to his skills.

As HR entered adolescence, his father, an Air Force employee, began a string of short-term reassignments which removed the family from idyllic Hawaii to such inland locations as Texas, Alabama, and the New York City. While HR was no longer close to the ocean, his passion for the water remained. Settling in, HR joined his school’s diving team.

“I loved to dive.  That’s where I learned to flip and I never stopped,” HR says referring to the lightning-powered acrobatics that would soon help define his onstage charisma. He excelled so rapidly that his school coach offered to train him for an Olympic bid.

“The coach asked my mom what she thought about me moving away to work with the Junior Olympic team,” HR recalls.  “But she wasn’t havin’ it. I wanted it, but she said, ‘no way.’”

His mother knew that another reassignment was approaching. This time, HR would land in Washington, DC, home of the President and birthplace of the young Bad Brains.

And then came the music.

Album after furious album.

Touring and notoriety.

Madonna and her Maverick record label came calling.

Chris Blackwell, owner of Island Records, petitioned HR to play Bob Marley in an official bio-pic. There’s even an intriguing photo of a Cheshire-grinned HR aside a woman —curiously resembling Brooke Shields — drawing in a big lungful of something.

All the supposed glory of a rock star was within reach.

But HR wasn’t interested in money or fame.

While living in North San Diego County in the late 1990’s, HR was once again drawn to the water and rediscovered his habit of watching local surfers, the same routine as on the shores of Waikiki. Friends also claimed that around this time he also developed other, less-healthy habits.

As the rest of us moved on to middle-class prizes, he remained true to his words: “The bourgeoisie had better watch out for me,” HR sang.

What money he had, he spent or gave away. He rarely held a permanent address, bouncing from home to the street and on to the next, ping-ponging between the east coast and California.

While living in North San Diego County in the late 1990’s, HR was once again drawn to the water and rediscovered his habit of watching local surfers, the same routine as on the shores of Waikiki. Friends also claimed that around this time he also developed other, less-healthy habits.

There were stories and rumors. HR smokes crack. HR just plays games. HR is crazy. During his most troubled times, he could be seen shuffling around the streets costumed in a platinum-blond wig, gold slippers, flowing white bathrobe over a electric-green Adidas track suit, an acoustic guitar dragging behind him. A genuine tinfoil on-the-head departure from reality. An overwrought English accent layered his ravings about Princess Diana or Barack Obama possibly tapping his phone.

Like in the waters of Waikiki, HR once again needed saving.

In 2010, independent film-maker James Lathos learned that HR was sleeping in a boarded-up warehouse in downtown Baltimore.

“He was just surviving,” says Lathos. “It was not a healthy place.”

Lathos realized that he had an opportunity to do more than simply document the downfall of one of rock’s most mythical figures, he had the chance to bring him to the surface.

Lathos, a surfer, thought quickly.

“I had to get him out of the urban ghetto. So what better place than the ocean?”

After securing the needed funds, the two traveled to Jamaica with a small crew to capture HR’s return to the waters where he first played.

“It was therapy,” says Lathos.  “It’s a heavy burden to be him… to see him diving off the cliffs and swimming in the ocean was everything. You could see his spirit open. He felt free again.”

HR connects one satisfying word with his time back in the waves: “Happiness.”

And when I ask him if he attempted a backflip, HR replies, “No, I just dove straight down… but this time I came back up.”

It was his start to recovery.

Some things are better described than defined, and mental illness might be such a thing. The Jamaican trip may have been the spark for HR to seek medical help for his deteriorating mental state. Doctors found he displayed symptoms characteristic of schizophrenia. They also diagnosed him with SUNCT, a rare brain condition which causes debilitating and constant “icepick” headaches. Fortunately, doctors have been able to address both conditions.

Yet, this does not underscore the power of his ocean homecoming.

As Lathos saw it, “He was off the hellhole streets and happy, man. It was redemption.”

Lathos also sees a bigger picture. “I’m glad I could help my friend and if this movie, which shows HR’s struggles with mental illness, can help even three people, it’s worth it.”  But the director-surfer digresses. “Of course, any chance to get in the water in Jamaica is worth it, too!”

Currently, HR is working with his Bad Brains bandmates on more material, ready to deliver the message of PMA to a new generation of kids charging into waves.  In Finding Joseph I, HR confesses, “I was given a responsibility to be a leader, but I also had to be a human being” — a balance which might finally be reclaimed.


Visit: The rebel island of Taiwan!

A fabulous history with fabulous waves!

You are, of course, a student of history and are very aware of Formosa, or what we call Taiwan/the Republic of China. The island, floating just east of mainland China and north of the Philippines, was made famous in modern times when the Chinese communists, led by Mao Zedong, fought the Chinese nationalists, led by Chang Kai-shek, in a bloody civil war. The communists won a series of decisive victories pushing the nationalists to Taiwan where Chang Kai-shek declared Taipei to be his de-facto wartime capital. And there has been a cold stare ever since with Beijing laying claim to the island and the island insisting on its autonomy.

What you may not know is that there is surf.

And let me introduce you to Hawaiian pro surfer Macy Mullen. A fine name by any account.

Born and raised in Hawaii, professional surfer Macy Mullen experienced Taiwanese culture through his mother who is of full Taiwanese ethnicity. Macy heard stories, history and perspective from his mother, but always wanted to see his (and his mother’s) homeland with his own eyes. With a Summer window of opportunity and the Western Pacific Typhoon season swinging into full effect, Macy and fellow Hawaii pro Alex Pendleton booked a last minute strike mission to Tainan, the capital of Taiwan, with hopes of scoring surf along the eastern countryside. Their trip provided more than just quality surf, they also dove deep into Taiwan culture and made lifelong friendships within the new, budding Taiwan surf culture.

Shall we watch? We would be foolish not to.


I was sad because big wave surfers seem to enjoy each other's company more than regular surfers. They seem to even like each other and the entire field paddled over to Ian and gave him true love when the final bell rang. They were so happy for him and happy for each other and happy in general and I was sad because look at us. | Photo: WSL

Triumph: Ian Walsh wins Jaws!

A fantastic victory leaves me heartbroken.

I tuned in to the last 30 seconds of the Big Wave World Tour Peahi Challenge today and was overcome by immense sadness as Ian Walsh was declared victorious. A full-bodied sadness that began just behind my eyes before moving to my stomach and further extremities.

I was not sad that Ian Walsh won. He is a very kind and good man and is in on this grand joke we’re all playing. I was not sad that I missed all but 30 seconds of the event. Big wave surfing, I have realized over the years is an absolute bore. Swell interval is a real thing and the swells that create big waves are spaced lots far out which means commentators droning on and on and on and on ad nauseam. I think the WSL should hire stand-up comics in between sets. I was not sad that Rory Parker was theoretically “reporting” from a boat in the channel for Stab. He once “reported” from Pipeline for us and it was the end of our relationship. I was not sad that Billy Kemper failed to three-peat. I already let it be known that Ian Walsh is good and fine.

No.

I was sad because big wave surfers seem to enjoy each other’s company more than regular surfers. They seem to even like each other and the entire field paddled over to Ian and gave him true love when the final bell rang. They were so happy for him and happy for each other and happy in general and I was sad because look at us.

We small wave surfers hate each other. We grimace at each other in the lineup. We curse at each other on the sand. We wish a giant epidemic would come and wipe all other surfers from the face of the earth yet somehow spare us and then we would go surf Trestles all by ourselves and do almost average cutbacks and think, “Yeah… smooooooth.”

We are a spiteful bunch. And would you like to do something about it? Would you like to pretend, emotionally, that we are big wave surfers? I’ll make you a deal. Next time I do an almost average cutback can you paddle over to me and hug me and if I’m wearing an inflatable vest can you pull the cord and inflate it in a good natured manner?

I’ll do the same for you and let’s pretend, even if it is only for one day, that we like each other.

Ok?


Donald Trump Jr. pictured with surfer.

Witch hunt: The WSL, Trump and Russia!

Professional surfing gets caught in the snare!

If you are even only semi-literate you are aware that the president of the United States, Donald John Trump, is being investigated for possible collusion with Russia during the 2017 election. Those on the left think that the Trump campaign, alongside Russian operatives, infiltrated less intelligent Americans’ Facebook accounts and made them believe bad things about Donald Trump’s opponent Hillary Rodham Clinton. Those on the right believe it is all a #witchhunt and #fakenews in order to explain away what should have been a sure victory for #crookedhillary.

Whew!

Part of the investigation centers around a meeting that the president’s son, Donald John Trump Jr., had with a group of Russians in the Trump Tower including a woman named Natalia V. Veselnitskaya who was reported to have “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.

Well it was revealed yesterday’s New York Times that Ms. Veselnitskaya instead brought alleged dirt on American investors the Ziff Brothers, one of whom owns the WSL.

That’s right! The World Surf League right in the middle-ish of wild international intrigue!

I’ve read the NYT story three times now and get more confused each. I can’t tell what the Ziff brothers were alleged to have done nor why it would matter to the Trump campaign but I am only semi-literate. You should take a crack at it here.

I wasn’t there, anyhow, in the Trump Tower and don’t understand the story but I have some thoughts about how the conversation went down. Here is a transcript.

Veselnitskaya: Spasiba for coming. I have some very interesting for you.

Trump Jr.: Shoot, babe.

Veselnitskaya: There is Democrat donor, da? Who has… problem. Problem can be exploited.

Trump Jr.: Hit me.

Veselnitskaya: There is Brothers Ziff and one brothers Ziff, Dirk, owns The World Surf League…

Trump Jr.: Derek?

Veselnitskaya: (Consultes notes) Nyet. Dirk. Diiirk.

Trump Jr.: Got it.

Veselnitskaya: And this World Surf League…

Trump Jr.: (interrupts) There is a World Surf League? It sounds globalist. Is America getting a good deal being part of this league?

Veselnitskaya: (consultes notes) Nyet. The top ranked surfer is Hawaiian. The top ranked surfer American is Kolohe Andino and he is number 8 in the world.

Trump Jr.: Kolohe? That doesn’t sound American.

Veselnitskaya: Da but he looks.

Trump Jr.: Is his dad… black?

Veselnitskaya: (consultes notes) Nyet. His name is Dino.

Trump Jr.: Dino Andino? Is he Mexican?

Veselnitskaya: (consultes notes) Nyet. From Lithuania.

Trump Jr.: Well he doesn’t seem American at all. Who is below Kolohe?

Veselnitskaya: (consultes notes) Number 20 is Kanoa Igarashi…

Trump Jr.: (interrupts) is this a joke? A fucking joke? Kanoa Igarashi? I’m telling my dad to get America out of this bad deal right away. Kolohe Andino and Kanoa Igarashi. This is worse than NAFTA… etc. etc. etc.

And then they probably talked about Kelly’s Surf Ranch and a bunch of other stuff.


Podcast: “John John like 108-year-old Chinese man!”

The Weekly Grit with David Lee Scales and Chas Smith… 

What can I tell you? I love Mexican food, Southern gothic writers, horror movies, fireplaces, people who tell the  truth, corn on the cob, Dr Pepper (which I cannot find in Bondi), old movies, Céline, ketchup on my steak and…

The Weekly Grit with David Lee Scales and BeachGrit principal Chas Smith.

It isn’t exactly weekly, and if there’s anything more excruciating than something that proclaims a regular slot but doesn’t meet scheduling I’m yet to find it, but when it does appear I’m a fan of sorts.

In this almost one-hour-and-a-half episode, Chas and David talk surf media wars and the latest roughhousing between Stab and the Inertia (“Zach comes across as, well… pathetic… is a nice word,” says Chas) as well as Chas’ “scorched earth policy” media strategy.

“I dragged everyone into the gutter,” says Chas.

Also, whether you’re a “goober” if you punch your surfboard, neck tattoos, a discussion on whether or not the Hypto Krypto is for clumsy hoodlums and some rumination on the question, has a pro surfer has ever grown a satisfactory beard.

“John John l0oks like a 108-year-old Chinese man,” says David.

Listen here.