Our glorious disaster!
On June 12 the book Cocaine + Surfing: A Love Story! Goes on sale. It is my mission to get it onto The New York Times bestsellers list only to have the words “cocaine + surfing: love story” there in print right when the non-endemic masses are excited about the Olympics, wave pools, etc. In order to get it there I need you to preorder a copy. Might you do that for me? Could you find it in your heart? What if I publish the book’s prologue three weeks before it comes out?
Here you go!
It is cold outside, and gray. Heavy-sweater weather. Maybe even thin down-filled jacket paired with stocking cap weather and it smells like cow. Like manure, wet feed and sour milk which only makes sense since we are in Lemoore, California the official “Home of Cows, More Cows, and Chas Smith’s Damned Ex-Wife.”
Just kidding. My damned ex-wife is from neighboring Visalia, but all of inland central California is basically the same thing and a place I swore I’d never return. Then Kelly Slater went and created the perfect wave here.
Yes, the world’s most celebrated surfer decided, as he neared retirement, to shake a tanned fist at God and man-make a legitimately perfect wave using some patented plow in what used to be a water ski lake in what used to be my damned ex-wife’s general neighborhood some hundred miles away from the ocean, all cow stinky and gray.
A wave that barrels properly. That drives down the length of the green lake and barrels perfectly every single time. Nothing like this has ever been done. Previous wave pools create a surf that dribbles along in an embarrassing, weak, low-energy kind of way. Kelly’s fires the imagination. Even surfers who travel the world riding the ocean’s best waves are clamoring for an invite.
“Surf Ranch” is what they are calling it and it is the jewel in the World Surf League’s crown. Surfing as a “sport” has always been hampered by nature. By God. Sometimes waves show up. Sometimes they don’t. And how is a sporting event supposed to be held in such randomness? The football field doesn’t change and neither does the basketball court, so the World Surf League purchased the Surf Ranch property and its patented plow technology from Kelly Slater in order to equalize the arena. To make surfing a proper sport. And so the new World Surf League CEO invited me and twelve crusty surf journalists and surf photographers up to surf it and witness the future.
She is trying to understand what we are, God bless her, trying to figure out what makes our hearts’ beat. The last CEO, Mr. Paul Speaker, came from the National Football League and was a dipshit and refused each of my impassioned pleas for an interview, so I made fun of him every day in the surf media until he got fired. The new CEO, Ms. Sophie Goldschmidt, came from the Women’s National Basketball Association and seems to be taking an honest shot at knowing what this is all about, and so here I am in the cold and gray and stink listening to her give us all a warm introduction.
“I’m so glad you could all be with us here today,” she says in a proper British accent. “Everyone is going to have so much fun, I trust, and this safety briefing will ensure just that. We are very proud of what we’ve built.” She is tall, pretty, with eyes that look too innocent for all of this and a smile that looks too pure and I don’t know if I will be able to muster the internal strength to make fun of her every day. “Before we begin, though, I think it is only right to recognize that today is the day Andy Irons passed away.”
The room is silent.
“I never had the privilege of meeting him, though I know many of you knew him very well, and as I learn about surfing’s history it is clear what an impact he had.” Eleven of the twelve crusty surf journalists and surf photographers keep their eyes down. I look sideways at my best Australian pal/biz partner who looks like he is in a bad spot, having had four or maybe six too many whiskey sodas the previous night. She clears her throat after what feels too long, “And now allow me to introduce you to our head of water safety…”
The head of water safety is a handsome man who tells us not to screw around, but I’m thinking about Andy Irons and not the dislocated shoulder I’m going to get in two hours by screwing around.
The three-time champ from Hawaii died November 2, 2010, alone in a Dallas hotel room from what the county’s medical office concluded was cardiac arrest due to a severe blockage of a heart artery and acute mixed drug ingestion including Xanax, methadone, and metabolites of cocaine. He was thirty-two years old.
The causes of his death surprised no one in this cloistered world. Every crusty surf journalist and surf photographer in this room had either gone big with him or caught him in full pin-pricked pupil, incessant prattle mode. He was a giant character but also not an outlier and while his death was an utter tragedy it was not necessarily a shock.
Drugs and surfing, especially cocaine, felt synonymous with professional surfing those eight-odd years ago. It still does. It’s always snowing in Orange County, or so they say, and I look at Sophie. She is listening intently to the head of water safety at a perfect man-made wave, trying to turn this professional surfing into a proper sport while also respecting its past, God bless her, but as long as I’m around that ain’t happening. Surfing, at its core, is an unruly, fouled, smutty disaster. Its past littered with felons, smugglers, addicts, narcissists and creeps. Its present defined by crusty surf journalists and surf photographers. Its future a certain disaster but it is our disaster.
Our glorious disaster.