Dead: the world’s greatest surf writer!

"So fucken slick," says Nick Carroll.

Depending on your love of literature you may, or may not, know, or care, that Tom Wolfe has died, aged eighty-eight. 

That name mean anything?

If you’re a fan of the better surf writers, Nick Carroll and so on, you owe a little something to the father of New Journalism, a style of writing that brought the writer, and the dramatic techniques favoured by the novelist, into straight journalism. Its arrival was as exciting as colour television.

Years back, when I got my first job at Surfing Life, I figured I better learn how to write (I’d cribbed stories out of old Tracks magazines and presented ’em as samples of my work) and I’d remembered Nick had listed his favourite writers: Hunter ST, Earn Hemingway, Ev Waugh, John Steinbeck and…Tom Wolfe.

Over the course of the year, I read most of their books. Hunter for gonz, Hemingway for muscular writing, Waugh for satire, Steinbeck for storytelling and Tom Wolfe for reporting.

And exclamation marks. Want to know the source of our exclamation marks? Blame Tom Wolfe! Of course! (And the use of “Of course!”)

And, in case you didn’t know, Tom Wolfe got into a little surf writing himself. In 1968 he wrote an essay called The Pump House Gang (which was included in a book of essays of the same name) where he wrote about a gang of La Jolla surfers.

An excerpt:

The [surfers] are not exactly off in a world of their own, they are and they aren’t. What it is, they float right through the real world, but it can’t touch them. They do these things, like the time they went to Malibu, and there was this party in some guy’s apartment, and there wasn’t enough legal parking space for everybody, and so somebody went out and painted the red curbs white and everybody parked. Then the cops came. Everybody ran out. At [a party] in Manhattan Beach . . . somebody decided to put a hole through one wall, and everybody else decided to see if they could make it bigger. Everybody was stoned out of their hulking gourds, and it got to be about 3:30 a.m. and everybody decided to go see the riots. These were the riots in Watts. The Los Angeles Times and the San Diego Union were all saying, WATTS NO-MAN’S LAND, but naturally nobody believed that. Watts was a blast, and the Pump House gang was immune to the trembling gourd panic rattles of the LA Times.

According to the Encyclopedia of Surfing, after the story came out La Jolla locals spray-painted “Tom Wolfe is a dork” across the cement beachfront pump house structure that gives the story its title.

Surfer magazine later called “The Pump House Gang” a “bit of low-rent pop sociology,” but acknowledged that the Windansea surfers, who once dressed up as Nazi storm troopers and goose-stepped down to the beach for a laugh, were in fact viewed as “savages” by the rest of California surf society.

Earlier today, I asked Nick Carroll, whose early work used many of Tom Wolfe’s New Journalism techniques and whose influence across surf writing is without equal, why he was so into Wolfe.

“I just got excited by that whole genre of magazine writing of the 1960s, it felt a bit musical to me in a way, like an injection of flow and energy and emotion into the culture and how it was being observed. Like it was putting new things at centre stage. Above all it felt American to me, like it was describing a bigger and more viscerally entertaining world. So much lively curiosity!

“Plus so fucken slick and skilled with the language. Writers observing closely and doing the best work of their lives.
“I really paid attention, especially to Wolfe’s introduction to the collected volume, The New Journalism, which included a lot of the best operators in the field. It’s basically a journalism primer. Like you don’t have to do four years of “Journalism” at Uni, you can just read that, then go and practice it.
“I’ve since done a lot more reading and you can see New Journalism going on in writing for many years before the New Journalism. I think almost all good writing is partly journalism, because almost all good writing relies on the observant eye and ear. I’ve also seen how journalists like Truman Capote with In Cold Blood and John Hersey with his amazing account of the Hiroshima atom bombing and its aftermath kind of outclassed most of the New Journalists, Wolfe included.
The Pump House Gang was interesting but not as interesting as some of the car racing stuff. The Right Stuff was all time I thought.
“The big thing about Wolfe, Gay Talese, and most of the NJs is that they were still mostly classically trained journos, they were never post-modern about things, they were actually interested and curious in the subject, not just in their reaction to the subject. They wanted to get hold of both — to describe what people were actually up to. Not just what they thought those people were up to, or would like them to be up to, which is the modern “commentary” trend. You can’t beat actual interest in people.
“In surf writing now, I think it’s actually a pretty dynamic time but I don’t see much Wolfean prose, the detailed observation and curiosity isn’t quite there in a lot of otherwise very entertaining stuff. It’s a fucking high bar though, and surfing’s not as new as it used to be! It’s hard to find anything new to write about.”

southport seaway sharks
"A pack of bull sharks are seen scouring the sea floor while the boardriders who paddle across to South Stradbroke Island are blissfully unaware of what lies beneath." | Photo: Ian Banks/Gold Coast Bulletin

Yike: See the World’s Sharkiest Paddle!

Wall to wall bull sharks…

You heard of South Straddie? You know the name, right? That man-made collection of often outrageously good beachbreaks on the north side of the Southport Seaway on Queensland’s Gold Coast?

In a north-west wind, and with even just a little swell, whee-baby.

Getting there ain’t as simple as parking a car, suiting up and paddling off the beach, howevs. Between you and the waves is a two hundred metre paddle across what is, according to rumour, a shark-filled body of water between the two rock groynes.


You either pay five bucks or whatever it is and get the ferry (con: you feel like a sissy to travel two hundred metres in a boat) or you take your panties off and jump in, dodge the fishing trawlers, and get there yourself.

I lived on that otherwise god-forsaken coast for a decade and, most mornings, I’d drive thirty minutes north to the seaway, dive in and get an hour of thin-lipped cabanas before work. Early in my tenure there, if I didn’t have a pal to paddle across with, I’d tail a couple of other surfers. Before long, I was solo, but still very scared.

Once, as a surf magazine prank, we made a pro surfer swim across the channel with a fish tied to his leg.

So how sharky is the seaway paddle?

As revealed by the Gold Coast Bulletin yesterday, the joint really is crawling with bull sharks.

It is a picture that would strike terror into anyone who frequents the waters near the Gold Coast Seaway.

A pack of bull sharks are seen scouring the sea floor while the boardriders who paddle across to South Stradbroke Island are blissfully unaware of what lies beneath.

But a veteran Gold Coast diver believes the photo should be celebrated, not feared.

Ian Banks took the amazing image while on a solo dive outside the mouth of the seaway last Monday.

“This photo shows that the seaway has a healthy ecosystem of marine life,” he said.

“The area is a gathering point not just for sharks but rays and fish too.”

Stingrays, don’t mind those.

The 60-year-old now lists the seaway as his favourite place to dive.

“It is a very special place,” he said.

“From a diving point a view it is the best mainland shore dive in any city in Australia.

“There’s not one reef in this area that comes within one per cent of the big fish that the Seaway has.”

Ain’t that reassuring.


Not Now!
Not Now!

The day the World Surf League told me to beat it!

The gravy train has derailed!

It is day five of the Oi Rio Pro or at least I think it is. Much like Kelly Slater our coverage of the event has gone missing. It would be impossibly rude to make Longtom wake up in the middle of a Byron night to watch the world’s better surfers dance in Brazil and so this morning, after receiving a text from Nobel Prize winner Jamie Tworkowski* that Gerry Lopez was on the mic and performing admirably, I decided to take the contest duties upon myself.

I sat down on a corinthian leather stool, breathed deeply through my nose and pressed into the browser and there I was, or almost because then I had to press the “watch” button. I thought, after pressing, that Adriano de Souza’s face would pop onto my screen but instead the above window and the words, “Just sign up to watch live. It’s free.” followed by the standard “Continue with Facebook” “Continue with Google” and then, inexplicably, “we won’t post anything without asking.”

Post what without asking? My mind whirled into Cambridge Analytica territory. What on earth does the WSL want to post? Personality quizzes for my friends? Pleas for help? No, it was already too stressful so I pressed the “Not Now” option nestled into the left corner.

This took me back to the beginning and I pressed watch and was again taken to the “Continue with Facebook” “Continue with Google” “we won’t post anything without asking.”

Again and again and again. The same loop. There was no way out and I smashed “Not Now” more vigorously each and every time, sweat starting to bead on my forehead. I’ve downloaded your app, WSL. I’ve given you the better part of my youth but you want more. Always more. Why can’t you listen to my “Not Now”? Why can’t you respect my body and my choices? Why is “Not Now” not really an option?

I finally gave up, exhausted, without any professional surfing to soothe my soul.

So. Who is doing good? Is Gerry Lopez a sweet addition to the team? What about Chris Cote? Who did Chris replace anyhow? Is Julian Wilson still in the Jeep Leaderboard Yellow Jersey? More questions to come.

* I once had dinner with Emily Ratajkowski. She was a fine conversationalist and I thought her and Jamie Tworkowski would cut a striking figure and that they should get married and hyphenate Jamie and Emily Ratajkowski-Tworkowski. I was drinking Moscow Mules at that dinner out of a paper straw.

john john florence brazil
The Hawaiian John John Florence, who is eight-to-one to win in Brazil. Are these odds enough to tempt you? Turn a hundred into eight hundred? | Photo: WSL

Just in: USA Legalises Surf Betting!

The joys (and perils) of gambling on surf contests comes to America!

If you live in America, you might have looked wanly at all the surf gambling ads buttressing this website. The offers have been almost too good to be true: free money to get you going (up to $500) and odds generous enough to make it worth your while having a swing.

But Australia only. The land of the free etc.

This damn stupid rule changed last night when the US Supreme Court made a decision that will allow the individual States to legalise sports gambling. The court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 that barred state-authorised sports gambling… with Nevada as the exception. Sports betting is worth over $199 billion per year in the US.

New Jersey wants to be the first (this actually came about from the major sports leagues suing the Govener of NJ), and Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania, Mississippi and West Virginia are expected to quickly jump on the legal bookmaking wagon.

Not good news for Nevada as they took $4.8 billion worth of sports bets in 2017 and had the US monopoly for 26 years. 

So what’s going to happen now is that States will have to work with professional sports leagues like the NBA and MLB on their demands for an “integrity fee” to be paid from all bets to the leagues. This fee is around 0.5% – 1% of the bet. The NBA and other leagues have defended their reasoning for the fee as a need to police the game from criminals looking to fix games, and implement compliance systems across their leagues.

Our friends at William Hill wants to be the first bookmaker to mine this lucrative vein of gold. They intend to offer sports betting in New Jersey locations as “soon as responsibly possible,” according to CEO Joe Asher. “We’re thinking in the realm of weeks.” They’re targeting the NBA Finals.

Soon, BeachGrit’s US audience will be able to join up to William Hill and receive our lovely bonus bet offer.

MGM Resorts International CEO Jim Murren told CNBC on Monday that it will be able to offer sports betting around the country “very quickly.”

“We have already established the architecture to deploy sports betting as soon as the states allow us to do that,” Murren said. “We have already the software. We have our mobile app called PlayMGM that is already activated in Nevada.”

Will the WSL, finally be able to take a seat alongside Adam Silver from the NBA and then NFL’s Roger Gooddell, NFL, to negotiate an integrity fee that will protect surfing from the perils of gambling?

Is this the river of gold that might save the WSL’s thirty million dollar investment? Internal sources tell us the WSL has already been in talks with at least one of Australia’s biggest gambling houses.

Dion Agius Byron House

Buy: Dion Agius’ Shipping Container House!

Don't blow the chance to live like a king!

Do you dream of, one day, living in a sub-tropical paradise where everyone is young and beautiful and sex positive? And with waves that have crystalline lips and that crash onto powder white sand?

This place exists and it is called Byron Bay.

If you’ve a little cash in the bank or a generous line of credit, therefore, you might want to make an offer on the pro surfer Dion Agius’ “Forest Bungalow”, a shipping container bungalow midway between Byron Bay and Suffolk Park.

Pretty girl magnetises from outdoor tub.

(See it or rent it on Air BnB here) 

Dion, who is thirty-three years old (“Crazy! I can’t believe it! Where did those years ago?’) and  lives alone in a little house in north-east Tasmania, has put the property he bought four years ago on the market last night and is asking for “expressions of interest.”

Pretty girl in Dion’s Byron studio hammock.

From the real estate advertisement, 

This stunning 1289m2 block comes with approved council DA plans for a beautiful architecturally designed home. Given the size of the land STCA there is potential for subdivision. The land currently hosts a very cool converted shipping container.

Treed crown reserve on both the north and eastern sides enhances the appeal and privacy, as does the beautiful established trees and tropical gardens that are well positioned along the boundaries giving you your own private forest home to an abundance of local birds.

The little house Dion built.

Earlier today, I spoke to Dion about the sale. It is a rare thing to get Dion on the telephone. There is no reception in his little wooden cabin in the town of Scamander at the mouth of the Scamander River between Saint Helens and Saint Mary and he has to walk down to the river to make or take a call.

He hadn’t surfed for a month since busting an ear drum during a trip to Indonesia.

“It was horrible. I slapped my head super hard,” he says.

I was living in LA with my buddy who ended up passing away and it got to the point where I was living in this shithole traffic going to showings and thinking, ‘What the fuck am I doing? This is horrible.’ It made me revaluate my life. It’s not about making a quick buck. I found a spot down here, forty acres on a river, no one around.”

Dion moved to Tasmania after two years in Los Angeles selling Epohke sunglasses that he describes as “the worst two years of my life. It changed my whole perspective on life. I was living with my buddy who ended up passing away and it got to the point where I was living in this shithole traffic going to showings and thinking, ‘What the fuck am I doing? This is horrible.’ It made me revaluate my life. It’s not about making a quick buck. I found a spot down here, forty acres on a river, no one around.”

His plan when he bought the Byron property in late 2014 for $610,000 was to winter in Byron and summer in Tasmania, where he grew up and lived until he was fourteen. As it transpired, after he built his shipping container studio it was booked out so often he could never find a slot.

Dion says he doesn’t particularly want to sell the Byron house but, well, property is going pretty nuts in town and he figures why not cash in before the boom evaporates.

“I haven’t put a price on it. The real estate agent and I are just feeling it out, seeing what people are thinking. The thing is, I love the block. It backs onto crown land and the previous owners planted a little tropical forest on it. That was the reason I bought it so, for me, it’s worth quite a bit. I looked at a lot of other spots but I didn’t find anything as special.”

The money would be useful. He’s doing up his house (He’ll be slinging VJ lining on the walls and installing lights after he hangs up) and is trying to convince buddies to build their own shacks on his forty acres, “a little getaway commune with my friends,” he says. “I want to create a gallery, a studio, do events, festivals, fun stuff.”

As it is, he hangs by himself most of the time, although his parents are fifteen minutes drive away and some of his best friends from primary school are nearby, although family commitments usually keep ’em busy.

“I surf or go skate. And I have space and trees,” he says. “That’s what it’s all about.”