"Seeing everyone drink it is kind of our dream come true!"
Someday I am going to write about something other than the World Surf League here. Not today. BeachGrit was a just birthed little thing when an unknown by the name of Paul Speaker led a group in purchasing the Association of Professional Surfers for free. I scratched my head then and again when the name was changed to World Surf League and again when he promised that billions of people would soon become wildly addicted to the spectacle and again and again and again and again and again every time he opened his broad mouth.
I wanted to meet with him so badly and begged any and everyone for an interview but, alas, was rebuffed at every turn. “Is he too busy?” I wondered. “Too… busy?”
Then Paul Speaker was fired. I breathed a sigh, initially of relief but then depression, thinking the absurdity of his reign would never be matched.
I won’t backward fin you with too many details. You’ve been along for the ride but each and every day presents a bounty that Herr Speaker should be envy.
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The Ultra Brewing Collective, WSL, and the Kelly Slater Wave Co set the stage for what’s next in beer and surfing while taking inspiration from what’s truly great in this world — nature and the human spirit.
Book extract: How a hard-charging son-of-a-bitch busted his neck on an Indo trip and wound up in a chair.
Australian surfer Darren Longbottom went to the Ments and all he got was a lousy wheelchair…
Ten years ago, the hard-charging big brother of shaper and pro Dylan Longbottom, flew to the Menatwais for a little r and r, hit his head on his board and wound up losing the spark that powered his four limbs.
It’s an ultimately uplifting story, I suppose, “survival against the odds” and so forth, but it sends shivers along my mercifully still functioning spinal cord.
The hurt. The despair. It’s a mighty slashing underscore.
As Dylan told The Sydney Morning Herald,
“He’s been through so much. His wife left him a year and a half after the accident. But still, I never saw him angry, even at the beginning, after the accident. I would have been angry, but he actually went the opposite way. He mellowed out. He became more accepting of people, less critical of them, more patient. I felt so sorry for him, seeing him in the chair. Then he’d say, “I surfed for 33 years, which is more than most people surf in their lifetime. I’ve had so many waves!” And he was content with that. That’s his strength, to be able to look at it that way.”
This extract is called Moment of Impact.
Blue water. Blue water and silence … And then, BOOM!
It was as if someone had turned on the television with the volume set at its highest level, a flood of visions from my life flickering by at lightning speed, stuffing thirty-five years into a few seconds. It is a heavy, heavy feeling. My wife, Aimee, and my daughter, Bowie … back further … our old house in Cronulla … Christmas at my grandparents’ riding skaties with Dylan and Danny … pulling stupid faces at every soccer team photo. And now, not alive, just drifting in a vacuum.
A huge surge of energy came without warning and hit me like an electric shock. I took my first breath after what felt like an eternity. I was awake and in water, bobbing like a cork. The shock was the burst of adrenaline, pulling me back from the edge of nothing. I struggled to work out what was happening, before I was back under water and sinking. Why was I sinking? Why couldn’t I get back to the surface? I was swimming, for God’s sake, and I’m a good swimmer, kicking as hard as I could, willing myself, telling myself to surface.
What’s happening? Swim, you idiot, get back to the surface.
My head finally broke through into the air, and I felt that enormous surge of energy again, another shock, as I took another breath.
My thoughts were still muddled, but this time I saw something in the corner of my vision. Grab it! Just grab it! I wedged the floating object under my armpit so that I wouldn’t go under again. Now I had time to try to gather my thoughts and analyse what was happening. I was in the clearest water imaginable, under a sky that almost blended into the blue of the ocean. I realised that what I had grabbed was my surfboard – or what was left of it – but I still couldn’t piece together what was happening. Even with the adrenaline running through my system I was beginning to feel completely exhausted, almost empty. What I did know was that I was in a load of trouble, and I let out a cry, ‘HELP ME, HELP ME!’
Stew pulled up on the jet-ski, and pieces of my memory started to come back together. We had been doing tow-ins, using a jet-ski to whip us into waves earlier and faster. There were a bunch of us taking turns. Stew was shooting out the back of the waves on the jet-ski when he saw my broken board in the water and thought he’d check to see if I was okay.
As he pulled up, he looked puzzled. He didn’t know if this was a joke, given my reputation as a joker. Any of my closest friends would have just laughed at the sight – me hanging onto half a board, hardly moving, as if mortally wounded. Luckily Stew realised the enormity of the situation and jumped off the ski into the water to help me. I was still shouting, ‘Help me!’
But Stew couldn’t hear me – no-one could. I was beginning to drift away again, everything so vivid one moment … then nothing.
Stew yelled out to the others – Prezzo, Greenie, Big Nathe and Crusty – who raced in to help. Greenie was the first to arrive; he’d seen Stew jump off the ski and was already paddling hard, thinking something was wrong with the ski, only to find I was all messed up.
We’d been surfing some random ‘bombie’ waves outside of a break called Thunders, a remote location in the Mentawais, fourteen hours by boat from Sumatra in Indonesia. The conditions were perfect: sunny, not a breath of wind, consistent swell with waves three to six feet high, palm trees in the distance. We were close to the reef, a mixture of volcanic rock and coral, so it’s all razor sharp, and the water was only six feet deep.
The last thing I remember was pulling off the wave and flying through the air …
Now we were in the impact zone with the dry reef ten metres behind us. Unbelievably, the water had gone dead flat. Another wave would have rolled us all and pushed us, along with the jet-ski, onto the reef with no escape, but the surface of the ocean was like a lake. It was eerie.
Whether I passed out through exhaustion or fainted, I couldn’t tell. Maybe knowing someone was there caused the adrenaline to dissipate. I drifted into a dreamlike state; I could hear but I couldn’t see. I thought I was talking, but I had no idea what I was saying.
The jet-ski had a rescue sled on the back – a foam platform, like a massive bodyboard. The boys were struggling to get me onto the sled; I was like a dead weight. I heard someone say, ‘We’ve got to get out of here before a wave comes!’ Greenie got me in a bear hug – I still don’t know how he did it because I’m twice his size – and he threw me on my back onto the sled.
But, still, the ocean was flat.
Greenie then jumped on top to secure me and yelled, ‘Let’s, go. GO!’
We set off for the boat, but we had all been surfing and both Greenie and I still had leg-ropes attached to our boards. Given the urgency, we had forgotten about them, but with the first thrust of the jet-ski the boards acted like an anchor and pulled us both off the back.
Big Nathe was still in the water, and Greenie yelled out for him to throw me back onto the sled while he took our leggies off and stayed with our boards. Nathe got me on in one heave and jumped on top of me as Greenie had.
Stew sped away again and backed off just as quickly once we got out of the impact zone.
As the ski jolted to a halt, I made a shocking discovery. In the ten minutes that had passed, adrenaline running through my body, visions flashing before my eyes and my brain trying to gather my thoughts, I still hadn’t grasped the severity of what had happened.
I was on my back, Nathe still on top, stabilising me, when we abruptly came to a halt and I saw my left leg fly, with momentum, up past my eyes, almost reaching my shoulder. In that split second my focus narrowed in on that vision and I snapped back to reality, realising what I had just seen. I shouted, ‘I can’t feel my leg … I can’t feel anything!’
Big Nathe repeated my words to the rest of the boys.
Whether it was the rush of finally putting together what was happening or my brain going into recovery mode, I fell silent as we raced towards the boat.
I had just experienced an enormous moment in my life. It was Saturday, 20 May 2008, and we were in one of the most remote parts of Indonesia, and breaking my neck was just the start of an incredible journey, a journey where whatever could go wrong, did go wrong …
Comes in mid-heat and blows kisses to adoring followers or shit-talking haters…
Another day, another dollar, another chance to huck away a workday with the side screen open. The U.S. Open marched onward on my desk in real time on Tuesday, providing exactly four hours of Round Two heats in the same dismal surf that every other West Coast denizen found at their doorstep.
But if opening day at HB is always an existential crisis of sorts, day two embraced the dueling Kierkegaardian concepts of the absurd and authenticity (nevermind Chas’s present traipsing about with the Danes) to put on the best parking lot Formula One derby in surf (great visual, @Walter Pepekay)
No leash, no problem. The Brazzas were all about riding dirty on Tuesday, led by the likes of Italo, Jadson and an on-fire Peterson Crisanto, each of whom advanced with ease (more on them shortly). The timeless adage goes that surfing without a leash is like sex without a condom. Ya hear it from celibate old misanthropes, ya hear it from horny groms who haven’t ever verifiably laid pipe, and ya absolutely never hear it from female surfers. But the old proverb means one thing: it feels good to eliminate drag but there’s the risk of letting your rocket ship freefall into the danger zone. Of the guys competing sans leash, most of ‘em lost their boards at some point and had to chase them down, just like us commoners. In one instance, this showed the whole wide world that…
Italo is the most and best Anti-Depressive. Dude rocked a Neymaresque bleach-blonde look and manicured his facial hair into a throwback pattern rife with ‘80s cocaine flair. After taking a commanding lead, he lost his board into the shorebreak, only to sprint after it and spend the next two minutes blowing kisses to adoring followers or shit-talking haters — it wasn’t clear which —up on the pier. He was in typical Italian Ferrari form, catching fifteen waves and dominating a heat whose final tallies made it look closer than it was. The ensuing post-heat interview found the commentators waxing nostalgic and philosophical when…
Peter Mel repeatedly referenced Italo’s locks as “frosted tips” and then tsk-tsked the poor guy for not knowing what “frosted tips” are. Now, since 1993 skate fashion is long gone, I’m pretty sure that frosted tips imply using your ding-a-ling to do something dirty with ice cream or a birthday cake, not what you term a $500 haircut inspired by La Liga’s top South American talent. Mel’s likely correct assumption that Italo didn’t understand the reference to his bleached locks sent old Petey down a rabbit hole, lamenting his monolingualism and confessing that he never tried to learn another language during his career. Honeysuckle Turpel placated ol’ Pete by telling him it’s never too late to start learning as the awkward exchange dragged on and on without a wave in sight.
Of Mice and Men. HB is typical midget madness. Hiroto Ohara. Keanu Asing. Kei Kobayashi. Adriano de Souza. Little dudes don’t bat an eyelash at little waves and you just expect ‘em to keep the crazy legs going with ease. That’s why it was refreshing to see Zeke Lau — the only current AFL or NFL prospect in pro surf — hammer a 7-something for a left-then-right that was apparently scored on the 1989 Hang Loose pro criteria for distance traveled. Fellow big boys Joan Duru and Mihimana Braye handily advanced in their heats, Duru hitting the high mark for the day with a 15.83. And while I’m all about the fellow tall-guy steez and struggle, Lau’s 7.33 for four safe turns and Duru’s 8.00 for two mortal backside reos were solidly overcooked. Both guys won and won big, but dem wasn’t the scores.
Speaking of scores, in his heat with Lau, Noe Mar McGonagle did the unthinkable and logged a perfect score. A zero. Yup. 0.00. Not a tenth of a point. Didn’t take off on a wave. Let’s get Warshaw in here to enlighten us, but methinks this is both uncommon and also pretty fuckin’ hard to do, unless you’re imitating 2015 Filipe in Polynesia.
Speaking of Filipe… Everybody was on about how Filipe’s not here and how’s gifting 10000 QS points to the competition like a generous overlord showering grain on the peasants. While overstated, it was reminiscent of the way people talked about Kelly for missing a comp or skipping a heat a decade or two back. Filipe’s certainly an otherworldy talent in the small stuff and this line of commentary shows that 1. Toledo’s progressive routine is so sharp that he’s worthy of getting big gun hype like the all-time greats and 2. Even the people employed to speak publicly by the WSL aren’t using the world title as the measuring stick for raw shit-hot ability and entertainment value. Wildcard implication is that shit is rigged and Filipe’s already been assured the trophy at year’s end. I kinda hope so if he games up in Tahiti.
Oh what a sticky wicket the World Surf League found itself in just a month ago. Do you recall? When the male winner of a South African professional surfing contest earned exactly twice as much as his female counterpart and for the same work? It was an innocent mistake, like they always are (very complicated math equations to blame), but thrust the WSL into the gender equality spotlight.
Some brave souls were quick to reach for the pitchfork and attempt to organize a march on the WSL’s Santa Monica office in order to rectify. Though this never happened it does seem that the the powers that be understood that some change needed to be made. That it is rarely a fine look to trot out men holding large checks and large numbers next to women holding large checks and small numbers. But what?
Well, it appears that a decision has been reached. A very fine BeachGrit reader noticed at the just wrapped Paul Mitchell Pro in Oceanside, California (billed as the largest female surf event in the world) that the women were simply called men.
It is a very progressive solution, one that I think might be replicated across all sport and maybe, if we are lucky, across all society.
Everyone is now a man!
No more pesky large check problems. No more problems of any kind and if all goes to plan the World Surf League’s contributions to women’s rights will be celebrated in museums around the genderless world.
Last year, the World Surf League’s newly appointed CEO Sophie Goldschmidt flew to Honolulu at the last minute in order to petition the city government. The grand hope was a shifted Championship Tour season which would begin at the iconic Pipeline instead of ending at the iconic Pipeline. The reason? Officially to launch with much excitement but really, maybe, to de-emphasize Pipeline’s importance and pave the way for an eventual Surf Ranch finale.
Anyhow, I would imagine Sophie sitting there in her business class Hawaiian Airlines seat, sipping a green tea with mint, thinking to herself, “What a grand adventure I’m on.”
Then she landed and things went to hell. The city government rejected the WSL’s proposal and fighting and crying and much posturing combined with gnashing of teeth.
Well, things are still moving and yesterday a new plan was announced. Was everyone very happy? Let’s see!
A revamped North Shore surf calendar that now runs on a three-year cycle rather than a one-year cycle has been decried by some North Shore surf meet organizers. Some North Shore surf meet organizers and supporters are unhappy with new rules that went into effect Monday for the granting of permits for North Shore events. Key to the new rules is a revamped North Shore surf calendar that now runs on a three-year cycle rather than the old one-year cycle.
The current calendar schedule has been slotted through Aug. 31, 2019, and those who want to hold surf meets between Sept. 1, 2019, and Dec. 31, 2021, will need to submit applications by Sept. 28 this year. Another major change is that applicants for permits will no longer have an appeal process. Mahina Chillingworth, who organizes Da Hui Backdoor Shootout for Hui o He‘e Nalu, said both the new three-year cycle and elimination of an appeal process aren’t good for her event or others in the community. “It doesn’t give an applicant who was denied a permit due process to question and go through an appeal process to fight for their permit and to prove the city wrong,” Chillingworth said.
The three year cycle and zero appeal does seem custom made for the very strong (read fascist) arm of the World Surf League.
And do you think Ms. Goldschmidt is very pleased? Do you think she’s sipping an English breakfast with milk nodding subtly?