Champagne time: The surf industry apocalypse is over*!

It's a great day to be alive!

It was a miracle of modern economics. The surf industry, which first began to fall out of the sky some 20 years ago kept up an extremely impressive nosedive even through the longest bull market in history.

That’s right. While global markets have added trillions and trillions of dollars, especially during the last decade, surf has bucked all trends, going its own way, down, down, down.

Companies like Billabong, which used to be worth well over a billion dollars, shed value like it was the hottest game in town. Scratching its balding pate as the money dried up, collaborating with Andy Warhol, money drying up, collaborating with Iggy Pop, money drying up, scratching its balding pate, very confused until given to onetime rival Quiksilver for free.

The same Quiksilver that had just exited bankruptcy protection under the guiding hand of Oaktree Capital Investments. A firm specializing in “distressed assets.”

There were few bright spots. A brutal bloodletting. But now, 20 years on, it’s time to pop the even more vintage bubbly because according to Apparel News and Lost’s Joel Cooper WE’RE BACK BABY!

Let’s waste no more time with Andy n Iggy. Let’s get straight to the good stuff!

ActionWatch’s findings are good news for the surf business, which over the past decade has been pummeled by high-profile bankruptcies, changing tastes in youth fashion and a new retail landscape.

The tough times paved the way for a comeback, said Joel Cooper, chief executive officer of Lost International, the parent company of the popular surf brand …Lost.

“The great thing about the surf industry is that it never goes away. It’s cyclical,” Cooper said. “We’ve gone through bad times. It is slowly improving.”

Some reasons for a rebound is the fashion cycle is turning back toward surf and more women are interested in the category than before, Cooper said. Bankruptcies of major surfwear companies, including Quiksilver and Billabong, have forced the bigger companies to streamline operations and work more efficiently.

After Quiksilver emerged from bankruptcy, it renamed the company Boardriders Inc. and acquired the troubled Billabong surfwear brand.

With bigger companies working to save their businesses, there was more room for entrepreneurs to introduce new brands, which paved the way for more variety at surf shops, Cooper said.
“The business is coming back at a core level. Maybe we’ve turned a corner,” he said.

Lost might be benefiting from better tides for the surfwear industry. It recently opened its second boutique in Hawaii, giving the company seven full-price boutiques.

Quick question here, are you going to have your champagne with OJ, a peach purée or straight?


*”Over” is a relative term.

Author relaxing while a hail of unread text messages fly overhead.

Board review, Maurice Cole Protow, “a specialist surfboard that gives satisfaction of a different order…”

Relax and catch sets. Sit deep, carve hard. Let it swing.

This has been a king hell biiiiatch to write, this review. Not because I have nothing to say about the process of ordering and receiving a custom surfboard off Maurice Cole, a 6’3″ Protow round-pin designed for good-to-excellent Point surf, but because the whole last week and while Derek Rielly has been busting my nuts every day to get the review done, the surf has been relentlessly pumping.

The exact same surf I envisioned the board to ride in. Double-overhead Point surf, high-speed racetracks. Every day I’ve broken contracts with myself.

Today I write it.

Today ends in a blur of surf stupefaction and a blank screen.

Right now, I fight the strongest impulses to down tools and get out there again.

One quick lap around the internet surf forums, or in real life carparks puts the vexed issue of surfboards front and centre.

The list of horror stories when trying to order custom equipment is long and never ending. My mate ordered a single fin and got a thruster, from a shaper who has spent a career railing against the hegemony of the three fin. You’ve probably got your own scenario where you looked at the freshies in the rack and thought “that can’t be it”. Fuck, it’s got my name on the stringer.

Particularly custom vs stock.

Generalist vs specialist.

I favour the specialist. It’s my belief the working gal of an intermediate or beyond skill set can gain ground, tortoise and hare style, over the more naturally gifted through the development and acquisition of superior equipment. Which is custom surfboards.

That view was formed by tutelage under North Shore resident and Cherokee Indian Craig “Owl” Chapman, who continually stressed the importance, the advantage conferred, by having the “best board in the line-up”.

How to get the best board in the lineup. The list of horror stories when trying to order custom equipment is long and never ending. My mate ordered a single fin and got a thruster, from a shaper who has spent a career railing against the hegemony of the three fin. You’ve probably got your own scenario where you looked at the freshies in the rack and thought “That can’t be it”.

Fuck, it’s got my name on the stringer.

Self-knowledge, or lack of is the biggest obstacle. The line up is full of the surfer stinking the joint up on the wrong sled. No activity engenders so much self deception. BeachGrit’s own Chas Smith wrote an article in Surfing Life where he detailed some of the struggle and outsourced the knowledge to his pal D. Rielly. Rielly identified the strengths and weaknesses in Smith’s approach and they got to something that worked.

My prior experience with Maurice wasn’t quite so chummy.

I’d had an epic Tom Curren inspired 7’3” reverse-vee sometime in the nineties which circumnavigated the globe and ended up left behind in Guam as rental payment on a house. In the interim me and Maurice had beef, sometimes epic beef on the internets. The specifics escape me. I was a Maurice fan since he took aim at racism in Australian politics. Maybe we came to virtual blows when Rory Parker ended up in conflict with Cole and I got caught up somehow. Sometime during a particularly toxic exchange I had to take stock.

I drove a gal to the airport. Maybe she could sense my rage. She pressed a little card into my hand when we parted and said “read this”.

In calming shades of blue and green was written a series of compassion exercises.

Just like me, this person is trying to avoid suffering in his/her life.
Just like me this person is learning about life.

And so on and so forth.

It did stop me in my tracks. I recalled Owl’s vision of himself as a surfer, “It’s a better me”.

And, then scant few months later I am in email exchanges with Maurice about a custom board.

The second great obstacle to getting the best board in the line-up via custom equipment is what I call a category error. Every shaper/designer has their trip. Run with it and get a great board, if it’s dialled in correctly. Ask a shaper to go too far outside their area of expertise and you get a version of the famous “Hold the chicken” scene from 5 Easy Pieces. Jack Nicholson’s character wants to fuck with what is on the menu and it all ends up in tears.

Don’t be the gal asking a shaper to hold the chicken.

Maurice Cole specialises in concaves. It took a few emails to nail things down. I let him know I wanted the board well and truly in his area of expertise. A board for OH+ down the line point surf. In his words, “A very fast surfboard that carves at high speed, with deep concaves and hard edges”. The whole process was civilised and painless. Confidence was high we understood each other and the board I received would not be found on any surfboard retail rack.

Fast and trustworthy. There’s something to be said for going out of your own comfort zone and riding different stuff. It’s fun to be unhinged. But when something made especially for you feels so good right out of the gates that is a feeling of satisfaction of a different order.

The sled arrived, via courier truck. The nose had been busted off. I patched it up. In three months of solid abuse, that is its only wound. Sleek lines, a nose-to-tail tucked rail edge that is distinctive. No volume measurements but it felt very right on. The concave was noticeable but not pronounced.

I put fins in it, waxed it up and rode it. Straight away. The Point was a windy four-to-six foot. Paddling into twenty knots of sideshore wind with current felt fine. The very first turn on the very first wave felt smooth. Fast and trustworthy. There’s something to be said for going out of your own comfort zone and riding different stuff. It’s fun to be unhinged. But when something made especially for you feels so good right out of the gates that is a feeling of satisfaction of a different order.

Down-the-line point surf for testing.

Further follow-up emails with Maurice occurred. I gave him feedback. He asked questions. There’s no other sporting goods manufacturer in any other sport who would do the same. No golf clubs, no tennis racquets, no fishing rods. Surfing is unique in that regard.

Even in a dud winter like this the surf gets good around here. I rode it whenever it did. Replaced the stock fins with fibreglass C drive fins. At slow speed they feel grabby and tight. At speed, on a down-the-line wave, a hydrofoil effect comes into play. The board seems to lift up, the wetted surface disappears and you feel like you are sliding on ball bearings. The rail, with its edge, feels active. Sensitive, not at all neutral like a modern shortboard rail.

I claim the sensation to be both highly functional and unique.

Final thoughts fresh out of five-star point surf. The problem for the working gal in perfect surf is panic at the disco. The mirror ball starts flashing and limbs are splaying everywhere. The generalist short board is redlining. The solution is do to less, the panicked mummy or daddy tries to do more.

On a better board, one made for this eventuality, you can relax into it.

Let the board go up and down in the trim line, at least to start. You have a better paddler than the typically underpowered work-a-daddy or Euro lower intermediate in thrall to the latest and greatest and industry sizing. Relax and catch sets. Sit deep, carve hard. Let it swing. Try not to laugh (inside) when you see someone panicked and spazzing out on the generalist board du jour.

Just like you this person is seeking to fulfill his/her needs.

Just like you this person is learning about life.

(Examine Maurice’s Protow here.) 

Home sweet home.
Home sweet home.

Revelation: “I no longer want to bomb the Pacific Northwest!”

It only took two plus decades!

When was the last time you went home? I mean home home. The place your parents raised you home. I don’t do it often enough and blame a burning rage in my childhood heart. I’ve written about this before, and don’t mean to bore, but I was raised in the state of Oregon in a depressed coastal ex-logging town named Coos Bay.

I hated it.

I hated the grey skies, the rain, the people, the oppressively green trees, the rain and also the people who smelled like mint flavored Skoal. It drove me crazy that I didn’t get to be from California, just to the south, with its warm surf and its Gotcha and its sun.

California was everything to me. It was surfing and I conflated the two, dreaming only California dreams and hating Oregon. I vowed that if I ever struck gold that I’d use some of the money to buy an old airplane, fly north and unload a payload of Vietnam-era warheads all the way from Medford in the south (where my cousins lived) to Seattle (not in Oregon but still Pacific Northwest and where my grandparents lived).

Time has mellowed my ambitions and age has made me fond of my Oregonian roots. I am a forever outsider thanks to them. A man still wildly in love with surfing, with what surfing means and more importantly what surfing should mean, precisely because he never belonged.

I’m headed home, anyhow, today to read about Cocaine + Surfing in:

Eugene on August 24th at Barnes & Noble (7:00 pm)

Portland on August 27th at Powells Books (7:30 pm)

Seattle on August 28th at University Bookstore (7:00 pm)

Bellingham on August 29th at Village Books (7:00 pm)

If you are anywhere around please come. I no longer want to bomb my fellow Pacific Northwesterners. I want to hug them all.

Listen: The songs that fuel the dreams of Caroline Marks!

The future is Drake!

Music is such a personal thing, don’t you think? For years and years I thought I had interestingly eclectic taste (The Dead Milkmen featured heavily in my younger rotations) but as I aged I realized it was just unrefined boorish taste and now I unashamedly listen to Miley Cyrus’s Malibu especially while writing.

In the book Cocaine + Surfing (buy here!) I describe it as “teenage girl” taste which, in retrospect, is very rude and could even be seen as an attempted going after the dreams of real teenage girl Caroline Marks.

And what does the sixteen-year-old future of professional surfing enjoy? Let’s turn to ESPN W!

While traveling the world for surfing competitions isn’t exactly the stuff of a typical teenage life, a great playlist can help to keep her grounded.

“I don’t always listen to music before I’m about to compete or surf,” she said. “But when I do, ‘The Greatest’ by Sia is on repeat. I absolutely love the words to this song. It gets me in a happy mindset — confident and ready to take on whatever I’m facing.”

For day-to-day training, Marks prefers rap.

“My go-go song when I’m training is ‘Trophies’ by Young Money and Drake,” she said. “I like more upbeat songs when I’m about to train. It’s crazy what a song can do to your mood, so for me this song gets me hyped!”

Here is her list for you but mostly for me!

The Greatest – Sia

River – Bishop Briggs

What do you Mean? – Justin Bieber

Back to the Old – Matisyahu

Bodak Yellow – Cardi B

Feel It Still – Portugal the Man

Remake: “Lemoore”, the sequel to kitsch surf movie classic “North Shore”!

Oh it's a real switcharoo!

Everything old is new again, yes? And this includes the kitsch surf movie North Shore, which was made in 1987 and, like all destined-to-become-cult-movies, was ridiculed at the time by critics.

This remake, imagined by BeachGrit reader Timothy Puñales, is set in a dystopia fifty years from now.

In a role reversal, the Hawaiian kid travels to Lemoore in an attempt to make his name as a professional pool surfer. Oh it’s a real switcharoo!

Let’s begin.

Hawaiian surfer Kamalei Moepono wins the championship at Pipeline and receives as his prize a ticket to Lemoore, California. One week later he travels to the mainland with his handmade Bushman, a small backpack filled with a wetsuit he has never used before and two freshwater wax pills.

“Don’t worry, mama,” Kamalei says before leaving. “Rick Kane Junior wins 100 thousand a year as a pond surfer. I’ll come back and buy you a new house.”

At the Ranch, he is greeted with ruthless bullying from local surfers, led by Rick Kane Jr, son of the star of North Shore.

“Hey guys!” says Kane Jr, “It looks like we have visits from the past!”

The boys make fun of his board and his appearance.

“This haole thinks he can surf El Rancho with a board made by a guy with his hands,” says another, laughing over the broken voice of Joe Turpel coming from the loudspeakers. Turpel, who is now eighty-seven years old, had left the WSL three years earlier and is reporting, live, each wave made by his late friend Kelly Slater.

Kamalei’s luck changes when he gets his dream job: working at a high-end surf boutique selling surf fashion clothes, accessories and the boards of his dreams, the Cable Fuego Pool Special.

The owner of the shop is Ferdinand Aguerre II, grandson of the President of the International Surfing Association, Fernando. The Argentinian businessman is skilled at discovering raw talent. He can feel that the Hawaiian deeply loves the perfection of the machine waves and Olympic surfing.

“I have noticed that you are not a young man like any other,” says Ferdinand. “I think that behind that ridiculous vintage surfer image you hide a true love for pool surfing and high-performance boards made in China.”

Ferdinand gets Pancho, the Ranch’s machine controller, to work an extra shift at three in the morning when Kane and his friends are usually at Lemoore’s best gentleman’s club, Leave it to Beaver (formerly Volcanic Eruptions).

Kamalei gets twenty waves a night between three and five am.

“I have noticed that you are not a young man like any other,” says Ferdinand. “I think that behind that ridiculous vintage surfer image you hide a true love for pool surfing and high-performance boards made in China.”

“Yes, sir, yes. Being the best freshwater surfer in the world is what I’ve dreamed all my life,” says Kamalei.

Meanwhile, the Hawaiian meets Dakota, an Arizonian stripper at Leave it to Beaver with augmented breasts and lips. She also works in adult films. A Lemoore princess.

Ferdinand Aguerre II gives Kamalei a magic board, so fresh from China he can smell the synthetics, just before the 50th Surf Ranch Pro.

At the same time, Kane finds out that the North Shore’s haole is not only is being supported by Aguerre but, in addition, he’s screwing his favorite dancer from Leave it to Beaver.

This makes Kane furious and he tells Ferdinand that the boards they are making in China are not what they used to be.

“These are ocean boards Ferdinand,” says Kane.

The surfers meet face to face in the final. Well, not really face to face, as one is inside the pool and the other one at the locker room, waiting for his turn.

The crowd is mostly on the side of Kamalei, the underdog from the forgotten North Shore of Oahu, where not a single pool has been built and surfers must settle for surfing only when the sea and the wind deem it possible.

The Hawaiian rips.

But Kane is not far behind and shows why he’s the number one in the ponds.

Michelob is sold in tremendous volume. Turkey-and-cheddar-cheese sandwiches run out.

Kamalei rides the last wave. If he achieves a 9.9995, he will win most prestigious tournament in the world.

The train begins its seven hundred yard journey. Kamalei paddles and stands up.


The crowd howls as Moepono reaches the hollow section and prepares himself for the main act: the tube ride.

In this very moment, with every fan’s eyes on the Hawaiian, Kane furtively approaches the train and puts a broomstick into one of the steel wheels..

The wagon begins to slow and the wave slows down.

Kamalei Moepono gets a shampoo rinse. A head-dip.

The Hawaiian can’t understand what is happening. Each and every one of the 785 rights he surfed there before threw the tube in the same place where now, a mushburger, spoils his haircut.

But inside him lives an ocean surfer. A rider who has depended on the instinct and the ability to react to face the unpredictable waves of the sea. That’s why he decides to get of the tube line, prepare an attack bottom turn and hit the lip with no mercy.

Like ancient times.

However, the force exerted by the wagon on the stick locked on its wheel is so great that it finally breaks. This happens at the exact moment when Kamalei opens from the line of the tube to lay down his bottom turn. With the train running free again the wave recovers its usual course, and it’s as if a South Pacific reef has grown underneath. The wave throws.

Kamalei is out of position. He can’t reach the tube.

The trophy goes to Kane.

Someone in the audience perceives the trap and starts to mutter. Soon, everyone boos the new champion. But he grabs both nuts with his hands and shakes them up and down, while two girls pour champagne on his head.

Ferdinand runs out to challenge Kane but Kamalei stops him.

“It’s just a contest,” he says.

Ferdinand smiles and winks.

Dakota interrupts the scene. She has arrived topless.

Shortly, Ferdinand, Kamalei and a couple of Chinese guys that use to work as shapers in the Cable Fuego factory, but were promoted to wash the floors in Ferdinand shop, engage in a joyous gang bang.

Final credits followed by hilarious outtakes and surfing scenes that didn’t make the final cut.