It’s a hoary old line: find something you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.
Easier said than done, as we all know. I love cupping the pendulous bosoms of middle-aged Jewesses and eating hot bread rolls that have been buttered with a particular Scandinavian butter but I’m yet to make a dollar out of it.
One lifelong surfer, and snowboarder, who has cut himself a piece of the lifestyle pie is the Australian Dan Solo. This is a man who wanted to be the master of his own ship but, like most of us, got caught in the gotta-make-cash wheel. He had a pregnant girl and was trying to live and survive in one of the most expensive cities in the world, Sydney as if you had to ask.
Dan earned his bread as a web developer but says that every day, as he rode the ferry to work, “I felt sad. All these grey men in their grey suits with their grey frowns. My mantra is, you get one crack at life, so you better make it a bloody good one. And I wasn’t making my life a good one.”
For twenty years, Dan and his girl, Andy, worked hard and didn’t save a cent.
Dan and Andy had a talk.
“We can’t do this for the next twenty years. We’re miserable.”
When he’s not surfing around Sydney, Dan and Andy like to take off for Japan. Buckets of powder. Real nice people. Good electronics. Warm Saki.
Dan had always loved the Japanese vibe. When he was thirteen he told his best pal that when he had a kid he was going to call him after the protagonist in the Japanese post-apocalytic animated film Akira.
By the time they’d hit their thirties, Dan and Andy had ridden all over Japan. And so they figured, why don’t we open a little boutique chalet in the mountains? The pair had been pouring their lives into their Bondi apartment (Sydney is the second-most heated property market after Hong Kong), a place where a crummy two-bedder a click from the beach starts at a million bucks, and had enough equity to peel off a slice and invest in their dream.
(Their kid Akira wasn’t so little anymore either. He was sixteen, fluent in Japanese after a life in the International School system and loved to ride Japan’s powder.)
And the thing about Japan is, because of the big ski resort bust in the late-nineties and the subsequent reticence of banks to lend money to anyone buying property in the snow, it’s cheap, at least relative to Australia.
So, three years ago, they bought a dreamy nine-room chalet for a couple hundred thousand Australian at Madarao Mountain, two hours by bullet from Tokyo. They’d driven past it and, on a whim, had stopped and asked the seventy-two-year-old owner if she’d sell. Her eyes lit up. Property is hard to shift in these parts. When they went to sign the deal, it turned out they’d bought two blocks of land.
Dan and Andy renovated the existing chalet, turning a trad pension into a hip, but luxe, ski chalet. They stuck a yurt on the other and turned into a buzzy little bar called the Shaggy Yak. They’d banked on a twenty-five percent occupancy rate, something they thought might be a little bullish, but it wound up at fifty-five in that first year.
This year it’s shaping up to be over eighty percent.
The success of Snowball Chaletmeans Dan gets to split his time between snowboarding the northern hemisphere winter in Japan and surfing the rest of the year in Australia.
Sure he’s got a little work to do in the off season, dealing with the website, online bookings, improvements on the joint, and when he’s on the mountain his role is to host guests, riding with ’em on mountain, showing off the hot pools and snow monkeys that live nearby, dinners etc.
It sure ain’t digging ditches.
It’s a story, a lesson, I think, in learning think in a way that examines, first, what you love, how you gonna earn your bread and in what manner you plan on spending your pitifully short time here on earth.
I see Dan in the surf, around the beach and it’s like he’s seen, I dunno, the truth, I suppose. That killing yourself at work so you might retire with a little cash at seventy ain’t the only way to cut the pie.
More than that: you don’t need to be rich to live a rich life.
The day has finally arrived. Surf is officially too absurd to make fun of. Too off the rails weird where even The Onion, the pinnacle of American satirical expression, could not make surf satirical or absurd.
As you know, I consume surf news like no one earth. And by “consume” I mean that I Google “surf” first thing in the morning and then click “news” then Google “surfing” and then click “news.”
This morning I did that and read this story.
Standing firm in his commitment to the historic property amid mounting apprehension over the approach of Category 4 Hurricane Florence, Myrtle Beach resident Dennis Brock told reporters Monday he refused to evacuate from his family’s ancestral Ron Jon Surf Shop. “I don’t care what the government tries to tell me. This place is in my blood, and I’m not leaving no matter what,” said Brock of the beach apparel and souvenir shop where he and two of his cousins are currently employed as cashiers, where his uncle once worked as an assistant manager, and where his father once helped vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro pick out a pair of sunglasses. “I’m not some coward who’s just going to flee and abandon everything my family has worked so hard for. These flip-flop bottle opener keychains, these waterproof wallets, these boogie boards—they’re a part of who I am, and I’ll never abandon them. If I have to die, let me die in the place that I love, surrounded by collectable shot glasses and fridge magnets, wearing the Bob Marley T-shirt and board shorts of my people.” Brock reportedly prepared for the storm by stuffing several foam beer koozies and tie-dyed beach towels in the cracks beneath the store’s front doorway.
I thought, “What a legend. I’m doing a story.”
Then went on to try to find where this legend lived and realized he was a satirical The Onion creation.
And then I stepped away from my computer and danced to Abba because we’ve arrived. We’ve all officially arrived. So satirical that it can no longer be satirized.
God bless surfing. God bless it each and every day.
Joel Tudor, the "grumpy local" hero that surfing needs, weighs in on high-performance longboarding!
I called Joel Tudor today and he laughed when he answered the phone. Laughed a genuine laugh that increasingly rare in these horribly fractured times. Laughed when I said, “This is Chas Smith from BeachGrit.” Laughed when I repeated it because my connection was bad.
It made me so happy. So marvelously, wonderfully happy that he appears to practice what he preaches. Slinging outrageous barbs but them accepting them in equal measure because it’s all a funky dance, right? No one can ever take this surfing ultimately serious, right? We’re all walking disasters, right?
Or to quote Joel Tudor himself, “I make fun of shit ‘cuz I can.’
Amen Brother Joel.
Today I called him because high-performance longboarding is happening at Lowers. High-performance longboarding at Lowers as part of the Relik Longboarding Tour and I was already curious as to his take even before he posted the above photo to his Instagram account.
After he finished laughing I asked, “Is there a future in high-performance longboarding or is on the verge of going away forever?”
He responded, “Well, it’s geared to the region and there is one place in the world it works. Hawaii. It works in Hawaii because the waves are so fast so it becomes functional. The kids in Hawaii…. the kids in Hawaii are radical and they’re caught up in it but it doesn’t work or look good anywhere else.”
It made much sense, the “ride the appropriate board for the conditions” mantra and Joel continued to riff on the value of modern logging without training wheels (I was unsure if “training wheels” refers to side fins or a leash though assumed the former), how it’s not some leftover relic, as it were, but a living breathing expression that today’s youth are stretching, molding, changing. How much fun it is etc.
But back to high-performance longboarding, I suppose I’m happy that it can stick around in Hawaii and also happy that it doesn’t belong anywhere else.
We are doing the Lord’s work here and you are too. It’s our shared burden, our sacred duty, to examine every last angle on the Surf Ranch and eponymous Surf Ranch Pro before we move on. Oh it would have been easy, yesterday, to put Lemoore behind us and thrill over the next shiny thing but then we’d be no better than black crows. And we are better than black crows. Better than any and all solo projects associated with black crows too from Magpie Salute to Chris Robinson’s Brotherhood.
And so, brothers + sisters, let us peer into Jordy Smith’s Instagram where the current world number 6 asked for his friends and followers to weigh in on the Surf Ranch.
What was your thoughts on the @wsl #surfranch event? 👍🏼👎🏼 also thanks @slaterdesigns for the board. Had fun riding something different 🤙🏼 now back to the #ocean 🌊
A quick scroll through the feed reveals more thumbs downs than thumbs ups but it is certainly a mixed bag. Many people loved. Many more hated. And many many more fell somewhere in between extremes.
Jordy entered the fray himself midway though the feed in response to the great Shane Beschen.
[email protected] absolutely. I think size equals depth in the barrel and honest my dad can get a barrel in the pool. A barrel in the ocean is highly rewarded because it’s hard to predict and hard to come by. But the ranch is predictable and really not that exciting to the viewers after watching the 10th surfer go back into the barrel for another 10 seconds .. 😂😂😂 anyways my 2cents
A valuable 2 cents, don’t you think? And an accurate assessment. Funny enough, when Derek and I finished our day at Surf Ranch and were driving home, Derek newly invigorated from chasing a hangover away, me with busted wing, there was much discussion of the barrel and what a waste of the wave it is.
Oh it is fine and fine enough but in myopically focusing on it the rest of the ride is sacrificed. Sacrificed for a crouchy little thing that Jordy’s dad can also enjoy. Of course there is much difference between the top 32 and Jordy’s dad and Derek and me but I think the sentiment might be the same. That consequence-free barrels, when there is a glut, are not as fun to watch, or do, as airs or turns.
If ever invited back, I’m going to race ahead and right when that barrel starts to bend pull my Birdwells down and moon it from out on the shoulder.
8.5 for me!
Ever so pretty!
Travis Ferre reports from Surf Ranch: “I have never had a more transcendental and spiritually cleansing surf in my life!”
What Youth founder spends two days at Surf Ranch Pro. Misses duckdiving. Drives to San Francisco.
We were sitting at a picnic bench next to a Shell gas station in the dusty center of California drinking Coors Light. It was morning still and Chas was with me. We carpooled from The Old Spaghetti Factory in Fullerton where no surf trip has ever started and maybe never will.
We had no surfboards in the car and it was not surf trip. We were lacking the usual buzz that accompanies a surf trip or any trip and instead maybe felt like we were going to youth group. Or summer Bible camp. Not Coachella or Desert Daze or Burning Man or on The Search. But desert surf youth group bible camp. Our usual enthusiasm was just not in the car. We were in survival mode. And hydrating with black coffee and Coors Light. We were on our way to Surf Ranch even though we might be non-believers.
The drive was lonely and alien and the landscape outside the car was peppered with slaughterhouses, fast food logos and gas stations with neglected bathrooms. I gathered that Chas is I think almost tired of it. All of it. Pools. And WSL. And Surf Ranch. Surf journalism. Defending the core.
He is tired of it, we are tired of it. But we desperately want to help and so we are cursed to continue and resisted the urge to turn left and head west for fog and saltwater and the nature’s infinity pool. We stay committed to protecting our beloved and once esoteric little surf culture from the wave pool machine disciples. And we continued on to attend Surf Ranch.
We pulled into the parking lot of the Tachi Hotel and Casino and thought we saw four surf fans in the parking lot. We thought maybe they were surf fans because they were wearing shorts. Chas and I were in pants, and wanted to be surf fans too, but we were in pants. The only other person we saw in long pants all day was Chippa Wilson.
We entered the ranch together and began flapping our wings and conversating like industry buzzards. Matt Biolos. Pat O’Connell. Podcasters and Timmy Patterson. The Hurley’s. I saw that Polo by Ralph Lauren had a booth. And so did Jeep. We continued on and sweat and got hot and talked about the heat and regretted the fact that we couldn’t go do a duck dive and then we drank more so that we could continue conversating like industry buzzards. I still hadn’t really seen the wave despite walking two full laps the length of the pool — which is hundreds of yards long. I met Jen See. I had another beer. Jen See showed me where to watch from so that maybe I could get a good look at the fake wave. The story goes on. I saw some waves from afar and they are fun-looking things for sure, but I’m still more entertained by friends and colleagues and fighting off dehydration with beer. While here, mabe people said I would regret not taking my opportunity to surf it, but I never freaked out about turning down my invite despite the fact that many people think I should pull my head out of my ass and surf it and just shut up and be happy.
I saw Yago Dora and then watched his bubble burst just a little as he drifted below the transfer spot for finals day. The leader board with a cut-off made for something very nearing excitement if you took the time to figure it out. Later Yago would make me stoked because during the un-webcasted freesurf with Chippa Wilson, Archy, Mikey Wright and Albee Layer, Yago rode my favorite fake wave of the day by doing an off the lip shuv-it, to switch barrel ride, to layback backside tube. It was the closest I got to being a psyched surf fan all day. Oh, also when Kolohe Andino told the truth about the judges on camera.
Overall, my day at Surf Ranch was not a bad day. It was totally fine. Dave Prodan of WSL slid a complimentary VIP bracelet on my arm when I got there which allowed me to hydrate with bottomless Stellas and the option to stand underneath the very necessary misters. I watched Bethany Hamilton ride a cool wave with a cool beer in my hand and I felt good about it. I wasn’t angry or cynical or grumpy.
At one point, I did need a breakthough. The heat is real and no matter how much hydrating you do with Stella and Coors Light, heat stroke feels near when you get to the early afternoon. I left surf ranch around 3 to wash off the dirt and sweat. I checked into a motel about twenty minutes away. The local bar next to the motel is called Spirits and had a sign out front welcoming surf fans. Bars like this don’t always welcome you, so this was a cultural opportunity to check it out. Inside I met Tony who sat next to me and noticed that maybe I’m a surf fan because I have 3 different bracelets on and I’m also under the age of 65 which he tells me is the median age of the locals at Spirits. He points out two men in the corner who are above the median age.
“Listen to those two,” Tony says. “They cuss and yell at each other all day until one of them decides to leave. And whoever leaves first is the loser that day.” He is right, they are cussing at each other. And before I go, one leaves out the back door. Loser.
Behind me is a table covered with all the makings of a birthday celebration. Tinsel and decorations and napkins and those annoying little noise makers are everywhere and ready for a festive party.
“Last night was karaoke, tonight there’s a birthday party,” Tony said. According to the napkins it will be a 50-year-old’s birthday. “She’s probably our youngest local.”
Tony’s ex brother-in-law is from Huntington Beach so we were fast friends. I asked him if he’s ever been to Tachi Casino. “Oh yeah, I go there to get fucked up and gamble. Went there last Saturday.”
It took about 30 minutes to get an Uber to show up, but it finally came. I said so long to Tony and headed back to surf ranch.
Chas had long since fled the surf ranch and so I returned alone this time. And I was about to have my finest moment at surf ranch. I left the VIP area and headed for the center of the pool. I found a little space to stand alone and watched as some of my favorite surfers entered the pool together. This is the only time during the day that the pool resembled a real lineup. Yago Dora, Chippa Wilson, Mikey Wright, Albee Layer and the surprise guest, Matt Archbold paddled out (in?)…well, they don’t paddle out, but they are in the water together and kind of paddle around to different areas in the pool.
By now the sun had dipped enough to make the temperature bearable and the lighting was damn near beautiful. The guys in the water were using each other to create sections for airs. This is when Yago rode my favorite wave and Chippa did a few off-the-lip shuv-it’s that I keep replaying on my phone. A really nice girl offered me a Paloma. I accepted, turned back around and watched the pool as golden hour light came in through the trees behind me. I wrapped my hand around the ice-cold Paloma and felt good. I was enjoying myself at Surf Ranch.
By now the sun had dipped enough to make the temperature bearable and the lighting was damn near beautiful. The guys in the water were using each other to create sections for airs. This is when Yago rode my favorite wave and Chippa did a few off-the-lip shuv-it’s that I keep replaying on my phone. Behind me I think there was a Jose Cuervo VIP lounge maybe, and a really nice girl offered me a Paloma. I accepted, turned back around and watched the pool as golden hour light came in through the trees behind me. I wrapped my hand around the ice-cold Paloma and felt good. In this moment, I was not a cynical media dude. All of a sudden I was a surf fan having a Paloma while watching my favorite surfers surf. I was enjoying myself at Surf Ranch.
I would go on to enjoy Social Distortion later that night too. I continued to hydrate. I continued to not have a bad time. I ventured over to the casino to see if Tony was right. I found blackjack tables full of surfers. Joel Parkinson sat at a table wearing a cowboy hat. He sat next to Conner Coffin and Blair Marlin. Lemoore locals looking to get fucked up and gamble like Tony surrounded the surfers. After a bit though, I realized that a casino is a sad place. Sober or drunk, it is a sad place to be and I started to feel real casino sadness. It was weird and sad to be so close, yet so far away from surfing. I ran into Chippa Wilson and we continued to drink our way through the night. We poured beer and spirits and tequila on our casino sadness. My phone died and I bought a charger in the 24-hour gift shop around 2 a.m. so I could get an Uber and as I got in the car I looked back in through the glass doors. It should have been closing time but it was still as busy as it was at 10 p.m. and I was leaving Tachi.
But the casino sadness raged on inside.
All throughout the day at Surf Ranch, what I missed seeing most was paddling and duckdiving. And when I woke up with red eyes from air conditioning and indoor smoking acceptance, I realized that Surf Ranch’s finest feature is it’s proximity to the best place in the world for duckdiving. It is three and a half hours to Ocean Beach in San Francisco.
So I drove and drove and made it to SF and borrowed a surfboard from friend and Away Co. dude Taylor Paul.
I put on my wetsuit and ran to the beach as fast as I could. I paddled out into thrashed windswell riddled OB and I have never paddled out and had a more transcendental and spiritually cleansing surf in my life.
I paddled out as far out as I could into the choppy cool water and drifted down the beach and was tossed around by the north wind and duck dove hundreds of times and rode a few waves. I think I am now the first person to leave for a surf trip from The Spaghetti Factory in Fullerton.
Jon Pyzel and Matt Biolos by @theneedforshutterspeed/Step Bros