Sex and Rage: “When the surf was hot, everything reached a state of hurling glory!”

So sexy…

My neck tan is fading, my hair is turning brown, the surf is flat. Relentlessly, aggressively flat. I look at the satellite photos and watch as lows twirl deliriously off the coast.

So sexy. When I think they’re sure to come my way, they dance off in entirely the wrong direction. This is bullshit.

At least, finally, it rains.

After years of dry heat, the rain is a gift. Plumes of silt billow out from the creeks. I check Rincon one day and it’s the color of chocolate frosting. But no surf. The ocean could be an ice rink, a dinner plate, a mirror without lines. Pick whatever metaphor you like. No waves. The problem is no waves.

What the fuck do I do now.

My deadlines stack out to the horizon.

I swim along in slow motion and take ‘em on the head one after the other. They’re suggestions anyway, or that’s what I tell myself. I slide heedlessly down the calendar. What day is it? No surf, again. Which deadline is next? All of them. A jumble of words, they’re all shit.

I give it up. I pull a novel off my shelf and head to the coffee shop. A while back, Matt Warshaw posted a clip from Eve Babitz. I’d never read her before then, or even heard of her, but I’ve been hooked ever since. Her manic, Los Angeles party girl prose is the ideal antidote to flat surf and the perfect way to dodge another round of deadlines. I sit down next to the surfboards – yes, my coffee shop has surfboards in it, there’s no escaping – and jump in.

Sex and Rage. The book’s bright cover looks like it stepped out a time machine from around 1970. It has surfing in it – there’s no escaping – and the depiction of 1960’s Santa Monica feels like another country. The geography teems with wild parties and falling down beach cottages, all leaking roofs and sparse furnishing.

And so much life. There is a joyous abandon to an Eve Babitz novel that eludes description. I giggle in my corner with the surfboards.

The novel’s main character is called Jacaranda, after the trees. She hangs out at the beach and learns to surf and Babitz perfectly captures of the addictive quality of our silly dance. Eventually, she gets a job airbrushing boards, which has a startling specificity of time and place.

She also becomes a writer whose deadline avoidance is next level. I start to think maybe I should take notes. A dizzying string of boyfriends saunter across the page. I can’t keep them straight – and I suspect that’s the point.

When Daniel Duane published his story about women’s big wave surfing, I was surprised by the disparaging comments about the dumbass New York Times writer who didn’t know shit about surfing.

Okay, I wasn’t that surprised.

It is the internet, where you can’t be a writer for any amount of time without being called an idiot on the regular. It’s just how it goes. Before he wrote about big wave surfing, Duane published a book entirely devoted to surfing.

Now, not being part of the club, I really don’t know what one has to do to be considered an actual, bona fide Surf Writer. Send in your box tops, and get your Official Surf Writer Membership Card. I would have thought writing a book was good enough, but perhaps not! Strange, pagan rituals and unholy quests must surely be involved.

Or it’s dumb persistence.

I sit with the surfboards and sip my coffee. I decide that Eve Babitz is my new favorite surf writer. Pagan rituals or no, she is queen. Jacaranda finds another boyfriend. Another party goes wrong. This is the best way to spend a day with no surf that I can imagine.

My friend, The Girl with the Surfline Tattoo, bounds through the door. She drove an hour, looking for surf. It was small, she says, gesturing around her knees.

We talk about how we’re supposed to be working. Make money while it’s flat. Somehow, it never quite works that way. I need to the swing of the tides to keep me on track. Hours pass unheeded. Deadlines spin into view and just as quickly pass me by.

The twirly things out in the ocean will turn my way soon, I hope. We’ll all go surfing again someday.

Maybe I’ll make this fucking deadline.

I’m sure I can make this one. Just this one right here.

Victory: With help from friends, Chas Smith smashes Laird, Beth Hamilton!

A red letter day!

You did it. You and the low, low price of $1.99 actually did it. Never not once did I ever image that I’d be more popular than Laird Hamilton, world’s greatest human man or Bethany Hamilton, world’s most inspirational human person.

And what does this mean?

Will the People now want me to invent a supplement guaranteed to put more pep in a step? Maybe something like one of those powdered coffee creamers that used to be real popular but instead of making it out of poison and chalk what if I made it out of “superfood” and sea turtles?

Will the People demand a movie about how I overcame insurmountable barriers to achieve a great success? Maybe called Troll Surfer? And how no one could have predicted that a little book titled Cocaine + Surfing (buy here) would one day sit atop of the pile, towering over Pulitzer Prize winners and icons but then Amazon dropped the Kindle price to $1.99 and the world shifted on its axis.

I’d like to thank you for using some precious e-reader bandwidth or cell phone memory and spending $1.99. You’ve proven to children everywhere that dreams still come true.

Suck it Hamiltons.

Question: Is Surfing Worth Divorce?

British woman splits from husband after he becomes "obsessed with night surfing."

Relationships and surfing mix like MAGA-hatted teens and Native Americans. This is not, as I believe the teen parlance goes (though I’ll need to check with Nick Carroll), brand new information.

What is Brand New Information, brace yourselves married men (and two or three women), is that there’s a choice! Turns out you CAN choose surfing instead of kid’s birthday parties, work commitments or Great Aunt Fanny’s baptism.

I mean, there’s compromise. There’s always fucking compromise. It’s my most hated noun. And don’t even get me started on the verb form.

The compromise in this instance is called divorce.

But not to worry, because now you can crowdfund your family breakdown! In the midst of gut wrenching emotional turmoil, who needs dignity, eh?

The backstory to this is the case of a UK man trying to Crowdfund his divorce. A marital chasm that was opened due to surfing. “Karl” is a one-time family man from Bournemouth, England by way of NZ. Recently he split up with his wife and two daughters when the ol’ handbrake filed for divorce, citing Karl as “obsessed with night surfing”.

Allegedly, Karl had taken to surfing Bournemouth pier at night with some friends. Often he would come home just for a shower and to get dressed to go out to work, as if he were a “student tenant in the family home as opposed to a husband and a father,” his wife stated in the citation.

Woooofffft. Stinger.

But Karl’s surf buddies weren’t happy. Outraged by the behaviour of this harlot, this siren, this harpy, this over-zealous mother bitch, Karl’s mates kindly set him up a Crowdfunder so he didn’t need to take out a loan to pay for the divorce.

Now, from the perspective of a man who squirrels boards away in outbuildings, I don’t feel in a position to comment on a healthy surf/life balance, other than to say it involves a lot of half-truths. And perhaps some outright lies (if you’re asking, your honour).

But what do you think?

The Crowdfunder has now gone, so you can’t send money or condolences or relationship advice to Karl I’m afraid. Maybe Chas can offer some words of wisdom in between trying to coax Dave Lee Scales into the arms of a life-partner like he were the Mr Miyagi of Tinder. Chicks dig cock shots these days, Dave, that’s all I’m saying. It’s a brave new world out there.

But back to Bournemouth.

I went to Bournemouth once. I drove all the way down there to pick up a MK2 Golf GTI. It was Tornado Red with a subwoofer that consumed the entire boot space. Nearly 22 years old, it remained pristine and shiny because of the balmy, dry south coast, where old ladies tootle along beside big hedges and Mediterranean winds drift across the English channel. I soon booted it back North beyond the wall, to the mist and the grey, and I ragged the fuck out of it on winding singletrack and black ice and sheep shit for a couple of years. It was good that car.

When I was in Bournemouth I looked at their artificial reef. A monument to wasted public money, it is a £3.2 million shambles of burst sandbags. It opened in late 2009, never worked, and then was finally shut down in March 2011. The charlatans who built it, a NZ based company called ASR, went into liquidation shortly after. I looked at it then turned away, smirking.

So, Karl and his divorce.

Forget that Bournemouth is a terrible place to be a surfer and their artificial reef was hilariously shit.

Is surfing worth divorce?

And (in principle) would you spare a few shekels to help absentee father, lost to the clutches of two drizzly surfs a month on his longboard and his windslop, in the dark?


Elation: Buy all the cocaine you can handle for the low, low price of $1.99!

It's a fire sale!

You’ve no doubt read the book Cocaine + Surfing by now. Maybe you even own it. If you do not own it but would like to stick it to the man you can today and all of March because it is Amazon’s pick of the month and on sale for $1.99. Now, normally I wouldn’t care but Amazon ranks its books and I’m always behind Finnegan and the Hamiltons (Bethany and Laird). For just one day I’d like to have cocaine soaring above their heads. Maybe $1.99 will push me over the top.

Buy here!

And if you’d like a taste…

Pushing through the door I am once again enveloped in a scene that has played out the exact same for the past forever. A messy knot of people pushing toward the bar and toward the bathroom with equal force. Too close, too loud for talking. Too much talking. Nose rubbing. Chatty, conspiratorial, ecstatic, depressed, ecstatic, chatty. Conspiratorial.

It’s always snowing in Orange County, or so they say.

I try to press toward the bar but am intercepted by a very dapper industry bro holding an extra vodka-something. I take it from him and he says, “Yeah, Chas…” while nodding slowly and flashing a half smile. In another world his face would belong to a heartthrob singer or an actor or a model, or at the very least a teeth model. His teeth are impossibly straight and white. It would have to be assumed that they are veneers but they are not. They are real and blindingly white and so straight. I can’t take my eyes off of them an probably look weird when I respond, “Howzit…” while staring at his mouth.

In another world his very handsome face would pinned to the bedroom walls of teenaged girls, or orthodontists. In this world it does sales for the surf forecasting website Surfline and before that it was surf team manager for a surf shoe brand called Globe.

And surf industry genetics are a thing to behold. Inside it may seem the surf industry bro is a vacuum, an empty vessel, even though his heart is racing for his true and ancient love. Outside, though, he is almost perfect. Always lean, always tan, always well-proportioned, always salty ideally tousled hair, though usually a little short.

Why? The surf industry bro doesn’t grow food or build things or know things. Why then has evolution gifted such a worthless cultural appendage such genetic superiority? I don’t really know, though think it has something to do with the surf industry’s Mecca being Orange County. A place that molds its population after itself: pretty and vapid.

This particular surf industry bro, the one possessing the beyond handsome face and perfect teeth, and I chat empty surf talk for a minute. “You surf today? Sick. Where? Etc.” and then he asks me what I’m working on next—after “that Hawaii book.”

I tell him, “Cocaine plus surfing…it’s a love story.”

His nod doesn’t change rhythm nor does his smile change intensity and he says, “Yeah. Well, you won’t have any shortage of material,” before pushing off into the sweaty pit.

I watch, thinking about his teeth and wondering what career avenues open for a man with perfect teeth, but those thoughts are interrupted by an angry mouth too close to my ear. “These fuckers. These fucking fuckers taking Surfing away from us…fucking…fuckers. They wanted us to fail so they could shift our image archive away and sell it for millions of dollars and fuck us out of our rights. Now they won’t have to pay us, any of us, for reusing shots. Fucking…”

A damned surf photographer. I nod and say, “Yeah, totally,” before shuffling back toward the bar. I want to leave already but am really trying to honor my journey, trying to be a good surf journalist for the first time in my life. Trying to uncover little specifics in the world’s greatest love story. Like, asking people questions and stuff. I just got done asking Surfing’s ex Editor-in-Chief, Taylor Paul, if he likes cocaine. He looked at me all pucker-faced and said, “No. Are you kidding me? I hate the stuff. It makes everyone so…lame.”

I suppose he is the exception to the rule. After all, he is from Santa Cruz, and most Santa Cruz surfers love methamphetamine.

I’d just got done asking an intern who works for the extreme sport sock company Stance if she has any cocaine. She said no while looking at me like I was a total idiot by subverting the social order. I was supposed to be telling her I had cocaine. Stance is one of the only companies thriving in the surf space though, so I thought it was a fair question.

I then asked a part-time professional surfer part-time DJ if he wanted cocaine. He said, “Sure…” then got angry when I told him I didn’t have any.

And I really should have left an hour ago. It is too late and now I am depressed and caught in the conspiratorial web of another surf photographer who is even more furious than the last that Surfing magazine got shut down and is insisting that the magazine was actually making money and doing well. The crowd is still thick and getting sloppy.

It would impossible to guess if his rant, or the rant before his, is cocaine infused because most surf photographers are, by nature, conspiratorial. Someone is always stealing their art. No one is ever paying them enough. Everyone in this whole damned industry has profited and profited handsomely except them. In their collective mind they are getting fucked. Always getting fucked and always ready to snap about it, though I once carried a surf photographer’s backpack across a mile of beach and instantly understood surf photographer rage. The backpack weighed 250 lbs. The sand was scorching hot. It was like a forced march and all surf photographers should be paid reparations by the brands for their servitude.

“…fucking saw one of my shots being used by fucking Rip Curl on their Instagram feed…gonna fucking kill someone…”

The surf photographer rage and victimization complex is extreme but also mirrors the way most surfers feel about the surf industry. Surfers love surfing and reckon it such a pure love. Such a rush, such a kick. Such a high. But then they start looking around and seeing more and more people riding waves alongside them and they turn into strange possessive Gollums, hating other surfers, stealing their waves, getting high off their waves, fucking other surfers and hating the industry that is built around selling their personal dream. So much like the last boy with a baggie of cocaine at a dying party. Such hiding in the bathroom. Such suspicion of everyone and everything.

Depression: “The worst February in 28 years for Mavericks!”

The odds are not good.

Are you crazy for the big stuff? Like, not to surf obviously but to watch? Viewing parties for Jaws and Nazare etc? Well if you are, I can only imagine the frustration, depression even, that you feel about California’s premier big wave Chasing Mavericks.

It seemed, early on, that this would be her year as the event had finally been extracted from a man named Griffin Guess and gifted back to its rightful heirs, owners of all professional surfing, the World Surf League.

And in December, oooee! she lit right up. A day of 50+ foot waves but… confusingly no competition. Or maybe not confusing at all. In what became a tradition, it was called off because the waves were both a) too big and b) too good and the Pretty Big Wave World Tour was born.

In any case, that was December. Certainly the Grand Ol Dame would roar in January and February.

Alas. And let us let the San Francisco Chronicle be the bearer of bad news. Let us kill that messenger instead.

The Mavericks surf contest is on the clock, and things do not look promising.

The month of March remains in the contest window, but the combination of foul weather and an unsettling forecast has greatly reduced the odds.

“This was the worst February in 28 years for Mavericks,” said San Francisco big-wave surfer Grant Washburn, who has meticulously documented every swell since the place became popularized in the early 1990s. “It’s not even close, by my records. January was not much better. There hasn’t been anything even remotely contest-worthy in almost three months.”

March is traditionally a tricky month, known for its stiff northwest/west winds (not good for Mavericks), and there’s little reason to expect much this time.

“The jet stream has been split for at least six weeks now,” said Mark Sponsler, who lends his forecasting expertise to the contest, “and even with the Active Phase of the MJO raging in the West Pacific, it hasn’t been able to feed enough energy into the jet to get it to consolidate across the width of the Pacific.

“Until that happens, the odds are low of a storm forming close enough to Mavericks to result in a contestable swell. At this point, the odds are not good of that happening.”