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.

Memory Lane: The time I got a very stern lecture from Rip Curl’s Neil Ridgway!

“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.

Bon appetit.

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.

cheyne magnusson
"Wave pools are not just a business platform to make money. They're an important part of a sport, a culture and it's multi-generational. People dedicate their lives to surfing. It's not just an attraction, a water park. I feel a responsibility to present it in the right way, to be as true to the culture as I possibly can." | Photo: @kalanirobb

Cheyne Magnusson to bring his Waco wave-park sorcery to Wet ‘N’ Wild Palm Springs!

"I am definitely not with American Wave Machines," he says.

Here’s a hot piece straight off the wire. The Hawaiian surfer Cheyne Magnusson, who singlehandedly altered the course of aerial surfing at BSR cable park in Waco, has been signed to design and set-up a pool at the old Wet ‘n’ Wild site in Palm Springs, California.

The cat was allowed out of its bag, briefly, in an Instagram post from another California-based Hawaiian, Kalani Robb, who has also been hired for the build.

Oowee, do it look familiar?

It’s the same pool that was used in the opening sequences of North Shore, a film from 1987 that tells the fictional tale of Rick Kane, a boy who learns to surf in a wave pool and then attempts to transpose his skills to Pipeline with mostly good results.

When I called Cheyne, who is currently living at Santa Clarita, thirty-five miles north-east of Los Angeles with his daughter and pregnant wife, he said “I’m not supposed to be be talking to you yet.”

Cheyne then asked if the Asthon-Chas sock at Surf Expo was real, which I explained it was.

“The boys were frothing. Game on, dude,” said Cheyne, adding, “Everyone loves a good bitch slap here and there.”


First question.

Are you still with American Wave Machines and therefore does this mean you’re going to use AWM tech?

“I am…not… with American Wave Machines,” says Cheyne. “I don’t wanna bad mouth anyone but we don’t see eye to eye on certain things. Mostly, what these wave parks can do and hold for the future of surfing. They’re not just a business platform to make money. They’re an important part of a sport, a culture and it’s multi-generational. People dedicate their lives to surfing. It’s not just an attraction, a water park. I feel a responsibility to present it in the right way, to be as true to the culture as I possibly can.”

I say, without you, Waco would’ve been another crummy pool. It only got good when your freckled hands started pulling the levers to create the best wedge anyone had seen anywhere.

“Thanks for recognising that,” says Cheyne. “We took a massive roll of the dice and leap of faith to go out there. You know, the hard part that we’re facing at this juncture is that the people who develop these technologies, they’re brilliant, unbelievable engineers, hydrodynamics, aerospace, whatever, they’re really smart. They read a lot of books and so on. But then you have those guys colliding with us, people who’ve dedicated their lives to surfing. You can be the smartest person in the world and you can develop these machines but you need surfers, people who’ve looked at the ocean their whole lives, to know how to… move… the water.”

Cheyne says he’s been to the Palm Springs site “a few times” and that he’ll be able to loosen his lips a little more in around a month.

“But we’ve definitely crossed some milestones to get to the point where Kalani can put out a post,” says Cheyne. “It’s a real deal.”

(Thanks to Mike Klein @Central Texas Surf Club for the lead.)