Confession: I saw 38 naked penises at the beach yesterday and one of them was playing frisbee!

Also, a meditation on Wavestorm.

I went for a surf yesterday morning, riding the dying energy of that fabulous storm system that blessed southern California with seemingly endless waves. It wasn’t perfect but it was good, maybe 3 – 4 feet, with the crowd spread thin between multiple peaks. There was something I noticed, though, that profoundly annoyed. A handful of grown men were out on Wavestorms in both traditional blue and white and newer rastafari colorways.

Nobody would confuse any of these men as talented but they could all paddle, catch waves and steer down the line and I found myself angered by them. I understand Wavestorms on very flat summer days where the surfboard is brought mostly for the kids to build sandcastles upon and tow each other around in ankle deep water but I do not understand them when there are waves. Like, if soft-top boards are your kink wouldn’t you get a quality one (find yours here)?

I decided then that grown men riding Wavestorms on good enough days cancels the basic rights afforded in the lineup. The Wavestorm rider is rendered invisible. What do you think about this? Is fair? I think we should bring before the full committee for a binding vote.

After my surf I came home and read about Black Girls Surf founder Rhonda Harper claiming the beaches being re-colonized by white males and, I’ll admit, smirked but then was cajoled into going on a beach walk with wife, child and friends. It was that whatever monster full moon and theoretically fabulous for beach walks with the tide very far out.

It was decided we would go down to the Scripps Pier near La Jolla and walk north. So there I was walking north past the pier, over some rocks, past Blacks.

Oh that wave was on fire, standing tall and detonating directly onto the brave souls in the lineup. For those who don’t know Blacks is one of San Diego’s most famous waves and, I forgot, the beach in front of it is of the clothing optional variety.

Now, there was not one naked woman to be found but I counted 38 naked penises, (37 white, 1 Asian) in all manner of action.

Hiking, lounging, jogging, playing frisbee.

The one playing frisbee was particularly mesmerizing as it bounced back and forth against the legs so violently on long runs that I have no idea how its owner wasn’t doubled over in pain.

I thought of all those penises (37 white, 1 Asian) and wondered if Rhonda Harper is correct and wondered if the brand of re-colonization is Austrian?

Warshaw on Chris Brown (RIP): “People were calling him the next Tom Curren. Which is a shitty thing to do to a kid.”

Late eighties, nineties ripper reported dead at 48…

A little earlier today, Momentum Gen surfer Keith Malloy posted an obituary for Chris Brown, the Santa Babs surfer once mentioned in the same breath as Kelly Slater and Tom Curren.

“We are going to miss your big smile and enthusiasm CB. I really looked up to Chris Brown as a youngster, he was one of the only guys that could beat @kellyslater in the late 80s and early 90s. He went on to charge Mavericks and become a Commercial fishermen… what a legend. Thanks for your friendship over the years Brahda. Ps. I have no details on what happened.”

The world champion Shaun Tomson, who also lives in Santa Babs, tweeted: “Just heard the sad news about the passing of Santa Barbara legend Chris “Wraparound” Brown. The entire surf community sends out prayers to his family and friends. I will always remember his huge smile, magnetic warmth and that beautiful wraparound cutback. RIP.

Both posts were in response to the discovery of a body at Hendry’s Beach in Santa Babs. A spokesman for the local PD said “where the body was found may not be where the individual was deceased.”

Matt Warshaw, historian of all surf, knows the late eighties and nineties like nobody else.

I asked him about Chris

BeachGrit: I got vague memories of a kid with stiff white hair slinging it to Kelly in the late eighties, early nineties.

Warshaw: At 15, which was around 1985, people were calling him the next Tom Curren. Which is a shitty thing to do to a kid. Then a year or two later he was the West Coast Kelly Slater, or whatever. Which is also a curse. He was ridiculously good at that age in small waves, fast and quick, could put his board anywhere, had all the body parts synched up just right. In that respect, he was like Curren. But Kelly and Tom were both killers. Chris never was. He made the CT early, maybe 18, and stepped off two years later, which I thought showed a lot of self-awareness. I only ever met Chris casually, but even from a distance you could tell he didn’t have the temperament to run with the ASP pack. Although I think he went back on for a couple years in the mid-’90s.

Pals with Jesus, yes?

Chris and his whole family, yeah. His dad and Curren’s mom did Bible study classes, and Chris as a kid would be in the house studying the New Testament instead of popping wheelies on his bike or getting into trouble. And he took it hook, line and sinker. Steve Barilotti did a profile on Chris for SURFER in the ’90s, and Chris is so likable and sweet and honest, then all of a sudden here he comes with this End of Days stuff having to do with surgically implanted identity chips. It gives you the creeps to read it, but mostly just makes you feel bad for Chris, having to live with those kinds of thoughts. On the other hand, I remember reading interviews with Chris where he seemed like the happiest man in surfing, so who knows.

Wasn’t there a 1990 PSAA final with Kelly at Trestles?

Chris slayed that contest, out-surfed everybody by a mile – except for Kelly. Chris got 8K for runner-up. Kelly got 30K and all the headlines.

Was that a pattern, getting second to Kelly? Did it affect him?

It wasn’t a pattern. Kelly shot up, Chris never really launched, at least not internationally. But if there had never been a Kelly Slater, and Chris had won at Trestles — it wouldn’t have made any difference. He didn’t like the travel. He didn’t like surfing the North Shore. Didn’t like putting himself out there for the mags, the camera, his sponsors. Everybody liked Chris, he smiled all the time, was kind of goofy, had a great sense of humor. But he didn’t grind. He never had had world tour career ambitions. On the CT he could have knocked out thirds and fifths and a win here and there for a decade or more. But that was never in the cards. He was happiest at home, and again, to his credit, he seemed to know that early. He won the 1994 PSAA title without breaking a sweat as I recall.

I remember seeing pictures of him riding the big stuff.

Yeah. Making himself over as a California big-wave surfer was Chris’ real achievement. That’s where you see how determined he was. It’s funny. He had the talent to be a world-title contender but wasn’t interested. He had zero talent for big surf, at first, but that part of the sport really intrigued him, so he just pegged himself up year after year till he was really good at it.

He got a taste for Mavs, yes?

He paddled out at Mavs the first time that morning Jay Moriarity got his famous wipeout. On the cover of the magazines, you see Jay floating up there like Jesus hammered to the cross, and maybe the 10th time you look at the shot you notice a blond guy sitting on his board down at the bottom of the page. That’s Chris. The story was he paddled out, saw Jay’s wave, turned around and paddled to shore and drove back to Santa Barbara. But the great part is, the next swell, he drove back up to Mavs and did it.

Chris Brown from ENCYCLOPEDIA of SURFING on Vimeo.


Question: Will the performance bar for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics be set too high?

So long Jordy Smith....

As children we were promised radical progression for our futures. We were promised hoverboards, flying cars, next-gen supersonic transportation, practical blood substitutes, big houses on mars, pet dolphins that could speak English and triple backflips in surfing. You know what we were given?


It’s bullshit but we may still get triple backflips in surfing by 2020 or at least switch stance surfing across the board.

How do I know? Tucked into today’s important piece on beach re-colonization, astutely pointed out by Jimmy the Saint, we get an inside view at the Olympic hopeful from Senegal Khadouj Sambe’s training routine and let’s examine together.

Her coach, Rhonda Harper, prefers to train her on the world famous straighthanders of Santa Monica and during an interview with National Public Radio let slip a performance expectation.

After Sambe paddles out she doesn’t jump right into the fray of surfers catching waves. When she finally does, she rides it smoothly, causing Harper to thrust her fist in the air and declare, “Yes! That was good.”

Harper also has a critique of her surfer. “She didn’t switch stance,” Harper says. Something to work on, the coach notes.

Well my goodness. If switch stance is an expectation will Jordy Smith, Julian Wilson, etc. be made redundant and left out altogether? It might be a little sad but… triple backflips. It will be worth it for triple backflips.

Cultural studies: “The beaches are being re-colonized by white males!”

Plus microaggression!

Ooooee we live in divisive times with bunker mentalities setting in around the globe. Fear, anger, mistrust, suspicion of the “other” etc. and are these the most divisive times in history? I’d say no, though am not an expert in the manner. Still. Divisive by any stretch and our playground, the wonderful ocean, is not immune.

Who could forget the aggressive leash pull that exploded normally bucolic Venice Beach, California just over a month ago?

In a New Year’s miracle the parties made nice and the surf world breathed a collective sigh of relief.

Today, National Public Radio takes up the inspirational story of Khadjou Sambe, a Senegalese Olympic hopeful, and the very famous Rhonda Harper of Black Girls Surf who was there on the pier that day.

Harper views localism as another form of colonialism.

“The beaches are being re-colonized by white males,” she said. “The thing about localism that cracks me up is that you truly can’t say that you own this beach or this is your area. That’s public property.”

The Venice leash-pulling incident went viral, and Harper said she began to receive threats. People accused her of using the incident to slander surfing and profit from it, she says. This baffles Harper as it was her surfer who was the victim, but Harper now employs a security guard if she and her surfers go to Venice.

Now, let’s not all go crazy. Very few, if any, of us are either black or female so can’t speak to the specifics but if localism is another form of colonialism which brand? Belgian? British? French? Other?

The Belgians were the worst, I think. Have you ever read Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad?


I have to laugh, but oh fuck it hurts. Online surfing tips are now taken in earnest as a serious focus of mature study after children are in bed. “Chin Up!” “Look up or you go down” “Focus on where you want to go.”

Horror story: Man gives up surfing, gets fat, gets old, tries to recreate dream.

Read on only if you dare!

Hidden in darkness, I blink out through calloused eye-holes. My brows prickle with the exertion of simply being 46. 

Tears well up at the glare of Antipodean vigour streaming in thought the  windows. I repeatedly awaken these days to find myself strapped into a sort of biomechanical exoskeleton, woven of ossified visceral fat, emotional scar tissue and wasted opportunity. 

Somewhere a tanned young man of muscular passion shouts forlornly in the distance, woolly and indistinct. 

What’s he saying? The swash of the sea overtakes his voice. “Dissolution” and “oblivion” it chants, endlessly. Gratefully I greet the nights and every respite of sleep. I dream of a head full of hair, and the caress of tight-skinned turns on a cerulean playing field. 

Twenty years of mostly not surfing had taken their toll. Between the acid-bath of dedicated alcoholism and the numbed-ass, anti-yoga of time-clock computer worship, my muscle memory had gone; departed, disintegrated, dissolved, deliquesced.  

As does wet-rot fungus and termites to the wooden balustrades of those derelict mansions in the woods, merely the idea of timber remains beneath a skin of varnish, crumbling under the lightest touch when asked to again serve. 

I had tried to surf repeatedly over my extended northern European tenure, but my attempts started to feel like self-abuse. 

“It’ll be better next time,” I’d say, shivering on the cobbled beach. 

My previously honed late-drops-to-victory were completely wasted on the grey mush which followed here. The promising form of a peak turned into a slumped shoulder immediately following the first bottom turn and left me eternally hanging.  

You could hear the groans of the denied cutbacks as they fluttered away like ghosts unspent. They continued to rattle me as I paddled back out for another shot at the only North Sea swell in a month pretending to be over two feet. 

The starkness between my tropical memories and the cold rationality of my absurd windmill-tilting was heartbreaking.  

Far easier then, as I started aging ungracefully, to just skateboard to the grocery store in between the rain showers, ducking beneath overhanging hedges for a barrel-effect. Getting stoned in the flat yet again, and later laughing with mates in the pub. Spending years, trying not to think back to warm lefts off the reef and sand between toes as I drover home barefoot.

A sort of tide rose and brought a serious partner, a full-time office job, children, family stress and suburban routine. My boards lay in the corner of a dusty shed. The call of the water went unanswered. 

“Who’s got time for that? And what’s even the fucking point in that slop?”

Eventually, a new tide brought opportunity to festoon the shore. We upped-sticks, decamped, emigrated.  

We came seeking a better life for the kids and new horizons for bored bones. Resignations were tendered, the bottle left behind, a fluttering standard raised against the bitter wind. The contents of house and shed were stowed into a large shipping container.  A strange gleam sparked in my eyes as the old sleds were slung into the truck.

Now, I pilot my creaking flesh down a bush track towards the burning grains of an Australian beach, an archaic board from my glory days tucked under my arm. 

Bird calls, lizards underfoot, the fragrance of foliage lifting into the sun all bathe me in a reminder of environmental riches I had missed in that far northern mist. 

Time pissed against the wall and up in smoke.

“Nevermind,” I say to myself, “here I am.”

I emerge from the low canopy and see hipsteroid beauties of all sexes picnicking on a grassy plateau, now giggling at the kooky old fool with a dad-hat, pale skin and dumb grin. 

They shake their heads as I pick my way past, clutching a yellowed 6’ 10” and heading for onshore, under-head-high beach break closeouts.  They will be me sooner than they realise. 

Yes, George, youth is wasted on the young.  

A truth so painful, it should surely be made in thirty-foot tall letters of basalt and installed on hundreds of cliff tops round the planet.

A long-sleeved rash shirt, very old, shields me from the solar din. I slip into the delicious waters of a delightfully uncrowded bay. I choke on a sour inward laugh at the lithe youth lounging on the shore, earth-toned pastel fish and hi-perf wafers stuck nose-first into the sand. Quirky-retro longboards, casually scattered round colourful towels complete the social media shots. 

Various owners intertwine limbs under frilly umbrellas. They’ve been here for a few hours. catching a few sets here and there in-between self-conscious preening and canoodling. 

Do I envy them? Of course.

To be fair, mostly for the opportunity to hit the peaks before the wind took a shit on the swell. I had kids to look after and housework to do or I might have been here much earlier to attempt to flail about on cleaner faces for their bemusement. I admire their firm flesh. The naiveté and lack of wisdom is something I am glad to have behind me.

Over months, I work at to lose the blubbery Kook-Suit. Newly tanned skin now shows through hard-won cracks. Every time I go over the falls and lose myself in the washing machine, I remember to rejoice and relax. I missed this so much. I wanted to be here for so many years.

Now, where I used to squeeze the pips and work the rind with my rear foot, my front foot so often is unanswerably dominant. This leaden stance is bogging me down at every turn. The fruit of my performance falls away again and rolls into the corner of the beach, un-juiced. 

My abs begin to tighnten. My paddling gets stronger, my pop-up is returning but my hair never will.  

I have to laugh, but oh fuck it hurts. Online surfing tips are now taken in earnest as a serious focus of mature study after children are in bed.

“Chin Up!” 

“Look up or you go down.”

“Focus on where you want to go.” 

The mantras I mutter to myself in the lineup, unnerving those in the next take-off zone. I try and concentrate on the beauty of every moment. I am in the water, good or bad weather. I celebrate the days I slog it out in the slop as basic training to help me enjoy the good stuff. Not something to share at the dinner table, however, to a working wife and clueless children. 

Occasionally, I can hear the voice of that cocky young man a little clearer. He is smiling and laughing gently at my antics on the Other Side of the Hill. He seems to encourage me to keep going in that endearingly optimistic way of invincible youth. 

“Of course you can do it, just push harder! This used to be as effortless as breathing, don’t you remember?”  

A movie plays again in my mind’s-eye, a first-person clip from days of yore. A casual take off and a wiggle to a barrel, the long arc out onto the blue-green shoulder followed by a cutback. 

The film breaks and reels clatter as the harsh light of the projector illuminates the my reality.