Literature: Of Sharks and Mediocrity!

What happens when the bitey fish swims by?

There was a shark in the line-up today.

I didn’t actually see it, mind you. But the four guys sitting at the top of the point came in to the beach in a hurry. One of them made the international sign of oh hey, we saw something big out there, with his hands. I figured I’d go find out what was up. I didn’t want to be the only one sitting out there, dangling my feet into the depths.

Here whitey, whitey, come and get ittttt.

You are probably braver than I am. You’d probably all just sit out there like, whatever. And keep catching waves and making turns and generally looking rad. I have trouble looking rad when there are bitey fish around.

My approach to sharks on the whole is to pretend they don’t exist. Like, la la la, what even is a shark. I’ve definitely been places where they like to hang out, but what I can’t see doesn’t matter, is what I always say. I just fixate on the crabs and it’s totally fine.

But the dudes were convinced it was eight feet, which is a lot of bitey fish to ignore. It’s unusual, but not out of the question for an eight footer to be loafing around the joint. There’ve been a few verified sightings over the winter.

Then there’s the apocalyptic run-off, which the big fish apparently enjoy. Mmm, pollution and bacteria, nom nom nom. I’ve personally progressed to the point of ignoring the water quality reports altogether. Fecal coliform? Whatevs. I’m sure it’s totally fine.

An editor made me write a story once about the dangers of surfing in run-off. I felt like maybe he knew me a little too well. I learned about all the gross bacteria out there. Actual MD’s told me all about it. I tried to behave! But all that’s ended now. I’ve managed to mostly forget all the stuff they told me, which is an internet writer’s best talent. What? I wrote that? No way.

So after the shark thing, I wandered down the beach and paddled out again where there were a few more humans. Herd instinct, you know. I knew I could count on the longboarders to sit halfway out to sea, so that any big fish would check them out first.

If I have to surf with longboards, I might as well put them to work. Y’all sit out there and distract the sharks! I’ll just do some surfing right here. No, you’re good! You’re not missing anything. Just surfing.

I was trying to surf my dumb shortboard, finally. It’s been a shit winter around here. Anyone in the audience who lives here in California, south of Point Conception is nodding along with me, right now. I’m pretty sure we could count the number of good days this winter on one hand. It’s been flat. The flattest.

Over the weekend, we sat in the lineup and stared at the horizon. And stared. And stared some more. A passing whale farted. The entire lineup paddled like it was the dying seconds of a Pipe Masters (RIP) heat. That’s pretty much been the winter right there. Little wonder I can barely remember what my shortboard looks like. It’s white I think? Also, thin. I think it has some fins on it, maybe.

But today there was windswell and the buoy numbers were actually in double-digits. It was astonishing! So I grabbed my do-everything shortboard, designed for not quite awesome surf. It is white and thin and beautiful. It has blue fins, which I’m pretty sure make it faster. Also, yes, I did partly choose them for the color, because why the hell not.

The surf was shit-slop windswell that looked better than it was. Also it was freezing and upwelled. The shark was probably the highlight of the whole thing. It certainly wasn’t my surfing.

But I have broken up with my soft top at last. It’s over between us. It was fun, but it wasn’t really meant to last. From now on, it’s foam and fiber glass only. And three fins! I am again enamored of three fins. Oh I hear you taunting me. You’re saying I’ll be back, begging for some of that sweet soft top love as soon as the next flat spell comes around.

Nope. It’s not going to happen. I’m standing firm.

Fuck, maybe I’ll buy a midlength.


Meet: The Moroccan who smashed Dorian!

And watch a lineup that will make you drool!

If you have ever been to Morocco then you know what an absolute treasure the country is. From its perfectly orientalist bazaars to its faboosh  Yves St. Laurent villas to its cuisine to its hashish to is oranges, mint, Abd el-Krim all the way to its luscious pointbreaks. Reeling, peeling pointbreaks. Juicy frooty pointbreaks.

It is a fairytale land. A magical paradise and if you have ever been then you know and, when you see videos of, miss.

I saw a video today and missed. It features an impeccably cool cat by the name Abdel El Harim. He is a local legend, having competed on the World Qualifying Series and beating Shane Dorian in a heat at Pipeline. More importantly, these days, he is taking hard-on-their-luck Moroccan kids from the mean streets, feeding them and taking them surfing.

A fine man with fine impulses.

Can you imagine a better way to spend your time? Beating Shane Dorian in his own backyard then helping troubled youth in your own?

I can’t.


Hello Facebook, Goodbye Surfing!

Surfing's ultimate sell-out?

I hate everything about Facebook. I hate that it leeches away time and energy. I hate that it allows people to live shadow lives, cultivate false personas, or justify hateful behaviour by forming hateful allegiances with hateful strangers.

And I hate that Facebook owns the data of so many people, just as it now owns professional surfing.

I’m sure the WSL considered a subscription model to let us watch events, but obviously they’ve dismissed it as not viable at this stage. It’s probably the right decision for them, but not for me. Outsourcing broadcast and tech expertise and mainlining to millions of potential viewers is likely a “smart” move, but it doesn’t feel like the right one. I would gladly pay to keep surfing free from the shackles of tech behemoths and Big Data.

In my mind the marriage between the WSL and Facebook is surfing’s ultimate sell-out and I can’t believe more people don’t see that.

I gave up on Facebook a while back. It was making me angry and condescending. It was sapping my hope, and it was casting a gloomy net of opinion and judgement over family and friends.

Facebook stokes the embers of the worst versions of ourselves, the ones we push back in daily life and polite company. It is a platform to hoist our human failings for the world to see – greed, vanity, deceit, jealousy, bitterness, obsession with the self…you name it.

I object to people “liking” tragedy and serious illness, just as much as I object to them spraying love hearts and thumbs up emojis at blatant attention seeking and cries for help.

Recently a young boy from my town was killed in a car crash. I watched as the community clambered over each other in comment threads and faux heartbreak posts to grieve the hardest and fastest. A race to see who could get the most likes for a pithy post about a 17-year-old boy, smashed against a tree on a singletrack road. And I watched as the dead boy’s brother stumbled through some awkward posts of his own, unable to find the words or the will to grieve publically for his little brother, yet carried on a tide of competition to see who could be the most sympathetic, the most hurt. Some things are best kept private.

Declarations of love on FB are just as bad. I don’t think it would be a stretch to map the correlation between the professed happiness of a couple on FB and their actual happiness. Touting your wonderous union online is absolutely the death knells of that relationship.

People actually define themselves by their FB posts. I know a guy who came back from a snowboarding trip genuinely downbeat because “Facebook didn’t really make it look as good as it was”.

I know another guy, who, when his old man died, was told by FB that his dad’s profile page could and would not be removed. It had to stay there, frozen in the ether, his father’s memory presided over by grief tourists.

I shudder at the idea of being defined by things that I once posted on Facebook. I imagine dying tomorrow, and then, when my son is old enough, him trying to build a picture of his father based on look-at-me posts and vitriolic commentary I’ve been sucked into online. Better not to engage at all, I think. Better to opt out.

Which is what I did some months ago now. I know my page is still there, on an algorithmic hair trigger, ready to launch once more should I accidentally make an errant log in. But I haven’t so far, and I don’t intend to. Not even for surfing.

I haven’t missed FB. I find myself lagging on the occasional water cooler conversation, but that hardly matters. I can enjoy genuine interactions these days. Conversations with friends (you know, actual friends) that aren’t pre-loaded with pre-conceptions. It takes a moment or two for people to catch on. It takes a second for them to rediscover face-to-face engagement. After we’ve got by the statutory “Oh, so you didn’t see that on FB?”, conversations can actually feel real again.

So it’s against this background that I’ll bid adieu to watching pro surfing. On principle I can’t accept the union with FB. I understand it, sure. I understand that it’s a financial decision and a business decision and yet another decision in pursuit of pro surfing’s white whale – the mainstream audience – but I will not step aboard.

I love professional surfing, as dubiously entertaining as it may be.

But I will not sell myself or my data to Facebook in order to watch it, even for free.


"I hear you Turp n Pottz. I see you Michel Bourez. Nice squirt off the bottom, Spartan."
"I hear you Turp n Pottz. I see you Michel Bourez. Nice squirt off the bottom, Spartan." | Photo: @kook_of_the_day

Unicorn: The non-surfing surf fan!

For years the WSL has promised a non-endemic embrace. Is it here?

Now, ever since the Association of Surfing Professionals changed itself to the World Surf League and made its goal to grow the competitive surf audience outside those who actually surf, I’ve been chuckling. Sometimes my chuckle manifested itself as a snide under the breath sort of thing like when Gabriel Medina paddled out on a Samsung surfboard while his step-father Charlie guided him from the beach.

Sometimes it rolled into a full-bellied laugh like when ex-WSL CEO Paul Speaker did anything at all.

But it has always been there, bubbling, because what sane non-surfing person could ever be convinced that the best waste of their time is watching competitive surfing? It is barely ok for you and me and we are full blown tards. And so I chuckle and chuckle and chuckle thinking the non-surfing surf fan doesn’t exist…

…until this morning when the chuckle was snatched from my tard mouth and I was presented with a unicorn. The world’s first non-surfing surf fan. Let us turn to Forbes magazine for her story.

It’s my goal in life to travel to as many places as possible. Unfortunately, after almost drowning when I was 12, I’ve consistently done everything I could to avoid beaches due to my paralyzing fear of the ocean. Considering that most of the world is made up of water, 13 years later, I finally realized that I was limiting myself to so many life experiences and something had to change.

Since most of my friends and family have tried to teach me how to swim by guiding me straight into the water, I figure I’d switch up my strategy this time around by watching and learning first. That’s where the Volcom Pipe Pro held on Hawaii’s North Shore in Oahu came into play. It was the first surf competition I’ve ever seen and the sport completely changed my outlook on the ocean.

Seeing these athletes ride wave after wave was mesmerizing, but at the same time, there was no sense of arrogance among any of them. They showed me that it’s not about controlling or dominating the water, all you have to do is respect it.

The author, a younger woman, goes on to take a surf lesson and conquer her fears etc. but her way in, her door, was through watching competitive surfing. Is she the first? Are all the eggs ex-WSL CEO Paul Speaker delicately laid ready to hatch? Are ego-less professional surfers ready to become the biggest sports’ stars on earth?

I did not see this coming.


Mark Mathews
"It felt so good I threw my arms up in the air when I should have been racing," says Mark, barrelled for the first time since October 2016. | Photo: @markmathewssurf via @coreywilson

Kirra Miracle: Mark Mathews returns to surf!

Told he'd never surf again! Wraps himself inside Cyclone Gita!

One year and a half ago, the Sydney big-wave surfer Mark Mathews wrapped up his pro surfing career with a wipeout on an eight-foot wave that dislocated his knee, tore an artery, fractured a shin and ruined the nerves in his foot.

Doctors told him he wouldn’t surf again.

“I was lucky not to be a wheelchair,” he says.

Mark was working with the go-behind-photographer Leroy Bellet on a project for Red Bull. 

Leroy’s speciality is the double-tow where both photographer and subject are towed into the same wave, a technique pioneered by Laurent Pujol with his famous monkey-on-the-back angle. The pair were towed into an eight-foot ledge on the NSW South Coast. The wave went below sea-level, as the ledges Mr Mathews favours are prone to do, and he jumped off when the lip in front of him started to crumble. Mark was sucked over the falls and landed foot first on the reef.

Mark Mathews wipeout
The wave that crippled Mark Mathews, October 2016.

“I thought my leg was broken,” says Mark, whose nickname “Chalk” references his innumerable injuries including a shoulder injury at Jaws that had kept him out of the water for the previous nine months. “I’d only just started surfing again.”

Mark was put in a full-body brace and taken by helicopter to hospital. Doctors told him he might lose his leg .

“The first op was an artery transfer. After the surgery the doc came out and told my girl he was sure I would keep my leg.”

But surf? Probs not.

Miracles? They happen.

Mark got the leg and, yesterday, got tubed for the first time in eighteen months. Fortuitously, Mark and his girlfriend, Britt, who is from Queensland, had moved to Kirra three days earlier.

The cost of living, the mostly shitty waves, ooowee, it gets a brother down. For a hundred bucks more than the rent he was paying to live in a small nineteen forties-built flat in Maroubra, he could have swinging luxury at Kirra, a sauna, gym and gun-barrel views straight into the Supabank.

On the Sunday, as Cyclone Gita flicked the switches, the frustration of watching other people get drained got the better of him and he took a longer-than-usual board out at Snapper to see if he could somehow drag himself onto his feet and into a tube.

“I shit myself and didn’t want to wipeout. I went over the falls three times and came in,” he says. “I was fucking salty looking at photos and footage of people getting pitted. I sat there on my balcony and watched Parko get ten after ten after ten.

That night, his ol pal Ryan Hipwood called him, told him to be at the West Tweed Head boat ramp at five-forty-five in the morning and he’d deposit, via step-offs, Mark into the first tubes he’d been near since October 2016.

“We came out on dark, we were the first ones out. I had some epic waves, most I didn’t make. On one I got lit up, smashed the bottom and my leg was sweet as. Fuck…yeah! When I got home I jumped on (weather forecasting site) buoyweather.com thinking, where are the waves, where can I get pitted again? I’m still fucked, and surfing so bad, but it was sick fun.”

https://www.instagram.com/p/BfZLx8sF1gw/?hl=en&taken-by=markmathewssurf

How did it feel to see the world from the inside of a wave again?

“It felt like home,” he says.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BfXpDuCFFGd/