The big diff between the Cloudbreak swells of 2012 and 2018? The tide. The 2012 swell peaked on a radically low tide which birthed the eye-watering "flat-bottomed drainer." | Photo: @ownemilnemedia

Compare: Thundercloud vs Tornadocloud!

How's the great Cloudbreak swell of 2018 compare to the might of 2012?

Last Sunday, on a grey paste porridge day Cloudbreak was devastating. It was the best outside ledge, which only starts to really break at fifteen-foot plus, since the 2012 swell that got turned into the documentary, Thundercloud, by the Australian Talon Clemow.

So how do the two swells compare?

Earlier today, I called the Tasmania-based Clemow, who was there for both swells, to discuss whether or not the comparison is warranted.

First, I wanted to know what it was about Cloudbreak that thrilled the filmmaker so much.

Clemow says the thing about Cloudbreak, and what separates it from other big-wave joints like Mavericks or Shipsterns or Dungeons, is that you can surf it at two feet or twenty feet.

“And” he says, “It has everything, beauty, the water. It offers so much and in terms of quality and if you get the right swell direction it can produce magnificent results.”

As for the two swells, “They were… different,” he says. “In 2012 there weren’t any jetskis towing in. Everyone was under their own steam and going for it and that created that level of performance. Because if someone got a sick wave someone else would go on a crazier one. This year, the first wave that was ridden was a tow wave. A solid thing, a fifteen footer. In 2012, it was six-to-eight-foot in the morning, maybe ten-foot sets.  This year, I was concerned that because it was so big so early there was no limit to how extreme the day was going to get.”

As for a wave-by-wave comparison, Clemow says the closest thing was Ramon’s twenty-five-footer this year versus a wave in 2012, which you can see below, where Mark Healey bails on his board.

THUNDERCLOUD
Little Mark Healey gifts his surfboard the view of a lifetime during the Thundercloud swell of 2012.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BjRbKBUHFr_/?hl=en&taken-by=owenmilnemedia

Other things?

“The channel this year was real crowded. Fifty-plus boats in the channel. And in the lineup which got real crowded when the wind went a buttery south-east two thirds of the guys were wearing those red Quiksilver AirLift vests so it was hard to ID who it was taking off unless it was Ramon or Laurie or whomever. There were definitely a few waves where I had no idea who I was shooting.”

Mostly, howevs, the difference was the tide.

“Check the tide graph. In 2012, it was the seconds lowest tide of the year, 0.13 metres. This year, the low tide was 0.3. That’s a discrepancy of twenty centimetres. In a long period swell that makes a huge difference. In 2012, the swell hit at the bottom of the tide. This year it was on a higher tide and it made a big difference to the roundness. There were no flat-bottom drainers like the one Healey had to dive under.”

Anything else?

“The secret’s out,” says Clemow.


Peter Singer
Want to challenge yourself a little? Buy this book.

World’s Greatest (Living) Philosopher Talks Surf!

A perfectly extraordinary man talks surfing and the secrets to a healthy society…

Are you at all interested in the fruitless struggle of man? Do you have an inquisitive mind that questions…everything?

The ethics of eating meat.

The ethics of, say, spending a million bucks to save one cancer patient in Australia or the USA instead of rescuing a thousand Third World kids from death by dysentery or whatever.

The ethics of torture if it leads to, say, the saving of lives?

Lethal injections for disabled babies?

Should adult siblings be able to fuck each other without fear of prosecution?

And so on.

Peter Singer, an Australian philosopher whose ideas have been shaking trees since the seventies, knows how to frame a question that forces you to really switch on a few extra neurones. 

Oh he’s a provocateur. A utilitarian, too.

Which means?

You do whatever has the best results for everyone not just yourself.

Simple?

Not exactly.

A utilitarian would torture the daylights out of a terrorist if it was revealed he had an atom bomb primed to go and the lives of hundreds of thousands depended on finding out where it was etc.

Anyway, Peter Singer surfs.

He ain’t John John, but who is.

Singer likes the “entire experience”,  the feeling of sitting on his board, looking at the cliffs behind him, examining the moves of better surfers, the challenge of riding a wave well.

In this sixteen-minute interview, Singer talks about “surfing and the healthy society.”

Listen.

It’ll open your world, even if it’s a just a little.


Read: The introduction to Cocaine + Surfing!

Drugs are horrible but funny and surfing is amazing but pointless!

There are few people more important to surfing than Matt Warshaw. He has, single handedly, decided to take the past, present and future of our favorite activity and codify it for others and for all time. Oh sure the exhaustive entires, the factual information, the knowledge is important and valuable but what I love most is Matt’s tone. Matt’s tone is what people’s surf understanding will be. His tone is how surfing will be felt. And thus it was one of the greatest honors of my life to have him write the introduction to Cocaine + Surfing. The book officially squirts into the world on June 12 and I have been begging for you to pre-order (America! Australia!) but discovered a secret a few days ago. You can get today on iBooks. In its entirety including Matt Warshaw’s introduction which I am posting below with tears in my eyes.

Here are two things to know before diving into Chas Smith’s remarkable Cocaine and Surfing: A Love Story.

Drugs are funny. Not always. Not often, in fact. But often enough. Like any other culturally attuned Baby Boomer, I learned this from Richard Pryor, who alchemized a raging drug habit into comic gold. Maybe you’ve heard of the Pryor-on-fire episode? After a five-day freebase bender in 1980, Pryor, hallucinating and hearing voices, poured a bottle of Bacardi 151 over his head, flicked his cigarette lighter, then ran flaming down his driveway and into the street. God himself was a Pryor fan, though, and Richard survived. Eighteen months later I was in a packed movie theater for the opening weekend of Pryor’s Live on Sunset Strip, and there he was onscreen, earlobes all waxy and scarred, reenacting a conversation between his drug-addled self and a menacingly calm-voiced base pipe-I won’t quote here; quoting Pryor never works-and while part of me knew the story was horrifying, like everybody else in the theater I was gasping and weeping and rocking back and forth with laughter.

Surfing is pointless. That’s the second thing. It is joyful and gorgeous and exciting and more, absolutely, in spades, and not pointless in the nihilistic way that drugs are pointless. But pointless enough. This was hard for me to accept. At age nine, riding waves became the maypole of my life, and everything else-school, career, travel, family, friends, love interests-would trail behind like so many fluttering ribbons. Surfing first, the rest second or third or whatever. I did that for 40 years. For a long time, it felt noble and serious and superior. Eventually I got married and had a son, demoted surfing to its rightful place below family, friends, career, and came to believe that surfing was simply a way of pleasuring yourself. A beautiful thing to do, healthy and compelling and of a far higher order of pleasure than what all of us think of when the phrase “pleasuring yourself” is used. I would argue in fact that surfing is indeed “a most supreme pleasure” as Captain Cook (or his ghostwriter) put it centuries ago. I would go even further and say that surfing is to sports-world pleasure what Richard Pryor is to comedy.

Isn’t that enough? For a totally non-productive act of self-pleasure, isn’t it enough that it be a very good type of self-pleasure, maybe the best of all? Apparently not. We want more. We want significance and weight.

And thus a tendency for the long-form examination of surfing (and many short-form takes as well) to overreach. To burden the sport with importance, to pair it thematically with all manner of greater meaning, up to and including enlightenment. A filmmaker called me last week to pitch a multi-part documentary series on surfing that would provide viewers with (his words) “a
a holistic examination of the human condition past, present, and future through the lens of international surf culture.” I don’t speak for all surfers. But my experience, and the experience of pretty much everyone I’ve surfed with over the the past 50 wonderful wave-filled years, is that we’re not doing anything constructive, much less enlightening, out there. We are mostly practicing. Because, wow, this is a hard sport. We are trying to do it right for just a few seconds in a row. We unwind a little afterwards, if things go well. But just as often we end up frustrated, sometimes horribly so. Because, and I mean seriously, it is a really fuck-off hard sport.
I would devour a book on surfing and frustration with the same single-mindedness I give to avoiding books on surfing and enlightenment.

But for now we have Cocaine and Surfing, which, now that I think about it, is actually a much better fit, book-wise, than frustration and surfing.

Nobody but Chas Smith could have pulled off Cocaine and Surfing. His comedic chops, for starters, are unequaled in the world of surf, and not just in 2018, but for all time. More importantly, he understands, to the finest degree, that drugs are horrible but funny and surfing is amazing but pointless. Which makes Cocaine and Surfing a high-wire act. Comedy leads, but other, darker elements are present at all times. There are shadows behind the laughter. You get that from the opening pages, as two nameless gacked-out pro surfers wrestle in Chas’ car while he chauffeurs them to a club in Huntington Beach, half amused and half pissed off. It is a three-page comic riff, but with an aftertaste of sadness, as you realize that both surfers are destined for a ten-year hangover, and very likely a depressed middle age. Hilarity cut with pain and sadness and anger. It’s a hard mix to get right. Incredibly hard. You bring Pryor-grade skills to the table when you sit down and write a book like this, in other words, or you burn the first draft and go back to bitchy three-paragraph blog posts about world tour judging system.

Back to the anger for a moment, because anger is the secret power of Cocaine and Surfing, as it is for nearly all of Chas Smith’s work. The sport may be amazing and pointless to him, but it is also dear, and personal in the way that all obsessions are personal. Something worth protecting. Chas watches as our once-undomesticated sport is yoked and dragged from the cultural outback to a bland commons area filled with committee-designed surfwear and bloodless journalism and drone-like pros who, after a close loss, rather than impaling their boards on the nearest fence post and storming off the beach, smile gamely into the camera and say their opponent surfed great, that it’s all a learning experience, that they’re looking forward to the next event. All of this makes Chas angry. The blandness, yes. But mostly the hypocrisy. The sport’s own self-betrayal. We should know better-we used to know better-than to try and reshape surfing into a sport that fits into a Mutual of Omaha ad campaign, or an Olympic telecast. Selling the sport isn’t a crime. But sell it on our own terms, the way Bruce Brown did with Endless Summer. Make them come to us. And if they don’t, so what? But no, we continue slicing off our legacy of cool, of independence, piece by piece, in exchange for a seat in the nose-bleed section of mainstream culture. Then we compound the error (not “we,” actually, but the World Surf League, the NYSE-traded surfwear companies, and whoever convinced the IOC to make surfing an Olympic sport for the 2020 games in Tokyo) by passing off this auto-swindle as growth and progress.

That’s where Chas’ anger comes from. And if you follow his work-mostly on the BeachGrit website, but also in his excellent first book Welcome to Paradise, Now Go To Hell-you already know the glory of an angry Chas Smith: the dandified scarecrow in worn Louis Vuitton drivers and a flawless Dior shirt, pirouetting his way across beaches and boardrooms and party halls in a weaponized good mood, encouraging us to laugh both at him and with him as he delivers one loafer-shod kick after the other to the sternum of any person or entity who would further chip away at whatever free-range soul surfing has left.

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.

Buy in its entirety here!


Introducing: Ross Williams’ inflection point!

He alone will either make or break the greatest ever theoretical surfer!

Remember when, two plus years ago and after winning his first world title, John John Florence announced to the world that he would be taking Ross Williams out of the World Surf League announcer booth and set him up alone on a bench with big sunglasses covering his face to be coach? I do. I remember it well and remember the correlating emotional response of “Why?” If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

Right?

Well, John John won his second title the very next year and was it because he is the best surfer in the world or because Ross fiddled with the inputs and outputs and coached really well? We had absolutely no way of knowing.

No way of knowing until this year. Students of the game are aware that John John Florence, after losing to Jesse Mendes in Bali is mired in the high teens. And let us read Longtom’s analysis of his heat, and Ross’s reaction to it, here.

Is there anything sadder than watching John Florence surfing this year? Yes… watching Ross Williams watch John write another chapter in his 2018 novella Anatomy of a Bad Heat. Kaipo cornered Ross for a quick interview and it was one of the most painful broadcast moments in world sport. Ross stumbling and mumbling platitudes that fall from his mouth like wet ashes. Platitudes that he has obviously stopped believing in but there is nowhere else to go.

In this chapter, John started weakly with a desultory opening ride, then a non-make. A couple of clean makes in perfect head-high surf saw him sitting on a heat score of 11.97. Jesse Mendes needing a a five-something with three minutes holding priority. The wave came, he launched a lofted tail-high backside rotation and nailed the score. John head down looked as emasculated as a sterilised lion. His head is a mess. Ross, get your man out and claim an injury wildcard for next year. Get him out by any means necessary.

Brilliant but more importantly brings us to a very important inflection point in the John John Florence and Ross Williams saga. One that I’ve been waiting for. For I believe from this moment on we will have clarity as to the importance and value of coaching.

If:

John John continues to flail this year and gets out of the gates slowly next etc. I think we can lay all blame at the feet of Ross Williams. We can say that he took the world’s greatest theoretical surfer and destroyed him and wrecked him and dragged his carcass along the coral heads.

John John finds a way out of this slump and wins some events and starts next year hotter than a fever with world title number three buzzing I think we can lay all praise at the feet of Ross Williams. We can say he rescued the world’s greatest theoretical surfer from a life of Dane and elevated him to his rightful place amongst competitive professionals.

Right?

If you were Ross Williams would you like these scenarios, either all blame or all credit? Well, it takes money to make money, baby.


Griffin Colapinto Keramas
Colapinto stayed in the heat but looked slightly outclassed and over-powered despite a bigger hi-fi game. It was the best heat of the year. Griff needed something big and found a loft, lots of loft in a tail-high, no-grab reverse. The landing was trick, the recovery insane and clean. Judges had to pay it big and they did. Griff spent the rest of the heat camped on Wilko with an annoying smirk on his dial. That would have been painful. | Photo: WSL/Ed Sloane

Day 4, Keramas: “Nutty, almost incomprehensible!”

The longest sustained run of good heats and excellent surfing the WSL has put on this year.

Y’cut off a slice of that action today? Blew it, if not. Best day of the year for WSL heats. The first non-weird day of high-performance surfing in sick waves.

Actually there was one thing weird. V. much so. Have you noticed, in the booth, the face of ’89 World Champ Martin Potter? Smooth as a baby’s bum, right. Not a wrinkle, not a line to be seen. 

What’s the scoop Pottz? Few little sneaky botox injections during those long, lingering afternoons after the trades get up? You wouldn’t be the first. No, not me. My mate who loves the happy endings. Terrible business. 

Kaipo cornered Ross for a quick interview and it was one of the most painful broadcast moments in world sport. Ross stumbling and mumbling platitudes that fall from his mouth like wet ashes. Platitudes that he has obviously stopped believing in but there is nowhere else to go.

Is there anything sadder than watching John Florence surfing this year? Yes… watching Ross Williams watch John write another chapter in his 2018 novella Anatomy of a Bad Heat. Kaipo cornered Ross for a quick interview and it was one of the most painful broadcast moments in world sport. Ross stumbling and mumbling platitudes that fall from his mouth like wet ashes. Platitudes that he has obviously stopped believing in but there is nowhere else to go.

In this chapter, John started weakly with a desultory opening ride, then a non-make. A couple of clean makes in perfect head-high surf saw him sitting on a heat score of 11.97. Jesse Mendes needing a a five-something with three minutes holding priority. The wave came, he launched a lofted tail-high backside rotation and nailed the score. John head down looked as emasculated as a sterilised lion. His head is a mess. Ross, get your man out and claim an injury wildcard for next year. Get him out by any means necessary.

What followed was the longest sustained run of good heats and excellent surfing the WSL has put on this year. No distractions, no comparisons to epic surf elsewhere. Clean air finally for an organisation and CEO that must this year be wondering who is sticking the needles into the voodoo doll. 

Bourez ripped the tops of waves off and sent star trails into the heavens. Zeke came back and took the lead and Bourez took it back, emphatically. Every wave was a showcase. 

Owen and Cardoso was a minor letdown by comparison with Cardoso finishing just on top. 

Wilko went ballistic mk2. No delay, no bobble off the bottom turn. Every top turn perfectly sculpted and framed. Judges low-balled his second wave by a point-and-half at least, then highballed the next one to compensate.

Colapinto stayed in the heat but looked slightly outclassed and over-powered despite a bigger hi-fi game. It was the best heat of the year. Griff needed something big and found a loft, lots of loft in a tail-high, no-grab reverse. The landing was trick, the recovery insane and clean. Judges had to pay it big and they did. Griff spent the rest of the heat camped on Wilko with an annoying smirk on his dial. That would have been painful.

The big heats rolled on. Mikey v Julian. Each winning heat from Mikey looks the same: a big opening wave exerting maximum pressure and a strong follow up. Each losing heat likewise shares a certain symmetry. This was one was different. It was Julian who skipped out to an early lead and Mikey who was quiet and then under pressure. 

The heat turned as Mikey sold J-Dub on two dud waves to get priority. A long flat spell ensued. Julian paddled right up the reef. Why? A simple strategic error. Wouldn’t you sit on your man and induce maximum pressure with each decision? Make him think. With space Mikey needed a 5.23 and surfed a minor set into oblivion for the score. There was No claim. Julian fell on a heat-winning ride behind. In Kaipo’s presser shown after the comp ended, Julian again seemed not to have an understanding on why he lost, how he lost. You can’t win a world title losing a heat at perfect head-high Keramas. 

That lanky, no-power style of February’s is just not going to cut it on the CT. Which means go hi-fi or go home. There is literally no other option. He’s not the only surfer in that boat.

There were some obvious mismatches and these went to the “house”, as expected. Medina/February was the most brutal mismatch. Medina laid on a vulgar display of power, taking the Wilko no bobble backside line and adding extra power and aggression to it. It was insane, a rare example of what pro surfing can be. Despite not finishing a wave properly Medina did not get a glove laid on him by February. That lanky, no-power style is just not going to cut it on the CT. Which means go hi-fi or go home. There is literally no other option. He’s not the only surfer in that boat. 

Remember the old Modern Collective days, when Jordy and Dane were going to save us all from the mind-numbing threat of conservative surfing and deliver us a rivalry bigger and better than AI/Slater?

Except it never happened.

Jordy/Filipe Final in head-high Keramas has the potential to be the best surfing the WSL has ever seen.

Jordy retreated into safety surfing and here we are a decade later wondering when the fuck Jordy was going to bring the noise. He got half the band back together today. His half, but playing the Mod Coll bangers. The endless turn angles and repertoire, the violent direction changes and silky transitions. All there. Good as ever. Jordy/Filipe Final in head-high Keramas has the potential to be the best surfing the WSL has ever seen.

Will we get it? 

Italo/Hermes was another mismatch with Italo blasting and just falling on a bunch of aerial interpretations, shuv-its and super-whipped rotations among them. It was superlative entertainment. 

De Souza reminded of that cartoon character, Yosemite Sam: running around crazy firing at will on anything. Too much energy, too much zest and variety and spark for Parko, who pushed too hard off the bottom and lacked pop on a day when above-the-lip surfing, even if not made, was a requirement to progress. 

That led to the final heat of the day and the most monumental mismatch. Toledo v Asing. Filipe’s opening ride was nutty, almost incomprehensible. His next three waves were under-scored. Airs, a clean club sandwich. A couple of huge attempts not quite greased. A light onshore crumble made it almost perfect for an advanced attack.

Strider spent the heat telling us about Asing’s legendary huge heart and spirit. Which made me ask: fine, but where is the strategy? Throwing threes and fours in the most rippable head-high reef on the planet is guaranteed to be a losing game. Why not swing? Save the neat little combos for another day. Throw something up there and see what happens. But alas, my entreaties went unanswered and the plucky little fighter will not live to fight on. 

There seems to be a knowledge gap at the highest level of Pro Surfing, some failure to understand that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is a form of madness. 

Never mind. Great day. Twelve heats. About as much as a gal can stand. Someone out of Medina, Italo and Toledo will be world champ this year.

Book it.

Corona Bali Protected Men’s Round 3 Results:
Heat 1: Jesse Mendes (BRA) 13.34 def. John John Florence (HAW) 11.37
Heat 2: Michel Bourez (PYF) 15.17 def. Ezekiel Lau (HAW) 12.97
Heat 3: Willian Cardoso (BRA) 12.00 def. Owen Wright (AUS) 10.37
Heat 4: Adrian Buchan (AUS) 11.40 def. Michael Rodrigues (BRA) 8.83
Heat 5: Griffin Colapinto (USA) 15.84 def. Matt Wilkinson (AUS) 15.40
Heat 6: Mikey Wright (AUS) 12.27 def. Julian Wilson (AUS) 11.83
Heat 7: Gabriel Medina (BRA) 15.70 def. Michael February (ZAF) 9.44
Heat 8: Jeremy Flores (FRA) 16.04 def. Frederico Morais (PRT) 13.50
Heat 9: Jordy Smith (ZAF) 16.36 def. Conner Coffin (USA) 9.00
Heat 10: Italo Ferreira (BRA) 14.30 def. Tomas Hermes (BRA) 10.10
Heat 11: Adriano de Souza (BRA) 14.13 def. Joel Parkinson (AUS) 13.46
Heat 12: Filipe Toledo (BRA) 14.43 def. Keanu Asing (HAW) 8.43

Corona Bali Protected Men’s Round 4 Matchups:
Heat 1: Jesse Mendes (BRA) vs. Michel Bourez (PYF) vs. Willian Cardoso (BRA)
Heat 2: Adrian Buchan (AUS) vs. Griffin Colapinto (USA) vs. Mikey Wright (AUS)
Heat 3: Gabriel Medina (BRA) vs. Jeremy Flores (FRA) vs. Jordy Smith (ZAF)
Heat 4: Italo Ferreira (BRA) vs. Adriano de Souza (BRA) vs. Filipe Toledo (BRA)