Confession: “I have spent approximately 4600 hours surfing and still miserably suck.”

That’s 1.35% of my waking life.

How well do I surf? I’m decent. I mean, I’m definitely not great. If I’m being honest, I’m really not that good.

Fine! You want me to say it? Fuck it. Gimme that mic…


I reckon that I’ve surfed north of 2,300 sessions. My hypothetical surfing map that my lady would never let me hang on a wall would include nifty, colorful pins puncturing all US coastal quadrants, a big fat one on a mention-it’s-name-and-I’ll-cut-you-red outer Hawaiian Island and more in Indo, New Zealand, Australia, Mexico, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico and two man-made surf parks in Texas. With a two hour session average, I’ve spent approximately 4,600 hours doing something that I still miserably suck at. That’s half a sojourn around the sun. That’s 1.35% of my waking life.

Yet, I still suck.

I’ve been playing cat and mouse with my inability for some time, but never have I felt the dark warmth of the belly of the feline beast more than when watching some psychologically scarring video footage of myself from a recent session. If you’re considering this, but you suspect your own sub-mediocrity, be warned that it’s something you can’t unsee and you’d be better served staring at that photo of Messier 87 for an hour contemplating the fact that everything that exists, everything you know, everyone you love, likely came from and will thus return to nothingness. (Spoiler alert: In the end, darkness wins.)

It was the first time in nearly two decades that I’ve seen myself on video playback and it was like happening upon a clip of my parents on Pornhub. It was like, after a lifetime of severe, untreated nearsightedness, I got LASIK surgery and discovered that I look like an ogre who lost a fight to a bigger ogre. It was like I got kicked in the nuts by my nemesis after he and my wife, fingers clasped, informed me that my 3-year-old son is not actually of my own seed.

Whatever veil of delusional innocence I had been living behind was at once pulled back, leaving the stark, sobering reality that the level of grace my surfing carries is akin to that of the titular character in the 80s absurdist comedy Weekend At Bernie’s. If you’re not familiar with the film and therefore the reference, Bernie is dead. I look like I have some form of micro-amnesia whereby I’m perpetually coming to from a blackout on a second-by-second basis to the startling realization that I am, in fact, gliding upon the surface of water. Look, Ma. It’s wet!The post-mortem biopic of my surfing life would be called 5000 First Waves. My turns look like an alien trying to copulate with a human having not yet figured what goes where. My pumping looks like I’m trying to actually sink my surfboard underwater. My tube stance is a dookie crouch. But the worst part is the way I would pseudo-casually exit waves with my too-cool-for-school-Slater-nose-wipe-non-claim-claim like I just did something of a measurable amount of objective worth, like anything beyond the mere success of staying afloat just transpired.

Among the strangeness of realizing that Italo surfs better switch than I do regular, the thing I can’t quite reconcile is how supremely sublime something that looks that hideous feels.

I often go to concerts where bands jam and meander into territories heretofore unknown. At these shows, if I’m inspired, I dance. I noodle my legs, torso, arms and head around in rhythmic fashion as I surrender to the flow and connect with Mother Melody. Sometimes, I’m so moved that I compulsively make that boobie-motorboating sound when their jams peak. I’m sure it looks ridiculous, but I don’t care. It feels great in my body. If a video of me doing this concert-noodle were aired on national television, with my name superimposed beneath it in flashing rainbow letters, I genuinely think I’d laugh it off and very well may feel a bit of pride.

If only I could apply this level of casual acceptance to the recent revelation that my surfing looks like John John’s would the day after someone broke both his kneecaps. (DON’T BREAK JOHN JOHN’S KNEECAPS!) But I can’t. I find no humor in the fact that, on a good day, my surfing looks like that of a man twenty years my elder with three herniated discs in his back who’s a day late on refilling his pain meds.

And for this, I feel shame.

But why?

Not why do I suck. I suck because I didn’t grow up near the beach and wasn’t taken hostage by surfing until I was 22 (Can one be grandfathered-in as a VAL?)… or because I’ve never taken a lesson or been instructed in any way whatsoever… or because my constant, pre-mature-ejaculate-level frothing supersedes my ability to maintain any flow… or perhaps because the fundamentals of wave sliding are just beyond me.

No, the itchy, whiney why? that I can’t quite scratch is why do I care so much? I know… the act of surfing itself is a ridiculous, meaningless endeavor blah blah blah Chas and the entire Beachgrit premise that’s neither productive nor consumptive on a sociological level blah blah blah Aaron James and is as arbitrary as going to a bucolic meadow to catch apples falling from a tree or eating a bunch of caramels with Minnie Driver but it still means something to me, though that meaning is often as elusive as a shifty beach break peak.

Personal relationships aside, it kind of means, well… everything.

And I suck.

Like, Frankenstein-night-surfing-after-he-took-too-many-hits-of-blotter suck.

And this leaves me full of sorrow.

It would appear that life is a process whereby — if one keeps at it — youthful fantasy violently collides with reality in something often referred to as “adulthood.” Personally, I’m still fishing pieces of shrapnel from this collision out of the lower backside of my torso. An applicable term may be arrested development.

Maybe it’s my love for (Stockholm syndrome with) surfing that illuminates the fact that I suck. Buddha says you care = you suffer. Hold on a sec… suffer… surfer… suffer…surfer…suffer…surfer…suffer…surfer… Maybe I just suck at caring. At loving things. Maybe I’m like Lenny in Of Mice And Men and surfing is the bunny rabbit that — while I intend to gently caress — I strangle to death.

I won’t stop. No way. I can’t. I’m a helpless hostage. But, for psychological preservation, I feel I must do something about the fact that I’d likely lose a heat to Jordy if he were wearing both an eye patch (#realnotdecorative) and a straight jacket.

Maybe the answer is to stop trying to surf like those aquatic freaks my mind, expectations and endorphins have been inundated with through the torrent of surf porn I ingest on a regular basis. Maybe I should stop punishingly defining myself by standards of performance I haven’t a chance of achieving. Maybe I should stop defining any of it.

Is that even possible?

My inner naive idealist, the one who waxes my board and lives in a state of denial about my inner bitter asshole, the one who ends up surfing most of the session, says it is possible. He says it’s possible to one day find harmony between my capability and my expectations. To marry my hustle and my flow.

Moving forward, I shall attempt to leave my efforts and execution of this kinetic act of buoyancy undefined, since that’s the essence of why I’m self-destructively drawn to it in the first place; that barb of the hook that won’t stop tugging on my cheek.

Someone somewhere probably said that surfing is an expression.

Suppose it’s time I try to surf like… myself?

What’s that even mean? Could it be fun? How would I gage my success? How would I know if I’m doing it right? Where would my approval come from? What if they laugh? Could I ever be so bold as to plant my flag on an isolated atoll of identity as such?

Have you attempted this?

Do you… do this?

Reunion Island shark attack Update: Surfer’s anti-shark device broken!

Waves pumping, pretty empty, your anti-shark device is busted. What would you do?

A little quiz. You’re a screwfoot. What would you risk to surf empty-ish, six-foot warm-water lefts?

The French surfer, Kim Mahbouli, who died yesterday when he was hit by a bull shark, ignored dirty water and a mostly empty lineup to surf perfect St Leu, a wave that used to be a blue-ribbon stop on the pro tour.

Reports that his three pals were wearing shark repellants are yet to be confirmed, but I can report Mahbouli’s own device was out of action, a not uncommon occurrence according to the local I spoke to.

The most commonly used devices on Reunion are the RPELA from Western Australia, which is integrated into your board and costs around five hundred bucks, and NoShark, which y’strap to your ankle, also around five cees.

Both of ’em work by sending out electricity to fuck with the shark’s electro-receptors.

Mahbouli went to school in Reunion, was a shredder and, like a lot of us, couldn’t see past the dreamy funnels hitting St Leu’s famous bowl.

Photo of Kim Mahbouli by Steph Peyriguer
Photo of Kim Mahbouli by Steph Peyriguer

“I was angry against Kim,” said the local I spoke to. “The water was murky and you don’t go in the afternoon. Why? I wouldn’t go and nor would most of my friends.

“But, when you are young you push your limits and at St Leu nobody’s in the water so you have the great session of your life. I can understand. I surfed two weeks ago in the morning, the water wasn’t very clear and I didn’t have a shark device. The waves are beautiful and you stay.

“But it’s a big price to pay.”

In a story, Requiem for Kim, on island’s primary news website, Clicanoo, Philippe Le Clarie wrote, in part:

It’s like a bad dream. A broken board and a body under a white sheet. A friend, a son, a surf buddy torn out of life because he went surfing.

There it was at Saint-Leu. Kim Mabhouli knew the spot. He knew that the ocean had been banned temporarily – a beautiful oxymoron – for years.

But how to banish the sea when you live on an island. As well forbid to drink in the middle of the desert. Water is life. In Reunion, for so long already, water is death.

When the whole world sings the wedding of the man and the ocean, in Reunion, we count the dead, the unemployed, the tourists, one by one, on the deserted beaches.

And in the middle of all this there is suffering.


Paris surfer Kim Mahbouli, killed on Reunion Island. | Photo: Imaz Press

(Another) Surfer killed by shark on Reunion Island! 24th attack in eight years!

Usual story, bull shark, hits leg, surfer dies etc on that godforsaken island…

Is a man-eaten-by-shark-on-Reunion-Island story news anymore? Yesterday, a surfer from Paris, Kim Mahbouli, went surfing, got hit, lost a leg, died.

The attack was the twenty-fourth in eight years and the eleventh fatal. In January, a fisherman died when a bull shark hit his leg.

Yeah, Mahbouli, who was twenty eight, was surfing in one of those banned areas ’cause the French way of solving an imbalance of bull sharks in the local ecosystem is to just stop people going in it. 

And, yeah, his pals apparently had shark repellant devices strapped to their ankles (Modom leashes?).

But what are you going to do?

There’s waves and the odds of getting hit by a shark, as we keep hearing, are about the same as visitation from curious aliens or a meteor strike.

Tourists getting their legs bitten off and subsequently dying on the beach has ruined tourism on that Indian Ocean-Franco paradise. Y’ain’t seen anything like this Creole version of Tahiti, with its volcano and reef passes and exceptional boulangeries.

And the people! Some dark, some light, most possessing some beguiling physical characterstic, blue eyes popping out of choco skin, for instance.

But ever since a marine sanctuary was created in 2007, the bull sharks have taken hold of the ocean.

“There is no more life. There is no more turtles. There is no more fish. No more nothing. No more reef sharks. Because the bull sharks have eaten everything. And now, because there’s nothing left to eat, it’s the surfers.” Jeremy Flores.

A few years ago, I interviewed Jez Flores, who grew up there, about it.

“From generation to generation there were always fishermen and then people from overseas, environmentalists, came and they stopped fishing in a 10-kilometre area where all the shark attacks are now happening,” says Jez. “That was eight years ago. By the time they stopped fishing the sharks didn’t have anything to fear anymore so they started coming and now it’s dead territory. They ate everything. There is no more life. There is no more turtles. There is no more fish. No more nothing. No more reef sharks. Because the bull sharks have eaten everything. And now, because there’s nothing left to eat, it’s the surfers.”

When thirteen-year-old shredder Elio Canestri was killed in front of his pals in 2015, Jez told me, “All these sharks, bro, fuck, it’s the real deal. Perfect waves. Sunny day. Eight kids in the water and the shark attacked in the middle of everyone. Can you imagine that? Can you imagine how those kids feel?”

Even Kelly Slater, who ain’t gung-ho when it comes to killing animals, advocated a cull.

“Honestly, I won’t be popular for saying this but there needs to be a serious cull on Reunion and it should happen every day. There is a clear imbalance happening in the ocean there. If the whole world had these rates of attack nobody would use the ocean and literally millions of people would be dying like this. The French govt needs to figure this out asap. 20 attacks since 2011!?”

Jez visits regularly. He don’t surf.

“It’s not worth the risk,” he said.

(Note: It’s five am in Reunion. Got a few pals there. I’ll call ’em for the inside story in a few hours.)

Chas Smith: “I’m really ok. Trust me. Everything’s going to be fine!”

You met me at a very strange time in my life.

Oh ye of little faith. Ye hand-wringers and furrow brow’d. Ye frowny-face’d, hurt-feeling’d, ultra-serious friends. Did you really think all of this was for one podcast? For one simple podcast where I go in guns blazing, telling the World Surf League’s President of Content, Media, etc. Erik “ELo” Logan off, finally having our say then storming out in a blaze of broken ceramic WSL mug shards?

Or being dragged out by the collar, vintage Ray-Bans in pieces on the floor, even though a neck/lower receding jawline punch couldn’t bring them low?

For one damned podcast?



I suppose that’s the way every single one of my short story arcs have played thus far. I provoke, opponent takes giant swing losing balance in the process while I stand to the side laughing, the audience either laughing with me or at but I’m always the winner.

I’m always Mohammed Ali dancing like a butterfly, stinging like a bee.

And it was easy with Mick Fanning, Rip Curl’s Neil Ridgway, Ashton Goggans, etc. Simple and funny-ish but I’m bored to tears with these short story arcs now. A decade plus writing the same material. They’re all the exact same except for the beanies or berets.

The World Surf League’s President of Content, Media, etc. Erik “ELo” Logan, though, is a different challenge altogether. A heavyweight. A worthy opponent trained in the arts of manifested success, mentored by Oprah, charming, quick, savvy.

This is core versus corporate at a level I haven’t come close to scratching and I don’t want to write another short story. I want to write a novel, or at least novella, with twists and turns, intrigue, hopes, hopes dashed and, at the end (spoiler alert) this scene right here…

You may not like each of the chapters but I’ll be damned if you don’t appreciate the book.

New BFFs, the gossip writer Chas Smith, mercenary Erik Logan and broadcaster Davey Scales.

JP Currie: “The plan is to package surfing up and sell it back to us? I say fuck that. You don’t own it.”

"The sceptical treatise that we have all contributed to right here on BeachGrit was not delivered by Chas and Dave. Erik Logan was not called to account for being Erik Logan. He was not challenged."

I’m like you. I’m just a punter who loves surfing but doesn’t get to do it nearly as often as he’d like.

We share the barriers, partners, kids, jobs, family, friends, money, geography, our health, the weather. In varying degrees, they all amount to the same thing: not as much time as we’d like to just surf.

And therein lies my problem with Erik Logan.

He’s not like me. Not even a little bit.

Educated the expensive way, he knows his claret from his Beaujolais.

Decides he’s going to be “a surfer” in his 40s or whatever.

Gets to surf every day he feels like it.

Has a personal photographer.

Probably spends more on boards every month than I do on my mortgage.

Swans around tropical surf camps.

Hangs out with surf glitterati.

And, presumably, makes a shit ton of money from all of it.

I’ve never been on a boat trip. Aside from one Indo trip (too long ago now to even savour the memories) I’ve never been in the tropics. I can’t afford any of that.

My world is one of eking a living at the 9-5. Of enduring all the bullshit that life throws at you. Of trying to negotiate and squeeze a few hours in the water here and there. Of constantly having to apologise for it.

None of this is his fault, of course.

I listened to Chas n Dave be hosted by ELo. It was not what I was expecting. The sceptical whothefuckareyoucunt treatise that we have all contributed to right here on BeachGrit was not delivered. Erik Logan was not called to account for being Erik Logan. He was not challenged.

We all play the cards we’re dealt, for the most part. But how am I supposed to back a guy like that?

What would he possibly know or care about my surf experience?

And what’s to admire in a rich man trying to get richer through surf?

I listened to Chas n Dave be hosted by ELo. It was not what I was expecting. The sceptical whothefuckareyoucunt treatise that we have all contributed to right here on BeachGrit was not delivered. Erik Logan was not called to account for being Erik Logan. He was not challenged.

I don’t blame them. ELo was charming. He seemed like a good guy, albeit a practised one. They walked into his world and he called the plays. They may run rings round him in the water, but over a conference table, or in the world of media, Erik Logan is the Alpha.

His vision of the WSL is a broad church, with space on the pews for everyone. Surfing through the eyes of Eric Logan is a happy-clappy inclusive utopia.

It’s nice, romantic even.

But it’s bullshit. And worse, it’s disingenuous.

Because the subtext is clear. The WSL is becoming a dragnet.

They want to control every aspect of surfing because that is how you maximise profit.

Erik Logan is clearly a mercenary, and in his world the North Stars shine bright. Once upon a time we told Google what we were interested in, now they tell us. Jeff Bezos was just a guy who sold books.

So, the plan is to package surfing up, tie a neat little bow around it, and sell it back to us?

I say fuck that. You don’t own it.

I could believe Erik Logan is a nice man, I just don’t believe he’s The People. I’m not sure I trust his motivations. He understands productivity, and efficiency, and maximising gains.

I’m not sure he really understands what surfing is. I’m not sure any of us do, except in our own context.

I teach high school English, as I’ve mentioned before. Language and literature is a broad church, too. I introduce kids to texts that I like, that’s only natural.

But I try, at all costs, not to be too prescriptive. I don’t tell them what to like, what’s good art or what’s bad art. You’ve got to let them find it for themselves.

Find what you love and let it kill you.

As a kid I loved to read. But all through school and university I pretty much gave up on it. I resented being told what to do, what was good and bad. What I should read. How I was meant to feel about something.

That’s the thing with writing, or surfing, or any creative pursuit. It’s yours to make of it what you want. And there will always be a dualism that can’t be justified or explained. It is at once everything, and nothing.

It’s just words on a page, except it’s not.

It’s just actors playing a role, except it’s not.

It’s just wiggling along a wave, except it’s not.

It’s how it makes you feel that’s important.

And the feeling is yours. No-one has any right to dictate it, or control it, or worse: try and sell it to you.