Missiles (and Grace) on A Saturday Morning

Ballistic missiles head for Hawaii. Then they don't.

(Earlier today, Hawaiians were told via SMS that they were under attack from ballistic missiles. Twenty minutes later another SMS let the terrified populace know it was a false alarm. “I hid in a basement and told my family how much I love them because I thought we might only have another five minutes to live,” wrote Jon Pyzel, shaper to John Florence. “I will never forget that feeling nor will I forgive the leadership that put us in that position.” Kelly Slater railed, “So how does this happen? Was it a FalseFlag to gauge public reaction? Did #NorthKorea hack the system for fun or was it #SteveHarvey?! What took 38 mins to correct that ‘mistake’ via follow up warning? Did a missile get launched and blown out of the sky and do we have Star Wars defense capabilities (or does space not exist and there are no satellites for the flat earth minded 😀)? Who has their finger on the text button to send out an alarm like that (never mind it being 8am to start your day like that)? And is Trump or Kim Jong-un the bigger antagonizer in this back and forth? It’s a weird little game people play with each other and other people’s lives.”

It’s these moments, when death looms, that the fragility of life and the importance of relationships and health, is put into sharp relief. Suddenly, money and bullshit don’t mean so much.

Printed below is a story I wrote for Warshaw’s book Zero Break: An Illustrated Collection of Surf Writing on the importance of grace. Sometimes it doesn’t hurt to step away from the hammer and the blowtorch.)

Meet Michael. Twenty three. Perpetually untidy dark brown hair. Doesn’t work. Enjoys nothing more than sitting around with his pals filled by a lungful of pot smoke and watching the latest surf clips. Reads surf mags cover to cover and thinks all the girls in bikinis are pretty hot. An average surfer, you’d reckon.

He would be except Michael has never surfed. Never will. When he was nine he dived off a jetty and into a shallow sandbar. The impact crushed the vertebrae in his neck. Hasn’t felt a thing in his arms, torso, legs or, if you’re wondering, his dick for fourteen years. Lives in a Melbourne nursing home, shits and pisses in a bag that hangs over his wheelchair and that has to be emptied by the nurses he’d love to kiss, hold, fuck, if he could feel anything. He’ll probably die of the usual complications that afflict the paralysed, infection, liver malfunction, in twenty or so years. A good guy but prone, understandably, to depression and drug abuse.

He watches with quiet awe as surfers duckdive their boards. How incredible it must feel to have a wave pass over your back and to surface into the bright tropical sun. And how amazing it must be to view the world from inside the tube.

When he gets his hands on a long-form surf movie his life changes. The grim grey and metal surroundings of his ward fade away as he enters the cool blues and greens of the ocean. He watches with quiet awe as surfers duckdive their boards. How incredible it must feel to have a wave pass over your back and to surface into the bright tropical sun. And how amazing it must be to view the world from inside the tube.

At night he dreams that his body works. Dreams of paddling into a Grajagan boomer, the spray blinding him for a moment only to clear as his tail lifts and he drives down the face and begins his hunt for the tube.

Michael thinks about death a lot and would like to commit suicide. He is jealous that others have the luxury of being able to hold a gun or throw a rope over a rafter. He imagines dying will be like finally breaking the tape after an endurance race. He pictures a heaven, paradoxically he thinks God is a hoax, where his legs are strong and his arms power him and his surfboard through the water.

But when he wakes, he’s a man in a wheelchair. No magic cures.

Along with a few movies, I gave Mick a miniature plastic surfboard for Christmas. Another joy. He puts it on his table and uses a pen in his mouth to move it around, banking off imaginary wave sections like a tiny Kelly Slater.

His family doesn’t visit much anymore. More often than not, Mick’s a bit of a trial to be around. He knows that. He’ll cry at the smallest thing, like his seven-year-old cousin Lisa giving him a drawing she did in school and he’ll overreact if he thinks he’s being patronised. Mick regrets it after but it leaves everyone pretty upset.

Michael thinks about death a lot and would like to commit suicide. He is jealous that others have the luxury of being able to hold a gun or throw a rope over a rafter. He imagines dying will be like finally breaking the tape after an endurance race. He pictures a heaven, paradoxically he thinks God is a hoax, where his legs are strong and his arms power him and his surfboard through the water.

I write about Michael only to serve as a reminder of how lucky we are to be able to go surfing. Happiness, I’ll agree is relative, but I see guys slapping the water, yelling at everybody to fuck off, flicked boards, grommies throwing a fit because they lost a surf contest heat, punches thrown at even imagined slights and grown men nearly in tears because the wind or the tide is wrong and I think…

Jesus, if you only knew…

Great White
Happy Great White with children! Co-existence!

Revealed: Byron to Forster Crawling with Great Whites!

Two hundred and four Great Whites snatched by drumlines!

It’s been a quiet year on Australia’s blissfully hip North Coast, shark wise.

What had become the modern incarnation of the shark-ridden town Amity in Jaws, a swimmer snatched in waist-deep water, a surfer bitten in half, the town terrorised by Great Whites, had suddenly quieted.

Only one year ago, Dan Webber, the Ballina-based brother of shaper Greg, came up with the startling statistic that, if you surfed for one hour every day around Ballina and Byron, you had a ten percent chance of become shark meal.

(Read that here.) 

Did you wonder what had happened to all the Great Whites?

To find out, a pal of a pal tabulated a year’s worth of SMART (Shark-Management-Alert-in-Real-Time) drumlines statistics from the NSW Department of Fisheries.

(A little background: SMART drumlines have an anchor, a rope, a comms device linked to a satellite and a baited hook. Shark jumps on the hook. Out come the DPI. Nearly all sharks are caught alive and released one kilometre offshore. There’s fifty-five SMART drumlines deployed from Lennox to Forster.)

And oooeeee, they are startling statistics.

In 2016, in the entirety of Queensland, with its network of shark nets and baited hooks, six Great Whites were caught.

From December 2016 to Nov 2017, in the area from Lennox to Forster, a five hour’s drive, 204 Great Whites were caught compared to a dozen Tigers and four Bulls.

Two hundred and four. 

The overwhelming majority of these Great Whites were released alive.

Now, Great White ain’t dumb killing machines despite whatever propaganda you want to employ.

As the gorgeous friend of the Great White, Brinkley Davies, revealed here a few years back, give ’em a fright and you won’t see a White for months.


The question: Does traumatising a Great White on a hook create a beast fearful of human contact?

And if so, should we be out there beating a few more up?

Rumor: Maverick’s might run soon!

Are you not entertained?

Whew and what a day yesterday turned out to be. I am far too shy to listen but tell me, wherever you fall re. “winners” and “losers” of the debate, was the podcast (listen here) at least entertaining? At least mildly entertaining? I’ve been crowing my entire surf journalism career about how professional surfers should say what they really feel when a mic is pressed underneath their nose. That they should spew forth their passions even if their passions are only felt for a brief moment. Oh I know I am no professional surfer but who would I be if not even able to mirror what I so desire?

A bad example is what and as a husband of a wealthy wife and a father of an innocent little angel that is simply something I cannot allow myself to be.

You, of course, know the scene in Gladiator where Russell Crowe fights in the north African octagon, killing many men before throwing his sword at his captor and demanding to know if the audience was entertained while spitting derisively on the ground.

I want to be this except instead of strong, skinny. Except instead of killing many men, fumbling to silence one for a few moments. Except instead of throwing my sword at my captor, merely offering a silent prayer to the Gods of Surf Journalism (Nick Carroll and Matt Warshaw). Except instead of demanding to know, derisively, if you were entertained, meekly asking with an upward inflection at the end signifying that I really do want to know.

In any case, enough about that. It is time to entertain elsewhere and did you know that Maverick’s might run this Martin Luther King Jr. weekend? It’s true! The world’s fourth most famous big wave event, ripped from the hands of entrepreneur Griffin Guess by the WSL, appears on the verge. And let’s read from San Jose’s Mercury News.

A buzz has hit the Central Coast as organizers of the rebranded Mavericks big-wave surf contest have alerted competitors and others that the event could be held as early as Monday.

World Surfing League officials are monitoring a potentially large swell that is expected to pound the coastline after the weekend. They have targeted Monday or Tuesday as possible dates for the day-long event. Santa Cruz contestant Sarah Gerhardt said Thursday a decision wasn’t expected to be announced until later in the night.

WSL officials got the blackout date for the Martin Luther King holiday on Monday waived, said Sabrina Brennan, a San Mateo Harbor District commissioner.

But the contest traditionally is held in deal conditions: a day of big waves, clear sky and mild winter weather.

“I’m looking out the window wondering if it is going to clean up,” said Brennan, who lives on the bluffs above the famed surf break off of Pillar Point. “It looks pretty messy out there.”

The contest, now called the Mavericks Challenge, includes 24 men and for the first time a six-woman single heat. The event is the newest addition to the WSL’s Big Wave Tour and has a purse of $130,000.

The WSL took over the popular contest from Cartel Management, which declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy and canceled the event a year ago despite one of the state’s best surfing seasons in decades.

Damn it. Did I just cut and paste another press release?


Live debate: BeachGrit vs Stab!

A battle five days in the making!

You have now read the accounting of the physical altercation that happened today in bucolic San Clemente, California (click here). A town that is not known for violence, by the way, but rather happiness and open goodwill. A town that mirrors icons Richard M. Nixon and Christopher Ward. And now here is the podcast. I haven’t listened yet but from memory the salient bits, in no particular order, are:

1. Ashton saying two things at once. “I love/am inspired by/enjoy…” while also completely denigrating whatever it is that he’s talking about.

2. The abject paternalism Stab feels toward its readership.

3. (I would imagine) The hideously ugly tone of my rage-choked voice.

4. Ashton explaining what Stab means to him in gorgeously rococo language.

5. Me telling Ashton that I like Stab in the Dark.

6. Ashton telling me that Stab has broken every single story since he arrived.

6. Ashton saying there is no official policy at Stab not to talk about BeachGrit before saying there is an official policy at Stab not to talk about BeachGrit.

7. The 15-year-olds at Stab who get protected from vile commenter speech.

8. Ashton trying to parse surf media and claim that BeachGrit, Stab, Surfline etc. are all completely separate things that cannot be grouped together.

But take a few minutes and listen. More importantly tell me what you think. Am I borderline retarded chimp or is it not even borderline?

Did Ashton’s ridiculously mealy mouth sound worse in person or does it pour through the radio too?

The "hyper-ironic surf journalist, author and bon vivant" and BeachGrit principal Chas Smith, left, and Ashton Goggans of Stab. "I spend my days chasing peaks up and down San Francisco's Ocean Beach; writing; or lavishing attention upon my dog, Lemon," writes Ashton.

Candid: “I tried to wring Ashton’s neck!”

Chas Smith uses strangulation to silence Stab editor Ashton Goggans!

This morning, at approximately 10:40, I leapt over a reclaimed wood coffee table in the Surfrider Foundation’s well-appointed San Clemente headquarters and tried to wring Stab editor Ashton Goggans’ neck.

We were in the first third of recording our bi-monthly Grit! podcast. I didn’t get a good grab, maybe not even any grab, as Ashton is a robust man, and was soon pulled off by host David Lee Scales who was also half looking out the window to see if any Surfrider Foundation staff had heard the commotion.

What precipitated this violent outburst?

Well. Today’s episode has been in the works now for a week and I was very excited to debate Ashton on a variety of surf media topics. He arrived, late, in a transparent overcoat, the gooseberry fuzz of his skin peeking through, toenails showing remnants of cherry red polish, delicate long boned monkeyish feet, jabbering about some unrelated matter and then Mr. Scales pressed record.

Things were moving along until we came to the topic of Stab’s predominantly ex-BeachGrit staff and how we refused to pay a living wage while Stab, out of the goodness of its very heart, supports these bright young artists.

I contested and firmly believe that any writer, but especially the surf writer, shouldn’t really expect money out of the gate. That he should work another job while toying around with words because he can’t help but write. Because she loves to write. Because without writing everything else would be bland and monotone.

Eventually, I think, if the love remains strong the writer will find his true voice and might also find employment as “a writer” but the end goal of writing should never be to get paid. It should be about love and if money follows then fantastic.

Oh I know this sounds like a very poor excuse for not paying writers and in truth Derek and I have paid every cent of our paltry earnings to our exes (and in Rory’s case, five per cent of the company) but anyhow Ashton continued, claiming that I had never worked a day in my life and only did what I did because my wife has money.

Something inside me snapped and I was across the coffee table madly, clumsily, shamelessly, agonizingly reaching for Ashton’s windpipe; hopelessly, I should add, because that frenzy of mutual possession might have been assuaged only by our actually imbibing and assimilating every particle of each other’s soul and flesh; but there we were, unable even to mate as slum children would have so easily found an opportunity to do so.

But why? What in me broke? Let me try and explain. I purposefully don’t write much about my little family here because they didn’t ask for, nor deserve to be in, this crazy little spotlight. I am wildly proud of my wife, and daughters, what they do, who they are but they are not fodder for my BeachGrit work. Also, because she happens to be in our extreme sport universe, we keep a wall up.  She never feeds me rumors and I never try to leverage her contacts.

Ashton’s charge was, furthermore, insulting to her. To think that she would suffer a fool doddering around the house posting cheap surf stories is ridiculous. I make my salary through book advances/royalties/film options etc. and even not married to her would still be doing exactly what I’m doing in some inland shack. Maybe Las Vegas. It frustrates me greatly to even have to mention any of this.

The fact that he brought up my family, anyhow, made me lose my mind and over the coffee table I went and almost again, 30 minutes later, when he said I should be spending more time with my daughter.

Was I wrong? Silly? Ludicrously out of control?

Certainly yes but I would do the same thing tomorrow and the day after that too. Making fun of Stab’s look, its content, it’s behind-the-scenes threats to advertisers, what it chooses to cover and not cover will remain good fun.

But families? They have always been, and will always be, out of bounds.

Or am I still wrong?

Am I drawing a completely arbitrary line in the sand?

Just so I can justify embarrassingly bad behavior?

At the end I watched Ashton Goggans leave after refusing to shake his ring adorned fingers. Rage still percolating.