Last evening, after the day’s work was done, I settled down with a bit of bourbon and my half-broken laptop in order to catch up on the surf news. This has become somewhat of a ritual for me and mirrors my childhood wind-down except back then it was milk and The Dukes of Hazzard, The A-Team or Happy Days. Small joys. Little pleasures.
I started, as is my wont, at worldsurfleague.com where a women’s longboard event from Taiwan was playing. I watched ten minutes of a heat both marveling at the quality of Taiwanese surf and thinking about longboarding. What a strange dinosaur it is. Like the sturgeon. Or the goblin shark.
I then moved on to stabmag.com and read the loquaciously titled “Albee Layer Politely Lobs Hands Grenade at The Surfer Poll Awards” wherein ex-BeachGrit contributor Michael Ciaramella was on a very bizarre traipse, criticizing Surfer magazine, the Surfer Poll Awards, surfers in general, John John Florence, straight airs, Julian Wilson, and his stablemate Ashton Goggans. Let’s read a snippet?
…with the exception of the actual Surfer Poll award, the rest of the winners are decided directly by Surfer staff members, which is, obviously, a cause for debate. Because who are these people, really? Surfers, just like you and I, who have inherently flawed opinions, just like you and I. They don’t surf nearly as well as the world’s best waveriders, which is fine, but then how can they claim to hold the “authoritative voice” on this year’s best movie, performance, and goddamn progressive maneuver? To give some context into the magnitude of this issue, Surfer’s most progressive surfer/employee* of the last few years was Ashton Goggans, who is now with Stab. From firsthand experience I can tell you Bong-hands is not very progressive. Comfortable with sexual fluidity? Sure. But an aerial wizard he is not. 😉
He goes on to repeatedly call Surfer’s staff “Bible thumpers” etc. and while I applauded the effort, attempting to draw others into a war of words, liddle Mickey Ciaramella’s barbs all felt very foreign. Very strange. Uncomfortable even. Like listening to a non-native speaker get really hot about some subject and passionately debate his position in halting English. Or someone who has never cursed in her life unleashing a string of full-throated vitriol.
The same feeling I had in my childhood when The Dukes of Hazzard, The A-Team or Happy Days would introduce far left-of-field plot lines when viewership was sagging in order to get attention. Like when Boss Hogg and the Duke boys became great friends. Or when the Fonz jumped a shark while water skiing.
It made me wonder if maybe Stab should just stay in its lane, publishing mid-2000s style party photos and wondering where all its Facebook “likes” disappeared to, or if the boys should take a course on “How to correctly agitate the competition.”?
What do you think? Which Stab would you like to see?
If you’ve ever started a biz with a friend, you’ll know the trajectory: loveful and trusting at first, some sort of gloomy adolescence before it ends in a trail of slime.
In the summer of 2013 I was working as the writer, editor and photo editor, of Stab magazine, a print title I’d started in 2003 with Sam McIntosh.
(We’d start the online version, stabmag.com, a few years later.)
I’d cashed out of the biz a few years before 2013 but had stayed on as master and commander of a little ship that, while apparently influential in a cultural sense, rarely sold more than two thousand copies an issue.
Soon, advertising began to disappear and the health not just of Stab, but of all print titles, went into a death spiral. I was of the belief that, before long, a paper magazine would become a curio like slide film or vinyl – for the enthusiast but no longer mass market.
There was the argument that people liked to hold a magazine in their hands, which was true, but without advertising to support the expensive process, it wasn’t possible for a magazine to exist.
I remembered how fast digital photography had killed film. And not just the process, but the sudden obsolescence of all the people involved, from specialists who’d scan the film images on expensive machines to the pre-press division within each magazine that was needed to make the whole thing print ready.
Meanwhile, I watched the traffic of Stab online begin to soar. A story I wrote immediately after Andy Irons’ death took traffic beyond 10,000 sessions in a day for the first time.
I began to tire of print.
Of the long lead time between writing a story and seeing it designed (I’d keep looking over the shoulder of the designer to see if he’d opened the Word file yet. Usually it took a week or more for him to get to it), to getting it proofed, having it printed, and arriving in magazine form. There was that small fritz of excitement of holding the magazine for the first time although there was rarely any feedback, good or bad, except for the time Chas Smith was called “a fucking Jew” by Mick Fanning. We printed the exchange and the magazine lost a quarter of a million dollars in yearly ad revenue.
Worse, everything inside the magazine was so old. Sometimes two months had passed between interview and publication.
In contrast, a story written online would be published immediately and, within minutes, lanced with feedback. One of the profoundly equalising things about the internet is that it doesn’t matter if you’re Apple, the New York Times or BeachGrit, we all occupy the same screen space on a person’s phone or computer.
I knew I had to peg out my claim with a new website.
After selling out of Stab, I’d gone out looking for greener pastures. These included mainstream journalism (two hundred and ten columns for Fairfax Press over five years) and a water tax biz. Neither of ‘em thrilled me like surf thrilled.
So it had to be a surf website. A reboot of Stab but this time a little more Vice (old-school Gav McInnes Vice not SJW Shane Smith Vice) with a slightly cultural bent. Lighter but deeper.
The name came quickly.
It had to have the word Beach in the title. (Surf is so overused.)
It had to allude to a light, loose and libertine approach.
A very good designer pal called Jeremy Hancock created the logos.
A company in Poland built the site for six thousand dollars.
I spoke to my best friend Chas Smith in Los Angeles about using all his previous works for Stab to load up the site. In return, he would become a part-owner and editor. (Soon, he would become the voice of BeachGrit.)
I wanted to launch with a hundred or so stories plugged into the back end. (As of July 2017, there have been 3150 published stories.)
Chas recommended we partner with the Santa Barbara photographer Morgan Maassen as our filmer and photographer because of his excellent social reach.
There would be no business plan except to write, laugh a little and, maybe, somewhere down the line, advertising might give Chas, Morgan and I a small stipend.
I flew to LA in July 2014 and we shot two short videos with Morgan. I wrote with Chas at his kitchen table, drinking vodka margaritas and, at one point, smoking some terrific medicinal marijuana that left me white-faced and holding onto the bench lest I spin off the curvature of the earth.
At some point, my finger hovered over the publish button.
Quote: “I know my breasts, small as plums, would win no blue ribbons,” Balaram Stack might write if he was inclined to poetry. “But in your hands they tremble and fill with song like plump, white birds.”
Three years on, we’ve had another biz partner, Rory Parker, an unemployed Californian who’d moved to Kauai with his lawyer wife and therefore had time on his hands to write every day for two years for his chunk of the biz, three writers who found lucrative employment at Stab (Ali Klinkenberg, Michael Ciaramella and Ashton Goggans). Our launch partner Morgan Maassen disappeared shortly after BeachGrit was launched and therefore didn’t hit the KPIs needed to secure his piece of the business.
BeachGrit’s traffic has grown from seven hundred and twenty reads on opening day to the occasional 20k spike.
There is a small, though not insignificant, revenue stream, although both Chas and I took on book projects this year (he, Surfing and Cocaine: A Love Story and, me, Wednesdays with Bob, a series of interviews with the Australian prime minster Bob Hawke) to keep the home fires burning.
Our manifesto, even after three years, remains the same.
Let me repeat.
We at BeachGrit take surfing like we take life. As anti-depressive! We believe that surfers are in sore need of new standards which will release him from his confusion and place him once again in fruitful communion with the depths of surfing. BeachGrit is loose but we lead with a libertine moral code. We challenge you not to be tempted by our fast-flowing suction! Whatever you think of us, of our writers, and of our swinging attitudes, we promise you’ll never be bored.
This year’s women’s tour race, heading into the final event of the year in Maui, is far more exciting than the men’s. We know that John John is going to win. They could give him the trophy right now and even Brazil would collectively shrug and say, “No próximo ano, destruiremos o diabo colonizador, mas este ano … sim. O garoto loiro nos pegou.” But the women. Oh the women are neck and neck.
Sally Fitzgibbons leads Tyler Wright by a score of 52900 to 51200. A virtual tie with Courtney Conologue nipping at their heels. Sally and Tyler are, of course, Australian and you would think the nation would be split in its allegiance but apparently it is not. Apparently all of the sporting stars have broken in favor of Fitz and let’s read Australia’s Daily Telegraph.
Sally Pearson. Layne Beachley, the Jillaroos, Socceroos, Southern Stars and Matildas. Name an Australian sporting great or team and Sally Fitzgibbons has them in her corner as she prepares for the biggest fight of her career.
The Australian surfer is drawing inspirations from the recent performances of Australia’s top sporting women, men and teams — and a few legends from the past — as she chases a debut world crown after a decade of trying.
While main rival Wright opted to relocate to Hawaii weeks in advance of the showdown, Fitzgibbons says she was able to train uninterrupted on the NSW south coast in a perfect preparation for the finale.
Wright is the defending champion in Maui and with her two worst results calculated into her scorecard holds a narrow lad over Fitzgibbons and Conlogue.
The least complicated way for Fitzgibbons, Wright or Conlogue to win the world title is to win the Maui Pro.
If Fitzgibbons or Wright both finish third in Maui and Conlogue fails to advance into the final, Wright will defend her world crown.
If Fitzgibbons and Wright finish fifth, Conlogue doesn’t advance past the quarters and neither Stephanie Gilmore or Carissa Moore win the event, Wright will again defend her crown.
“Name a Australian sporting great or team and Sally Fitzgibbons has them in her corner.” How do you think this makes Tyler Wright feel? Do you think it makes her want to emigrate and leave those rude bastards behind? What country do you think she should take her talents to and call home?
I was driving in my car through unseasonably brisk weather today and listening to the radio when a story came on about cultural appropriation. Apparently there is a reggae group in England and when they are performing the lead singer will stop the show if she sees white people wearing dreadlocks and ask them to leave. Cultural appropriation she says and wrong. The journalist asked her if it were any exceptions to her rule. She thought for a moment before answering, “No. It is always wrong.”
“Hmmmm” I thought while chuckling about white people who get dreadlocks while also thinking about surfing.
Our favorite pastime either began in Polynesia or in Peru, depending on who you ask, and was a component of religion or old-school fishing, depending again on those same people. It did not, in any case, begin in southern California or Australia.
And that makes us all cultural appropriators and likely racist.
I think, in a gesture of good faith, everyone at The Inertia should stop surfing. I also think anyone who listens to reggae should stop surfing too. And anyone who prefers açai bowls to ice cream. And anyone who drives a Korean-made car. And anyone who uses, “Mahalo” unless Hawaiian and/or ironic. And anyone who celebrates Taco Tuesday.
The boys, our boys, are ready to tackle Sunset next, the second jewel in the Triple Crown, and the forecast is for big, burly surf. Heavy, rolling surf and do you like watching Sunset? Do you love the size of the field? The unpredictability? Back in 1980, famous surf journalist and editor of Surfer magazine Drew Kampion wrote Sunset “…is the standard by which other waves are measured, and the best surfers here are the best surfers, period.”
Over the years its shine has dimmed coinciding with Pipeline’s nuclear glow but I do think that Sunset is primed for a comeback. It is a wave that mocks the very idea of wave tanks. A wave the ocean should be proud of.
I’ve sat near the lifeguard towers there for a few World Cups, watching the boys, our boys, traverse the huge canvas. It’s a marvel that anyone knows where to sit. Pipeline seems easy to understand or at least easier. Everyone has a marker. Everyone has a corner. Sunset seems unknowable.
Yes, I’ve seen many big wipeouts at both Sunset and Pipeline and always felt worse for the ones who wear Pipeline on the head but a recent conversation with the great Michael Tomson has changed my mind. Tomson, of course, made a name for himself at both waves as part of the “Bustin Down the Door” crew. And let’s listen to him compare wipeouts at both.
I’ve nearly died at Sunset twice. At 50 and 52. And this one time I was out there and this set popped up and I said, “Fuck it. I’m gonna go.” And there it was, life on the table, got pounded, held down, thought I was dying right? Next thing is I’m being pulled up on a board. I couldn’t focus on anything, had to go to the hospital, it was all fucked. So I had another one like that at Sunset and I have become so careful now because when you fall there it is worse than Pipeline. Pipeline is violent but short. Sunset gets a hold of you in a fucking half-nelson then keeps you down for the longest time and then there is always seven waves behind it. I get cold thinking about some of the wipeouts I’ve had there…
And there you have it. A little something to think about as you watch the action either today or tomorrow.