Beaten at own game! Team USA captain Kelly Slater places Brazil's Silvana Lima in a jiujitsu choke hold after the impish Silvana's imitation of the champ. (See her funny imitation of Kelly in story! | Photo: @wsl/Sherm

Gallery: Steve Sherman Goes to Surf Ranch!

Behind the scenes at The Founders' Cup with the best in the biz…

There is very little that separates the work of most sporting photographers. A slightly different angle here, a different lens there. Any sorta lifestyle shot is perfunctory, at best.

Surfing is very lucky, then, to have Steve Sherman, a skater and surfer from southern California. In less competent hands, lifestyle shots around a surfing contest can appear contrived and stilted. Sherman’s thoughtful photography preserves the authenticity of the moment.

Recently, Sherm was hired to document the machinations of the American team at the WSL Founders’ Cup.

“I wanted to overachieve,” he told me earlier today. “I worked my ass off. But I’ve been to Surf Ranch twice and haven’t ridden a wave. Oh god it’s…torturous. Oh fuck! Just gimme one drainer!”

I think you’ll agree he snatches the electricity out of the air.

Shall we examine his work?

Silvana Lima imitates Kelly Slater. 

kelly slater silvana lima
“Kelly was sitting there on the boat ramp striking this weird thoughtful pose when Silvana snuck up on his and imitated the pose,” says Sherm. “She’s hysterical and she has a great sense of humour. Kelly had no idea. Thirty seconds into it, he turned around and saw it and started to wrestle with her and put her in a headlock. I’m the only one who shot it. I looked around and didn’t see any other photographers. And there’s…so… many photographers! Everything’s overshot. But here I was, solo, and whenever I get those sorta exclusives I get an adrenalin rush Fuck em! Fuck em all! I just killed the elephant, brother!”

Kelly Slater sees naughty Silvana! 

Kelly Slater Silvana Lima
Kelly turns around and sees the gently mocking Silvana Lima. Kelly, then, culturally appropriates the Brazilian art of jiujitsu (which was culturally appropriated from the Koreans, I think) in retaliation.

Michel Bourez prepares his Team World captain for battle

Michel Bourez Jordy Smith
“Michel was the cheerleader for the world team,” says Sherm. “He was the most animated, screaming, yelling and here, working Jordy up. I love Jordy’s face. He always lets his guard down when he’s with me, gives me a little something.”

Wilko and Parko as Rancheros

parko
wilko
“Wilko and Parko wore their cowboy hats, which they had bought at a truck spot, everywhere. They’d wear ’em down to the water, take ’em off, surf, come back and put ’em back on. The thing about the hats is that it’s not actually cowboy style but…ranchero style… Mexican style and it was really cool of those guys to embrace it. A woman came up to Wilko, an upper-class white woman from Lemoore, and she asked, why are you dressed like cowboys? This isn’t the way people dress here. But that’s not her world. She doesn’t hang out with Mexicans, with guys killing pigs on farms, with rancheros. Wilko and Parko made it…fun.”

Team Australia, cheeky Stephanie Gilmore

team australia
“Mick Fanning pulled me aside and asked if I minded shooting a photo of the Australian team. I asked ’em to turn around. Mick said, well, isn’t that a little weird? And then Steph turns around and gives me that…smile. I gave it to Mick to upload wherever he wanted and, man, he was stoked. It ran across the world.”

Team Captains waiting for their turn on stage

 team captains
“Shooting at events is like being at a fucking drag race. It’s all about getting in first, getting the shot, and getting it uploaded and getting it to the world. This is on the first day and the captains are waiting to be announced. I’m surrounded by three other WSL photographers and I was…constantly…trying to outdo ’em. It was a competitive two days. This photo works because of the variety of looks on their faces, those kooky, funny looks.”

Filipe, happy, scores ten

filipe toledo
“Right after Filipe got his ten. He came in screaming, ‘Give me that fucking Jeep! Gimme the Jeep now!’ I really like Filipe as a surfer. He moves me.”

Filipe, sad, Brazil loses

Filipe toledo surf ranch
“Filipe’s feeling it. This was when Brazil was eliminated. That’s sport right there. The good, the bad, the ugly. Defeat ain’t pretty for anyone.”

Team World Wins Founders’ Cup

world team john john
“Look at John John’s face as Kelly just falls short of getting the score in the final. The thing about John was he looked a little off the whole event, apart from that air. He seemed distant. He’s not one to get animated or cheer but he didn’t seem like he was that into it.”

The Modern Surf Fan

surf fan
“That’s pro surfing meets Nascar. The guy is from Santa Cruz and he was wearing a Trump hat. He was the only guy waving a flag. I thought this was so American. If you go to a NASCAR race in Florida there’ll be 400 guys like this waving flags and getting drunk. Dude, that’s the future of surfing.”

Owen (center) pictured with dad and pal.

Teen on Surf Ranch: “Really really good!”

How did Founders' Cup feel to the youth?

If there was one defining adjective of this past weekend’s Founders’ Cup it was “historic.” The Historic Founders’ Cup. Historic. “We are witnessing history.” Historical. Just kidding. Historic. And being thus, we here at BeachGrit did our very best to record for future generations who will come back to May 5,6 2018 looking for answers. Looking for truths about the historic weekend. The picture painted was honest albeit grouchy. The monotony of the thing. The lack of progression etc.

The moments I watched left me cold but my eyes are old, my spirit dying and thus my opinion maybe wrong? There is one way to know. I must speak with a youth who was there, soaking in the atmosphere. A youth not tainted by disappointment.

Thankfully there was one such youth and his name is Owen. My wonderful fourteen-year-old nephew.

Now, Owen lives on California’s central coast and is as earnest as they come. A Norman Rockwell character come to life. He plays baseball, runs track and surfs every weekend with his dad. He likes watching professional surfing too and so he, his dad and a friend drove to Surf Ranch, paid full pop and… experienced history. What did he think?

Tell me honestly, O, what did you think of the Surf Ranch Founders’ Cup?

I thought it was actually really really really good. Pretty organized. I was shocked when I first walked in the gate and saw the pool. It was amazing. My favorite part of the day, other than getting to see the pros surf, was that the viewing was so awesome. Instead of waiting on the beach you could lean up on the cement wall and see all the sections. The barrel sections and the open sections coming right at you. It was awesome. I like it better than watching a surf contest at the beach because it is a perfect wave. Yeah. Definitely the future of surfing.

Who was your favorite surfer of the event?

Favorite surfer? I gotta say Jordy Smith. He did awesome.

Anything wrong?

You couldn’t get very close to the surfers. They were always behind the cement wall and there was no signings or anything like that. The food situation was terrible. We had to wait in line for an hour a half.

But overall you give it a thumbs up?

Oh yeah. It was totally awesome.

And there you have it. Can you squint and see through a fourteen year-old’s eyes? I’m trying. I’m trying real hard.


He stood in the chest deep water and breathed. Not steady, compose-yourself breaths, but deep, theatrical Wim Hof breaths. He had soft eyes which alluded to intense focus but was actually flirtation. This is my moment, this is me, this is what I do...went the internal monologue...likely to a pounding backdrop of: LOOK AT ME. LOOK AT ME. LOOK. AT. ME.

Opinion: “Kelly Slater slain by own creation!”

Was the Founders Cup a fitting or sad end to Kelly Slater's illustrious career?

The Emperor’s New Clothes. You know the tale, right?

A particularly vain emperor, who cares for nothing except basking in his own glory, employs tailors to make him the finest garments ever seen. In an elaborate con, the tailors convince the Emperor that his clothes are made from invisible material. The Emperor parades in front of his court and townspeople, showing off his wonderful new clothes.

In reality he is naked. Of course his subjects go along with it, telling him how wonderful he looks. Until a boy, too young to understand the pretense, shouts the truth and strips the whole sham bare.

Derek Rielly believes that we have seen the future. He believes our world class beachies, our Hossegors, our Supertubos, all will be gone. He even suggests the goose of Snapper rocks might be cooked.

I think he’s being hasty. But it’s also true that with new technology we often overestimate the impact in the short term but underestimate it in the long term. Today it is The Emperor’s New Clothes; tomorrow, it might be real.

But for now, in the opinion of many, The Founders Cup was a flop. Even Stab didn’t seem to be tripping over themselves with their usual brand of effusive flatulence.

And didn’t the finale just sum up the weekend? We looked on as Slater’s wave ran off without him, and the production pretended they’d seen something else entirely.

Let me recap…

The crescendo of an inaugural event! A glimpse into the future, a harbinger of the explosion of competitive surfing in the collective mainstream psyche!

And of course it was left to Emperor Slater (46) to play us out.

He stood in the chest deep water and breathed. Not steady, compose-yourself breaths, but deep, theatrical Wim Hof breaths. He had soft eyes which alluded to intense focus but was actually flirtation. This is my moment, this is me, this is what I do…went the internal monologue…likely to a pounding backdrop of: LOOK AT ME. LOOK AT ME. LOOK. AT. ME.

Turpel promised us we might get “a crazy tie break sudden death experience”. We didn’t. I’m not sure Joe knew what that was anyway. Instead, we watched the spectre of the GOAT, gutted and laid bare by his own fair hand.

The wave was too fast. Too fast for 40 years of muscle memory and 20 years of competitive mastery. Those final two waves are among the most awkward, out of rhythm attempts I have ever seen from Slater. His trademark cat-like balance was still there. But what looks superhuman falling out of the sky at La Graviere, doesn’t so much at a shoulder high, off-green, man-made tidal bore replica. His arms flailed. There were spasmodic pumps down the line and half turns, all for a whitewater bash half a second too late.

You might get away with half a second in the ocean, son, but not in this tub. The wave is relentless, like the passing of time, or aging, for that matter. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.

His barrel riding was still great. He can do that. His set-up on the left was sublime. One might get the impression that most of what he’s done here is practise crouching.* Is Slater such a conehead that he built a place where he can just set his line and hold on til grim death?

He did one “big frontside wrap”, so expertly called by Joe Turpel. Martin Potter said “ooooooff”. The progression in the commentary box hauntingly symbolic of what we saw in the pool.

They desperately tried to attach meaning to the ending of his lefthander. Turpel said it was a rodeo flip. Pottz called it a backside rotator. Everyone else saw it as a fly away kick out.

A pudgy, shirtless man in the crowd with a GoPro strapped to his red-faced head waved a large American flag vigorously from the stands. “U.S.A! U.S.A!” I’m certain he shouted. He is our future.

Slater mounted his board in the afterwash, the foil jizz (we need new language, as per Jen See). He seemed, momentarily, to catch a glimpse of himself, hunching his shoulders and ducking his head under the water. But when his face lifted he was back to his impervious best, the facade of a smile as he raised his hands to golf clap himself.

Pottz said: “Wow, that was insane!” I wondered if he was.

I felt embarrassed hearing the echo of Martin Potter’s voice, like it was a dirty secret that only we should know about. I cringed to think it was being broadcast live to the public.

Jen See said Lemore was like the setting of a Steinbeck novel. I desperately wanted Turpel to take Pottz down to the water’s edge and ask him to look towards the horizon and imagine his future.

As a fitting visual metaphor for his demeanour and impact throughout the event, Strider was towed behind, head down and prone, like a piece of seaweed caught on a fin.

I was sad, I turned it off.

Just before I tapped out I watched Slater do his non-victory victory lap, a pre-diabetic Raimana* beaming from the front of the taxi ski, struggling onto the plane at full throttle. As a fitting visual metaphor for his demeanour and impact throughout the event, Strider was towed behind, head down and prone, like a piece of seaweed caught on a fin.

Slater is the tailor and the emperor. He wouldn’t have it any other way. You might say it’s a tragic end to an illustrious career, or you might consider it a fitting one. Slain by his own creation, or perhaps self-mutilation by masturbation.

“Slater needs to finish!” said Joe Turpel on the final wave, raising his tone for the occasion, and unwittingly reaching a level of profundity which escaped everyone.

“But he isn’t wearing anything at all!” A young boy in the crowd cried.

And it was over.

*Credit Longtom. For everything.


Raimana once earned a living ferrying surfers to and from Teahupoo, now, as a full-time resident of Lemoore, California, he runs Surf Ranch. | Photo: WSL

Long Read: Raimana is the king of Lemoore!

Formerly, the king of Teahupoo, where this story takes place…

Paul Gauguin had it right. It’s the tropics, man. The palm tree, salmon sunset, rainbow tropics. The slow time, trade wind, warm coconut scent on a patch hot sand tropics.

And the best tropics? French colonial ones. Paul Gaugin had it oh so right.

But Raimana Van Bastolear has it righter. He is the eminence of Teahupo’o, arguably Tahiti’s most precious resource. Most surfers have consumed this mutant wave via magazine spreads and surf competition webcasts. There its craw gapes like a hungry troll. There it eats one surfer and sends another to barrel spit’d fame. It is adorned in Billabong, Red Bull, badly color blocked trucker hats. Its voice is a WSL commentator using adjectives poorly and metaphors hyperbolically.

In person, though, Teahupo’o is neither mutant nor surf garbed yokel. It is postcard with soaring green crags and lavender water. It is a pile of French rot at the end of a two-lane road and it is perfect.

Nothing, you see, rots better than French. It’s as if French colonizers, architects, chefs and priests in their wisdom, built a culture that looks and feels best coming undone. The Tahitians speak the language with a buttery patois drawl and it sounds more magnificent than it does on the Left Bank of Paris’s Siene. They worship God with many French misspellings in the prayer book and it becomes raucous southern gospel. They cook the food without actually cooking it, serving poisson cru bathed in coconut milk for every meal. They defy Western ambition by driving 40 km. Max. Which makes Western ambition seem a foolish pastime.

And I sit on a weathered deck hanging over perfectly temperate water and try to sit back even further. Like, the furthest back without actually laying down, soaking in the slow time and the French rot and not caring about anything at all. Especially not fast internet connections.

And even though slow time is one of the things that makes the tropics oh so right I see Raimana moving in front of my half-closed eyes, through the postcard, like a bolt. His cell phone buzzes. His jet ski whines. His many family members, friends, helpers, employees run this way and that, cooking, cleaning, sailing, loading, building. Being the eminence of any place is work but very much more apparent in the oh so right tropics.

To the uninitiated, the professional surf life is two very disparate things at once, free and structured. It is the vast oceanic playground sans the traditional “stick and ball” rules-based ethos. It is also a business where talents are groomed according to a specific, painstakingly followed, code.

This happens, of course, every winter on Oahu’s North Shore. Young charges are sent into homes owned and operated by the surf brands. There they learn where to paddle out, when to paddle out, what boardshorts to wear with what t-shirt, who to talk to and when, etc. Strict guidance is surfing’s manna.

The North Shore, however grand a social experiment as it is, is not the only school. Young charges get taught at contests, photoshoots, and when they travel to the middle of the South Pacific. It is, genuinely, a wonder that eighteen-year- old boys can even get to a place as remote as Teahupo’o to begin with. The nearest airport is an hour plus away, there are no hotels, real restaurants or infrastructure and the language, however buttery, can be a real barrier to entry.

Its remoteness necessitates a Raimana. He feeds, ferries and looks after the future of the sport. He also, quietly, provides the best education they will ever receive, as it relates to surfing one of the heaviest waves on the planet and living well. And this combination makes him invaluable.

I watch him while sipping on a lukewarm Hinano but watching Raimana’s spark I remember that without ambition there would be no refrigeration. Or colonization. And I hoist myself up to go speak with him, which is harder than it sounds. Raimana Van Bastolear is in demand. There is Quiksilver, and all the Quiksilver surfers, in one of his houses causing trouble and dreaming up schemes. There is a crew of seventy shooting a Visa commercial in one of his other houses. It stars Kolohe Andino, apparently, ordering pizza on a cellphone in a barrel. There is the Point Break production team, somewhere. There was Giselle Bundchen and a Chanel crew who just left. And there is the Billabong Pro coming in just five days and with it badly color blocked trucker hats and Red Bull.

Raimana runs it all and that is why this pile of French rot at the end of a two-lane road is called Raimana World. When I finally reach him (my legs feel like they are wading through sweet black molasses) I assume he is going to bark at me that he is busy (because he is) and send me back to my virtually laid-back position, warm beer in hand. I don’t necessarily rue this fate but he does not. He looks at me, eyes smiling, and tells me to meet him on the dock where we can sit with our feet dangling in the water because it is cooler then the deck.

Teahupo’o, the wave, can be heard thundering on the reef a kilometre out to sea and my very first question to him is how he first came to ride the wave. His face lights up. It is always light. It is warm like very few faces I have ever come across but it is both warm and wistful when speaking about that wave.

“Ahhhhhh I used to bodyboard out there in the middle 1990s. One day I was out there with my brother-in-law Kahea Hart…brother-in-law…that’s how you call your sister’s husband, yeah? Yeah. And anyhow he yell at me to go get him his board from the boat. So I paddle to the boat and get his board and start paddling it back out to him. He used to ride for MCD. Remember MCD? Used to be owned by the same guy who had Gotcha? Ha! That guy liked to party. And I was paddling back out when a huge set came through. I was in position because it swung wide and the boys were shouting, ‘Go Raimana! Go!” So I went. I paddled into one and got barreled. That was my first wave surfing out there. It was a two-page spread in Surfing magazine.”

Every part of this first story is perfect. A young man lost in bodyboarding’s false glory is perfect. A call to surfing arms is perfect. More Core Division and its place in fashion’s lore is perfect. Micheal Tomson is always perfect (he really does like to party). And getting a two-page spread in a surf magazine on the first wave ever ridden while standing up is perfect. It is so perfect that it sounds apocryphal which, in turn, makes it so very French, Joan du Arc-style French, and it feels just like it should.

Raimana’s expression does not change during its telling. He is neither reveling in his own legend nor disappearing behind a cloud of false modesty. It is as light as Scandinavian summer and as easy as Sunday morning. I hear a bustling off to my right. Raimana’s people are loading a boat with either Point Break people or Visa people. His cell phone buzzes but he ignores it like he ignores them and keeps his focus straight ahead.

I gesture while asking, “How did you go from a bodyboarder cum surfer du jour to the man in charge?” and he stays the same amount wistful.

“Soooooo it was back in the day and I was cruising in town and I saw Pancho Sullivan and Noah Johnston sleeping in their car on the beach. I went up to them and said, ‘Where are you guys staying?’ and they said, ‘Here in our car.’ and I said, ‘No way. You come and stay with me in my house.’ They came with me and then went back to Hawaii and told all of their friends, ‘Hey there is this guy Raimana and you have to stay with him when you go out and surf Teahupo’o so then all the boys started staying with me…”

A boat speeds near, cutting the engine right in front of Raimana. Its driver shouts something in sexy, decrepit French. Raimana answers in the same patois. The boat driver nods, sparks the engine and speeds toward a sun sliding lower down the sky. Watching the boats, here, it is amazing that more of them don’t end up on the reef. They fly so fast, skirting deadly shelves with studied abandon. I would, for sure, put all of the boats on the island on coral outcroppings, if I was left in charge, and it would be a monument to myself and oceanic incompetence but also a roaring good time.

Raimana watches him go and then turns to me again, having lost his train of thought.

“…what was I saying again?”

I tell him, “About Hawaiian surfers who flocked to your home but that part I get. Surfers are always looking for maximum ease and your home on the beach, as close to the wave as possible, provides maximum ease. You could have fed them Spam and had them sleep in hammocks and they would have kept coming. But Visa and Point Break are two different things, altogether. Those sorts of bastards are demanding…to mention nothing of Giselle.”

Raimana does not struggle to come to terms with the difference between feral Hawaiian surfers and international supermodels. He answers both quickly and at once, “I love to show the world what we Tahitians have. We have so much to give. There are no paparazzi here. The people respect each other, pretty much, and respect the stars. No one approaches a famous person and says, ‘Whoa! Give me blah blah blah.’ They either ask first or just let people be.”

It could sound like a cliché except it is not.

Corporate interests, which grow in both size and scope, and celebrity guests, which flock more and Johnny Depp-er are testament to the special little world Raimana has built on the back of a decayed colonial system. French hospitality has never been a “thing.” Gauls are known for superiority complexes, snootiness and a general dismissiveness of all things non-French. But “French hospitality,” coming undone in tropical Tahiti, is, again, the dream at its zenith. It is not that Raimana is overly attentive to the needs and whims of monied Western interests. It’s, maybe, that he provides them enough to be happy, in the simplis and no more.

Roofs, if they need. Boats, if they need. Food cooked simply by his family, if they need. Otherwise people are left alone in a tropical milieu that will drive the most heartless toward luminescent adjectives.

Another boat speeds toward Raimana. This time its driver doesn’t bother speaking. He just contorts his face in a way readily understandable then speeds off. So French! I ask Raimana if all of these boats are his and he laughs. “No. I owned a boat for a little while but then sold it and now I just rent them from the guys.” So smart! It is a known fact from Papeete to Pittsburgh that boat ownership is a losing proposition. It is pure ego and Raimana does not want or need the extra headache. He is smart enough to know where living well runs over pride and consumption.

I ask him what his big dream is. Does he, for example, want to build a hotel on this magnificent land and get rich and host Vanity Fair parties? He laughs again, “No no no. What I would love to do is buy a big piece of land and build one house, like the Volcom House on the North Shore, where all the surfers can live together like a family…”

The houses he has now are not quite big enough to host everyone all at once. Team managers, photographers, surfers and various hoi polloi scatter between a few houses that are all beautiful and simple but still scattered. “…and then I’d build one house for corporations or people who want to come over here and do stuff but that’s all. I wouldn’t do anything bigger because then you can’t give the people quality. That’s why people come here. They spend all that money on plane tickets and rental cars and they come here and just want to be taken care of. It’s the one time in their lives that they can get that and that’s what I want to do.”

Again, it sounds cliché but speaking to the Quiksilver team, currently occupying one of the houses, their experiences at Teahupo’o are exceptional. They feel safe on an extremely unsafe wave. They feel cared for even though their own families are thousands of miles away.

Raimana wipes a bead of sweat from his brow and I ask, “To what end? It is very great to provide such a wonderful time to foreigners, and also to help prop up the local economy, but what is in it for you?”

And there is that smile again, that magical tropical smile. “I still want to surf those big waves at Teahupo’o. I want to do what Laird does. He is 50 and still playing in the ocean. I want to play in the ocean.”

And with that a third boat driver whips in. There is some minor emergency somewhere and Raimana is needed. He bows out, politely and apologetically, and I hop on a vessel heading out toward the wave. The sun is low now and everything looks ridiculously beautiful as we skim over turquoise, blue, green velvety water. Then I see the iconic judges stand bolted to the reef. Then I see the wave itself, which is jaw-dropping to even the most jaded of surf journalists. It is not giant Teahupo’o but it is big, solid and spitting. Koa Rothman and Mikey Wright hoot while hopping out and joining the rest in a lineup getting ready for the contest. I ask the photographers and Quiksilver’s legendary Nicholas Dazet, who remain on the boat, if they have ever surfed it. “

Are you kidding me?” is the consensus. “Anything that is safer when it is bigger is not to be touched.”

I happily sit and drink it all in as the sun goes very low. It is the tropics, man. The perfect Tahitian coconut scented tropics.

And when the sun is all the way gone and the stars twinkle overhead the boat heads back to one of Raimana’s houses. A feast has already been laid out and cast and crew launch in with reckless abandon.

I sit at a quiet corner table with Raimana and his mom. He seems exhausted, eating his French bread and poisson cru slightly hunched over, but he also seems satisfied. The young charges are safe. The Visa crew, in another house, got the clips for which they came. It has been a successful day. We make small talk, surf gossip, laugh and then he excuses himself to go sort another minor emergency.

Soon the Teahupo’o season will come to a close and Raimana will have a moment’s peace. He can let the slow time wash over him. He can dangle his feet in the water and drink lukewarm Hinano and just be.

We are passing through, but at the end of the day, it is Raimana World. Or as Jay-Z says, “I’m not a businessman. I’m a business, man.”

(The Surfer’s Journal, as discussed on this very website, is a thing of art and I am lucky enough to, at times, contribute. Some time ago, I wrote a story on Raimana Van Bastolear, the mayor of Teahupo’o.)