The custodian of surf history Matt Warshaw discusses, with a wonderful frankness, non-surfers in surf…
It’s been a few months since the custodian of surf history, Matt Warshaw, lit up on the Andy Irons documentary (“Kissed by God disturbed me”), the loss of the Pipe Masters from the tour (“Pipe is the crucible!”) and far too long since his fabulous obit on filmmaker Bruce Brown, “No drugs, no booze, no pussy!“
Over the weekend, Warshaw and I back-and-forthed on the involvement of non-surfers within surf.
Why do they do it? What kinda kick do they get? What do they bring to the game?
And so forth.
BeachGrit: You know history. Tell me the most famous non-surfers in surfing.
Warshaw: Fritz Kohner, Austrian-Jew newspaperman, fled Europe just ahead of Hitler, landed soft in Brentwood, California, and wrote Gidget. Put him at the top of the list. Not just because Gidget was so huge, but because Fritz liked surfers, liked the whole scene. The book is great, much better than the movie. It’s raunchier. It’s a hundred times more real, to me, then Breath. The surfers in Gidget are broke horny hedonists, mouthy, funny, loud, drinking wine on the beach, you want to slap them the way you want to slap your 18-year-old self. But you can tell Fritz likes them. He totally gets why we’d want to be on the beach all day, wearing shitty cut-off trunks, riding homemade boards, free as can be. It’s the perfect opposite to what he’d seen and lived through 20 years earlier in Berlin and Prague. He went from Fascism to Moondoggie. Fritz never touched a surfboard, but he dug surfing, and he was a fellow traveler.
The idea of non-surfers getting into the game has always fascinated me. Sophie G as CEO of WSL, Greville Mitchell as sugar daddy for the ASP, Laura Inman as head of Billabong, the photographer Sarge. I always think…why?
I don’t know who Greville or Inman are, and have no comment on Sarge. But if you’re motivated by trend-based business, I supposed it doesn’t matter what you’re dealing in. Surfing, CBD oil, fidget-spinners. The thing itself is just a unit. The rush comes from growth and expansion. I don’t think that’s fundamentally wrong. Or maybe I do, I’m not sure. But part of me thinks that if you’re going to do the job right you would in fact want, demand, the deepest possible understanding of the product you’re involved with. Just so that you could do the job. Sophie Goldschmidt doesn’t understand surfing, and I don’t think she listens, not seriously anyway, those who do. So here we are, getting a web-streamed version of surfing which, often as not, is pretty well perverted.
How do you mean?
Removing the ocean. In our sport, there can be no transgression to compare. The ocean is the whole show, it’s the only thing that our sport different and interesting. Build the pools, sure. Give us the choice to embrace the novelty, or not; to jump in and train and practice, or not. But a world tour should not only produce a champion, but represent the best of surfing, the truth of surfing, and that truth lives in, was born in, depends on, the ocean.
You’re fired up!
You could list another 50 ways, big and small, the WSL had gone wrong. But Lemoore is upon us, and really all the sins of the WSL can be rolled up and poured into that one place.
How do you feel, as a surfer, nothing else, when you see a non-surfer as frontman for the WSL at the Pipe Masters and various other events? I know our mutual pal Nick Carroll is thrilled that Sophie’s out there but I get this…odd… feeling. Maybe your heart soars?
It doesn’t automatically bother me when non-surfers get their hands on our sport. We’ve fucked it up often enough ourselves. The Allentown wavepool contest — that was created, endorsed, and fully signed off by a world tour staffed by surfers. A really smart non-surfer could do wonders with the WSL, if he or she had a feel for the sport the way Fritz Kohner did, and also if they had enough sense to listen to people who deeply understand both the pitfalls and potentials of presenting surfing in an authentic way.
Back to Surf Ranch for a moment. For the very first time in history, surf fans, writers, and so on, can’t surf near or around the event. No paddling into the lineup after the final heat, no early sneaker sessions, no interaction with the pro’s. Is this non-surfing thing going to become pro surfing’s…motif?
I don’t think so. I hope not. I’m going to hate-watch it, and hope it fails so badly that Sophie flies to Honolulu and throws signed checks at the feet of the powers that be to restore the Pipe Masters. On the other hand, there’s a real chance that pro surfing has moved on to a place where I don’t belong. The WSL may have insight to pro surfing’s future that I don’t have. They may be playing a longer game than I can imagine. And if we end up with a more tanks on tour, well, that’ll be sad, but I’ll just close my laptop and not watch. The fight in me these days doesn’t run that deep. I’ll take what I’ve been given thus far, surf-wise, and be more than happy.
Is there an irony, for you, in Kelly Slater as the surfer who’s won the most Pipe Masters …and… as the architect of Surf Ranch?
Kelly’s life as a surfer of incomprehensible talent, in and out of the contest arena, at this point seems completely divorced from his life as a surfing entrepreneur. I can’t square the two.