And here we are. The very first hardback copy of Cocaine + Surfing: A Love Story!rolled off the presses yesterday while Iran and Israel sent bombs whistling toward each other’s soldiers. While Taylor Swift escalated her war with Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. The fact that it is being printed (official release date is June 12, 2018), while not newsworthy, makes me happy. I failed to enjoy the month leading up to the publication of my last book, Welcome to Paradise, Now Go to Hell, because I don’t like/am not good at plugging my own wares. It feels as awkward as it does embarrassing and makes me gag.
And yet here we are. One month to go and I have a favor to ask of you. If so inclined, wanna buy a copy? I would never ever normally ask but I have a dream, a glorious vision, and it needs you.
See, I want the book to hit the New York Times bestsellers list.
Now, I don’t want it on that list because I think it deserves to be there or because I am a narcissist (I only play one in print). No. I want it to be on the New York Times bestsellers list because in the day and age of World Surf League blanching and Olympic inclusion and Ambassadors of Stoke and Leisure I want, even if only for one week, I want people across this country to open up their Sunday newspapers and see the words Cocaine + Surfing: A Love Story! staring right back at them.
Matt Warshaw gifted me the introduction and it is so beautiful that it is worth the price of admission. When it first dropped into my inbox tears filled my eyes. That’s true.
And he writes at the end:
In other words, for all the comedy and pointlessness I’ve talked about here vis-à-vis drugs and surf, and Cocaine and Surfing, there are stakes on the table. There are risks involved. For drug users, of course. But drug use can be can be temporary. Reversals are possible. Today’s bent coke-out surfer might be straight and redeemed tomorrow. The stakes for surfing, however, in terms of its identity-the way the sport presents and views itself-are also high, but not reversible. Barring some kind of apocalyptic global socio-industrial meltdown, a fully tamed and enfranchised and corporate-friendly version of surfing will never gain back what it lost.
Do I think this book will halt, or even slow, our slide into a broader, safer, blander age?
No. I do not. But Cocaine and Surfing is truthful and smart, and very very funny, and when I laugh it hurts less.
I think the laughs at having, even if for one short week, cocaine tied to surfing in the mainstream media instead of wave pool technology or Olympic surf training programs will be very funny. I asked my wonderful publisher how to scratch onto that damn list and she said, “Pre-sales.”
Will you like? Probably. The great Rory Parker gave it a full one star review and wrote:
The author spends the rest of the time rehashing apocryphal tales, summarizing things that other people have written, complaining about the surf industry, mentioning the clothes he wears, and navel-gazing about his career as a surf journalist.
I had asked if he wanted to do an interview in regard to surfboard design for pools in light of the Founders’ Cup.
“I’d rather wait before I start blabbing,” he said, indicating that he would ride the pool shortly before the WCT event there in September. “I have some theories and I can clearly see that we need to make pool specific boards.”
Any other design news?
“Algae foam. The future.”
“Are you joking with me? Where have you been?”
I rummaged through my memory. Bondi!
“Clearly not on the tip of surfboard technology development.”
In wonderful bullet-point form, Jon quickly added:
“JJF is the first surfer to ride this is in any CT events.”
“We’re hoping to make 99 percent of our US-built PU boards with it by 2019.”
“Exactly the same feel as your normal PU boards but 25 percent less shitty for the world.”
Gotta be some negatives in there, I said. For only Jay Harvey Christ is infallible.
“That’s the best part, no negatives!” said Pyzel. “Once they nail the formula down (which is getting closer every day) we will be making your boards with algae and they will be exactly the same as they boards that you love right now. The algae is just a replacement for Polyols, so the blanks feel and act exactly the same as all traditional PU foam, but with less stress to our environment. If you have a choice at the same boards, but one is less damaging, you are gonna chose that one every time.”
How did Pyzel get turned onto algae blanks?
“First off, and for full transparency, Andrew Jakubowski and Marty Gilchrist own and run Arctic Foam and are very close friends of mine. Andrew and I grew up together in Santa Barbara and Marty was the Rip Curl rep there. We were both sponsored by Rip Curl though Marty and Andrew went on to take over as RC rep later on.
Fast forward thirty years and Andrew owns Arctic and I make surfboards with their foam! But, friends or not, I only use blanks that I believe to be the best that I can get and Arctic makes the best foam in North America.”
What an environmental kink you have Mr Pyzel. Tell me more!
“Most surfers will tell you that they are all about environmentally friendly living, keeping the ocean clean, but the facts remain that surfboards are some of the most environmentally damaging things made. Seeing the chance to help make a dent in the harm being done by building surfboards for a living made me excited to partner with Arctic to help develop solutions.”
Pyzel explained that Arctic started sending him small batches of blanks to test the strength, weight, colour (gotta be white) and consistency.
“I made myself a few first, and then when I started to feel confident that they were getting good, I started making a few for John John as well. He was really stoked to try the foam, since he tries to live his life in environmentally conscious ways and goes through a lot of surfboards every year. From the very beginning the Algae boards felt great and worked just like their normal counterparts, but there were a bunch of issues with the consistency and strength along the way. Building PU foam is already a tricky job since it can be highly susceptible to small environmental changes in temperature, humidity, etc. Getting your formulas just right can require a lot of dialing in and the Algae is no different. At this point they have it pretty dialed in, but they want to be sure all the issues are taken care of before we start making our paying customers surfboards from algae.”
Are they green, like algae? Does it mean you gotta spray all your plain boards white?
“If you were handed two boards, one algae, one normal, you could not see any difference. No need to paint. Also, on the shaping side these blanks are easy to work with and seem to have a slightly tighter cell structure, which means they may absorb less resin during glassing and that makes for a lighter, stronger surfboard.”
Five years on, where’s this thing going to be?
“Every blank company will want to shift in this direction, and maybe Arctic will be selling/licensing the formula around the world. I feel that all surfboard makers should be looking for solutions to minimize the damage we do to our environment and this is just a small step to take in that direction.”
Two paths diverged on a yellow beach, And Paul Roach, sorry could not travel both And be one traveler, long he stood And looked down one as far as he could To where it bent in the sandy rocks;
He comes screaming down the line like a slippy, slidey salsa dancer. Like a liquid torso’d Cirque du Soleil acrobat. Onlookers, standing on the beach, gape. “How is he throwing so much spray? How is he snapping so damned hard? A 360? Right in the middle of the wave after that snap? How is he getting so barreled? Isn’t this wave a dumpy three-footer?” He blows apart their preconceptions. Some of the onlookers, though, bury their awe beneath a rude and heavy sneer. “Booger.” “Fucking speed bump.” “Dick-dragging kook.” The rudest. If only they knew this “dick-dragging kook” was the one, the only, Paul Roach, their jeers would soon turn to admiration. And if they didn’t soon turn to admiration? Well, then those particular onlookers should rot in hell because Paul Roach is beatific. He is the Patron Saint of Choosing the Wrong Historical Side.
Yes, culture perpetually comes to forks in the road and there are groupings that choose the Right Historical Side and groupings that choose the Wrong Historical Side. Millions of years ago, for instance, there was a fork with one path leading to Hominini and one path leading to Panini. Those who walked with the Hominini became Homo sapiens-humans-like you and me, while those who walked the Panini can now be visited at the zoo. They are chimpanzees. Almost one hundred and fifty years ago there was another fork called the Civil War with one path leading to freedom and one path leading to slavery. Those who walked the freedom path became thoughtful, well-bred Americans like you and me, while those who walked the path of slavery live in southern backwaters, inbreeding and screaming incoherently that, “The South will rise again!” A few decades ago there was another fork with one path leading to VHS and one path leading to Betamax, and shortly after this, yet another with one path leading to surfing and the other leading to bodyboarding. VHS and surfing have had respectable runs-you and me have enjoyed both-while Beta and boogie clog the darkest corners of embarrassed garages.
The history of bodyboarding shares the same fine root as the history of surfing, like Panini and Hominini share the same root, like democratic principles and dictatorships share the same root, like VHS and Beta share the same root. Both began in the mists of ancient Polynesia (or Samoa, depending on where you happen to be vacationing and who happens to be cracking their knuckles in your direction), and Captain Cook’s men observed the practice of each in Hawaii. The natives were riding the surf, some on their stomachs, some on their knees, some on their feet. It was the feet varietal that became popular, later. Still, the alaia, ridden prone, and later, the paipo, continued on as semi-viable, though not widely practiced, alternatives. This all changed, though, one bright Big Island morning in 1971 when Tom Morey stood on the beach dreaming.
Tom Morey wearing a moustache, a Speedo, and a glint of weird baha’i in his ey’e dreamed of riding faster than heavy, single-finned surfboards of the ’70s would allow. They were all soulful but all sluggish. And Tom wanted all fast. He had toyed with the idea of a board, to be ridden prone, with a polyethylene foam deck and a fiberglass bottom but, when he actually crafted it in Waikiki, it broke under the crushing lip of a tiny wave. So it was off to the Big Island-to dream.
Morey had one piece of nine-foot plastic foam left from which he could have made some sort of plastic surfboard but he did not. And a fork suddenly appeared in the path when Tom Morey cut that piece of plastic in half, shaped the rails like Vs, squared the nose, and took it surfing. Or, no, not surfing, he went and laid on it. He “paddled” out and “caught” a wave without ever getting to his feet and claimed that he could “feel” the wave through the “board” in a way that he had never “felt” before. He put his body on a boogie and shebang! He knew he had “something” “spectacular.” He asked his Baha’i brothers and sisters for some cash to return to the mainland and sell the feeling. They ponied up. He flew to California. And another Wrong Historical Side was fully realized.
Then took the other, not nearly as fair, But having perhaps the better claim, Because it was weirder and wanted wear; Though as for that the passing there Had worn them not at all the same,
Bodyboarding was not realized by its patron saint-the Patron Saint of Choosing the Wrong Historical Side-until some time later. Paul Roach was born in San Diego, only two years after the Boogie, to a father who loved the ocean. “My father loved to bodysurf and he had me on a board by the time I was 4 or 5.” The board of which he speaks was a surfboard, not a bodyboard. Paul spent his early years on the Right Historical Side. “We lived down by Mission Beach and I was always out there,” he says, glowing an aura of serene nostalgia before taking a sip of frosty, cold Stella Artois. He is handsome now, tall and lanky, strong arms, strong chest, the brunette version of an all-American face, partially obscured by a gray knit cap worn low. I’m sure he was handsome in his youth, too, handsome but poor. “Yeah, really poor. I slept in a bed with my two sisters, with my parents in the same room on a foldaway bed.” But it ain’t as hard to live a pre-Willy-Wonka-meeting, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory life on the beach, and Paul’s parents moved to Encinitas when he was 11. He was always in the water there, too, always surfing. But one of his first North County friends did not surf. He rode a bodyboard. Paul’s initial reaction to this was not negative. He mostly thought, “That looks easy.” When his friend told him of an upcoming bodyboard contest Paul thought, “That sounds easy.” And, for him, it was easy. He won. It was the first thing he had ever won. There was no cash prize, but for an 11-year-old kid sharing a bed with two sisters, the brand new bodyboard and the brand new spring suit felt too good.
“The way I was drawn toward it was, like, fully a monetary thing,” he says now, after taking a sip of still-frosty Stella sitting next to me at Encinitas’s favorite dive bar Mr. Peabody’s. “There was a contest every month and I won every single one of them.” A full monetary thing. There are always reasons to choose the Wrong Historical Side. There are reasons based on fear of change, on incorrectly discerning the arc of history, but money is the purest reason to go Wrong. It is simple. It is powerful. It is very powerful. Free bodyboards and free spring suits and Dell computers pave the way to hell. Remember how cheap Dell computers were? Remember how Apple crushed them?
Paul Roach was winning and things were going well. He had sponsors like Morey Boogie-Tom’s company-and Beaver Sunblock giving him free product and a few hundred bucks per victory. He particularly liked Beaver. “I had this shirt that said, ‘Is that a Beaver on your body?’ and I thought it was super rad. I think my mom threw it away though.” Yet suggestive shirts, paychecks, and all, he was still not completely satisfied. “So I started riding drop-knee. There were others who where doing it too but not so many. I cut Roach off and we drink half our Jagermeister shots. Then I ask, “Why? Why drop-knee? What does it add? What is the magic behind it?” I drink the other half of my Jagermeister shot while he rubs his chin.
“You know, all I can think is that it is really fuckin’ hard to do and I needed the challenge.”
“But,” I interject, “isn’t there some sort of leverage thing happening that lets you get all that lightning quick wow-wow?”
And still rubbing his chin, he says, “No. It’s not functional. It’s a really awkward position that’s only good for really hurting your back or breaking your nose on your knee. The thing about it is, though, if it is done right, it looks cool. It is a way to ride a bodyboard and show style. It’s hard to show style while riding prone but on a knee…It’s like drop-knee turning a longboard-not functional but stylish.”
Stylish indeed. Drop-knee and Paul went together like rama-lama-lama-ke-ding-a-de-dinga-dong. There was something very specific about his glide and his power. He was good at it, and it is a marvel to watch an expert no matter their field of expertise. Have you ever watched an expert archer arch? Or an expert birder bird? Or an expert dancer bowl? I mean, dance? The field matters not when marvelous skill is employed. And, for whatever reason, drop-knee and Paul went together like shoobop-sha-wadda-wadda-yippity-boom-de-boom.
It was at this point on his journey down the Wrong Historical Side, when he was 13, that he started getting rides to Seaside reef in San Diego. There he met a young Taylor Steele in the water. They hit it off and became fast friends. Taylor surfed. Paul rode his bodyboard. And later, Taylor stood on the beach filming while Paul rode his bodyboard. “He would throw clips of me into his high school project,” Paul says after taking a bite of a chicken wing. “It was really awesome. Sometimes as it was all happening, I gotta say though, I would wonder, ‘Shouldn’t I be surfing right now?’ But I was already too deep into it.” That high school project became Momentum and there was Paul Roach in the middle of it all-insta-snaps in the middle of a wave, 360-floaters, 360s in a barrel. Drop. Knee.
Despite the groundbreaking surf footage, one of the most memorable scenes in the film is when Roach boxes Kelly Slater. When Taylor Steele called him, he could hear the rest of the Momentum crew giggling in the background. Even though Roach had some experience boxing, he remembers thinking, “Great. Kelly’s gonna kick my ass and they are all gonna laugh at this bodyboarder who gets beat up by Kelly.” Film equipment was set up when he arrived. In comparison to Roach’s tall and lanky frame, Slater was muscular and fit. “But I had reach and I used it,” he recalls. “We started boxing and I got in a couple of cracks and then he got all upset and ripped his gloves off and said, ‘Let’s go film some surfing or something…’Now I consider it a real honor to have boxed Kelly Slater, though his manager called me a few years ago and asked if I would fight Kelly in a cage match.” I am sure the very public loss Kelly suffered at the hands of a bodyboarder haunts him to this day. He is as competitive as anyone on earth. And I am sure it would have been a friendly bout, maybe. Just two old acquaintances having a laugh whilst choking each other out but Paul declined, he only loves to box. And Kelly is as competitive as anyone on earth. It is good that they do not meet in the octagon.
The reception to his peculiar role in a game-changing film was immaterial. Paul Roach did not have to care what surfers thought at all. Life has its own momentum and his was on the upswing-five figures up. It wasn’t the millions that many others in the Momentum crew would go on to earn but he didn’t care. He was getting paid to kick around in the warm, warm seas.
He turned pro at 16 and traveled the world with sponsors like Quiksilver. “Board Fast. Rock Hard.” He competed, though he hated it. He hated it because he would only ride drop-knee, which did not have a separate division, so he was judged against the prone riders. Silly business. Yet his sponsors required him to compete. He remembers staying in the Pipe-front, Momentum-famous Weatherly home, sleeping on the floor before the Morey Boogie Pipeline Pro, and hearing third reef thunder-nerve-racking to say the least. He woke up the next morning, though, and kicked out into the maxing fray. “I’m in the Morey Boogie Pipeline Pro,” he thought. “I am not going to ride on my stomach.” And he didn’t. He rode like he always rode. Whack, whack, slip, slide stylishly. It is twice as hard to ride giant surf drop-knee. The bodyboard has a propensity to go too fast, and when it goes too fast the nose bends down toward the water and pearls. It is twice as hard to keep the nose up whilst on a knee but Paul Roach stayed true. He didn’t win. He never won. But he stayed true.
As much as he hated the contests, he loved to travel. He rounded the globe on magazine trips and video trips, drop-kneeing Teahupoo, Indonesia, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Sometimes the trips would include his surfer friends, and he’d stand-up surf on those trips, too, but only when the waves were small. “When it was cracking, I was on a bodyboard,” he says, while finishing the second half of his own Jagermeister shot. “I was a cocky shit. I thought I was rad.”
He sounded rad. He played in a death metal band called Niner, even playing the Belly Up in Solana Beach for one of Taylor Steele’s premieres. He laughs, “We opened for Sprung Monkey, Unwritten Law, Pennywise-all these punk bands. We were on first and it was just crickets. Death metal was the completely wrong sound for the crowd. It was then that I kinda realized Taylor and I were going in different directions.”
And both that morning equally lay In sand no step had trodden black. Oh, he kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way, He doubted if he should ever come back.
Twenty-three-year-old Paul Roach was at the height of his career. He was buzzy. He was rad. He was coming into his own. Then the bodyboard industry in the United States collapsed suddenly and all the way. The magazines folded. The brands crashed. Quiksilver pulled its sponsorship. “Stop boarding fast. No more rocking hard.” It went from a fringy but robust business to absolutely nothing overnight. Roach, with his young wife and younger daughter, picked up an Australian sponsor that would never send him checks. He went bankrupt, then picked up a hammer. “I had done a little construction before and I really needed money quick. No training, but a couple of local surfers took me on, let me start,” he says, taking the final sip of a no-longer-frosty Stella. He has worked construction for the past 15 years.
Is he angry that he chose the Wrong Historical Side? Kelly Slater makes millions of dollars each year. Paul Roach, many years ago, made only a small fraction of that. Angry? He laughs. “I regret nothing.” The biggest cliché in the book! But I look at his brunette all-American eyes and I see truth. “It has been a trip. I surf whenever I can, whenever there are waves. I’ll get work off-whatever it takes.” But what about dip-dadip-dadip-doowop-drop-knee? And here his brunette all-American eyes grow wistful. “Yes. When the waves are good for it.”
This is what makes Paul Roach a patron saint. The Patron Saint of Choosing the Wrong Historical Side. He still loves it. “There is something about it on the right wave,” he explains. “That’s the problem: the right waves for bodyboarding are not really in Southern California…With no fins, and less structure, the bodyboard does what the wave wants to do… It’s very functional. It’s like music.”
He talks feeling. He talks shape. He talks nuance. And he glows. Bodyboarding has been proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, to be the Wrong Historical Side. It is in ruins, probably to never return. But Paul Roach sees the beauty. He sees art. He sees what the masses, rushing headlong with virtually all others on the Right Historical Side, fail to see. He sees nuance in an openly derided deal. So easy to know that humans are smarter than apes, that slavery is worse than freedom, that Betamax and Dell are shit. So difficult to find appreciation, and not ironic appreciation like I-once-voted-for-Ross-Perot-hee-hee-hee revelry, but real, true, honest appreciation for something as ridiculous as drop-knee bodyboarding.
He shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two paths diverged on a beach, and Paul Roach – He took the one less traveled by, And it totally fucked his life. Or maybe made him a saint instead.
“So I wouldn’t be putting the surf industry as a pillar of the economy.”
And so Kelly Slater’s Surf Ranch is… just kidding! But I am proud that BeachGrit’s Founders’ Cup coverage rivaled only BeachGrit’smenstruation-gate coverage in breadth and depth. Wall to uterine wall. But today let’s move on from Lemoore, California. Let’s fly all the way down to Torquay, Australia very near Geelong and its Cats. For it is here that the surf industry is in the throes of economic retreat. It is here that tears are ready to flow without stopping for it is here that iconic Quiksilver, founded here in 1969 is moving in with new girlfriend Billabong up to Burleigh Heads.
Torquay is struggling with the potential break-up but its most famous son, and wonderful surfboard shaper, Maurice Cole is there with words of encouragement. And let us read from the local broadsheet.
At last month’s Surf Coast Shire meeting, in a question about the impact of growth on Torquay, Mr Cole used Quiksilver as an example of how Torquay’s surf industry was struggling and that the shire should not rely on surfing as a major economic driver.
“As you know, surfing is now going backwards. The market has declined significantly – I’m sure you’re all aware that Quiksilver will be moving to Burleigh Heads – so there is no growth in the surf industry in Torquay. In fact, it’s deteriorated by 50 per cent in the last five years; that’s the turnover of the companies.
“So I wouldn’t be putting the surf industry as a pillar of the economy.”
Shire general manager of environment and development Ransce Salan did not directly address Quiksilver in his answer, but said the existing Council Plan identified the need to support key industry sectors such as surfing and tourism.
He said the draft 2018/19 budget (adopted by the council at the same meeting) contained a request to undertake an economic development and tourism strategy in 2018-2019.
“This strategy will identify key current and emerging sectors and provide actions to drive the economy and create jobs.”
Oh. Those words don’t sound too encouraging. And now back to Lemoore!
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 sees naughty Silvana!
Michel Bourez prepares his Team World captain for battle