The world’s greatest surfer is an accomplished man by any standard. Kelly Slater has won professional surfing 11 times, launched multiple brands including but not limited to K-grips, Purps, OuterKnown, Slater Designs surfboards, Gisele Bundchen and The Surfers. Most recently he has handcrafted, alongside USC engineer Adam Fincham, the most famous wave pool to date called Kelly Slater’s Surf Ranch in Lemoore, California.
Of course wave pools have been around since the turn of the century but Kelly’s was far and away the best with its green barrel and delightful dairy farm scent. Nothing like it had ever been seen.
Since its debut more wave pools have come online using different technology, most notably the Barefoot Ski Ranch Cable Park in Waco, Texas. Many professional surfers have enjoyed and many non-professional surfers too who can pay the almost too reasonable $60 to $90 per hour for barrels and airs.
If I was Kelly Slater, a different inland wave pool pulling focus from my Surf Ranch would infuriate. I would burn with rage each and every night, laying in my Hawaiian bed plotting its destruction. I would loose spies to go and surf it and throw sand into its gears. I would write very nasty things about it on Instagram.
Humans everywhere are lucky that a pettily jealous man like me is not Kelly Slater.
For the real Kelly Slater went on to the BSR Cable Park’s Instagram feed and provided unsolicited advice on the following video of a surfer testing out wakeboarding.
It is a good point as the corners on the jump do appear needlessly deadly. He followed his advice with praise.
kellyslater: I’ll definitely pay you guys a visit. Congrats on it all. No hate here. I appreciate what you guys have done. But round those corners down! Especially for this kook on a wakeboard (me!)
Kelly is almost too good to be true, a model for all of us, but the fact that he drops “No hate here.” gives me small hope that he does spend at least some time laying in his Hawaiian bed plotting BSR Cable Park’s destruction.
Like I would do.
Bad Eggs: “Surf writers stuck in the friend zone!”
Surf writers are idolaters. Sycophants. Failed scions of the surfing family tree that trade on their only worthwhile commodity to bask in the reflected glory of the demigods that they can never become.
Or so I thought as I finished up watching The End of the Touron Netflix the other night, a crumpled quiver of tins at my feet.
Have you seen this fillum? It’s a biopic about the late American novelist David Foster Wallace, who at one stage in the nineties, was considered to be the greatest living writer in those United States. He was an unwilling literary darling, brilliant but flawed (aint we all?) and the movie details the burgeoning friendship between he and a Rolling Stone journalist who’s been assigned to write a hard-hitting piece on him and his alleged drug use.
Only thing is, the journo, David Lipsky, is an aspiring writer and DFW fan himself. Lipsky struggles to move in for the kill – how can he tear down something he loves? – and eventually abandons the story completely.
In typical Foster Wallace fashion the movie is intended as insightful expose of the contemporary American psyche yadda yadda yadda. But for me, sitting there half drunk in the half dark as the credits rolled and the next flick queued up (a documentary on Tickling? Por que no?), it got me to my previously outlined observation: surf writers are just a big bunch of Lipskys. Fan boys. Unwilling to write anything inflammatory lest it ruffle the feathers of the surfing elite they so adore.
Because, I thought to myself as I kicked away the cans and headed for bed, most surf scribes have not reached the competitive or talent levels of their subjects. Instead they leverage their craft to increase their own surfing time and subsequently rub shoulders with the movers, shakers and shape shifters of the surf industry.
Their assimilation leaves us with three basic categories of acceptable surf story. There’s the new school freesurfer eschewing the mainstream competitive career. The old school competitor eschewing the played-out freesurfer mould. And the rags to riches battler/phoenix rising from the ashes. They’re the only narratives we can muster. Because they’re the only ones sponsors want us to hear.
At least the Rolling Stone editor pushed Lipsky to ask the hard questions where necessary. Surf journalism is, for the most part, one giant bro-down. I put myself to bed, wrapped contently in my new found realisation. Those fucking two-bit hacks. All recruited through social connections, comments sections or kitsch Instagram accounts. The only source they’d ever double check is their coke dealer .
And yet, and yet. Something didn’t feel right. A foul nor-easter blew up through the open window as I fell into a deep sleep under a blood red moon.
It was on this night that Nick Carroll came to me in a dream. A ghostly apparition, he was dressed in a Greek toga with an olive leaf behind his ear and with a David Foster Wallace-signature bandana over his bald head. He stood at the foot of my bed. He clutched old copies of Deep magazine to his breast.
The wind blew even stronger behind him. My linen curtains flapped, twisted and furrowed, and for a second assumed the familiar waves of the Billabong logo.
“You’re right,” I said. “Of course you’re right. And many of those guys ripped too.”
I sat up in my bed to face him.
“But even then you’re all still writing for or promoting through media outlets that rely on industry advertising to function. You’ve told some of the stories that need to be told. But not all of them. You come to me with exceptions, not rules.”
Nick shrugged his shoulders and floated out the window, muttering something about needing to visit a wayward BG commenter.
The curtains fell dead.
I woke with the windows somehow shut, soaked in sweat. The bastard’s got a point, I thought. There is good in surf writing. From Hynd to Carroll to Samuels to Rielly to Smith. Men and women with credentials in and out of the water.
Indeed, it’s a torch that’s carried by this esteemed publication.
But Andy’s is the one story we are beginning to hear. How many others have we not?
And then it hit me like a Taylor Steele boxed set. Our subculture and the industry that sustains it readily construct heroes. We feed off the mythology at all levels. It captures our imagination. It sells boardshorts. Their exaltation equals exoneration and they are protected by a corporate-media complex that has its own survival as its main concern.
How can we expect objectivity from it when we are all a part of it?
So maybe surf writers aren’t idolaters. Maybe they’re just cogs in the giant industry wheel, unable to poke a stick through the spokes. Many do try, and try well. For every Stab Style Guide there’s a Surfer’s Journal.
But still the wheel rolls on.
Yeah, it’s hardly a new notion. I’m not the first person to break through surfing’s fourth wall. And really, does any of this matter? Would anybody outside of our quirky little niche of a sport, a pastime, a lifeblood, need to know what’s going on?
Or even care?
But The Old Man On The Point was right about something else too. I was focussing on the wrong target. It’s not the writers that are the problem. They’re doing the best they can in an industry that’s still finding its feet on the big stage. And the industry, well, it’s just doing what all industries do.
The real problem is us. The commenters. This whole brain fart brings to the fore the oxymoronic nature of the contemporary surf fan.
We’re a bunch of big fucken babies.
On one hand we want our sport to be left to the core. Us disgruntled locals. Fuck the mainstream. Fuck the WSL. Yet at the same time, we’ve evolved to a point now where we demand the transparency and accountability of our heroes and the systems that support them, just like we’d expect from a mainstream sport.
Who’d have thought we’d care this much about the WSL, for instance?
So what do you want from the surf media? Cottage-industry hacks keeping everything rose-tinted? Or a fully-fledged independent fourth estate ready to tear holes in the myths and institutions we hold dear?
Of course this is a derivative, simplistic take on a complex issue.
And when it comes down the it, who’s going to pay the cheque for our very own Bernstein and Woodward anyway?
Fuck, maybe we should all follow competitive tickling for kicks instead. It’s pretty kinky.
Safety surfing so dull it will break the World Surf League!
I am a very big baseball fan. I love everything about America’s pastime and especially in America’s finest city. The smell of freshly cut grass, hot dogs, the way the sun sets over Petco Park, spiked root beer, the crack of the bat, the languid pace which allows for mindless conversations etc. It is a beautiful game with a beautiful history which, for the past few decades, has pitted traditionalists against statisticians.
You may have watched the film Moneyball. It followed the Oakland As general manager Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt) as he infused statistics into his decision making process. A walk, for example, is praised. A steal is not valuable. Making consistent contact beats swinging for the fences. On and on. Players are encouraged to do the statistically correct thing at the statistically correct time instead of going with their gut. Scouts, out observing the next generation of players, are devalued as statistics will tell managers, general managers and owners everything they need to know.
There have been a backlashes to what is called sabermetrics with recently retired player Jayson Werth saying, for example, “They’ve got all these super nerds, as I call them, in the front office that know nothing about baseball but they like to project numbers and project players.”
Super nerds indeed but I do wonder if the super nerd principles were applied to surfing could a middle of the pack pro win a title?
I would imagine there are statistics on which moves done when score the highest. Like, if you catch three waves within the first ten minutes, no matter how bad those waves are, and do three little jams and two little squirts you are guaranteed a 12.4 heat total. Or, like, if it is big and barreling forego the biggest set wave as the statistical chance of failure increases and instead aim for the second wave in each set.
Super nerds could parse everything and create computer programs that would ensure heat wins. Safety surfing to the extreme and terribly dull but I do wonder if, say, Ace Buchan was to employ a team of super nerds and surf exactly how they told him to surf, based on waves and competition, catching the exact waves, doing the exact moves, if he could easily win a world title.
What do you think?
Day Two, Tahiti Pro: “Ultimate fun! A dream day for a recreational surfer to dodge the tube!”
For the world's best a nightmare of sitting with dreams evaporating into long lulls without meaning and or end.
Round two completed in listless head-high surf. A dream day for a puffy middled recreational surfer to dodge the tube on some fluffy runners without witnesses. Ultimate fun.
For the world’s best a nightmare of sitting with dreams evaporating into long lulls without meaning and seemingly without end. I imagine Ziff, if he were watching, would find it vexatious (“Waiting for the ocean to deliver exciting conditions has been an obvious issue”) and confusing.
Now that Sophie has gone from red-hot to lukewarm on the wave system as the ultimate answer squaring that circle whilst maintaining the fantasy that Pro Surfing can take its rightful place among the great and elite competitive sports will take some wrangling, billionaire or not behind the wheel.
You wonder whether he has fully thought through the risk in dismantling the architecture of a Tour that has weathered ownership changes, name changes, convulsions in format and location and yet has remained stable in its core mission: to produce a credible World Champion delivered through a year long tour. Once it lies in pieces on the floor all the kings horses and men won’t be able to put it back together. It seems like the last CEO to properly understand and enhance that was ten-year CEO Wayne Bartholomew.
Innovation brings risk. Ziff is quite right there.
I speak as someone who has innovated, flown into the sun scattering my own dime like chicken feed into the cosmos and taken a cold bath, losing everything.
But you wonder whether he has fully thought through the risk in dismantling the architecture of a Tour that has weathered ownership changes, name changes, convulsions in format and location and yet has remained stable in its core mission: to produce a credible World Champion delivered through a year long tour.
Once it lies in pieces on the floor all the kings horses and men won’t be able to put it back together. It seems like the last CEO to properly understand and enhance that was ten-year CEO Wayne Bartholomew.
Owen Wright threaded some user friendly but technical tubes to take down Joan Duru in heat six.
Ian Gouveia had broken a losing streak in the heat prior to best Griffin Colapinto.
Michael February sat out a lull for the back ten minutes of his heat with Connor Coffin needing a low two. He fumbled and bumbled his way to get the score with surfing that would not win a heat in the Junior Division of the local boardriders. The ecstacy of Rosie Hodge in her description of the buzzer beater was Homeric in its intensity. Later, Rosie asked Connor if he was looking forwards to Surf Ranch.
“Haven’t thought about it,” Coffin deadpanned in reply.
With Sophie’s walk back yesterday from the Surf Ranch and the impossible-to-imagine-eighteen-months-ago scenario of a blowback against Kelly’s pool it calls into question the strategic wisdom of the Founders Cup. Meant as a dry run and teaser for the main Surf Ranch CT Event it has had the unintended consequence of bleeding away interest so skilfully accumulated during the marketing campaign preceding it. Glimpses of the pool maintained our vampiric interest but like Shakespeare’s description of sexual desire in Antony and Cleopatra too much of the wavepool is like the other women who “cloy the appetites they feed”.
While watching the next heat a shocking thought came to me: Keanu Asing could win this contest if it’s held in head-high lefts. No one makes a head-high left look bigger and more dramatic than the diminutive Oahuan. It’s shameful and cynical to admit that scenario crushed my spirit.
What about our dreams Mr Ziff, do they count in your world view? Rodriguez delivered me from my personal torment to take the heat.
Of all the athletes on the World Tour it’s Matty Wilko I feel for most. Not just because he resides locally and I surf with him a fair bit, not just because of the hard scrabble life in a van upbringing with his old man. Not even because fate brought us together and I caddied for him in Tahiti in a clutch heat when he was on the cusp of getting axed in the mid-year cut (he survived). In a WSL world devoted the bland it feels like he has given up the most. Scrape away character and what remains is the diamond hard calculus of winning and losing, and Wilko is losing. After losing this heat against Japan’s Huntington Beach Kanoa Igarashi – is Huntington on Honshu or Kyushu?– he’s cooked. Like the guy who stole the plane in Seattle when they got him on the radio: “I’m OK, Just a broken guy”.
I went back through the heat analyser and watched, assiduously, every Matt Wilkinson wave in 2018 thus far. The same level of rippage as previous. Some truly staggering judging calls against him, particularly v M. February at Snapper. Incomprehensible.
This is the ball of confusion Mr Ziff. The fog of war that Pro Surfing will be eternally mired in. It is incomprehensible, even to the lifelong fan. To the casual observer, no matter how in thrall to the thrill, how much wide-eyed positivity they display when shown the video images, they will never understand.
One athlete in the history of pro surfing was understandable to the non surfing public, Mr Robert Slater, and he ironically, is the one leading you down the path away from the goal you seek, and from which there will be no return. The World is what it is and when the spectacle is gone from pro surfing it will be much diminished.
Did you notice that Billabong has dropped out of sponsoring Tahiti? I suspect Sophie made the trip to Tahiti to duchess officials and assure them that without the backing of Billabong the WSL is in for the long haul. Another Pipeline debacle on her watch would not be a good look for 2019. One thing I do know about Teahupoo is that the yearly contest is a vital part of the local economy.
Mendes squeaked past Zietz and Yago Dora went high to defeat Tomas Hermes in the last heat of the day.
It was, as Jeremy Flores described it, “still a beautiful day”.
Tahiti Pro Remaining Round 2 Results:
Heat 4: Mikey Wright (AUS) 10.83 def. Miguel Pupo (BRA) 8.33
Heat 5: Ian Gouveia (BRA) 12.27 def. Griffin Colapinto (USA) 11.06
Heat 6: Owen Wright (AUS) 14.27 def. Joan Duru (FRA) 6.00
Heat 7: Michael February (ZAF) 7.67 def. Conner Coffin (USA) 7.60
Heat 8: Michael Rodrigues (BRA) 12.90 def. Keanu Asing (HAW) 11.37
Heat 9: Kanoa Igarashi (JPN) 12.17 def. Matt Wilkinson (AUS) 10.37
Heat 10: Jeremy Flores (FRA) 9.90 def. Patrick Gudauskas (USA) 9.70
Heat 11: Jesse Mendes (BRA) 10.03 def. Sebastian Zietz (HAW) 9.70
Heat 12: Yago Dora (BRA) 14.57 def. Tomas Hermes (BRA) 7.83
Tahiti Pro Round 3 Matchups:
Heat 1: Jordy Smith (ZAF) vs. Michael February (ZAF)
Heat 2: Michael Rodrigues (BRA) vs. Ezekiel Lau (HAW)
Heat 3: Wade Carmichael (AUS) vs. Jesse Mendes (BRA)
Heat 4: Owen Wright (AUS) vs. Joel Parkinson (AUS)
Heat 5: Adriano De Souza (BRA) vs. Kanoa Igarashi (JPN)
Heat 6: Filipe Toledo (BRA) vs. Tikanui Smith (PYF)
Heat 7: Gabriel Medina (BRA) vs. Wiggolly Dantas (BRA)
Heat 8: Kolohe Andino (USA) vs. Frederico Morais (PRT)
Heat 9: Mikey Wright (AUS) vs. Yago Dora (BRA)
Heat 10: Michel Bourez (PYF) vs. Connor O’Leary (AUS)
Heat 11: Adrian Buchan (AUS) vs. Jeremy Flores (FRA)
Heat 12: Italo Ferreira (BRA) vs. Ian Gouveia (BRA)
Devastating: “Some dopes from something called the World Surf League!”
It has been exactly one week, or thereabouts, since the owners of professional surfing Dirk and Natasha Ziff were feted at a grand Waterman’s Ball where they both received the coveted Waterman of the Year award. Mr. Dirk decided it was the perfect moment to stand up in front of his Surf Industry Manufacturers Association peers and really accept much praise for his World Surf League saving professional surfing from the slough of despond and also light into “hater surf journalists.”
Even though his mic was unplugged he felt it important enough to stand and shout (while Graham Stapelberg allegedly got into a verbal altercation with the event site manager behind him):
And I ask you: Why (the hate)? It seems pretty obvious that if the WSL keeps growing in popularity, and surfing takes its rightful place among the great and elite competitive sports, everyone connected with our sport, and certainly all the members of SIMA, will prosper, except maybe a few grumpy locals who have to deal with some new faces in the lineup. So…why not work together?
Ahhh the dream of taking our place among the great and elite competitive sports. So close now that Mr. Dirk is half in charge. Right?
Maybe not. For today on ESPN, home of great and elite competitive sports, the co-host of daytime programming introduced an older clip from Nazare thusly:
Happy trails to the previous record for the highest wave ever surfed. Yes some dopes from something called the World Surf League claim to keep track of junk like that. This story is nine months old but video obsessed millennial producers reminded somehow that this guy Rodrigo Koxa riding this 80 foot wave off the coast of Portugal…
Ohhh does that sound like a ringing endorsement? Some dopes from something called the World Surf League?
If you were Mr. Dirk and had been spending every ounce of your emotional capital rescuing professional surfing from the grip of a few grumpy locals in order to deliver it to the likes of ESPN except in its daytime programming, the lowest tier of any, a co-host had no idea the WSL existed but knew it was staffed by “dopes” would you feel bad?
Should Mr. Dirk feel bad?
I don’t think so. I think he should try on his grumpy pants and join us in the gutter. The water is 80 plus!