"You don't have to be a surfer to love BeachGrit!"
The Surf Ranch Pro in Lemoore, California couldn’t be any closer and excitement crackles in the bovine-scented air. Athletes and sports fans from around the world will soon descend upon the small agricultural town some 120 odd miles from the nearest beach. They will meet at the Tachi Palace, a largish hotel and casino, order whiskey sodas from one of the two bars which will be served in delicate plastic cups, whistle though their teeth at the marvel.
At the future of professional surfing.
Surf Ranch, just down the street and around the corner from the Palace, represents the hopes and dreams of so many with its patented plow technology and secretly contoured bottom. With its control tower where buttons blink and an operator trained in the fine arts of pleasure presses them to create waves out of nothing. Out of simple agricultural run-off.
It is a technological marvel and I oftentimes wonder what the locals, living nearby, think of it. Are they thrilled to possess land and double-wide trailer homes within spiting distance of the future of professional surfing or do they feel ignored? Locked out and confused by this behemoth that moved into town under the banner World Surf League?
Well BeachGrit, as you know, is a place for the people, all people, for locals and sports fans alike, and the Sydney bureau came up with a plan on how to reach everyone coming to Lemoore with our benevolent message.
I wasn’t there for the brainstorm between Derek Rielly and James Prier but can recall exactly what I was drinking when the text message came through.
“We are getting a billboard between the Tachi Palace and the Surf Ranch itself.”
And I poured myself another vodka coconut water as the sheer genius washed over me. Of course, a billboard, and in this future, in this day and age of technological marvels sometime the simplest tool is the most effective. A note handwritten. A record played on turntable.
But what would our billboard declare?
After some back and forth it was decided.
“You don’t have to be a surfer to love BeachGrit.”
Yes, you don’t have to be a surfer to love BeachGrit. You can be a cow farmer, a kid who lives with salt in her hair, Kelly Slater, a satanist or a progressive CMO trying new and wonderfully different methods.
We are a big, beautiful family stretching from sea to shining sea and the lands in between. All those driving from the Tachi Palace to the Surf Ranch itself will be warmed, I think, by this message of inclusivity.
By this great embrace.
Revealed: Why Bruce Irons Missed Maldives Invitational. “A story so outrageous I wouldn’t believe it if someone told me!”
I tell him I’m the now the biz partner of a best-selling author (buy Coke and Surf here, free worldwide delivery); Bruce says he’s had two months out of the water, all of June and July, after laser eye surgery. A pterygium made it feel like “someone had spit in my eye. Last winter, I’d drop in late, pull up and all of a sudden lose my balance. I looked like a fucking kook. I spent thirty years not realising it. It was like looking through a glass bottle. Towards the end it was really bad, like, does she have fuzzy skin? Do you have…scales?”
As for missing the Maldives, well, that’s a three-pronged story.
The last time Bruce was in the Maldives was with old pals Chris Ward and Shane Beschen.
“Chris tried to do a Muay Thai kick and he slipped over and split his head in front of me,” says Bruce. “I went to kick in his face and slipped and got a huge bump on my elbow. He got up in the morning and we got into it again because he thought I’d punched him. He broke my boards and my mini-DVD player, back when they were a thousand dollars out of Singapore. It was Beschen’s Bombay gin that started us.”
So what happened on this trip?
“It was a string of fucking…okay…it’s partially my fault. I was moving out of my place, I was hotel hopping, I had all my fucking stuff in storage, a car full of shit, and I got my boards sent to a friend’s place in Venice. As I was driving up there, I grabbed all my stuff. And I open it all up and I’ve only got a double board bag. It was, like, shit, crunch time. Plane to catch. I needed to open up the bag, go boom, boom, boom. Oh my fucking god. This is not going to work.”
(Flight to Dubai missed.)
“Next day, I get there three hours before the thing opens. I call this service on Yelp where they come and pick up all your luggage so I don’t have to sit there with all my stuff. (Later), I call the guy and I say, ‘Alright, boom, drop off my shit, I’m over here.’ The guy comes up and tells me he doesn’t take credit cards. Cash only. I have a credit card, that’s all I’ve got. I tell him, ‘Fuck, I’ve got stuff I can give you, what the fuck?’ He doesn’t budge. Me and this dude are going back and forth… for fifty dollars. Everyone was losing. I’m going to miss my flight, he’s going to lose his fucking job. I tell him I’ve got GoPros, sunglasses, shoes. He asks me if I have any perfume. Per…fucking…fume! I gave him a GoPro to get my stuff. And I missed my fucking flight. Now…you’re not going to believe this.
“The third thing.
“So I go back to the motel. Next day, I get a taxi to the airport, my luggage is in the back. The driver gets into me for going so short a distance. A twenty-buck fare. He’s mumbling shit. Want me to get out? Right before we get out he tells me he’s from Ethiopia da da da. Whatever, all good, he’s talking, talking as I get out and then he takes off with all my luggage. Are you fucking kidding me? So I Uber back to the taxi bull pen. Eight lines. Fifty cars. They’re all yelling at each other. And I tell ’em, one of your taxi guys has my shit, the Ethiopian dude. The guy there says there’s so many cars and so many different races and I’m standing there going fuck, fuck, fuck. Then, because my iPad was in one of the bags, I tracked it to Hollywood. I go to my car and I’m flying towards Hollywood where this fucker is and then he comes back to the bull pen, turns off my iPad, but I’m already back there. I’ve fucking got him. The motherfucker. I tell him, what’s up motherfucker! You turned off my iPad! He said he didn’t know whose it was.
“(The trip) just wasn’t meant to be. It sucked. Those stories seem outrageous don’t they? I wouldn’t believe it if someone told me. Really? Really? So I’m sitting there, baffled, the fight leaves at one in the morning, the cops are there, and I grab my shit and get to there (check-in) with fifty minutes to go. The chick doesn’t let me on. Then it’s two in the morning and it’s like the Twilight Zone. I gotta get back to my car with my board bag, the car is filled with shit, and on top of it, I’m looking for a hotel in fucking LA, and everywhere is booked out. I find this one place, drove up to it, and there’s a dude on the porch, this full trap house, holding a bottle of hard alcohol, full gangsta, and I just did a full u-turn.
“I blew it. There was a string of events but you know how it is. I’m justifying it to myself. If I had a chick, this probably wouldn’t have happened. They’re all organised. I’ve been running my own shit. At the end of the day it’s my own fucking fault. I spent a lot of money. The first fight they paid for. I spent probably spent six grand and didn’t fucking go anywhere.”
Champagne time: The surf industry apocalypse is over*!
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.
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.
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.
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.