Jaws: The Ethics of Board Transfers!

Could a skimboard decapitate a man? What about a Wavestorm?

The Jaws Sessions, as they have come to be called, are reaching legendary status in our surf world. January 13th and 14th saw some of the biggest ever surf at Maui’s iconic spot and the lineup was filmed with all manner of surfer, towed surfer, photographer, ski driver, etc. Albee Layer weighed wrote about the madness and thrill on his Instagram account.

The water safety thing is ridiculous. The fact photographers are willing to give more money for a photo than surfers for their safety is ridiculous. We need to find a way to put surfers in contact with water safety and maybe a gofundme site or something so they can’t be bought out by photographers. There are a lot of great water safety teams here, but after years of saving random people for no reason it makes sense they would rather hang in the channel making $600 cruising around with a photog. Lets work together to fix this because it puts everyone in danger including those of us who hire water safety. With a wall of skis trying to get the shot waking up the inside and getting in the way.

It sure does sound very chaotic with many moving parts, people things and you can watch this fine compilation from Surfer magazine, paying special attention to the 2:40 mark.

And was that a transfer to skimboard? It most certainly was.

Firstly, I must say, whoever did is a very brave man.

Secondly, with board transfers being all the rage I am curious as to the etiquette. You’ll notice his Wavestorm goes flying out the back which is, I assume, the best possible scenario but what if it accidentally catches the wave too? Is that bad form sending a foam missile through the crowd? Are you supposed to have a dedicated Wavestorm clean-up man who fetches it or are they single use? Have you ever been hit in the face with a Wavestorm? Did it hurt or did it feel like a pillow fight?

Also, you’ll notice the brave man becomes dislodged and his little disc skitters away. Could a skimboard take a man’s head off?

I’ll get to the bottom of these questions soon. In the meantime, off to Davos.

Surf media: The art of losing cool!

To hell with the high road!

It has been almost one week since Stab’s new editor Ashton Goggans and I met in pastoral San Clemente, California. There, you may recall, I completely lost my cool and flew over the reclaimed wood coffee table betwixt us and tried to silence the portly man by use of strangulation. Though I haven’t carved out the time to listen yet (you can here!) I imagine it sounds choked and ugly. Still, even after almost one week of reflection, the only thing I would change is that I would have gone over the table sooner and more often until that smug, smarmy bastard either fled or fought.

I don’t like Ashton Goggans one little bit. His behavior during his brief stint in surf media has been marked by two-faced artificiality and self-serving stabs in the dark. To simply play the game, as it were, of smiling and nodding while being subtly underhanded and demeaning bores me to no end. I have purposed to say what I feel even if what I feel is wrong.

Now, many if not most of the reviews of the podcast have been unkind, focusing on how Ashton utilized my button pushing tactics and how I was too thin-skinned to put up with the abuse. The classic he-can-dish-it-but-can’t-take-it argument. All fine and good except when have I ever been a proponent of taking it? I nudge, poke, cajole and grenade throw from this tiny little soapbox precisely to get a reaction. Some heartfelt scream that can be employed, at the very least, in the cause of entertainment and at the very most in making surf media great again. Real opinions, real beliefs as opposed to snide, cool silence.

Keeping one’s cool, I think, is most important when dealing with children or the mentally/physically compromised but has replaced genuine communication, and real fun, in our surf world. To hell with measured responses, I say. To hell with neatly worded yet empty digs.

To hell with the high road.

And no, this speech is not cribbed from the great Martin Luther King Jr. though I understand your confusion.

The Australian Harry Bryant, who flew to Los Angeles to join What Youth on their reader-funded road trip.

What Youth: “Advertorials make our skin crawl!”

Newport surf media house holds cup out to readers to fund surf movie!

Seven years ago or thereabouts, the creative muscle behind Surfing magazine flew the coop and started What Youth, a print mag and online portal.

The high-volume and heavily advertising-reliant Surfing never recovered from the desertion and, one year ago, was officially spiked. 

Chalk one up for the brave independent, yes?

Maybe no.

Recently, What Youth, who get their money from making well-crafted, sponsor-funded online shorts, creating a gorgeous office in Newport and providing salaries for half a dozen people and so forth, held its cup out to the readers. 

“We need your help. We’re embarking on the first surf trip for our new film. And that means we need some money,” the magazine’s editor and co-founder Travis Ferré wrote on Kickstarter. Wetsuits, signed photographs and a surfboard were offered to benefactors.

With thirty four hours to go, $US5,500 had been pledged.

All that, the public cry for cash, for five gees?

Is What Youth, a cultural arbiter unlike any other in surf, whose movies turned Chippa Wilson, Nate Tyler, Creed McTaggart, Mitch Coleborn and Noa Deane into stars, on its knees financially?

“This is honestly less about tough times, and more about wanting to create good times,” says Travis, who is thirty five years old but presents as someone more like twenty nine. “Crowd funding has always been in the back of my mind as an interesting experiment… I’ve also always thought our audience as a whole was more participatory. And I love the idea of them being involved in producing something with us. Something our style. Not just a reader poll or something. Like, literally help us get somewhere.”

If you were to point a camera at Travis, right now, you’d find him piloting a fifteen-seater Ford Econoline with two seats taken out to fit in surfboards and cameras. The Australians Harry Bryant and Mitch Coleborn are in the van, along with the Newport surfer Colin Moran. They are somewhere on Interstate 5, between Los Angeles and Santa Cruz.

“Just passed a slaughterhouse,” says Travis.

BeachGrit: Tell me everything about the movie, who, where, how long, why? 

Travis: At this stage, this trip is that first backfire as you warm the car up for a long journey. We’ll see how this goes, log some clips, set a mood and the rest will take shape after that. All goes well, What Youth will have a full-length movie that will come out before then end of the year. The response to this has been overwhelmingly positive though, so I like the opportunities it sets up. This was dialed in over a margarita the other night and by the next day we went for it. So we’ll go nail this, hunt ramps and see what happens next.

Is it a hipper version of Drive-Thru California? 

No, we’ll make something from this trip (maybe something of a prequel) that may have that vibe I suppose, but we’re chasing a bigger project and this will just be the first of many excursions this year. Call this the pilot.

I see two sorts of surf media biz models, those who’ll do any sort of advertorial for money no matter how demeaning (to advertiser and website) and others, like you, and Warshaw too, who don’t do anything by halves. What’s your ethos re: advertorial? Would you, for instance, knock out a few hundred words and a thirty-second half-assed short for five gees? Would you generate a little fake news, say, ten best whatevers, at five hundred a shot? Or does that make your skin crawl?

Your examples above do make my skin crawl a bit, but I’ve found ways that you can actually change “advertorial” to a far less offensive word. More like a collaboration. Or partnership. We’re more set in our ways of working to create valuable franchises like “Fairly Normal”, “Afternoon Interviews”, What Youth short films, and some new freesurfing based projects like What Youth Parts that I think it will be a way to collaborate and elevate surfers and their personalities alongside brands who support them and us… It’s a long play, but we’re in this for the long haul, not the quick buck, and hopefully we’ve established that by now. We have a long history now of declined credit cards and well-executed projects. So we’ll make it work one way or another.

You can’t manufacture something like the act of surfing. Surfing is about so much more than riding on a wave. And that sounds dumb and cheesy, but it really is. I think we try to show that mysterious magical part at What Youth — that strange universe that surfing introduces us to that’s important.

Do you still make a print mag? If yes, is it long for this world? Do you lose money with every issue? 

Yeah, we still make a print mag. We actually gave the last one away for free and it was gone in two hours. We don’t get rich off making an expensive coffee table style magazine, and no, the magazine is not exactly the future of media, but it’s also the instigator of a lot of rad things we do. We love celebrating them when they come out, it’s also a tangible thing that drives the whole operation. I call it a wash financially, but it definitely creates value for us, even if it’s not monetary.

We still make a print mag. We don’t get rich off making an expensive coffee table style magazine, and no, the magazine is not exactly the future of media, but it’s also the instigator of a lot of rad things we do. It’s a wash financially.

You refused an invite to the Surf Ranch! Tell me why! And did it hurt, even just a little? 

There is no doubt in my mind riding that wave is “fun.” And there is no doubt that there could be some insanely fun and rad things we could (and hell, hopefully we will) do at that venue — both on the wave and as an event space — but for me it still represents the bottling up of something that should not and cannot be bottled up. You can’t manufacture something like the act of surfing. Surfing is about so much more than riding on a wave. And that sounds dumb and cheesy, but it really is. I think we try to show that mysterious magical part at What Youth — that strange universe that surfing introduces us to that’s important. The people, places and weird things I’ll never be able to explain quite right are what it’s about. And being okay with that is okay too.

Is it fun to have principles?

Absolutely not.

Mavs: The Khloé Kardashian of waves!

Gets attention but for mostly for slightly awkward missteps and also marries odd men!

My goodness gracious me, this Martin Luther King Jr. weekend was alive with big wave spirit. All the social medias were pumping out photo after photo, video after video of men defying the odds. Conquering the sea. Jaws saw record wave heights, according to Albee Layer, but also featured wild crowding and minimal water safety. The Maui local took to Instagram after decrying the dangers associated with a fever pitch of popularity.

Pipeline was fabulous, Waimea looked classic and hosted Kelly Slater, island outer reefs hosted Nathan Florence but what about Maverick’s? Oh, everything was seeming almost perfect for the World Surf League to run its event but then winds went wrong and the swell wasn’t quite right and in the end nothing happened and the eyes of the globe danced to other corners.

Which made me wonder. If big waves are like the Kardashians which is who? I think:

Jaws = Kim Kardashian: Right? I mean, it is very hard to argue that Jaws is not the most photogenic and talked about big wave in the world right now. She gets all the attention and figures out new ways to stay relevant.

Waimea = Kris Jenner: The mama of all big waves. An ageless classic.

Teahupoo = Kourtney Kardashian: Quietly goes about its business from year to year without much change.

Nazaré = Scott Disick: Kourney Kardashian’s ex-husband (I think) manages to stay in the spotlight but many question if there’s any substance.

Punta de Lobos =  Cassandra Marino: Only four people know that Cassandra is a Kardashian step-sister. Only three people know that Punta de Lobos, in Chilé, is a big wave.

Todos Santos = Rob Kardashian: Remember Todos Santos? It used to get lots of covers etc. but then everyone forgot it was a big wave and stopped paying attention.

Pipeline = Caitlyn Jenner: Not generally considered a big wave but so famous it can choose whatever it wants to be.

Maverick’s = Khloé Kardashian: Gets attention but for mostly for slightly awkward missteps and also marries odd men.

Shipsterns = Kanye West: Very strange.

Find a lake or whatever deeper than four metres and you can stick your portable wave pool on it!

Shrewd: A portable floating wave pool!

Two weeks to build, comes in big box, stick it on lake or river!

Want a portable wave tank? Twenty-five metres long, thirteen wide? Drag it anywhere, takes two weeks to assemble (the parts come in a container), use river water, lake water whatever and it costs something like a hundred bucks a day in electricity to run?

Zero water consumption, low power bills?

Now that sounds like a biz that works.

Lately, you might’ve got the feeling that wave pools are the new arms race.

It’s the Slater-Finchim tank vs Webber vs American Wave Machines vs Wavegarden vs Surf Lakes and so on. Each pool slightly different, each with its own imitation of ol’ ma nature.

Who’ll win? Who’ll be dashed upon the rocks of insolvency? Will all of ’em prove to be monstrous white elephants, destined to become creepy concrete pits when the surfers don’t come?

A slightly different angle on the game are the German companies, City Wave and Unit Park Tech. The Germans are into the standing wave model, the sort pioneered by the American Tom Lochtefeld and his Flowrider. Tom’s been in the game since the eighties, opening that first Flowrider in Texas in 1991. He knows the central problem to wavepools. They cost too much to build, and way too much to run.

And the Germans, who usually get their first taste of surf riding stationary river waves, aren’t adverse to the idea of this kinda tank.

The Unit Surf Pool, by Unit Park Tech, is, according to the PR, “a floating surf pool construction that brings a surfable deepwater wave to any body of standing water… it operates on a natural body of water which translates to an endless water supply and no need for chemical water treatment.”

It’s a good sell.

Here’s how it works. Pumps bring the water up from the river, the lake, whatevs. Water flows down the ramp, jets or “hydraulic jump phenomenon” push it back up.

The first commercial version is at a joint called Surf Langenfeld between Dusseldorf and Cologne where the Unit Park Tech HQ is (history lesson: Cologne was one of the heaviest bombed cities in World War II, almost the entire population evaporated or evacuated).

Now, you’re not going to detour to Germany to jump on the damn thing, in case you’re wondering it’s 34 Euro an hour to ride, but it does show there’s a quick-to-build, cheap alternative to the magnificent $20 million-plus structures being shopped around.

Watch here.