tom hanks
You like isolation? It's got his ups, its downs. Empty waves, hollow conversation.

Quiz: What’s your dream surf scenario? Do you crave community or isolation?

Do you reject the world and crave to live in perfect crowd-free isolation? Or do you chase a brotherhood of like-minded souls?

Picture your ideal scenario for living out a life in pursuit of these useless goals.

What does that look like for you?

Is it surf community? Or surf isolation?

I’m in a quandary.

Some of you who put up with crowds on the regular won’t believe it, but sometimes I yearn for a surf community. I’ve never had that. I’ve surfed alone as often as I’ve surfed with others. I think I’ve missed out on some level of shared joy and camaraderie.

And I missed out on learning to navigate crowds in my formative years. You should see me. I go to pieces. I’m stiff, like a brandy snap.

The idea of boardriders clubs and stolen weekday hours is appealing. The idea that surfing could be something incorporated into daily life, as opposed to a dirty habit that clashes up against it, seems like the answer.

But I’ve been thinking, as is my wont, about isolation. Not really in regards to surfing. But about escaping from all of it. Running away. Fleeing from desire and disease, from the shackles of rampant consumerism and capitalist one-upmanship.

“It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” – Jiddu Krishnamurti

It’s been motivated, as usual, by what I’ve been reading.

A Last Wild Place by Mike Tomkies is a marvel of observation of the natural world. A treatise of the lives and deaths of wild creatures amidst the setting of true wilderness.

The author, once a Hollywood columnist who shared beds, champagne and drugs with some of America’s brightest stars, fled the world at the age of 38, coincidentally my age now, and lived in isolation in the Highlands of Scotland for most of the rest of his life.

He spent hours and days crammed into hides that he dragged for miles into forests and up mountains. All to observe and document Golden Eagles, Scottish Wildcats, Red Deer, Black Throated Divers, Red Squirrels, Pine Martens, and other less glamorous things, like the minutiae of insects, plants and weather.

It’s a book containing such detail that it would be impossible to believe, had it been written in the age of the Internet. The temptation to fill in the gaps with Google, rather than spend aching hours in isolation, with your cold and your hunger, would perhaps be too great.

It made an impression on me that never left. A lingering sense that I’d be happy on my own (or perhaps just with my dog) confronted with the realities of finding food, maintaining shelter. Swaying with the seasons, tuned into the bliss of summer and the brutality of winter.

We’re too connected now to ever be truly alone.

I first read this book when I was ten. Re-reading it now I’m sure I pretended to understand most of it to impress my mum. But it feels promethean. I think it made an impression on me that never left. A lingering sense that I’d be happy on my own (or perhaps just with my dog) confronted with the realities of finding food, maintaining shelter. Swaying with the seasons, tuned into the bliss of summer and the brutality of winter.

Maybe I crave isolation because it’s so far removed from my day to day toil, from butting my head against systems and ideologies I don’t care about. Maybe it’s just because the threads were there for me to follow when I was young, but I never grasped them. And now, some days, I feel like I’m trapped here in the dark, with the monster breathing down my neck.

The Stranger In The Woods by Michael Finkel is the story of Christopher Knight, a seemingly normal man who, at 20 years old, left work one day, entirely without planning or preparation, and simply walked out of the world.

He spent the next 30 years in complete isolation.

For more than a quarter of a century he never slept indoors or spoke to another soul. He endured the harshest of winters in his patch of woodland in Maine, and survived with a combination of resourcefulness and theft from holiday cabins near his secret den.

Christopher Knight didn’t live in the wilderness in the traditional sense, but his commitment to isolation and rejection of society was absolute.

I have my retirement surf spot in mind. But it is remote, and it would be a rejection of sorts. I wonder if that’s truly what I want, or if the idea of just abandoning life is too romantic, or too easy. It’s definitely selfish.

These are my fantasies: walking out without ceremony and just never coming back.

Of course I won’t.

I got a job, and a girl, and kids. I’m not unhappy. I don’t think. And I love them dearly, but disappearing still appeals. Maybe all this yearning is just symptomatic of humanity’s great flaw. We continually want what we don’t have.

I have my retirement surf spot in mind. But it is remote, and it would be a rejection of sorts. I wonder if that’s truly what I want, or if the idea of just abandoning life is too romantic, or too easy. It’s definitely selfish.

So the paradox is this: on one hand I feel like rejecting people altogether. Yet on the other, I yearn for companionship, and the joy of sharing.

What would you choose, given the option?

I suspect the dream scenario doesn’t exist.

I suspect the dream is always taxed.

john john florence
Is the former Champ that fragile he can’t field anything harder than a standard WSL softball question? | Photo: WSL

Day Four, Quiksilver Pro: John John a “sweet kid” who doesn’t need his focus fucked with by your “provocative” questions!

Movie man Peter King acts as block for two-time world champ; Gabe looks flat; Where's Ross Williams?

Terrible, terrible night’s sleep. Something like the sound of a troop of gibbons being rounded up and ripped apart by a leopard woke me up repeatedly.

Moans , screams, hyeana-like laughing: were they dogs, cats, primates?

I’m bunking at the cheaper end of the southern Gold Coast, opposite the airport. A place where older Australians come to die in the sunshine. No one ages like an Australian in the hesperidean furnace of the Queensland sun. Papier-mache skin struggles to hold together cancerous lesions that multiply year on year. Like a rusted-out car they literally fall to pieces.

Yet no one dies happier: nourished by a meat tray at the bowls club, a doctor at the skin cancer clinic with a dab hand on the liquid nitrogen, an Aldi close by.

Through his disastrous start to 2018 before the injury John did not score a single wave in the excellent range (edit: he scored one in round one at Keramas). So far this event he is yet to score a single excellent wave. I count 11 heats with John scoring a single ride over eight.

I know Nick Carroll is now dabbling in the data analysis game which I pioneered after a bass fishing accident with Nate Silver of politics/sports blog 538 fame but here is a set of numbers that John Florence and his team need to fathom, and quickly.

Through his disastrous start to 2018 before the injury John did not score a single wave in the excellent range (edit: he scored one in round one at Keramas). So far this event he is yet to score a single excellent wave. I count 11 heats with John scoring a single ride over eight.

Numbers prior to 2018 don’t count because Pritamo Ahrednt and the judging panel massively changed the scale.

I thought a de-powered D-Bah lineup this morning would favour Filipe. John paddled off the beach, neglecting to utilise the rip next to the Wall. He had eyes for the “hill” peak. Toledo sat a hundred metres away from to the south. They did a slow pirouette around each other and swapped positions. John started with a peachy little tube and a toy air. The score, a 7.33 seemed high for a wave that any competent Coolangatta surfer could ride in similar fashion.

Filipe’s opener seemed low-balled. That point spread gave John a cushion of comfort to sit on. He racked up scores, mauling a close-out in a way only he can do.

Wayne “Rabbit” Bartholomew, sitting solo in the VIP tent, observed he was still operating notches below the pace set by Gabe and Filipe.

The heat dribbled away and a Filipe who has looked a bit lost and low energy was defeated.

In my torment last night, the image of John John kept returning. Despite the Taxi Driver Mohawk the difference in aura/energy between him and Gabe is stark.

I walked next to the 16/17 dual World champ just outside the media tent.

“John, can I ask you a couple of quick questions?” I asked.

“Sure,” he said.

“A lot of people said that after the incident with Zeke last year that all that aggression and hassling really put you off is that….”

I felt a sharp elbow in my ribs and a solid girth bumped me off.

“Nah, we don’t talk about that,” said the girthy man.

It was Peter King! Manhandling me away from John.

I tried again to approach but his physical being was transposed between myself and Florence.

He was running a block, protecting his man.

But from what? I’m the biggest John John fanboi in Australia.

Is the former Champ that fragile he can’t field anything harder than a standard WSL softball?

Please, don’t get me wrong. I love muscle.

As a Queenslander who has grown up with Sicilian uncles I’ve seen interlopers and gate crashers wish they’d never been born.

But this response seemed disproportionate.

Performances were well down by yesterday’s standards. Conner Coffin squeaked by Kanoa, Seth Moniz looked solid taking down Reef Heazlewood who looked lost without that air wind blowing into the left. Kolohe was too strong for Owen and a much less explosive Medina accounted for Dora. Medina surfed flat and his turns lacked edge.

Jordy Smith, Mikey Wright were in one heat and Italo/Cardoso were in the other when I finally caught back up with Peter King on the Duranbah sand dunes.

A fierce exchange ensued.

The gist of which was, me: “What are you doing manhandling me, keep your fucking hands off me” and him: “You are harassing my friend.”

He said John was a “sweet kid” who didn’t need his focus fucked with by “provocative” questions.

I said I was doing my job and asking him about an incident that seemed to totally derail his Title campaign last year.

One he was likely to face again.

Is that harassment?

Asking the Champ what seems to me a basic question about his preparation for dealing with the aggression of opponents? Too provocative for a 26-year-old man who is a duel World Champion and has tamed the murderous waves of Pipeline and Teahupoo?

The extreme sensitivity would suggest not all is rock solid in the JJF camp.

And where is Ross Williams?

Italo, like Reef, looked tetchy and vulnerable without the air wind to leverage his board against his feet. He fell repeatedly. Snapped out a fin and looked out of sorts and petulant. He did enough to defeat Willian Cardoso who realistically would have to have comboed IF for judges to take notice.

Somehow, though, Wade Carmichael’s brand of power surfing is finding favour with judges. He will need every iota of it to take on Italo in the Quarters.

What do you think of John John’s aura?

Wearing the Mohawk well?

Appropriately, or as a camouflage for deeper vulnerabilities?

Steve Sherman’s Quiksilver Pro Photo of the Day: “Darren Handley ‘pants’ Jon Pyzel!”

DHD understands the power, and humour, of humiliation… 

Wanna know why Jon Pyzel, shaper to you know who, is belting a happy Darren Handley in the guts? 

A few seconds before Sherm hit the shutter, his shorts were almost around his ankles. 

“Darren came up while I was shooting photos of Jon and tried to pants him. Then they started talking pantsing stories and the fucked-up haircuts Darren’ had over the years,” says Sherm. 

Shapers are a popular subject for Sherm, surfing’s Cartier-Bresson, a rare treasure like fourth-century Roman gold. Look through his body of work and Simon Anderson, MR, Maurice Cole, Handley and co feature heavily. 

“They’re god-like mythical creatures on this earth who make these beautiful things,” says Sherm. “Whether it be Simon or Mark Richards, I’m in awe of these guys. I like Jon because he’s brutally honest. He never holds back what he’s thinking. He’s a man who loves surfing and making surfboards.” 

Handley has been a pal of Sherm’s since his first visit to the Gold Coast in 1999, back when he was the prime shooter for Transworld Surf. But it was in 2014, when Sherm’s pal Jigga Johnson, a glasser for Handley died suddenly. 

“Two months later at Pipe,” says Sherm. “Mick is going for his third world title and there are all these boards and Mick grabs one for his heat. Darren says, ‘That’s the last board Jigga hand-sanded for Mick .’He ended up winning the world title on that board Jigga had hand-sanded.

“Jigga Johnson,” says Sherm, the name still tough to say, still warm in his heart. 

“We both just cried like kids.”

"We're going to need a bigger board."
"We're going to need a bigger board."

Evolution: New England breeding new Sturdy Adult Learners who are unafraid of sharks!

SALs are here!

We have spent very much important time here identifying and categorizing adult learners. Important work seeing as the future belongs to them and, today, our World Surf League does. Most, we know, are vulnerable and I had come to assume that virtually all of them were but a new class has been uncovered in New England. A heretofore unseen sort. And I would like to introduce the Sturdy Adult Learner or SAL.

What makes this varietal so interesting is his an her complete lack of fear of sharks and in the land that gave us Jaws, no less. Amazing? I think so but let’s not pause here. Let’s get to know these SALs straight away.

A Cape Cod town has decided to continue allowing surfing schools to operate this summer despite ongoing concerns about sharks.

A 26-year-old man was killed last September while bodyboarding off Wellfleet, the state’s first fatal shark attack in more than 80 years. A man was seriously injured in an earlier attack off Truro.

The Cape Cod Times reports the Wellfleet select board decided last week to issue permits to the popular, privately-operated surf schools that offer lessons to adults and children. The board discussed possible steps such as requiring operators to carry additional insurance or show their students shark safety videos.

And there we have it. A fatality and a serious injury, due shark, will not deter the Sturdy Adult Learner from practicing his new craft. Not deter her from the joys of riding straight.

I do worry, though, that SALs will make wave tanks less… exciting. Maybe poking a little hole in the bubble. Or maybe not. Maybe SALs want to taste the floor of Surf Ranch too, once they are finished staring Great White Death in the gimlet eye.

Day three, Quiksilver Pro: “Gabriel Medina surfing at entirely different level!”

That beautiful samba storm is in full swing!

At the risk of getting fired midway through the coverage can we just thrash Kelly around a tiny bit more, before we get started on todays analysis? Yep? OK.

I think it’s insulting to the GOAT to imply that after 55 CT wins and 27 years on Tour, a recent showing in the QS and a very good showing at Pipe last year that he no longer understands the criteria.

He doesn’t have a brain injury, only a busted hoof. He surfed exactly the same crazy weird Slater-only style that got an excellent score at Surf Ranch in September. Yes, the game has changed, but to imply the Champ does not comprehend it is an extraordinary claim with no evidence to back it up.

The indifference though, not just from the judging panel but from the general surfing public, especially the Gold Coast surfing public, is what was staggering.

We’ve had a full nine months to gestate on the retirement lap of Kelly Slater and the turnout to watch the Champ’s last (maybe) ever showing at the Gold Coast was paltry. It was piss weak.

Kelly said he felt more like crying than laughing, as well as the pain of the loss, the lack of adulation and even respect from a sporting public he has given so much too must have hurt. If not now, then on reflection.


Well, he chose the path of super twitchy after breaking from CI , a move that looks more and more like a massive wrong turn. I fondled many shooters today. JJF’s, Jordy’s, Zeke’s, Kanoa’s, Gabes. The common denominator was a generous foil through the mid to aft rail section. Beef is in. Big turns need resistance is the simple calculus. Yet Kelly came out in public at Surf Ranch spruiking his new whip telling us to ride the one “that felt too small”.


Heat one, round three, first man on man. Right now, I declare a conflict of interest reporting on Soli Bailey heats. His old man is a friend. I bounced Soli on my knee when he was a bambino. I’m clearly biased. Reader beware. Looking at three-to-four-foot blue-water wedges at D-Bah I thought advantage Bailey. Rivermouth breakwall wedges are bread and butter for North Coast surfers. I’ve surfed North Wall with Soli more times than JP Currie has had standing wanks at midnight watching the EPL.

He looked good, started strong. Filipe looked asleep. A bit off like he did in the Air Show. Not there. Not on.

It was only Dickie Toledo standing on the shore, whistling like a demented rainbow lorikeet and gesturing wildly for Filipe to move a little north that seemed to wake him up. With four mins to go and needing a mid-seven Filipe leant back and hooked into three solid gaffs and loosed the fins on the closeout. The eight-pointer was enough to send Soli packing.

He should have had Filipe. Opportunity lost. Every heat on the Australian leg is especially critical for rookies.

From my vantage the over-lapping format and wide open spaces of D-Bah, as well as the small crowd played right into JJF’s hands. A non-claustrophobic atmosphere with a ton of waves, some of them wedgey and shapely, in warm blue water. You could not ask for a better set-up for a return to the Tour. There was enough draw for him to delay the bottom turn, and the timing off the top looked impeccable. Big, big sprays.

That was from the beach.

The irony for John is heats get less crucial the deeper in the draw he gets… at this stage of the year. The main thing, the only thing, was not to lose early. Not to show up and look off the pace.

I was pilloried by pro surfing legends for suggesting the game had changed and John was at risk of looking like yesterday’s man compared to a new Brazilian standard but let’s not forget the new scoring scale put in place last year was not kind to John. A new level of risk and aggression was required. John brought it this morning.

How’d you like the over-lapping heat format? Worked much better as a broadcast product, very much cut down on dead time, immeasureably more action. From the beach it was confusing.

And again, the crowd was small. Way, way down by historical standards. If the emphasis is on the broadcast and beach numbers are dissipating, is the justification for Tourism bodies to underwrite it also diminished? It does seem a question the suits will need answering at some point.

I was hiding in the shade behind the VIP tent, almost empty, watching Reef Heazlewood demolish Julian Wilson with crazy whips and big airs when a brawny man towering over me called out “Longtom”.

Bounced? I wasn’t even in the tent.

It was Mikey Ciaramella, from STAB, nee BeachGrit! I looked nervously around for the yellow beanie.

“Where’s Goggans?”

“Oh he’s here,” said Mike.

My mind scrambled for back-up. Carroll? Doherty? Neither of them reliable.

I would just have to hope Ashton was in a peaceable mood away from his home continent.

What about the fan picks? Yay or nay? Aren’t they at the wrong end of the heat. Shouldn’t it be more of a fan call on the heat. Now that would be interesting engagement. If 78% of the viewing public thought a call was a dud would there be a recount? A resurf?

Nothing remotely controversial today, to my eye. I found a screen for the final few heats. To try and understand and analyse it better with the benefit of slo-mo and replay. It really is a far superior product to consume online than it is to watch live, with rare exceptions.

I still can’t really find words to describe what happened next.

First with Gabe, who opened with two monstrous unmade airs then took to D-Bah in what can only be described as a feeding frenzy. I really hope Kelly was watching. Watching and understanding where the new level is at. I really hope all the Gabriel Medina haters can open themselves up to the truth and understand he is surfing at an entirely different level.

I thought the alley oop had gone extinct. Gabe bought it back. Huge straight airs. Backside power hooks of all different stripes and flavours. Everything.

I have to admit, and Derek Rielly will back me up, when I heard D-Bah was on this was the vision I had. The vision was Gabe and Italo.

They surfed side by side, or close enough. They made the heats surrounding them look superfluous and vestigial. They made the concept of an Air Show totally redundant.

I can’t call up the heat analyser to run the numbers and my notes are inconclusive but between them Gabe and Italo stomped what? Twenty airs?

Add Yago to that mix and it might be twenty five.

Poor Ricardo Christie. Pottz said he needed to find the better waves and get back to his power game. He needed a fucken miracle, an act of God, maybe a full scale terrorist attack or something equally horrific to stop Italo.

For maybe the first time ever I was in full agreement with Joe Turpel when he intoned “Italo is melting my brain”.

It was hard to keep up with all the wtf moments. A very big day.

Sand bank update. There is a short, hollow little sand bank now at Snapper behind the rock. Not much sand moving there today.