Murderous in Fiji! | Photo: WSL

Long read: The surprising secrets Inside Gabriel Medina’s Surfboards!

The surfboard as boat!

Here’s something you don’t know. Gabriel Medina, the 2013 world champion with the slicked-back oiled hair and the eyes so dark they look like they’ve been stolen off a gingerbread man’s face, has been riding the same surfboard models since 20o9.

Yeah, a few tweaks here and there to allow for fluctuations in weight and height but, for almost a decade, Gabriel, who is twenty four, has been riding two surfboard models shaped by the Brazilian-born, Spain-based shaper Johnny Cabianca.

For years I’ve heard about how wide, how thick, how straight these boards are. Designs unlike anything ridden by other WCT surfers.

I try not to fall for bullshit spells, but this hooked me.

On a recent hot summer’s night in Zarautz, a gracious little beach town in the Basque country near the French border, I called Johnny, who is fifty four, to talk shaping and the secrets inside Gabriel’s boards.

First thing.

Johnny has known Gabriel since he was born. He grew up in Maresias beach, north of Sao Paulo, a pal of Gabi’s stepdad Charlie who owned the local surf store. And when Gabriel was born, he’d carry him around, make faces at the cute baby.

Gabriel started to surf when he was nine and a couple of years later, Gabriel’s mother asked Johnny to make the kid his first custom. Johnny doesn’t remember it so well, but it was probably a five-one and he made it after stripping all the glass off a bigger, older board.

“That was normal at the time,” says Johnny.

These days, Charlie’s old surf store is Gabriel Medina Rip Curl and on the other corner is the Gabriel Medina Institute of Surf, a joint where talented kids, aged ten to sixteen, can train as well as get medical care, dentistry and language instruction.

Gabriel hasn’t always invested his money well, he’s helped a pal out with a gas station that didn’t work out, with a restaurant that ended up face-down in the ditch. But the Institute and the surf shop, says Johnny, are “very strong. The media is talking very well about it.”

When Johnny left Brazil to live in Europe in 2000, he only saw the Medinas at Christmas. Made him that first board etc although it was another shaper from Rio who built Gabriel’s boards as a junior. Problem was, says Johnny, he didn’t have enough time and money to meet the kids’ needs.

“Gabriel was always without boards for contests and he and Charlie were always travelling without any money, ” he says.

Then in 2009, Gabriel won a six-star in Brazil and Charlie called his old pal to make boards for the European leg of the WQS tour.

“Then he did that famous King of the Grommets contest in Hossegor. Five tens and two in the final. It was a beautiful contest and it was my start with him,” says Johnny. “Since then we’ve only had good results with him. The year after he was the world junior champ, he qualified when he was sixteen and after that, at seventeen, he won two contests in the WCT. The rest of the history, the world title, everybody knows. We’ve had many ten points.”

And the boards?

Yeah, they haven’t changed since 2009. Johnny threw three rockers at Gabriel and they settled on an average rockered board, although with a surprising volume, that he debuted at the King of the Grommets. The commentator Martin Potter kept referencing Gabriel as The Freak Kid on the webcast. So they named it The Freak Kid although this later morphed into DFK (Da Freak Kid).

The board that’ll surprise the hell out of you if you ever pick it up is The Medina (it used to be called The Game, as in Gabriel-Medina): a wide-nosed, wide-tail, low-rockered, full-railed, concave-to-vee-bottomed, well, let’s call it as it is, a boat. The Medina Gabriel will ride at Surf Ranch will be a five-ten by 19 3/8 by 2 3/8 inches. Twenty-nine litres.

Gabriel rides either The Medina or the DFK depending on the heat. If it’s against Filipe or Italo and he’s gonna fly he’ll use The Medina. If it’s about rail turns, against Adriano for instance, he’ll use the DFK.

At Teahupoo, like now, all he has are DFK‘s.

Johnny and Gabi.

Since 2009, the elements of his boards have started the same, the dimensions changing slightly as he’s grown from a boy to a man, and as his weight changes. Their volume from 28.5  to 29 litres.

“Gabriel today is 182cm and 82 kilos,” says Johnny. “He’s always changing, from 78 to 82 kilos. In Europe he’s a little bit fat, I saw some pictures from Tahiti and he’s a little bit heavy, a little bit belly, but when he’s partying in Brazil he’s more skinny.”

Johnny with Gabi’s world title trophy.

So you want a Medina, right? I do. Stable. Fast.

But good luck trying to get one. Johnny married late and so he’s got a baby and an infant and slipping off to the US or Australia to shape boards ain’t real easy. Ordering a Cabianca online is…possible… but the shipping is gonna kill you.

So here’s what you gotta do.

Get to Europe, drive down to Zarautz, which is just west of San Sebastian, and give Johnny a call. He says he’d be thrilled to service a good reader of BeachGrit and he’ll have your shape ready to glass in a  day or two.

“If you need super urgent, no problem,” says Johnny.

Contact here! 

Discover: What the fashion world thinks about Surf Ranch!

A shocking surprise!

One thing that I enjoy very much is sharing real truths about surfing with the non-surfing world. The WSL, in its mission to expand expand expand expand, spends much of its time spreading misinformation about the number of surfers, the potential reach of surfing, what surfers actually crave besides Michelob Ultra Gold brewed with Organic Grains etc. I am only but one small voice but want everyone to smell the cowshit of our future and especially the beautiful fashion world.

In the most recent Flaunt (the world’s current greatest fashion magazine) I was asked to write about “The Next Wave.”

So I did.

The next wave smells like horseshit and cowshit and Immigration and Customs Enforcement two day old Old Spice rotting underneath unnecessary bullet proof vests. Did you know that? Like Diesel Ford F-350 exhaust and also unwanted steak cut fries with the slightest touch of Indian casino cut-rate air filtration. It’s true.

Did you also know that the wave you grew up either surfing or watching, the one that smells like salt and baked sand and coconut suntan oil and cigarette smoke has been made redundant? That the ocean is no longer meaningful? That the dysphoria is here? I mean dystopia, of course, but really it’s all the same damned thing because, like sex/gender categories, the ocean is no longer meaningful and all thanks to the greatest surfer to ever live.

The Syrian named Robert Kelly Slater.

His creation is called Surf Ranch and it thrust itself onto the world consciousness not yet two years ago via Instagram. A year and a half ago, I suppose, in December when civilians are thinking about Christmas and Chanukah and (the atheists) New Year’s Day and Instagram is filled with “Happy Holidays” messages but surfers are thinking about professional surfing and the always scintillating end to professional surfing’s calendar on Oahu’s North Shore.

A wonderful work-a-day Brazilian plumber had just been crowned Surf Champion of the World after winning the World Surf League’s final stop at Da Banzai Pipeline, you see, and Da Banzai Pipeline is the most iconic wave in the entire world, smelling of frangipani and Heineken and cocaine.

Pipe, what locals and hangers-on call it, breaks there in Hawaii with its iconic “beach vibes” and “aloha spirit” etc. in the ocean and the Li’l Plumber was thrilled, beyond thrilled, as was his right. He had conquered the seven seas. He had smashed other professional surfers in Australia and Europe and Africa and America and Oceana and was now he was in Hawaii, the birthplace of surfing, hoisting a Koa wood trophy above his head on those perfect Hawaiian sands but R. Kelly Slater thought otherwise. He thought, “This is the moment for the dysphoria to take its hold.” And so he posted a video of the wave he had been working on in a repurposed waterski lake in Lemoore, California some 100 + miles away from the Pacific to his 1.3 million follower strong Instagram.

All of those 1.3 million followers stopped dead in their tracks. The entire world for that matter, stopped wishing each other happy holidays and stared. They stopped and stared at this… this… this perfect wave peeling for hundreds of yards and barreling as it sped down the line. Gurgled off of a giant plow in a repurposed waterski lake some 100+ miles from the nearest ocean.


Do you even know how… how… unreal that is? Every single other attempted manmade wave had been an abortion. A mockery of man’s ability to replicate what God does so effortlessly. They looked like waves, if the looker was high on drugs, but didn’t act like waves. They were gutless and feckless and downright silly.

But Kelly’s wave, his Surf Ranch, barreled and that first Instagram clip was passed from surfer to surfer to surfer with a breathlessness not seen since… well, not seen since ever.

It did not seem to matter, at the time, that Pipe with its palms and coral heads and salty blue water that is always the perfect temperature had just put on a show. It did not seem to matter, at the time, that Surf Ranch was shrouded in industrial farm mist and its water was the same shade of brown as horseshit and cowshit.

Surf Ranch seemed perfect. And Kelly Slater kept his foot on God’s throat releasing clip after clip after clip of himself crouched in minute long barrels, of his friends crouched in minute long barrels, of a few of his famous movie star friends trying to crouch in minute long barrels but getting lipped in the head instead, of his Surf Ranch and the future of surfing. Waves that can be conjured on demand. Waves that do the best thing on demand.

I stared like all surfers, like you, but felt a sickness in my heart. The dysphoria. And wondered if the future of surfing would be ugly, for lack of a better word. Tacky.

And then I got to go. An invite to Surf Ranch before many of Kelly’s other famous movie stars even received their invite. It was a gift to the fifteen very top surf journalists in the game and I wanted to be proven wrong and have the feeling of sickness in my heart washed away by perfect barreling waves on demand. I wanted to join the howler monkeys in their songs of praise for the death of God.

So I drove north and east, away from the ocean, with my best Australian pal who is also a very top surf journalist and we stayed the night in the nearby Indian casino sucking down the cut-rate air filtration and bourbon sodas in unfortunate small plastic cups and the next morning we woke early and drove the 1.3 miles to Surf Ranch.

It had been themed to look like a real ranch with natural wood finishings, branded logos, bad coffee and the smell of artichokes or some green vegetable rotting because the immigrants were too busy searching for their incarcerated babies to work the neighboring fields.

The very top surf journalists were all excited as was the staff and after a small breakfast the button was pressed and the wave, the perfect wave bubbled to life.

Wow. Wow wow wow wow wow and we all hung on the hewn wood railings and watched like dudes at a dude ranch except we were dudes at the Surf Ranch and going surfing. Four surf journalists stripped down, climbed into wetsuits then went and sat nervously along the chainlink fence that runs down the center of the lake, the entire two football field length.

That is where we were supposed to sit, we were all informed by the kind staff, along a chainlink fence in the middle of a repurposed waterski lake staggered all the way down like detention kids lining up for lunch. And then came the wave. The magnificent barreling wave and that first group of surf journalists surfed while the rest of us surf journalists ran up and down trying to figure out the best place to sit, the best place to tuck, the best place to get barreled, the worst place to fail in front of everyone on this perfect wave.

I was in the second group and was the second detention kid lined up for lunch. The water wasn’t too cold and the lack of salt didn’t seem to matter too much. The sky was grey and there were no palm trees and it smelled like John Deere but I was so nervous about failing in front of everyone that I didn’t seem to care.

And then it was my turn. My first wave, a right, was fine enough but I safety surfed, not wanting to make a wrong move and so looked as dumb as I felt. My second wave, a left, felt boring so I kicked out midway and a kind water safety man riding a jetski told me I was the first person to kick out midway on purpose. My third wave murmured toward me and I caught it and tucked for the barrel and crouched for two full seconds until the wave, the perfect wave, lipped me in the head, smashed me off the vinyl bottom and dislocated my shoulder.

I popped up knowing my experience was my bad attitude’s fault but also hating the future. Getting hurt in nature feels manly. Getting hurt in a repurposed waterski lake feels goofy.

Fuck the next wave.

Meet: A woman who builds healthier surfboards!

Healthier for our planet! Healthier for your fun!

Ashley Lloyd Thompson wants to make surfboard building more sustainable. She builds the majority of her boards from recycled EPS foam blanks and glasses them with a plant-based resin. Her original love is longboards, but she lives to build and ride just about anything.

Women shapers remain a rare breed. Thompson got interested in building boards while surfing Malibu as a teenager. After her board hit the point’s rock bottom a few too many times, she learned ding repair, which in turn, inspired her to learn how to make a board of her own. Along the way, she also competed in longboard events — and most recently, was one of the women invited to last week’s Vans Duct Tape Invitational.

After a stop in Santa Barbara, Thompson moved north to Santa Cruz, where she’s been making boards for the past 15 years. Built out by her husband, her workshop is on the second floor of an industrial building hard by the freeway. The loftlike space houses a shaping room, glassing area, and serves as a practice space The Shapes, Thompson’s band.

A few months ago, I caught up with her to talk surfboards. Here’s an excerpt.

“My friend Danny Tarampi from Malibu taught me how to shape. And then I was friends with these guys that lived at The Wilderness [in Santa Barbara], which now has the 101 freeway over it. That’s where I shaped my first board. They taught me a lot about surfboard shaping in between rounds of skating in their backyard pool. It was a really great introduction.

All the guys that lived at the Wilderness or came through there — they all had huge influences for me. Some of them worked for Haakenson’s glass shop who was doing the large majority of Channel Islands boards at the time. They were working for the biggest in the business, but no one had necessarily had heard of their names. I got a lot of knowledge from them that I will forever cherish, just in their after hours.

My first board was the Blue Otter Pop. It is a 9’7” and double-stringer. I always loved longboarding. I didn’t really know what I was doing beyond just sculpting at that point in time. And trying to make something that I thought that looked cool.

Now I have a much better understanding of numbers and function and dimensions and you know, different engineering properties — in terms of what it is to be good hydrodynamics. My first several boards, I still had a lot to learn.

Sometimes people ask me how many women shapers there are. Like it’s a really changing number right now. Everyone used to tell me that I was the only one — but I don’t think I was ever the only one.

Making surfboards is super toxic! And it’s super toxic to the makers, especially the glassing. All of our boards are glassed with a plant-based resin. And a majority of our boards are made with recycled EPS foam. Just as far as our practices and self-awareness and sustainability factor, we try to be on that side of things. I still feel like we have a long way to go with all of that.

When I first heard of it, six or seven years ago, they called it Super Sap. But it was this really amber-colored resin that definitely seemed like it was made from plants. And now it’s just as comparable with other epoxy resin. It is considered an epoxy resin which means it’s a two-to-one ratio. From the manufacturing standpoint, it’s a lot more challenging and time-consuming than polyester and polystyrene and all that.

I started to get some glassers to glass with it, but it was like pulling teeth to get them to do it with my aesthetic or in a timely manner. It was always like, it just wasn’t production level that I wanted. But we wanted to do our boards more sustainably.

So my husband took the bull by the horns and built me this factory, which was amazing and started glassing our boards. In retrospect, I can’t believe we did this. It was challenging, especially the first year. It was pretty much like starting a new business. It’s been two years now.

I feel like, as consumers, a lot of time, people don’t think about the process it takes. They want something that looks cool, that’s trendy and beautiful, and that doesn’t cost any money. There’s nothing good about that for the environment. The only thing that’s good about that is if someone catches a wave and it stokes them out.

I’d like to go a bit further. I care about the people who are making my boards and I care about the environment. So that’s where we’re at. That’s what I’m really passionate about. People have been really stoked on their boards. They’re strong, they’re more sustainable, they’re beautiful. There’s good vibes forming all around them.

And we’re working with flax cloth. That’s one thing, for people who want a classic-feeling log. The flax adds not only another bio-component on your board, but it also helps with the dampening issues. So it’ll feel more like traditional PU foam versus the EPS.

Our resin is considered an epoxy and people immediately associate it with EPS foam — and not everyone likes the feeling of EPS. So we are still boards that are PU foam, but I want to switch over to doing more and more, if not all of my boards, with EPS, because you can get it recycled. But we have to figure out how to get it to feel like the classic boards. So that’s my project right now is to weight it with the flax.

For my personal quiver, right now, I’m building an EPS recycled foam noserider. I’m going to weight really heavy with my flax cloth. That’s probably what I’m most excited about for myself right now.

I like to ride different equipment, to inspire me to not be doing the same thing that I’ve always done. It’s just a matter of finding different lines for the equipment you have. For me, that’s the most intriguing part about it.

I have a shortboard that’s almost like a conventional shortboard, but it’s a 2+1 fin setup. A little bit softer on the nose, so it’s like my version of a standard shortboard. It’s a single to double concave with a kind of tunnel v. It’s really smooth. And it just feels a little more single-finny glide. I call it the Dreamweaver. I really like that board.

I put a lot of love and energy into every board I make, even before I put my hands on the foam. Thinking about the person and what’ll work best for them and my intentions and how it’ll be a really good union — from the designing point to handing over to them. That’s why I write made with love on the stringer. I just started doing it and it felt right.

It’s all in what your trip is, and what path you want to take. We are what we want to be.

Photo by Steve Sherman/@tsherms/WSL | Photo: Steve Sherman @tsherms

Listen: “Some people can dance! Some people can’t!”

"I felt like something took over my body at the end there..."

I thoroughly enjoyed Kanoa Igarashi’s post-US Open of Surfing victory celebration. It was filled with… passion and… passion. So much so, in fact, that the young Huntington Beach local claimed to have blacked out during but don’t take my word for it. Let us turn to his Instagram for various truths and insights.

Still digesting what happened on the weekend. So many different emotions and I truly felt like I wasn’t all there competing that day emotionally. The beach where it all started for me, with the friends and family that have been with me since day one and the crowd that got me hyped up to the max… I felt like something took over my body at the end there and I even blacked out on the beach!

And how are you at dancing? Do you consider yourself a good dancer or a less than good dancer? When the music starts up do you run to the center of the floor or shrink into a corner? I am not a good dancer and dance with much self-awareness when forced. Likely even biting lower lip and snapping fingers.


David Lee Scales and I discussed Kanoa Igarashi’s post-US Open of Surfing victory celebration, anyhow, on a brand new podcast. We also discuss Dirk Ziff and ghosts and surfers who wear gold chains. I’m certainly biased but think it is our best episode yet.

I’m also super sick and not thinking straight.

Battle Royale: Surf Ranch vs. the NFL!

Sept. 06 - 09 will be the monster weekend of your young life!

And so yesterday I was texting with a very wonderful surf photographer friend about surf news and surf gossip and surf jokes and, of course, our conversation bent toward Surf Ranch and the upcoming Surf Ranch Pro in Lemoore, California. Apparently ticket sales are not as… robust as expected. Quite shocking considering a one-day, non-VIP ticket is the most expensive entertainment from Disneyland’s gate all the way up Vancouver B.C.’s famed Opera, Caviar and Cristal nights. Equally shocking considering that Surf Ranch is in Lemoore, California where the only thing exceeding the ticket price will be the temperature.

The very wonderful surf photographer, anyhow, texted “Even Paul Speaker would know that you don’t fuck with NFL Opening Weekend.”

At first I didn’t understand. There is no way the Surf Ranch Pro scheduled itself during the National Football League’s opening weekend. Absolutely no way.

I tossed and turned all night, having the strangest dreams of NFL quarterback Drew Brees messing about in the Surf Ranch, throwing Kelly Slater passes and things before waking in a fevered sweat.

Absolutely no way.

First, I clicked on to my still operational WSL app, made my way to men’s events and saw Sept. 06 – 09. Next, I Googled “NFL Opening day weekend ’18 – ’19 and saw Sept. 06 (Falcons at Eagles) – Sept. 09 (every other game).


And which fantastic sporting weekend are you more looking forward to? Which will get higher numbers? Most importantly, will any professional surfers take a knee during the playing of the national anthem at Surf Ranch?

So weird how they both fall on the exact same dates but, I suppose, you can’t corral nature.