Jen See: “I watched Tom Curren mother an adult learner like a hen minds her chick!”

A beautiful moment! Tears in everyone's eyes!

The other day I went down to the beach for a surf. There is nothing especially unique about this occurrence. Another day marked off on the calendar, another pearl on the string. The waves looked playful and inviting. The tide appeared cooperative. It was even uncrowded. Come here, little girl, come surfing. It’ll be fun, I promise.

I shimmied into my suit, turning to avoid the interested gaze of a passing beachwalker. They always do that, the beachwalkers. Show up right at that awkward stage of half-in, half-out, maybe this time there’ll be a nip slip. Not this time, bitches! Safely zippered up and ready for some surfing.

I mistimed the paddle out, of course, and took ten waves on the head. The resulting ice cream headache made me cranky. Fucking waves, what the hell. My good spirits started to wane. I found a wave, resolved to turn that frown straight upside down with some turns. A good wave, some turns, that’ll make it all okay.

It turned out the waves were less fun than they’d looked from the beach. I’d been played by equal parts illusion and wishful thinking. Mediocre waves are better than no waves at all, I told myself. Still determined. Still hopeful. Maybe it’ll get better!

In the meantime an additional twenty guys had shown up in the lineup. Clearly they were hiding under rocks and behind the bushes, ready to pounce. They saw me blissfully paddle out, hoping for an uncrowded, playful day, and figured it was time to strike.

Mediocre waves, I could accept. Mediocre waves and a crowd? That’s just taking things way too far. There I sat, stewing. I started thinking about sandwiches, about how maybe I should go get one. Sandwiches understand. Sandwiches never let you down.

Then, I saw it. Then I saw the most marvelous thing. I had to blink my eyes to believe it was real. For there was Tom Curren leading an Adult Learner around the lineup. The Adult Learner was perched precariously on a longboard as Curren paddled along beside him like a mother duck minding her chick.

If you’ve never seen Curren in real life, or at least not lately, he looks exactly like you’d imagine. A shock of blonde hair, grey around the edges, perpetually disheveled sits above a face cut deep with lines from the countless hours of staring at the horizon and beyond. His stocky build looks purpose-built for turning surfboards. These days, he has the slightly vague air of an artist, of someone who finds his interior life distractingly interesting, maybe more so, than the world around him.

A small wave came through with no takers. Curren cajoled his adult learner into position and urged him to paddle. Then he gave him a push. The adult learner came to his feet and did a thing that looked something like surfing. Success!

Suddenly, I was extremely jealous. I want a push, too! Where’s my Tom Curren! Tom, Tom, can I get a push? Tom, I need some help over here!

In a listicle over at Surfline — that he was quick to assure us is not actually a listicle, though it does offer a, um, list — Nick Carroll names Adult Learning as one of the surf culture trends of recent years. He predicts that Adult Learners will expand their range into new areas of surf tourism, learn new tricks, and Instagram the fuck out of it all. (Read here, etc!)

Could Curren be starting a new trend of his own? Soon, all the cool kids are going to want Adult Learners of their own. You won’t be able to rock up to the beach without one. There’ll be a rush to find an Adult Learner that best complements your personal style. Board size and color. Wetsuit choice. Gender. Hair color. Before long, we’ll have apps to find the best Adult Learner for you! Swipe right. Swipe left. Find your match.

The very next day, I went back to the beach. Plainly, I had not learned my lesson about the pointless nature of this whole endeavor. When I got there, I saw Shaun Tomson in the lineup. But there was something missing! Shaun did not have an Adult Learner. I tried to tell him that he was doing surfing wrong. Shaun! Stop! It’s all wrong!

But before I could do anything at all, Shaun paddled into the best wave of the day, threw some insouciant spray, and went home.

I figured if Shaun was going to surfing wrong, then I should go ahead and do surfing wrong, too. So I found a good wave, though maybe not the best wave, and threw some girlishy exuberant spray. I forgot all about Adult Learners and trends and lists, that might not be lists, but maybe actually are lists. And then, giggling madly, I paddled back out for another. And another.

Surfing, you are so beautiful and so stupid.

maurice cole barton lynch
Swinging Moz, left, and the world champ turned coach and commentator, Barton Lynch, who holds one of Maurice's creations. | Photo: WSL

Long Read: Maurice Cole, “The psychiatrist asked me if I’d killed anyone. I told him I’d never kill anyone who didn’t taste good!”

The shaper-surfer Maurice Cole prepares the earth for his last, and greatest, comeback.

The Surf Industry Apocalypse, of which Maurice Cole has been warning anyone who would listen for the last four years, is here.

“We’re in a full-blown crisis,” says Maurice, who is sixty-three years old and whose relationships with Tom Curren and Taj Burrow, as well as his pioneering of tow-design with Noah Johnson and Ross Clarke-Jones, made him, for a considerable time, one of the most in-demand shapers in the world.

“The whole allure of surfing has collapsed. The WSL’s just a sanitised version of what surfing is and it’s not translating beyond traditional markets. Surfboard sales are down fifty per cent, clothing thirty. It blows my mind what I’ve been hearing coming out of the States, the glass shops closing down.

Maurice is in the Capbreton factory of Surf Odyssey, right next to Hossegor, where he came for the amateur world titles in 1980, where he fell in love with empty beachbreak tubes and where he developed a close friendship with the Californian transplant Tom Curren that would peak with Curren’s world title on MC’s boards in 1990 and the reverse vee design of 1991.

When you FaceTime Maurice it’s less an interview and more of a waterfall of ideas and opinions. The green accept button is the cork. Punch red to stuff it back in the bottle.

Maurice, meanwhile, has two hundred Euros burning a whole in his fist.

“I’m going to see the drug dealer, shit, the alcohol dealer,” he says. “I better go buy some cheese for the five bottles of red I got given yesterday. I’ve got a contest going here on Instagram (“Bring a beautiful bottle of red and you’re pretty much guaranteed to get a magic board!”) and now everyone’s bringing me the best wines, trying to outdo each other. Those five bottles would be worth maybe five hundred apiece in Australia.”

He’s been drinking ‘em too.

Summer hasn’t been kind to the Aquitaine. The last two weeks have been flat with another week, at least, of a still Atlantic to follow.

“I’m looking forward to going to Trestles to get some waves. Now, that’s a worry,” he says.

Salt in the wound are the crowds, always a surprise to the first time visitor to France, not so much to those who know.

“There are more people in the water than you’ve seen in your life, 1615 down at Seignosse taking surf lessons. It’s in the newspaper. It’s incredible. Being really small, every hundred metres there’s a fucking surf school. I went out the other day, offshore, nearly shoulder high on the sets, sixty people out, no one could surf.”

Maurice countered that absurd tableau with a typical response.

“The only thing keeping me laughing was riding a longboard and playing the slalom course, much to the distress of the other bastards,” he says, “and pretending that I couldn’t surf. I’d do an el spazmo and people were throwing their boards away in horror. I had fun doing that.”

The last time I’d seen Maurice face to face was for what I’d sold to the publisher of Surfing Life as an On Location issue. I’d take the whole magazine somewhere remote, in this case the north-west of Australia, and shoot and write the whole thing while inspired by the stars, by the desert nights, empty waves, the ever-present threat of shark attack and by living in isolation with Maurice, his then protege Taj Burrow, Shane Powell, Pancho Sullivan and Martin Potter.

How long’s it been? Twenty five years? More sand through the hourglass.

Time to reconnect.

BeachGrit: Tell me what you’ve been doing these past twenty-five years?

Just my life, mate. I’m trying to remake the money I’ve lost over the years. My wife wants to retire. I got more dramas than Donald Trump. I’m an absolute Trump addict. You couldn’t have made this shit up. No one could make this shit up, whether it’s good, bad, indifferent. He’s like the BeachGrit of the political world. I spend way too much time on the internet. My best friend is Google. What I love about the internet is the amount of information about everything and anything.

How do you view the current state of the surfboard-building industry?

There’s a whole underbelly of fake marketing, fake bullshit. The surf industry is in a full-blown recession even though the economies are doing okay. It’s a huge combination of over-saturation, of too many boards, too many technologies. The consumer’s really confused. Five years ago, the big brands, were going, ‘Asia’s fucked’, now they’re all making boards in Asia, copying what Hayden Cox did with the Hypto Krypto. And Kelly’s boards. Fuck! Who’s going to ask Kelly, why did you put fake carbon on the boards? People are spinning out. People are going, it’s not carbon, it’s a sticker.

You disappeared in the mid-2000s until now. Where did you go?

I moved back to Torquay after Western Australia (where he lived from 1995 and where MC Surfboards was started) and everything was going good. Then we did the BASE thing (a mega surfboard company setup in 2003 to streamline costs that also included Darren Handley and Simon Anderson. It collapsed in 2011 with $5.6 million in debts) and it was absolute fucking disaster for me and for all my friends who invested. After BASE, I went underground. I was very hurt. I was disillusioned, bitter and twisted and in a very dark place. Unbeknownst to me, all that stress with the lawyers, I spent more than a hundred thousand dollars trying to get my name back from BASE, was very taxing on me. I finally realised I had to get off the fucking couch and really get back into shaping. I kept disappearing down the coast with Ross (Clarke-Jones) and it was one of my more creative periods. The psychiatrist who diagnosed me said I had thirty-five years of undiagnosed depression. He asked me if I’d killed anyone. I told him I’d never kill anyone who didn’t taste good. He didn’t appreciate my humour. So I tried to rebuild myself. I came back to France and stomach pain dropped me on the floor. A doctor had to come and give me morphine to get me off the ground. They did a check and found I had very, very advanced cancer. They asked me if I’d had anything stressful happen. Well, when I was negotiating with BASE to get my name back I went to a dark, dark place. I say I activated the cancer then. But I fought it. Francois Payot (who set up Rip Curl in France) guaranteed the hundred grand I needed to get to the States for cryo-revolutionary surgery. Vegan diet. No fucking bread. No pasta. No dairy products. Eating five meals a day. At that time, Matt Biolos came and asked me to make some surfboards with him. He really gave me a hand so I could cover may expenses. A couple of years later the cancer came back and I had to fight it with hormone and radiotherapy. That knocked the shit out of me. I’ve only had a clean bill of health since June. The cancer, at the moment, doesn’t look like it’s there. I’m starting to rebuild again. Travelling a lot. Japan twice a year. France twice a year. US four times a year. It’s been a lot of trauma for the people around me. My family suffers too. But it’s the world, mate. Don’t take life for granted. I said to Ross, should I get fit and drive that fucking ski for you at Nazaré? We’ve got all new boards, all new guns, new ten-footers, new ten-sixes, new tow designs and it looks like I’ve nailed something. He’s going to spend the winter here hoping he gets really big swells. Me? I’m still alive, still cranking, overweight because of seven fucking years of hormones, but I’m really excited about rebuilding the surf industry. That really appeals to me. It’s a challenge, pioneering new areas. In certain areas I’ve never felt so relevant.

In what way?

I’m getting so many fucking customs. There’s a real boom in customs. I can see that the future is this, no working in shops, build your online businesses, service your customers, give ‘em really good service. Everyone’s becoming accustomed to it. If you want to have a look at an incredible thing, look at REAL Watersports at Cape Hatteras. They sold 900 Lost boards online last year. They’ve got reviews of every model, of every board, they’ve got credibility. Billabong. Quiksilver, it’s all caught up in the same thing. SurfStitch, another fucking bunch of surf pirates. That’s why I get a bit bummed. People took the short-term money and left empty vehicles for the kids, the sons, the daughters, he younger generations. Instead of inheriting these amazing companies like Patagonia, and they’e going through the roof still, their bricks and mortar store went way above projections. I look at the skateboarding thing. It retained its integrity. We’ll end up with smaller companies. I’m really interested in what Dane and Ando are trying to do with Former. You try and do something like that and you get all the critics. But they’re all old fucking codgers. The other thing, have there been any skate companies gone public? Every surf company has gone belly fucking up or is struggling. I’ve got a friend in the States in Oaktree and they’re having a meltdown. They can’t fucking believe what’s happened, what they’ve got stuck with (Oaktree Capital owns Billabong and Quiksilver.)

How do you see your future?

I’m travelling over six months of the year. When I come home, I’m that fucking tired. I watch all the footy replays, read a couple of online forums I haven’t seen, watch Game of Thrones episodes I missed. Recharge. Shape some boards and leave again. It’s easier overseas. I haven’t been able to get my shit together in Torquay. I’m on a mission. I’m trying to work out what it is.

How are you dealing with age?

MC: Wait ’til you see how quick you get to 63. If someone had told me when I was twenty that I was going to get the biggest barrel and best turn of my life at fifty-three I would’ve said you were tripping. But I did. It was a twenty-foot waves down the coast. It was so smooth and clean and fucking massive. If I hadn’t come out I would’ve died. I had that much adrenaline I did the best fucking hack I ever did and then I jumped off. I didn’t need another wave that day.

You’ve made a lot of money. What’s left?

I have nothing. I’ve got a pretty good surfboard collection. My wife’s over me. I made so much, lost so much. That’s why I’m here in France. I pick up five grand here, ten grand there, pay a few debts. I have a twelve-year-old car worth five hundred bucks. I think I’ve got my integrity. Can you tell that to my wife? That it means something? She’s over the drama of making surfboards. She wants to live a simple, peaceful life. She’s been with me since I was eighteen, poor thing. She’s just burnt out. I was telling Ross and he said, ‘You can’t fucking retire. You’ve got too much fucking shit to do!’

(Editor’s note: This story first appeared in The Surfer’s Journal and, briefly, on BeachGrit until it was pointed out by TSJ’s editor, and correctly so since they’d paid for the story, that it must come off the stands before appearing here.)


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.