Top Secret: “From Kook to Kelly” training!

The ultra-wealthy have cracked surfing's code!

The very rich live better lives than you and me. Sure there is a populist revolt shaking the globe right now, trying through slogans on placards, to bring some form of parity but it won’t matter. Nothing matters. The rich are a rocket ship, climbing climbing climbing. Getting richer. The non-rich are suckers writing slogans on placards. The rich have a secret surf class taught only at select five-star resorts. The non-rich have grouchy surfing uncles who dish unhelpful advice.

And how do I know about these secret surf classes? Oh. I read the rich publication Bloomberg from time to time and learned of it this morning in a piece titled The 10 Steps to Achieve Surfing Nirvana. Here, I’ll distribute the wealth with you. The writer has gone to Baja to ask his girlfriend to marry him and also learn to surf. Let’s pick it up from there.

For a sport with a lot of unwritten rules about how to behave, surfing doesn’t have many written ones. But Pinneo teaches from an actual curriculum, which Tropicsurf (founded by Australian Ross Phillips) calls “Kook to Kelly.” It’s in use at 16 of the most luxurious resorts around the world, including Fiji’s Laucala, Nihiwatu Sumba in Indonesia, and Mukul in Nicaragua. Think of it as the surfing equivalent of ascending to a black belt from a white one in karate. Its 10 levels range from the hardest, “Kelly,” referring to Kelly Slater, the unofficial greatest surfer ever, to “Kook”—surferese for a beginning, not-very-good surfer. A try-hard, a gremmie, a grom.

For the past 20 years, Phillips, a former schoolteacher, has been developing and refining one of the sport’s only written, comprehensive, and standardized systems of teaching—the Eton of surfing schools.

Satisfied with our stroke, Pinneo breaks down the levels: We’re obviously Level 1. Level 3 surfers are starting to ride small waves on their own. At Level 5, you’re finding your own style and refining your bottom turn. By Level 7, you’re pretty good and can ride the barrel—that quintessential picture of surfing, in which you catch the inside part of the wave as it crashes over you, forming a tunnel. If you’re Level 10, your name may be Kelly Slater.

So it seems a bit like Scientology, maybe, like The Bridge to Total Freedom. These steps, no doubt, cost much money and won’t be shared openly even in a rich publication but the hints are fascinating. A refined bottom turn seems like a real important facet in moving from kook to Kelly. Step seven finds you in the barrel. What do you think happens during steps eight and nine?

Which step are you?

Which step is Kai Otton?


The piece ends with this:

There’s a scene in the 1994 surf movie The Endless Summer II when Pat O’Connell, the shortboard star, is asked what his favorite wave is. “The next one,” he says. I keep that as my mantra and, about 15 next waves later, I stand and ride the board into the whitewash. I still look like the poo-man, but for once on this day, I feel the euphoria that drives hundreds of other kooks to keep trying.

Poo-man. Which step is Adriano de Souza?

Do you think Tropicsurf pays Kelly royalties on using his name?

Jamie O'Brien, who has broken both his legs at Pipeline, is not afraid to push a little harder.
Jamie O'Brien, who has broken both his legs at Pipeline, is not afraid to push a little harder. | Photo: Damien Robertson

Rothman: “Bring on the champion judges!”

"It's enough already."

The clear highlight of my last week was not a cancer diagnosis but rather a lovely 30 minute chat with Eddie Rothman. The North Shore legend and Da Hui co-founder is such a breath of fresh air. In this modern world where most people hedge opinion with many caveats or simply refuse to go on the record, Mr. Rothman lets fly without heed. He has the bonus of truly believing what he says and of being able to back it up come hell or high water.

The reason for the call was about contest permitting for Pipeline but like all good chats it bobbed and weaved, covering other topics as well. We spoke, for example, of professional surf judging and I thought he had an interesting point.

“Look at the judging ok?” Eddie said. “At our Pipeline event (the Backdoor Shootout) we have champions judging. Do you ever hear the ASP mention who their judges are… I mean the WSL?”

“Mmmmmm” I responded trying to think of the newly installed head judge’s name.

Eddie continued, “There’s Ritchie something but whatever. Those people have no clue. No clue. I watched some of the heats of the Volcom where… I watched somebody take off on the two biggest, meanest fuckin waves of the heat and almost come out. Just death defying waves and he didn’t make it, he didn’t conclude the wave, so he got a one point eight and a one point blah blah. Then there’s some kid sitting in the channel the whole time, caught a four foot wave, caught another four foot wave and he got a little tiny barrel, made it and got the score, won the heat. The guy who was charging the hardest, putting his life on the line, got fucked. It’s enough already.”

And how about that? I have thought, for years and especially at places like Pipeline, Teahupo’o and Fiji (RIP) that guts are entirely undervalued. It is, I think, a reason why so many “Pipeline specialists” get drummed out in the first few rounds of the Pipe Masters. They are conditioned to paddle for the biggest, the meanest waves. Seasoned WSL competitors know that the risk/reward paradigm is tilted heavily in favor of taking easier, smaller waves and making them look good.

But what of the thrill of watching somebody paddle as deep as they can on unruly monsters? Or really going for the last section as opposed to safely escaping? Can heart ever be figured in to the scoreline?

Also, should the WSL employ surf champs as judges for events where the wave is an equal star? Men and women who truly understand the complexities of the tour’s various all-star waves? I suppose it’s a shrinking list now with both Pipeline and Fiji disappeared but something to think about nonetheless.

How can safety surfing be forever rooted out of our game?

Dear children... let me be a warning to you re. the dangers of questionable fashion choices.
Dear children... let me be a warning to you re. the dangers of questionable fashion choices.

Podcast: “Don’t judge my cancer!”

The mark of a life spent on the water. Or maybe questionable sartorial decisions.

I was diagnosed with cancer last week but that surf sort of cancer. The basal cell carcinoma sort that gets cut right out of the skin no muss no fuss. Surfer magazine’s Grant Ellis first identified it for me. I saw the laconic South African at Surf Ranch and he had a neat row of stitches on his forehead. I asked him why and he told me, “Cancer.” I asked how he knew it was cancer and he quickly described the symptoms.

“I’ve got one of those on my chest here.” I said, pointing. to a red spot near my sternum.

“Yah.” He responded. “Go get that checked out.”

I did and he was right.


Cancer right above where I insist on unbuttoning my button-up shirts all rakish and suggestive. Cancer right below where a normal t-shirt’s neckline would cover. I don’t own any “normal” t-shirts, and refuse the top four buttons any pleasure. In this way, I suppose, I have fashion cancer but it mirrors surf cancer and how many of these have you had cut out of you? Three? Seven?

I feel badly that it took me this many years to get one. Like pterygiums, surf cancer is the mark of a life spent in the water. It cannot be faked nor can it be purchased. It is not a World Surf League Gabriel Medina jersey.

Oh I know surf cancer and fashion cancer, for that matter, are not real cancers and shouldn’t even be brought up in the same breath but I do bring them up in the same breath on the latest edition of The Grit, my bi-weekly conversation with David Lee Scales. We also chat about Olympic surfing, the future of aerial maneuvers and how to game the system. You can go here to see a visual guide or sit back and listen below.

Here we see Volcom's international team manager and Fantasy Surfer winner, Matt Bemrose alongside WCT rookie Yago Dora and super coach Dave "Deep, Steep and Complete" Riddle. | Photo: Andrew Christie

Volcom Team Manager Smashes Fantasy Surfer!

Former pro turned pro minder Matt Bemrose beats living hell out of Fantasy Surfer on first attempt!

Until the 2017 season, Volcom team manager, the former pro Matt Bemrose, had never played any of the various Fantasy Surfer games.

But, last year, after a pal asked him to join a club of eighty within Surfer magazine’s Fantasy Surfer, Matt figured, “I might be able to suck some money out of these dudes.”

And he did.

Won three-and-a-half grand in his little club, and he finished first out of 21, 708 other punters via Surfer, winning a trip to Hawaii, five nights at the Turtle Bay and some spending money. Of course, Matt, as international team manger for Volcom, didn’t need the prize, so he gave it to his brother-in-law.

“Then after I won, I spoke to the Surfer guys they said, ‘Sorry dude, the Turtle Bay pulled out so no prize.’

As a consolation, Matt was gifted a “Chemistry” surfboard by east coast shaper Jason Bennett

Like most Australians, Matt, who is forty years old, is familiar with betting for money. And surfing had always been an easy mark.

“It’s almost like cheating ’cause you know everyone so well. You’re at the event, you know who’s looking good, you know who’s got a magic board under their feet. This year, for example, I’m going to Snapper early to get a good look at the guys. You can see, immediately, who’s been working on shit in the off-season. Filipe, last year, it was obvious he’d been working on his rail game, that extension. He was thirty-percent better.”

Four keys to winning, says Matt: Knowing the surfers, knowing the seeds, knowing the waves, knowing the forecast. Last year at J-Bay he knew it was going to be good, but on the small days, with that swell direction, he knew it was going to be all Filipe and Mick. “They’re the fastest surfers on the fucking planet.” And he knew the rookie Zeke Lau was going to spill blood at Bells.

The biggest rookie error punters make on Fantasy Surfer, says Matt, is hanging onto surfers too long “because they were cheap. People will say, ‘I’ll keep him because I got him cheap. Fuck that. Who gives a fuck if he’s cheap if he’s going to get knocked in round two. I pick up my guys every event. Coming into Brazil last year, I saw the banks, spoke to the boys, and knew the contest was going to be run on a left down the beach and a tricky little right. Perfect conditions for Ace Buchan. He’d get two sharp backhand whips on the lower tide… and he did. He did really good there. (Second, lost to Adriano de Souza.)”

Matt picks his team at the last minute, when the swell forecast and alternates are locked. For Snapper, he’s got a little fever, so far, for Michael Rodrigues (“he could be lethal”), says it ain’t such a stretch for goofies to do well now that judges are throwing eights and nines for blowing the tail out in the pocket and says Jordy, who traditionally flakes at Snapper, is going to shine.

“He’s got more variety than anyone on tour. Nine different turns from takeoff to bottom turn… holy shit!

Kelly Slater?

Last year Matt had him for Pipe, figuring he could win even with a broken foot, and Fiji. This year?

“I’m going to watch him at Snapper. You never know what Kelly you’re getting. With his wave pool, his boards, his clothing, his focus might not be there. If he refocusses about surfing, he could be fucking gnarly. Maybe John John winning everything might bring him back. When the waves are shitty, and you have Filipe going from zero to one hundred in one pump, he’s not going to win.”


“It’s going to be won by the guy who can go ten-fucking-foot in the air. That’s what it’s made for. Everyone will get barrelled and come out and do a carve. The only way to make that wave exciting is a guy doing fucking flips. The judges want to see guys experiment in the air.”

Matt says Yago, Gabriel, Colapinto and Rodrigues are fine bets, even Joan Duro although we both laugh knowing Matt’s job description.

World title?

“Everyone’s saying Filipe. Take out Fiji and add in the pool and Keramas and it does look likely, but I still think it’s going to be  head-to-head between Gabriel and John John. They’re going to be like Andy and Kelly for a long time. They’re going to be fighting for the world title for the next five years. It’s their mental toughness. When shit gets gnarly they raise the bar and keep raising the bar.”

Matt Bemrose is a former world qualifying series competitor, and peer of WCT surfers Kai Otton and Dayan Neve. This is Matt at South Narrabeen. Photo: Andrew Christie

Surfline execs field alleged calls from the WSL and also listen to their new Occy voicemail greetings.
Surfline execs field alleged calls from the WSL and also listen to their new Occy voicemail greetings.

Rumor: WSL to buy Surfline!

A potential mega-deal!

There I was, minding my own business, when out of the blue a very profound rumor fell from the mostly clear sky into my lap. That the World Surf League is allegedly kicking Surfline’s tires for purchase. Ooo-ee and a potentially ground-shifting piece of gossip.

Surfline is, as you well know, the most robust surf website with much traffic logging on to check surf forecasts, beach cams and the occasional bit of editorial. It features both a free side, with pre-roll advertisements appearing before beach cam of choice and 30 second visual snippets and a subscription side with… I don’t know. I have never peeked behind the paywall.

The website boasts near 4 million global visitors per month and Nick Carroll’s lost photos. But what does professional surfing have in mind with this theoretical buy? I have ideas!

Since Surfline already has a well-established subscription service, the World Surf League could purchase, slip all contests behind the paywall and voilà! It is now making money on contest views without having to build/sell the technology itself. You and I may grumble for about three seconds but then both of us would purchase Surfline subscriptions because a) the WSL would offer a t-shirt in the deal and the t-shirt would feature artwork by Nicole Kidman* (of a pastoral scene in Lemoore, California)  and have this year’s slogan Work Makes You Free™ emblazoned above the left breast pocket and b) It’ll come with a free Occy voicemail download where Occy says, “Leave a message. It’s me, Occy.” on your outgoing voicemail message.

Also, I think, the World Surf League will shift the beach cams, slightly, in order to catch the least inspiring views of each break thus making ocean waves appear drab and tired. It will also build many beach cams in Lemoore, California that loop images of Surf Ranch waves rolling in one after another after another with a streaming banner that says, “Visit perfection!” that you click and get sent to a travel agency that specializes in inland tours.

Also, I think… I guess nothing else. Mostly that the WSL wants Surfline for its subscription side and to make the ocean look shifty.

Smart, no?

*Andrew Kidman