Long Read: Good luck, California (Part II)!

"I am supposed to surf. In this. Somehow. Impossible."

(True literary art from favorite Jen See. Part I here.)

I woke up to bright sun and tall trees. The world looked reassuringly normal after last night’s drive. The dark had entirely obscured the beauty of the place. Wetlands extended back miles from the coast and tall stands of trees filtered the morning light. I found an espresso and sought out the sun’s warmth.

There was a surf report posted on the wall, but the numbers meant next to nothing to me. It looked like short-period windswell that wasn’t likely to be giant. This was good. Cold, giant beach breaks aren’t high on my list of favorite things. Or in fact, anywhere on my list. I tend to avoid them. Oh hey, let’s go for donuts instead.

I hadn’t brought a board, but they said there was a 6’0” shortboard I could borrow. I pictured an actual shortboard that I could carry jauntily under my arm. The board’s width laughed at me. I almost ripped my arm out of the socket trying to carry it. Jaunty was out of the question. Maybe I could carry it on my head.

We pulled into the parking lot just after noon. Rolling dunes blocked the view of the beach but the grass blades bent ominously sideways. The wind was decidedly onshore. When I’d asked about the water temperature, everyone had assured me that it was the wrong time of year for upwelling. I looked again at the grass on the dunes. If this was the wrong time of year, what did the right time look like? Good luck, California.

The parking lot looked like any other surf parking lot. Some things are the same the world over, but there was noticeably more neoprene strewn around than I typically encounter. There were a crew of locals who clearly knew one another and boards of all shapes and sizes. We parked next to a vintage VW bus that had been neatly restored. I wondered if their heater worked any better than the one in my old bug at home. Probably not.

I walked over the dunes to the beach. A jetty ran up the right-hand side. Scattered peaks marched down the beach. The wind was on it, of course, but less disastrously than I’d imagined. We walked up the beach toward the jetty to paddle out. Left to my own devices, I would have chosen an anonymous peak somewhere down the beach. I like anonymous peaks. They’re comfortable.

The first duck dive hit me like a punch in the face. This water was so cold. My suit did nothing. I felt naked. I am supposed to surf. In this. Somehow. Impossible.

Dungeness crabs skittered happily underfoot. No one had told me about the crabs. They looked creepy and prehistoric and I was pretty sure they were going to bite me. There were probably sharks out there somewhere, too. But the fucking crabs, the fucking crabs were going to get me. I should have gone for donuts.

A tight knot of locals predictably sat on the peak. There were two swells in the water and one produced mostly close-outs, helped along by the steadily increasing onshore winds. The other refracted off the jetty to create a wedgy peak. I liked the looks of that. So did the regulars. Good luck, California.

Surfing has tried its best to teach me patience. It’s still trying. But I recognize futility when I see it. I stared out at the horizon, watching the swell lines, waiting my turn. There was a wild, untamed beauty to this wide open ocean. The cold pressed, but I no longer regretted being here. I’d come to see somewhere different. Now I had.

The numbers dwindled as one by one the others headed in. My hard-won patience was rewarded just before my feet turned to ice. The wind tugged and pulled at my board as I walked up the beach. The kiteboarders, colors bright against the blue sky, darted and danced.

We headed into town for sandwiches and beer. A commercial fisherman sat next to me, telling his buddy a convoluted story about a bad alternator. It ended when he threw the thing overboard. Hopefully the crabs liked it. There was another story about trying to fish during a storm. I gathered that it hadn’t worked out especially well.

The interior of the bar was decorated with mermaids of exuberant proportions. The sandwiches stacked high and the beer was cold. Sun slanted in through the window. It hinted at the coming of fall and the dark of winter. I imagined the place on a winter night, the light warm, the pool cues clicking, a steady hum of conversation, and the occasional brawl out back.

I’d be long gone by then. Back home, I’d chase the swell angles and the tide swings. There’d be a donut stop. And then hands wrapped around a warm coffee, I’d walk down the trail, board under my arm. I’d say hey to my friends and it’d be our turn to sit on the peak.

And I’d hope for one of those magic days when it all aligns just right, when the waves glow in the sunlight and the wind flits lightly over the foam.

Good luck, California.

Sad: Surf film director robbed!

A life's work almost cleared from the history books!

Surf film is such a wonderful part of our culture. We find our definition somewhere between The Endless Summer and In God’s Hands. Momentum, Year 0000, Modern Collective, Morning of the Earth… I could go on all day. But who is your favorite contemporary surf film director? Joe G? Kai Neville? Taylor Steele? Vaughn Blakey? Chas Smith?

“Chas Smith? But the film you are directing hasn’t come out yet…” you say.

“What?” I respond. “What are you talking about?”

“Surfline…” you angrily bark. “I read it on Surfline in a piece, wonderfully written by the now iconic Nathan Myers, about five surf documentaries set to premier in the upcoming year.” And then recite word for word (from your iPhone):

Trouble: The Radicalization of Lisa Andersen
WHO: Vice, Surfing and now Beach Grit rabble-rouser Chas Smith makes his directorial debut.
WHEN: Summer 2018
WHAT WE KNOW: In the early ‘90s, 4-time women’s surfing champion Lisa Andersen rebooted women’s surfing in ways we’re still experiencing today. But, according to director Chas Smith, this is a movie about the ‘80s. About abuse and broken homes and the strength to rise above it all. “After she starts winning we know what happens,” says Chas, “but how she got to that point is an amazing and timely story of women’s empowerment.” Working closely with Anderson, Chas says he’s steering clear of typical documentary conventions and doing things his own way. Which shouldn’t surprise. We know how he feels about stirring up a bit of trouble.


You look at me confused.

“Directorial debut?” I continue. “DIRECTORIAL DEBUT? Have you ever heard of the Surfer Poll award nominated film WHO IS JOB? Joel Patterson wrote this in the holy pages of Surfer magazine.” And then recite word for word (from my memory):

Several months ago, rumors circulated that the JOB film project had spiraled out of control due to some internal tumult in Jamie’s camp. That was when Charlie “Chas” Smith—a gonzo surf journalist you may remember from the article he wrote about an interaction with Mick Fanning hours after he won his second world title last year for Australia’s Stab Magazine—was named director and given the responsibility of getting the film over the goal line. If those rumors were true, Charlie, along with editor Dayten Likness and music editor Pete Nussbaum, seriously saved the thing.

Though it’s essentially surf porn, it’s surf porn with a twist. The organizing principal of the film is a series of simple “Chas-ian” statements about Jamie, answering the question posed in the title. Chapters include, “Jamie Is A Dick,” “Jamie Was Deaf,” “Jamie Was A Retard,” and “Jamie Surfs Pipeline.” Taken on their own, these statements demean the subject, but when you add in interviews, archival photos and footage of the star as an awkward kid, an incredibly amping soundtrack, and three years of amazing surfing almost exclusively in waves of consequence (from Teahupoo to massive Cloudbreak and, of course, his beloved Pipeline), the result is a rare look at the talent, background, and mindset of one of the best and most misunderstood surfers of the post-Momentum generation.

You look at me unconvinced.

“Cancel your plans…” I scream and force you to sit down by kicking your kneecaps. “…you are spending the next hour soaking in a work of singular genius* Roll the film!”

*The film’s editor, Dayten Likness, is the singular genius. I was the film’s special needs helper.

Long Read: Good Luck, California (part 1)!

Come and wander.

We sat around the table at a deli in a strip mall that looked like every other strip in Southern California. There wasn’t a Starbucks. The Starbucks was across the street. But there were sandwiches and Mexican Coke, which is as much a marker of the place as the strip malls and the stucco.

The talk was of surf trips, about all the places we’ve been. There’s always an element of posturing to these conversations. I already knew that I couldn’t win.

The talk eddied around me and I slid into a daydream. Island reefs, Infinite points. Always backlit. Always off-shore. I sent my friend live updates. Well, I guess I’ve been to Rincon once or twice, I tell her. Yeah, travel is expensive, she says. We pay rent in an expensive town in coastal California. Who has money left for tropical islands. Not us, not really.

Our lives follow the rhythm of the seasons. We track the tides and the swell angles and we stalk that one sandbar as it’s pushed down the coast by the ocean’s whim. We carry snapshot memories and an infinite supply of inside jokes.

One day you watch amazed as the sun gleam through the back of perfect waves like a cat’s glowing eye. There’s early morning donut runs. There’s the local who slides down the line, looking the same every time, completely emotionless. We call him Bernie. And sometimes you get skunked and lie in the sand, laughing at nothing at all.

It’s not that I don’t like travel and adventure. I’m a fan of both of these things. In fact, I’d actually been on a surf trip a few weeks previously.

I’d been drawn by a destination that looked improbable, but intriguing. More importantly, I’d sold a story, the get out of jail free card of freelance life. I packed a puffy jacket, my thickest neoprene — not very thick, actually — and a beanie. I assembled my instant journalist kit of digital recorder, Moleskine, and pencil. I felt totally ready for anything. Good luck, California.

I flew up the map, arriving in Seattle on the kind of bright day that isn’t supposed to happen there, but actually does. The water glinted, the sky was perfect blue. I wasn’t fooled. Those trees didn’t grow tall and green without rain. I spent the afternoon putting my reporter kit to work and ate dinner in the misguided hope that traffic would end. It didn’t, but I didn’t know that yet. Delusions are comfortable and the dessert was delicious.

I began driving westward as the setting sun turned the cityscape golden, momentarily distracting me from the sea of brakelights ahead. I got in line. It inchwormed along, past the city center, and the old brewery, and the baseball stadium, lit up for a night game. Mount Rainier blushed and went dark. The traffic pushed like the tide. I waded patiently.

You’ll be wondering about the surfing part. By this point, so was I. There was a coast out there somewhere. I wondered if I would ever get to it. I stopped at a gas station for snacks, my beanie pulled down low and my hair tucked under my jacket. Anything to go unnoticed.

The road split, north and west. I squinted helplessly at the unlit road signs. It was as though someone had spray-painted locals only across them. You can surf here, if you can find it.

I couldn’t see shit. I turned west, chasing a pendant moon that swung toward the horizon. The trees, black against a blacker sky, mocked me like they were in on the joke. Good luck, California.

At length, I made it to Inverness and missed my turn. Lost, again. Dark store windows stared me down. I worked to decipher the roads in my phone’s glowing square. There was no one to ask for directions, even if I’d dared. I wasn’t about to admit that I was lost out here. I picked a road and hoped for the best. It arced gently westward, which felt reassuring.

I smelled a hint of salt air. Maybe it was my imagination, but I chose to believe I was finally getting somewhere. The road narrowed and turned. The moon inched closer to the horizon, ready to give up on my chances. Mailboxes peaked out of the trees at random, a rare sign of life.

An oncoming car passed and disappeared. I turned the music louder to fill the empty space it left behind. You have no control/You are not in command. I pulled my beanie lower and drove faster. Good luck, California.

Watch: A wetsuit rap video!

"Blind stitch, hollow fiber, double glue..."

I had a long discussion with wonderful friend David Lee Scales, just the other day, about wetsuits. Hollow fiber, seamless, zipperless, wetsuits. Carbon woven, heat sealed, thermonuclear wetsuits. Psychofreak, psycho one, psycho tech wetsuits. And I thought, on my drive home, “You know, we really don’t think about wetsuits enough. They are surfing’s unsung hero. Our Stephen Breyers. Our Tenzig Norgays. Our Georg Konrad Morgens.”

Without wetsuits surfing would be, for most of us, an uncomfortable pastime during most of the year. We take for granted that we can surf in any temperature water thanks to 3/2, 4/3, straight 5 wetsuits. We don’t even think about being warm or warm-ish when we surf.

A fantastic product by any account. Maybe even more important than wax. Definitely more important than leg ropes.

Yet still unsung.

Until now.


Mic drop.

Filipe Toledo
Filipe Toledo surfs as if some higher tyrant has elevated his ability. Jesus Cristo!

Watch: Filipe Toledo in “Divine Hammer”!

A short film featuring Filipe Toledo with cameos by the ever-wonderful Jesus Cristo!

It’s no secret that Filipe Toledo, like ninety percent of his fellow Brazilians, is powered by the divine hand of a Christian god. If you were to examine his right deltoid and bicep you’d be pleased to see a slightly scaled down portrait of Jesus Cristo, the son of god etc.

In this two-and-a-half-minute short by Bruno Baroni, and which features Filipe in Portugal, it begins with enough Biblical imagery to swing even a fallen apostate like me. The purity of the nun, the silhouette of Christ, the monks…

…but here comes a beat…

Filipe arrives at a beach.

…and full rote, almost full rote, backside tube, rote, big lay-down carve, tube, straight air, lofty rote, hack, hack, hack, hack, rote, fast spin and so on.

It isn’t Mean Streets but it does give a momentary rush.