“See I’m wearing a funny hat. Now you can write about that.”
Near a decade ago, now, I was in Portugal covering a professional surfing contest. This was before the World Surf League, a time that the brands each ran their own events under the very loose control of the Association of Surfing Professionals. I always liked the ring of “surfing professionals.” It sounded like an oxymoron. Like “living dead” and I don’t know why the powers that be jettisoned it.
In any case, there I was in Portugal, being an asshole, when I met Rip Curl’s International boss Neil Ridgway for the first time.
Neil Ridgway came through the door like an irked wind and said, loudly, “Are you Chas Smith?” I said, “Yes” feeling slightly pleased with myself and ¾ in the bag from beers I had stolen from our hotel lobby’s unmanned beer draught. He continued, as he planted himself in a baby blue chair opposite mine, “I don’t like what is happening here. I don’t like the inaccuracies in what you write. Look, you come to us with your hand out, we put you up in a hotel and you write off the event? That doesn’t seem right to me.”
And he continued, “Brodie Carr’s name is spelled with an IE for one. For two he wasn’t talking with a Rip Curl executive, like you said he was, at lunch. That was someone from the ASP. There was never a CT event here in Peniche.” And I said, “Are you sure?” He seemed sure.
Then he said, “I don’t like you saying Mick Fanning is boring when you don’t even talk with him.” Then he said, “I am not going to tell you what to write.” Then he said, “Why don’t you ask people questions instead of just standing by and observing. Have you ever talked to Mick?”
I tried a half-hearted defense and replied, “Look, there are two types of surfers. There are professional athlete kinds and the other kinds, uhhh not professional athlete kinds. Mick represents the professional and therefore is bland. He is like Roger Federer or Tiger Woods. Someone like Dion Agius represents the other end of the spectrum. He is more exciting because he isn’t always proper.”
I am certain I slurred my words and I don’t know, exactly, why I used Dion as an example.
Neil responded, “Why do you like Dion? Because he dresses well?” And after he brought it up I thought, “Yes. Partially.” Then he said, “I’m not going to tell you what to write.” And I said, “I have no ax to grind with professional surfing, or the industry. I am just trying to be me.” And he said, “I read what you wrote about the Billabong event and I don’t know what you are doing with your financial planner (I had written, extensively, about a beautiful investment banker who had become my companion) and all that. I mean yesterday you were drinking espresso from a gold-rimmed cup and today you are drinking beer from a pint glass.”
I looked at my stolen beer and thought, “Whiskey, gin and brandy. With a glass I’m pretty handy.” But I said, “Well I am glad I know how you feel about my stuff.” And he said, “We’ll just be watching what you write tomorrow.” And then he said, “I’m not going to tell you what to write.”
And finally he said, “See I’m wearing a funny hat. Now you can write about that.”
He was wearing a red beret and I did.