Throw it up against that wall!

New: Surfing’s next great sideshow!

A format that will save professional surfing!

I do hope that you are watching the NBA finals right now even if you aren’t a big basketball fan. Of all the sports and all the leagues in this world the National Basketball Association sure does know how to put on a show. The stars are given proper wattage and this year’s Golden State Warriors vs. Cleveland Cavs IV is narrative perfection. We have LeBron James on one side, arguably the greatest of all time and we have Steph Curry on the other, the smoothest operator around.

Last night they locked horns in an epic game one that went into overtime before the Warriors pulled away due, in large part, to Steph Curry’s magnificent shooting. It was he who made 3-point shots sexxy for the first time in basketball history and now that’s what kids on playgrounds mimic, standing very far away from the basket and heaving far-away bombs. LeBron James said, “Chicks dig the long ball.” And he is right.

But now let us naturally transition to Justin Cote, one half of the greatest* brother duo in surfing. I watched a Facebook clip of him recently surfing the Waco wave pool and he mentioned something about “spraying the wall.” I was confused until seeing how much water he smashed against a giant cement wall during a plus-sized cutback. It was like a giant firehose of spray that stuck against the dry grey and was quite impressive. Kelly’s Surf Ranch, as you know, has no wall but rather a chainlink fence.

Watching Justin’s big spray, though, gave me a revelation. Surfing should have a Cutback Series or a Gouge Series or something much like the Air Shows of old wherein the greatest “power surfers” aim to throw the most water, and highest, against a wall. Just imagine! Sunny Garcia vs. Zeke Lau. The Spartan vs. John John Florence. Kieren Perrow vs. Rose Hodge. It would be fantastic watching, clear to the viewer who wins and not dependent on any judging.

Tell me this is the greatest idea since Josh Kerr named his flip Kerrazy. Chicks will soon dig the wet wall.

*not counting the Carrolls.

Wacko In Waco from Superbrand on Vimeo.


The heat pivoted on a paddle battle with three minutes to go. Jordy greased a slick air, kicked out in front of Gabe, then went toe-to-toe with Medina in a physical paddle battle. I was stunned Jordy won that. Absolutely pole-axed. That left Medina last priority as the clock ticked down and a heat loss he will bitterly rue come year's end.  | Photo: WSL/Sloane

Day 5, Keramas: “Jordy pole-axes Gabriel!”

And challenges Gabriel Medina to fight!

Day five, six, whatever it is caught me on the hop. Women’s heats called on, and it’s not that I’m not interested in womens Pro Surfing – my plan is to transition into full-time coverage and ditch the mens – but after thinking and focussing on pro surfing so much a sportswriter needs some clean air away from the screen. ie. the waves were pumping here. 

The notification came half way through heat one round four. But first should we riff a little more on John Florence? Does his year not recall that famous quote from Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, “How did you go broke?”

“Slowly at first, then all at once.” Paraphrase, I know. 

We’ve failed, so far, to attribute any of the blame to mere randomness, what author Nassim Nicolas Taleb calls the “Black Swan event.” His first loss to Mikey Wright (at Snapper) just occurred from a slightly too sleepy start in a heat where the best waves came to Mikey.

Then at Bells, he was hassled off the first wave by Zeke Lau and over-compensated with patience.

Margarets he is still going and here in Bali he again suffered a slightly too sleepy heat against an unfancied opponent who threw caution to the wind and prevailed. 

Surf journalist Nick Carroll in comments said he could have walked to his second title last year except for a relapse in heat strategy. I see it slightly differently. He was on fire at Bells and should have won his heat against an over-scored Ibelli. Same in J-Bay against Morais. Again, luck: randomness. The subjectivity of judges. If those two events went his way, the title would have been won far sooner.

I don’t believe he wants to walk away.

Why?

My short but intensive interviews with him revealed a man of surprising competitive intensity. I take at face value his claims to want to win big by going bigger and redrawing the boundaries of competitive surfing. I believe that is sufficient motivating force for him to be on tour.

But he’s been mugged by the reality of randomness. So far. Problem is now plugging the holes so the losing slowly, heat by heat, doesn’t begat the catastrophe of losing the whole year in a torrent of uncontrolled bad heats. J-bay, more than Ulus, offers a reset. 

Four heats today, in perfect high-perf conditions. Bourez masterful, masterful rail lord in heat one.

Heat two was a banger. Ace out of the blocks quickly, Mikey looked hesitant and slow. Griff patient. In the back third Ace’s lead was reversed as Mikey caught fire then Griff bought full repertoire from rail game to fins out surfing. One thing to note: Mikey has been unable to score using hi-fi surfing and has had to “backpeddle” to the rail game. If he meets Filipe that will be telling. Wright and Colapinto through. 

Jordy stole away from Flores and Medina in heat three to open a slender lead with very big opening turns. Medina looked beastly, again. But could not finish a wave properly to ice a lead. J-Flo played patient tube hound and rode the best waves of the heat. The heat pivoted on a paddle battle with three minutes to go. Jordy greased a slick air, kicked out in front of Gabe, then went toe-to-toe with Medina in a physical paddle battle. I was stunned Jordy won that. Absolutely pole-axed. That left Medina last priority as the clock ticked down and a heat loss he will bitterly rue come year’s end. 

“This really fired me up,” said Jordy in the post-heat presser with Kaipo Guerrero. “We were paddling  and he pulled my leg once and I went, ok accident, twice, I thought that’s deliberate. Put em up. Let’s go.”

“Love it, love it, that passion,” muttered a panicked Kaipo, echoes of Todd Kline’s interview with Bobby Martinez in 2011. 

Jordy had just said, on a live webcast, that he’d been deliberately interfered with by Medina and that he’d subsequently suggested they fight.

No follow-up question. No investigation. No probing.

“Can you carry that passion into the quarter-final?” said Kaipo.

Yawn. 

The final matchup with Italo, Filipe and ADS was a slight, slight anti-climax. Not for aficionados of backside surfing because Italo showed the game has changed and he is at the apex of high performance surfing, not John, not Filipe.

It was slight anti-climax because he skipped away so quickly and with so much dominance that it was no contest. He too, can not quite grease one of the towering airs he’s been attempting. If he sticks one, the dam wall will burst. If Australia can support thrre CT’s an actual Bali leg should be a no-brainer, even if the tech billionaires who now seem to control Big Surfing are enthralled with trains in tubs. 

We’ll meet again tomorrow for the final, I guess. 

Corona Bali Protected Men’s Round 4 Matchups:
Heat 1: Michel Bourez (PYF) 17.00 def. Willian Cardoso (BRA) 13.60, Jesse Mendes (BRA) 11.66
Heat 2: Mikey Wright (AUS) 15.80 def. Griffin Colapinto (USA) 13.73, Adrian Buchan (AUS) 12.50
Heat 3: Jordy Smith (ZAF) 11.76 def. Jeremy Flores (FRA) 11.70, Gabriel Medina (BRA) 10.76
Heat 4: Italo Ferreira (BRA) 17.00 def. Filipe Toledo (BRA) 13.87, Adriano de Souza (BRA) 13.16

Corona Bali Protected Men’s Quarterfinal Matchups:
Heat 1: Michel Bourez (PYF) vs. Griffin Colapinto (USA)
Heat 2: Mikey Wright (AUS) vs. Willian Cardoso (BRA)
Heat 3: Jordy Smith (ZAF) vs. Filipe Toledo (BRA)
Heat 4: Italo Ferreira (BRA) vs. Jeremy Flores (FRA)

 


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.

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.


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!