Surfing: like hitting your head with a shoe.

Counter-point: Surfing…is…addictive; will ruin your life!

A blinding mess of lifetimes of accumulated knowledge, love, hate, frustration and elation that can only be unpicked by those that have been through it.

Just ‘cause you swing a club once every couple years don’t mean you play golf.


So to it goes, then, with weekend warriors that see surfing as a pastime, or a means to an end.

Longtom pulled me up because I called surfing ‘an impenetrable mess understood only by those cursed enough to be betrothed to it.’ He reckons surfing ain’t no thing to those that do it. Just another part of life.

That’s true, for many.

To the Silicon Valley entrepreneur increasing his wellness.

To the shred-sister washing off that ex.

To the gym bro improving his core.

Surfing’s a vehicle to get them some place else that sits back beyond the shore.

Plenty of people fuck with surfing. There’s more recreational dabblers today than ever before.

It’s accurate to say they’ve become the rule, too. Numerically at least. Those that use surfing as part of a balanced lifestyle to be healthy, happy individuals.

Good for ‘em.

But that’s not surfing’s true face.

With groms it happens immediately. For those that come to it later in life, it may be a little slower. I don’t know.

But often without realising you’ve become like Candy’s junkies. You could stop, but you don’t want to. Then you want to stop, but you can’t.

The entrepreneur’s working less. The newly single lass is off Tinder and the piss. Gym bro’s missing leg day.

Surfing becomes the end, and the rest of your life is a means to it.

Work, family, friends, tail. All bow to your ignoble pursuit. It’s a sad state of affairs. Not honourable, like in Breath. Not adventurous, like in Barbarian Days. Chandler would not abide.

It’s petty. Selfish. Narcissistic (so actually, maybe Finnegan was on the money…).

But how many surfers do I know that have given up on it, other than for medical reasons? Good people that see the error of their ways? Raskolnikovs confessing to their crimes. 

None. We just joke about what shit cunts we are in the line up while our partners, friends, family, relationships, careers, whither away on the beach.

Also, any attempt to try and articulate this grip it holds over us, especially in popular culture, is doomed to failure.

We can’t even do it ourselves.

The British philosopher Alan Watts would tell a story of the Zen master being asked to give a lecture on Zen. Crowds would gather, waiting, eager to hear the insight of this expert in the field they were so keen to be a part of. That they had paid money to come and see.

The master would walk on stage, tap the microphone with his knuckle, and promptly walk back off.

Lecture done.

I wouldn’t be the first, or the last, wanker to compare surfing with Zen. Even I don’t inflate our aquatic poncing to that level.

But trying to put a framework around surfing is like trying to catch water with a net, to push the Zen analogy a little further.

You can only know it by being it.

What surfing means to me is different to what it means to you.

Or the guy that devotes an entire lifetime to mastering that one slab of rock.

Or the girl that kicks her board into the kook that has just dropped in on her.

Or the degenerate that smokes crack and beats his wife, but draws lines so beautiful they’d make Matisse weep.

There’s beauty there. Horror, too.

But no narrative arc, or tale of redemption.

Tying it all up into a neat little package is like trying to stare into the sun to see its centre.

There’s no point.

No purpose.

Just a blinding mess of lifetimes of accumulated knowledge, love, hate, anger, frustration, elation etc. that can only be unpicked by those that have been through it.

Only a surfer knows the feeling rings hollower than a WSL press release nowadays.

So maybe I’ll just misquote Biggie Smalls and say, “If ya don’t know, ya don’t know.”

Good News for the Modern Man part II: Quiksilver Pro Snapper Rocks on for 2020!

Usually the hot rumours turn out to have some flame behind the smoke. Not this one!

In 2012, I sat at the water cooler after the presser of the Quik Pro had concluded and had a random chat with Rip Curl boss Doug Warbrick.

The summary of his thought was something like: times is tough, (pro surfer) rosters will be cut and pro surfing will likely skid along on the bones of it’s arse for a while helped by the taxpayer. He might dispute the details but the gist of it is inarguable.

Dane had quit three months earlier, Quiksilver was on it’s knees, the whole damn thing looked like collapsing and it was six months before Speaker officially announced the Dirk Ziff rescue package.

Which means to pro surfing watchers casual and professional the annual Tour Event schedule is one of the most keenly anticipated “reveals” of the year.

I do confess to finding that more arresting than the latest crop of CT rookies. The most remarkable thing about the reign of Sophie G is that she’s managed to keep a relatively stable event roster. Even more amazing now that the great wavepool zig has to be zagged.

Usually, the hot rumours turn out to have some flame behind the smoke. We learnt via a deep mole from Margaret River that G-Land was back on the schedule next year. The countervailing rumour (reported by STAB) was that Snapper had been dropped. A persistent rumour started by Sean Doherty in 2018.

Despite the fact I was elbowed off Duranbah beach by a 200-pound born again gun nut this year my ardour for Snapper burns undimmed. It remains almost the perfect venue for a Pro surfing contest.

If it’s big you go to Kirra, medium: the best high performance wave on Tour at Snapper and, small D-bah will turn anything into rippable teepees. It also concentrates the circus and keeps it well the fcuk away from my local.

I’ll spare you the arcane details of getting to the bottom of the rumour. It’s complicated.

Surfing Queensland is the nominal permit holder, but they don’t know.

WSL pleads the fifth.

Gold Coast City Council is a bureaucratic nightmare that would put a Kafka novel to shame.

Eventually, I got on the buzzer to a sharp cat at Tourism and Events Queensland, underwriters of the Gold Coast event.

“Oh no,” he said ,when I put the rumour to him, “We’re on, I’ll send you a presser”.

I’ll try a Chas and walk you through it. Please hold my hand as we read together.*

Gold Coast secures WSL Championship Tour events until 2021. Tourism Industry Development Minister Kate Jones said the contract extension was another major win for Queensland and would deliver more than $13 million to the state.

“There’s nothing more Gold Coast than watching the best surfers on the planet carve it up at Snapper Rocks and we know this event is a highlight on the It’s live in Queensland major events calendar, offering a unique experience for visitors.”

Sophie Goldschmidt, WSL CEO said the Gold Coast had played a critical role in the surfing world, and specifically professional surfing since its inception in 1976.

“From its fantastic waves to its many Champions, the Gold Coast is one of the most revered and celebrated spots on tour,” she said.

“Our partnership with TEQ ensures that the world’s best surfers will continue to come here over the next three years which we’re delighted about.” 

Two things: Do you think Sophie actually wrote that and this is very old news.

Still, Snapper is on!

Short, sweet and good news. Even quitters can watch!

*Quoting press releases, Chas style, is actually a lot harder than it looks.

Fast times: Arrests up 30% at the just wrapped U.S. Open of Surfing!

"The city looked really good.”

I am leaving France today and very sad. Leaving the vins, both blanc and rouge. Leaving the lumiérs. Leaving the baguettes, croissants, steaks, frites and headed back to Southern California with a heavy heart but it is not quite as heavy as it might have been for just this morning I read arrests were up 30% at this year’s U.S. Open of Surfing there in Huntington Beach.

Oh I feel… not necessarily vindicated but more just a general sense that I’ve still got it.

And I hope you recall one week ago when very fine surf journalist Laylan Connelly dutifully reported that the U.S. Open had transformed from a rowdy date rape stew into a fun family fest.

I didn’t doubt her, not at all, but found it hard to believe that all the nasty elements had been swept away. It is Huntington Beach, after all, and where would those nasty elements go? Newport Beach has put one of those invisible electric fences that keep dogs in a yard around the fine town and Long Beach, to the north, has Snoop Dogg.

Well, as it turns out, those nasty elements stayed home and turned up the dial by 30% as there were 30% more arrests at this year’s running than last year’s and let us turn to Laylan Connelly’s biggest competitor, the Los Angeles Times, for more.

Police Chief Robert Handy told the City Council on Monday that this year’s surfing and action-sports cultural event was “fairly safe,” though the July 27-Aug. 4 period included an incident the night of July 31 in which police officers allegedly were attacked by a group on the city beach. Handy did not link that to the U.S. Open itself.

In addition to the arrests, police recorded 357 civil citations, the majority of which were alcohol-related, and 688 traffic citations, Handy said. Both categories also saw an uptick from last year’s event. Handy said police more than doubled their efforts to enforce traffic laws on Pacific Coast Highway and in residential areas and cracked down on motorcycle noise.

Director of Community Services Marie Knight told the council that visitors offered positive feedback via social media about this year’s security measures, with some families saying they felt much safer.

Knight cited a larger police presence and stepped-up bag inspections for people entering the U.S. Open.

“We’ve tried and successfully morphed this event into a much more family-friendly event,” Knight said. “Two weekends of very hot weather inland … drew a lot of people to the beach in general, so that brought them down to what we know as the largest lifestyle sporting event in the nation, and we did really well. The city looked really good.”

But not that good, let’s be honest.

And does this news make you happy too? That all is right with the world? I hope it does.

Man learns to shred in Texas wave-pool. A story for our time.

Miracles do happen: Meet the Waco local who went from VAL to shredder (almost) overnight!

Man progresses from a sixty-five litre soft-top to a razor-sharp five-eight Mayhem over the course of eighteen glorious months!

The learning curve for the adult learner goes something like this: learn to sorta paddle, but never quite get it, learn to stand up, but never do it with precision and speed, and remain clueless, forever, as to the various angles and shapes of the wave face thereby consigning you to a purgatory from which there is no escape.

It ain’t pretty.

Common wisdom suggests that if you haven’t started surfing by the time you’re thirteen, you’re done. It isn’t going to happen.

Brian Fillmore, who is thirty-two years old and the current manager of the American Wave Machines-powered tank at Waco, is, in this era of the wave-pool, humanity’s first exception to the rule.

A year ago he was riding a seven-foot Greco soft-top of approximately sixty-five litres. He could propel himself into a wave, scramble to a vaguely upright position and complete a bottom turn of sorts.

Today, goofyfooter Brian is nailing chop-hops, can get barrelled on lefts and rights and lives for frontside laybacks modelled on his favourite surfer Parker Coffin.

Now, dig.

Brian had always liked the idea of surfing, he just never got to do it. He was born in Florida and until his sixth year lived in California.

“I saw surfing around me and I witnessed what it was like to live a Californian lifestyle, kids surfing all summer and riding skateboards to school,” he says. “That was all stripped from me when I moved to Texas. I grew up on a ranch. There was no concrete to skate, it was all dirt roads. And no waves. But in the back of my mind I was skating and surfing.”

Life goes on, as it does and he became obsessed with, one day, operating the levers at a wave-pool. The old Flowrider stationary wave is a popular installation at Texas water parks and Brian knew he’d found his calling.

He studied how the waves were created, even researching how to build one.

In 2016, when Doug Coors built his now-demolished Wavegarden in nearby Austin, Brian was thrilled; when he heard they were going to stick an American Wave Machines pool into the cable-ski park at Waco, his hometown, he mobilised every contact he had to get a job there.

Eventually, he was given Cheyne Magnusson‘s email.

Cheyne, the Hawaiian whom, let’s be honest, put the Waco pool on the map, liked this super-keen, softie-riding VAL.

He’d built up a good work ethic at Moroso Wood Fired Pizzeria in town. Said he wasn’t afraid of a work day that’d start at six in the morning for two hours of private sessions and sometimes keep going until midnight.

Cheyne threw him into a session alongside Seth Moniz. Brian didn’t make a wave but he got the job.

And, henceforth, Brian surfed every chance he got.

He started to understand the currents (yeah, they exist) and was able to find different spots in the lineup where he could surf during a public session, officially as water patrol, and pick up a few scraps.

Progression came fast. Every day. Repetition.

If he wanted to practise backside tubes, he sat on the right and waiting for the particular wave he knew would slab. He knew which wave would deliver a layback section or a ramp.

Over the course of the year-and-half Brian’s been working at BSR, he became manager when Cheyne left to work his sorcery at a new pool in Palm Springs, he’s surfed with everyone from Gabriel Medina to Bobby Martinez and Chippa Wilson.

Gone is the sixty-five litre soft top. Now Brian rides a five-eight Lost Sub-Driver, a gift from Matt Biolos.

He’s learning the mechanics of airs; he’s learning the angles of approach, mid-face turn, hit out not up etc. His style ain’t exactly Craig Anderson, but who among us is brave enough to cast the first stone?

From VAL to minor-league shredder in one year.

Still, he knows he doesn’t have the credibility of a surfer who grew up swinging his blade at Snapper or Pipe.

There are no delusions of grandeur.

“It’s a kooky thing being in the middle of Texas,” he says. “But we have people here and they don’t look like your average surfer but they love it just as much. And that’s the thing that’s as cheesy as it is true. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the ocean, a wave-pool or being dragged behind a boat. It just takes that feeling of gliding and planing on a wave and going down the line to know that… this… is a real feeling. Some sorta connection with something.”

Brian laughs a little at the absurdity of his position.

A pool surfer.

“Even though it’s a man-made wave it still feels real,” he says. “It’s the closest I can get and it’s all I ever dreamt of.”

(Editor’s note: I was prompted to write this story after reading about Brian at

Warshaw on quitting surfing: “I’m happier now than I’ve ever been!”

Can… you… imagine a life without surf?

Yesterday, a story about the non-addictive nature of surfing loosed terrific emotion. At one point, surfing’s great archivist and historian Matt Warshaw called the notion “total bullshit.”

(Read here.)

Eight years ago, Matt moved to Seattle in Washington, northern northern California, you could say. Shortly afterwards, he quit surfing in any meaningful sense. Not once a week or once a month, maybe twice a year.

And only in tropical water.

I asked him why.

BeachGrit: Let’s begin with Longtom’s treatise on the non-addictive nature of surfing. You don’t buy into it.

Warshaw: Or let’s begin with — you want me and Longtom to hiss at each other.

I love two Mean Girls clawing at each other’s pretty face…

I need to go back and read the whole thing. But as the great-grandson of Stravrapolian Jews I can tell Steve that back in the Caucasus we all died at 37. At 70, best case scenario is you were a counterfeit fingerbone relic on display at the local chapel.

So . . . Steve is very wrong in all things?

I not sure if he was saying that I personally lack the proper amount of surf addiction, or if surfing in general isn’t addictive. Both, I think. Which takes us back to my original reply which was “Bullshit” (re my lack of addiction), and “Total bullshit” (re Longtom’s point on surfing addiction in general).

And yet, apart from the very occasional sortie overseas and to the Slater pool almost two years ago, you’ve stopped surfing.



I was thinking about what you wrote earlier this week, about driving across town only to find blownout surf. In my teens, 20s, 30s, that would be part of the adventure. Even if you’re just laughing about it later with a friend on the phone — or posting about it on your website. You find ways to turn a misfire into, not a positive thing exactly, but part of this fantastic high-low life-less-ordinary experience you’re having. That’s what makes the good parts of surfing so good. That’s what makes surfing so incredible — so addicting, Longtom, you smoke-throwing Russophile — and why, going off-topic for a moment, the idea of wavepools fucking up our 9-to-1 shit-to-gold ratio has me swinging my cane.

The target, or sweet spot, or pleasure zone, got smaller and smaller, and I got tired of firing and missing. It dipped way below that 9-to-1 ratio, and I buckled. From age 45 on, my rails were stickier, the takeoffs were harder, and next thing I’m kicking the trashcan like Coach on Letterkenny screaming “It’s fucking embarrassing.”

What about your actual surfing?

Same thing. The target, or sweet spot, or pleasure zone, got smaller and smaller, and I got tired of firing and missing. It dipped way below that 9-to-1 ratio, and I buckled. From age 45 on, my rails were stickier, the takeoffs were harder, and next thing I’m kicking the trashcan like Coach on Letterkenny screaming “It’s fucking embarrassing.” I was good at surfing for a long time, and was still good now and then when I stopped, but the trend was obvious, and getting out was the right thing to do. I should have stopped two or three years earlier.

You do know that, unless you’re chasing CT points or trying to impress with your new clip, nobody cares if you surf well or not.

I know. It is embarrassing.

How much muscle memory do you retain? What do you lose? What do you keep?

I went to Costa Rica for a week last May. No wife, no kid. I hadn’t surfed in a year. If the wave lets me in early, and my feet land in the right place, and the section before me is generous — I still do it pretty well! I got to the end of 10 or 12 waves over the course of the week all smiling and fluttery, and once or twice walked back to my plush resort feeling very zen and stoked and well-connected to the whole wonderful impenetrable mess.

But . . . ?

But mostly it was a shitshow. I don’t even know anymore, given the amount of time between my surfs, what kind of board to ride, how fast I can paddle, how hard to push, when to pull back, what my place is in the lineup. All those markers I had as a surfer, all my fixed points, are gone.

Mostly it was a shitshow. I don’t even know anymore, given the amount of time between my surfs, what kind of board to ride, how fast I can paddle, how hard to push, when to pull back, what my place is in the lineup. All those markers I had as a surfer, all my fixed points, are gone.

Was it worth it? You going back?

I am, yeah.

So you haven’t fully quit.

I’d like to surf twice a year, somewhere warm. Two trips. Then maybe bodysurf a little when I’m visiting my family in LA. But yeah I quit surfing full-time, or however you want to phrase it. I quit my addiction.

Did the decision to stop come at once or was it a slow build? Can you describe the thought process? Did you really find it “incredibly easy”?

“Incredibly easy” wasn’t quite right. We moved to Seattle in October 2011, which is the beginning of the surf season up here, and in San Francisco too, and for six months or so it was hard. Very withdrawl-like, in fact. But after that, and overall, not surfing a lot turned out to be way easier than I thought.

The idea of quitting terrifies me, the notion that there’s no turning back. Don’t surf for a few years, change your mind, and suddenly you’re almost back to being a VAL. Such a thing would give me nightmares.

Me, too. I remember really clearly having dinner with August Hildago, my best surfing pal in San Francisco, this was around 2000, and were playing out all the scenarios for our surfing future. How long we could last, given a clean bill of health. And how, no matter the number of years remaining, it wasn’t going to be enough. August is still surfing all the time. New hip and all. Ocean Beach, Mavericks, all those shark-infested places north of the bridge.

Did you ever consider, well, I’m this age now, ten more years or whatever and I’ll be staring at decrepitude so how about I make hay now while the sun still shines, however dimly?

No, I’m happier at 59, not surfing, than I’ve ever been. Not because of the fact that I’m not surfing. But the whole deal is just more balanced now. Every big thing I wanted, I got. Including a long wonderful messy surf life. Working on EOS, scrolling Instagram memes with my son, loosening my cravat just so before Jodi gets back from work — chasing and bagging little things really suits me at this age. Longtom, God permitting, will be climbing mountains, riding horses, and chasing women at 70, and I’ll be throwing Bingo hellfire on the Scrabble board, and we’ll both be happy.