Meet: Australia’s Olympic surf team!

Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong!

2020 seems like an eternity away but you and I both know that two years goes by very quickly and in two quick years plus a few stray months we’ll be watching surfing at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan. It’s sort of funny to think about right now, Olympic surfing, but let’s try to be serious because Australian coach Bede Durbidge is serious and he just announced his team.


2018 Australian national squad: Julian Wilson, Matt Wilkinson, Owen Wright, Connor O’Leary, Adrian Buchan, Wade Carmichael, Mikey Wright, Ethan Ewing, Stuart Kennedy, Tyler Wright, Stephanie Gilmore, Sally Fitzgibbons, Nikki van Dijk, Keely Andrew, Bronte Macaulay and Macy Callaghan.

Chew on those names for a minute or two. Do you like? Do you love? Are you drunk atop your couch right now, the southern cross tied around your head singing Waltzing Matilda?

In case you wonder how these particular surfers were selected allow me to explain.

The Surfing Australia national selection committee includes seven time world champion Layne Beachley, four time world champion Mark Richards, ex-WSL surfer and talent pathway coach Kate Wilcomes, three time world champion Mick Fanning and Surfing Australia elite program manager Bede Durbidge. There was some readiness camp in January and then the selection committee picked the team from a 2012 issue of Australia’s Surfing Life.

Would you have chosen the same? Any additions or subtractions? The Wright family could win gold, silver and bronze if Tyler chooses to surf in the men’s division. I think she would have a shot at gold. She looked good at Surf Ranch.

Glenn “Micro” Hall is in the team photo but didn’t read his name in the press release.

I wonder if he is spying for Ireland?

Classic Jimbo.

Question: Can today’s pro surfer be fat?

Is the new look tour inherently body shaming?

So I was talking with a good friend yesterday and the newest Surfer magazine was sitting there and of course I started flipping through it while talking and then I saw a picture of Wade Carmichael and said, “Wow. He’s fat.”

Now it was a rude thing to say but he looked fat in the picture and/or husky but my good friend apoplectically responded, “Pro surfers can’t be fat…” and I looked up at him and realized he was not joking at all but deadly serious which made me think.

Can today’s pro surfer be fat?

In the 80s, 90s, 2000s it was very easy because back then pro surfers weren’t athletes. Mark Occhilupo, Mick Lowe, Kekoa Bacalso, etc. but today and now with the training and the airs and Surf Ranch contortionist barrels… it is a whole different game. A fit game. And there doesn’t seem to be much room for plus-sized men. It even seems that 150 lbs would be an unofficial cut-off of sorts not counting the great John John Florence who is not fat but likely weighs… 170 lbs.

Or maybe my good friend is wrong. Maybe there is a quiet revolution happening at the Championship Tour level where Jordy Smith, Wade Carmichael and… Italo(?) are bringing the cushion for the pushin’ back to the fore. Big turns, lots of water displacement, etc.

The pendulum is always swinging but do you think the new look tour favors feather light small boys or beefy tees? It seems, with the loss of both Fiji and Pipeline that the feather lights haven’t been in a better position since the Bud Tour days of old. That the cushion for the pushin will be a decided disadvantage. That in a few years, with a few more pool events locked down, pro surfing will be like women’s gymnastics and titles will be won by 13 year olds who weigh 98 lbs.


Kelly Slater-Kalani-Miller
Ol Captain Willie!

Revealed: Kelly Slater’s lost nickname!

You'll never guess!

I have been buried in Surfer magazine’s archives, searching for hidden Lisa Andersen nuggets for the forthcoming documentary Trouble. It is difficult work in that distractions lurk on every page. Old Gotcha ads, secret spots’ like Mavericks and Nias revealed, Kelly Slater’s long forgotten nickname from the early 1990s.

Kelly Slater. His mom calls him Willie, but can’t remember why. The press calls him “the next Tom Curren,” and other things that are impossible to live up to. Other surfers call Slater overrated, until they see him surf — then they just call him a mutant. And the teenage girls of America, they call Slater often and at all hours, forcing him to change his telephone number. It isn’t easy being highly-touted, but Slater shows he has that side of surf-stardom in control and let’s it all flow around him.


Ol’ Willie Slater.


And now is the time to fess up. Do you have a lost nickname? Something your mom used to call you that has almost faded from memory?

Slick Willie Slater.

Welcome to Willie Slater’s Surf Ranch.


George Downing Buzzy Trent
Big-wave pioneers George Downing, far right, and Buzzy Trent, on the fin. "Was Downing a salty bastard? He had a temper, and didn’t suffer fools. I’m guessing in his younger days he was a scrapper, and a good one."

Warshaw: “George Downing was the master!”

Surf historian on the death of a Hawaiian who "knew all the secrets."

On Monday, the great Hawaiian surfer, shaper, pioneer of board design and big-wave surfing, George Downing, died at home in East Oahu. Read his obit here. 

I knew a little about George. He was the contest director for The Eddie. Could handle a planer and had the surfboard biz Downing Hawaii. Was one of the first guys to push ’emselves in big Hawaiian waves. One kid won the Eddie, another made it to the finals of the Pipe Masters.

For a little perspective, I got Matt Warshaw, surf historian, met Downing a few times, onto the keys.

BeachGrit: Son of a bitch, that fifties big-wave era is almost gone. George Downing. Yeah, he was old, but he’s taking a piece of the sport with him. Pioneered some of the heavier spots on the North Shore, was heavily into surfboard designand so on, yes?

Warshaw: If you ask Billy Kemper and Shane Dorian who their main big-wave surfing influence was, then ask THOSE guys who their main influence was, and so on and so on, at the end of the line you end up with Buzzy Trent and George Downing. They started big-wave surfing, along with Wally Froiseth. And Buzzy absolutely bowed down to George. George was the master. He was the first to go all-in. Downing put a fin on the hot curl board and invented the big-wave gun. He was the first surfer of note to geek out on weather maps and swell forecasting. He invented the pin-drop bailout. And he had a beautiful, smooth, high-line style. Downing was quiet, smart, ambitious, creative, and kindly, but in a powerful mafioso-don way. He had a lot of juice.

Born and raised in Hawaii?

Yes. I’m not sure what happened when he was a kid, but I believe George was pretty much raised by his uncle, Wally Froiseth.

If you ask Billy Kemper and Shane Dorian who their main big-wave surfing influence was, then ask THOSE guys who their main influence was, and so on and so on, at the end of the line you end up with Buzzy Trent and George Downing. They started big-wave surfing, along with Wally Froiseth. And Buzzy absolutely bowed down to George. George was the master.

Y’ever get to talk to him?

A few times. He was great friends with Steve and Debbee Pezman, and when I lived in San Clemente I’d drop by their house often, and when Downing was in California he’d stay in the guest room. I was nervous around him, but he was always friendly. Watchful guy, kind of reserved, dry sense of humor. We faxed back and forth a couple times when I was doing Encyclopedia of Surfing. He’d never done a profile piece in a surf magazine. There was no information out there about him, or very little. It took some convincing from Pezman to get him to play along with EOS, and he make me sign a agreement that the biographic information he gave me would only be used in that book. But once we got that out of the way, he was right into it. Answered all the questions, came through in a big way.

How did he end up being called The Guru?

Downing just knew more about surfing than anybody, or surfing in Hawaii at least, and if you knew how to approach him he was really open about sharing his knowledge.

Tell me about his relationship with Waimea Bay. Pioneer, first. And, later, Eddie contest director.

No, I don’t think George liked surfing Waimea. Or rather, he didn’t like it near as much as Makaha, which was his heart and soul. Downing was a finesse surfer, he was slender and kind of slippery with his line. Waimea was better suited for Greg Noll; big, thick, grunty guys. Waimea, you want to be a sledgehammer. Makaha, at size, you want to be an arrow, like George. For the Quik contest, though, Waimea was the right call. Waimea was Eddie’s wave, and it breaks more often, and the spectating is better there than Makaha. George wasn’t all that stoked to surf it, but he knew Waimea was what Quik needed for the event.

You can even credit him with the removable fin. True?

True. The other bit was, he had these templates from the 1950s that were magic, and when Barton Lynch won the world title he was riding a board George made him, from those same templates.

He asked Nat Young not to include him in his History of Surfing. What happened there? Was he a salty bastard?

In the early editions of Nat’s “History of Surfing,” Nat had this brief Afterward saying that Downing asked to be left out of the book. Nat complied —  which is like doing a book on NBA centers and leaving out Bill Russell. Was Downing a salty bastard? He had a temper, and didn’t suffer fools. I’m guessing in his younger days he was a scrapper, and a good one, but none of that as far as I know carried into adulthood. George had an almost visible aura of power, though. When Vince Collier died, people were calling him the Godfather. But George was the godfather. Wise, helpful, generous; a guy who’d seen it all, done it all, knew all the secrets, could get things done. There isn’t a replacement for George Downing.

George Downing, 1930 – 2018 from ENCYCLOPEDIA of SURFING on Vimeo.

Downing at Makaha
Downing at Makaha

Obit: Surf loses Hawaiian legend

George Downing changed our game.

George Downing, a surf pioneer and icon, died in his sleep yesterday evening at the age of 87. He was one of those out-sized figures who was there when it was all really beginning in pre-war Waikiki. The first to surf Laniakea and Honolua Bay, he spent much of his life pioneering the Hawaiian islands’ bigger waves. He was a standout at Makaha, winning events there while writing the textbook on how to approach it, and also radically altered the sorts of boards that were ridden.

Surf historian Matt Warshaw writes in the Encyclopedia of Surfing:

Downing’s encyclopedic knowledge of the sport, meanwhile, was looked upon with awe. He was referred to by the world’s most knowledgeable surfers as “the teacher”; ’60s big-wave rider Ricky Grigg called him “the guru.” Downing mentored dozens of top Hawaiian surfers over the decades, including Joey Cabell, Reno Abellira, and Michael Ho.

For the past 30 years he acted as contest director for The Eddie, officially calling the event on or off. Kelly Slater wrote that it was an honor to surf the Bay on Downing’s call.

He is survived by his sons Keone and Kainoa, daughter Kaiulu, grandchildren Kaohi, Kirra, Kainoa, Keola and Nalei, and two great-grandsons.