New York surf enforcer: “To be tortured, to be hammered…These are good things!”

The warm fist of localism still got a place in our little world?

New York surfer Tyler Breuer runs a neat little podcast called Swellseason Surf. I’m a big fan, and not just ‘cause he interviewed ya boy a couple years back.

I listen because it plugs into a local level of the community in a way most surf media don’t. It studies a surfing fabric that will withstand market plunges, tour takeovers, and foil invasions. The core, as we call it.

This week Tyler sat down with a local enforcer from the Hamptons, Steven Bedford Browd (unfortunately no relation to the delicious Stuart, the “good-looking, hot-tempered” former WCT surfer) to discuss growing up in a time when the surfer’s code was as real as a punch in the face on a cold winter’s morning.

For those that haven’t been there, the thought of an enforcer from the playground of New York’s rich and famous might seem ridiculous. But beneath the Gatsby mansions is a working class neighbourhood with a strong surf community. Picture Sydney’s northern beaches pre-eighties property explosion, maybe.

I think you’ll find, SBB’s experience of localism would ring just as true in Steamer Lane or the Bells bowl as it does on that 100 mile stretch.

You can listen here.

Many will dismiss their chat as two dinosaurs waxing lyrical about the bad old days that surfing, as a mature mainstream sport, has put behind it.

For example:

On receiving grom abuse:

“To be tortured, to be hammered like that. These are good things.”

On the breaking down of ego, confidence and self worth by tribal elders:

“They take it away from you but give it back to you in pieces.”

On treatment of outsiders:

“There’d be eight or ten of us circling around a grown adult splashing him, yelling ‘beat it kook!’ And the guy deserved it.”

A modern day reading would call this behaviour sociopathic.

Exploitation. Grooming. The type of actions that’d send people into breakdown. Get bosses fired from workplaces. Or worse.

“Ya gotta have rules and ya gotta have discipline,” muttered Kevin Bacon’s paedophile prison guard as he prepared to molest his victims in the cult classic Sleepers.

I know good surfers, great surfers, whom I respect immensely, that have no time for localism.

A masochistic anachronism.

Tribalism at its worse.

But, I still in the Bedford Brown camp. Localism has a place. Maybe not on a two-foot straighthander beachbreak. Or in the hands of a power-hungry psychopath.

But at a reef ledge. Or a crowded local lineup. Environments where actions have consequences. Heaving sweeps and splitting lips.

There’s no room for democracy when people can get hurt.

Ya gotta have rules. Ya gotta have discipline. People need to know their place.

And ya gotta have community, which is something SBB and Tyler touch on too.

I see it now at my home beach. It’s very quickly becoming gentrified. Cafes, apartment blocks, shared workspaces. Instagram geotagging going off its tits.

With that comes the new breed of VAL. Over entitled, over confident, and over here.

Our local boardriders has made a concerted effort to change with the times. Comps most months. Club functions every other. No beers until after the final. Welcoming to all levels of surfer, especially the groms and families. An inclusive environment ‘creating a community through surfing’ as the tagline goes.

But it still formalises a chain of command. Cultivates respect. Keeps local songlines in tact, or whatever you want to call it.

Is it working? Maybe.

Maybe not.

A couple of comps ago on a small, windblown day. We were the only surfers on the usually crowded beach. Some aggressively intermediate type on a Spinetek that nobody knows decides to paddle out and sit on the four guys in the water. He’s politely told by the surfers out there that they’re in the final, and that there’s any number of shitty windblown peaks he could sit on up and down the beach.

He takes exception, bellies a wave in, storms the tower, and attempts to take on what he assumes to be a bunch of boneheaded Spicolis.

“I’m a lawyer,” he blusters. “Jurisprudence of public spaces means you can’t take over this bank, blah blah blah.“

Sorry mate, we say as we flash him our council papers and approval. But we can.

Back in the day he’d have been pelted with beer cans, cold sausages. Forbidden from returning. But instead he’s beaten at his own game.

He backs down, saunters off, and hasn’t been spotted since.

Maybe it’s a win. Maybe it’s not.

But localism in the 21st century be that way.

Just in: John John Florence is back and training for the Olympics!

Sorry Kanoa.

So I’m still jet lagged and maybe not in the best state of mind but I swear I just saw an Instagram video of professional surfer John John Florence back in the ocean, training for the Olympics.

Crazy, no? Maybe I’m crazy but here. You tell me.

View this post on Instagram

Back in the water #tokyo2020

A post shared by John john Florence (@john_john_florence) on


He’s totally in the water training for the Olympics even though he just blew out his knee, ending his 2019 World Surf League campaign that he was absolutely crushing and it might be for Olympic paddleboarding but we’ll have to wait until Nick Carroll wakes up in Australia to be sure.

In either case, why’s he doing that?

Does he really want a gold medal to compliment his brass World Surf League cups?

Does he truly want to etch his names in the competitive anals by being the first surfer in history to win a gold medal?

I mean annals.

I suppose so and if John John is starting right now with his training for those 2020 Olympics then the Olympic committee should just etch his name in that gold medal right now because no one else has a chance and this whole charade becomes a race for silver.

So who wins silver?

I’ve got Yago Dora all day every day.

Sorry Kanoa.

Would you like to gamble with me?

Please come back J.P. Currie.

Revealed: Surfing is not physically addictive; much worse it’s mentally addictive!

We're real geniuseses!

And I am fresh back from Copenhagen then Paris, jet-lagged and droopy with and undercurrent of pure rage bubbling just below the surface. Rage because we had a quick layover in Dallas/Fort Worth and I got pulled into extreme secondary, as always happens, while my family trotted off on happy adventures.

Oh I kid, there are no happy adventures in the Dallas/Fort Worth airport, only America writ awful. Zeke Elliott jerseys etc. Tito’s Vodka etc. And, truth be told, I had the better time because while in extreme secondary I feasted upon Longtom, Matt Warshaw and Surf Ads going back and forth, back and forth on the addictive nature of surfing.

It was all perfection and I don’t mean to spoil it now with a jet-lagged, droopy thought but I just have to add that surfing… surfing… the Pastime of Kings which gifted us Spicoli, Mick Fanning and Kanoa Igarashi is not physically addictive but rather mentally addictive and I don’t mean in a “I-think-about-surfing-all-the-time-cuz-I-wanna-get-toobed” sort of way but in a proper academic, scholastic, philosophical, intelligent sort.

Imagine that.

Mick Fanning.

Mick Fanning.

But it’s true. Longtom is well-read, brilliant, salty surf dog and can’t stop thinking about it. Matt Warshaw went to Berkley, is the son of math geniuses, has a brilliant wife and can’t stop thinking about it. Surf Ads, though I’ve never met him, is for sure is the smartest man in every room and can’t stop thinking about it. Jen See, Dr. Jen See, has a PhD in history and can’t stop thinking about it. Ricmatic, The Animal Chin, Audit in Progress etc. I can’t and won’t reveal identities but, again, brilliant and/or have brilliant wives, successful and can’t stop thinking about it.

You can’t stop thinking about it.

It’s not that surfing grabs our bodies. It’s that it grabs our minds. And that is just plain wacky.

Surfing is, quite literally, the domain of Spicoli, Mick Fanning and Kanoa Igarashi.

Mick Fanning.

And I don’t need to go into intelligence quotients here.

So it doesn’t really matter if we surf twice a day or twice a year because we are the same sort of junkie and that’s the problem. Not that we’re spending our time trying to not bog rail but that we’re spending it thinking about thinking about not bogging rails.

Or Kanoa Igarashi’s speed floaters.

Either way, it’s time for me to go to bed.


See you at 3 am!

"Someone was actually watching that July 12 day" says Nick. "This is me imitating an ant doing a bottom turn on a wave in that scary session. Fuck! It was hairball even though it doesn’t quite look it."

Nick Carroll: “I’d surfed there a thousand times, yet today it felt like nowhere I’d ever been. It felt like a place you could die!”

Over thirty-five days in the winter of 2007, the noted writer surfed a series of storm events he says he may never see the likes of again…

(Editor’s note: Three days ago, in response to a story by Longtom on the impenetrability of surfing, Nick Carroll commented, “Surfing does grow more and more impenetrable as you do it, over many years, building up a highly personalised history of it for yourself that nobody else can quite grasp, then it suddenly kinda simplifies. Like a light goes on.” I asked Nick when the light went on for him. He replied, July, 2007. This story, below, which details this event, first appeared in an ASL annual in the summer of 2008 and was originally called, Washing off the Layers.)

Too much surf sends my head spinning. It always has. I get excited, run round in circles, forget to wax up then remember when I’m halfway down the beach, and have to run back up to the car. I paddle for the wrong wave and like as not make a complete fucking mess of it. Try as I might, I’ve never quite learned not to rush.

I’m rushing now.

I want to write about this 35 days, June 9 to July 13, 2007, during which I watched and surfed a series of storm events I might never again see at my home beach in my surfing life. I’ve only seen its like once before, that was May and June 1974, that famous 50-year storm that smashed the Cygna up onto Stockton Beach and was followed by swell after massive bombing swell.

But I was a grom then, a little kid who for the most part could only stand on the dunes and watch. Now I’m an adult surfer, with boards we couldn’t dream of back then, and an Internet backdoor into the weather bureau, and years of surfing to draw on, and still June 2007 turned me back into that grommet … except this time I could paddle out and ride.

I knew it was gonna be a special month on the afternoon of June 8, when I got out of a car in a mate’s driveway and heard a tree fall clean onto his neighbour’s rusty old Volvo. It was insanity. We’d just driven back from Sydney in blasting rain and the biggest coldest gale for years. A wicked low pressure had formed very close to the NSW central coast and suddenly intensified. As we’d got closer to home, we’d begun to see stuff flying through the air: building materials, garbage bins, real estate agent for-sale signs, branches of trees. But a whole tree?? What the Fuck? We raced up the driveway and came upon the car and the tree, which had half draped itself across the powerlines. “Don’t walk under there!” my mate yelled to the lady who owned the car. “I’m not stupid,” she retorted, standing right there anyway.
She wasn’t the only one being caught napping. Off Newcastle, the ships who hadn’t paid enough attention to the Bureau were dragging anchors perilously close to the coastline, One of ‘em – just like the Cygna – would end up right on the beach.

The wind absolutely howled all night and all the next day, forming a massive 15-foot storm swell. During April and May, there’d been almost no surf at all, and huge volumes of sand had been nudged up onto the beaches. The storm began tearing away at it, pulling thousands, millions of tonnes off the coast in huge pluming rips, and what the water didn’t take the wind did, blowing it up into big piles along the council dune works and surf club wall. Every time I ducked down the beach to watch another chapter of this furious tale, I’d see little groups of surfers huddled in cars or under trees, just gazing at the elements … we couldn’t surf but we couldn’t stay away either.

Overnight the wind dropped and backed sou-west, and by dawn the air felt eerily quiet. The rest of the household was tucked up asleep while I dragged two six channel AB pintails, a 7’1” and 6’5”, out of the garage. I’d set up to meet the champion paddleboard racers, Mick Porra and Brad Gaul, down at Long Reef to do a paddle north to Palm Beach, but as soon as I saw the ocean I knew that was just out of the question. The surf was too good, too crazy. I got the 7’1” and raced out to south Newport, surfing eight-foot-plus wedges with just one other, a casual goofyfoot. After a while we were joined by three or four more.

Later Porra told me he and Brad had gone for it, and that they’d been catching foaming waves up the coast on their big 12-foot paddleboards, outside all the bombies. Three kilometres off Whale Beach, Mick had fallen off his board; he swam after it but the wind kept flipping it out of his reach. He started thinking “Crap! The board’s history! I’ll have to swim all the way in!” Then Brad came looming up behind him. They doubled up, somehow chased down the errant board, and made it in.

It was that sort of day, just mental.

Back at south Newport, I remembered seeing a big wedging left and right sandbank in front of the surf club, and thought what the hell, I’ll paddle over there and see if I can find one. I got there just in time to meet Dane Burnheim, a young Newy local. Dane was grinning like a madman: “There’s crazy rights out here!” There were, but I was watching the left. This wave would form only occasionally, only as a result of huge easterly storm surf, but when it did, it was a gem. Old Newport local R.J. “Bozo” Windshuttle had written a poem about May 1974, eventually getting it published with the help of the Newport pub. Here’s a stanza from the poem:

The lads at Newport young and old would still remember yet
How the sands from beneath those pines washed out to form a left
It is too fast, it is too quick, and the wind is from the south
It was up to me and Wilbur to be the first to paddle out
A perfect left I’ve never seen at Newport to this day
Quite like the left created when the beaches washed away.

That was way back before anything had happened for any of us at Newy, before the Peak started breaking, before our club Newport Plus, before Derek Hynd mastered the 360 on a single concave twin-fin then got his eye knocked out, before the duels with the old school Bra boys, the Pro Juniors, Fame and Glory, before TC’s world titles, pretending to grow up, marriages, kids, divorces, actually starting to grow up, the fucking lot. In rearranging the beach 33 years ago, the May ‘74 storm had somehow set a stage for everything that’d followed in our witless little surf addicted lives.

Now, as this storm ripped away at sand layers that hadn’t been touched since we were 15 years old, I felt a feral intensity arise, a deepening sense of that wild almost frightening surf lust, that animal sense of a blood contact with the natural world.

Other layers were being torn away too, in places closer to home.

For a month I ran off that feral surf lust, letting the arrival of swells call the tune of things, letting other things fall aside. Instead of meeting notes and work schedules, my diary filled with half-scratched records of wind, tide, and swell, always swell.

June 11 was a long weekend Monday, and the wind swung dead offshore. Perfect four to five foot waves peeled off Bozo’s Bank, ridden by a crowd of 30 or 40. I was my usual frenetic self. What I didn’t know was that for the next month, I wouldn’t have a single surf with more than 10 people in the water.

On Saturday the 16th another huge wind struck. By 10:30am, I stood on Cook’s Terrace hill at Mona Vale and watched 20-foot waves break in immense rip bowls three-quarters of a mile offshore, chaotic and unsurfable. It backed the next day to eight feet and howling sou-west winds.

Then an east swell, and a Monday arvo at Bozo’s Bank again, in heavy strange crossed-up lefts that looked better than they were, that reminded me of grey early 1980s days at Pipeline.

And a Wednesday of slamming six-to-ten foot southeast groundswell and light southwest winds, a spectacular afternoon at the south end with a handful of surfers.

And a freezing Thursday with the swell down to three feet, nobody in the water, and the beach suddenly empty, wild, eroded.

Three days of six-foot southeast swell and light variable westerlies.

A weekend, June 23 and 24, six-to-eight feet, forecast to be bigger but not quite getting there.

Then a dramatic Wednesday and a bombing eight-foot-plus east-north-east groundswell, northerly winds swinging offshore, and three of us riding crazy massive lefts into the centre of the beach, me hypothermic after four hours from a too-thin wetsuit.

And a Friday of fresh southeast swell, but this looking thinner and dropping quickly from an early eight-foot-plus peak. That was June 29.

Four quiet days.

July 6 and a massive astonishing groundswell from the southeast, flaring in massive lines, ten-feet plus. The wind swung offshore in the afternoon and I ran down to the south end alone, not a soul in the water. Four bodyboarders in the shoredump were doing little skimboard backflips. The sand was so eroded now that front yards were beginning to be eaten away; I had to climb over broken fencing to get to the jump-off. Surfed alone for an hour and a half in the vast giant walls and when a few others paddled out, I was glad of the company.

And six days later, another swell.

The swell.

July 12 smashed me to pieces. I still haven’t fully processed this day and all its sensations; maybe I never will. I don’t truly know what happens to peak surf experiences, where they go in your head. They flood your defences, they tear away the layers of civilisation you’ve built up so painfully and carefully, and then they’re over. Or are they.

A big storm had blown off northern NZ. By this time I was wired into the rhythm of this 30-year event. I knew what to expect. Truly nothing else was gonna matter.

I waited for the sun to rise, drove over the hill to a neighbouring beach and saw huge lonely peaks breaking well off the cliff line. The animal surf sense set every nerve twanging like an electric guitar string. Ten minutes later I was running down the track.

The day was perfect, clearest of skies, sunny, light offshore. The beach, normally a gentle curve, now scoured to its rock roots, a cliff of sand suspended over the shoreline, held together by threads of dune grass. Eight-or-ten-foot peaks and walls of water exploding on sand and reef 250 metres offshore with the force of a major groundswell’s first six hours. And nowhere – not on the beach, not on the cliffs, not on the expensive balconies of any of the ridgeline houses – nowhere a human to be seen.

Something about this coastscape, something eerie about that emptiness, slowed my run to a walk. Nothing was wrong and yet it all was. The rip through which I’d planned to gain open water. The slow fall of the lip on that deep cliff-front peak, the bare rock just beyond. The wind and sun on the empty scoured beach. I’d surfed there a thousand times, yet today it felt like nowhere I’d ever been. It felt like a place you could die.

Surf lust has its limits. But I couldn’t walk back up that path.

I jumped into the rip, made it out, and for an hour and a half, I surfed knowing I was at the mercy of this swell; that in my eagerness, I’d walked straight down its throat, and now could only hope it wouldn’t swallow. One stroke or two taken in the wrong direction; a foot wrong on a takeoff; anything, in fact, done with less than utter humility and respect for the ocean and the circumstance, and swallow it would. I was scared from the moment I hit the water, but I also knew this was somehow the Karma of being a lifelong surfer, of the way surfing had begun for me, and that those storm days 33 years ago had launched me like a spear all the way from grommethood into this day, this surf. I felt light as a feather. I caught two waves, rode in on my stomach, touched my forehead to the dry sand.

The eeriness passed, I went home, had a sandwich, then in the afternoon surfed the tip of Newport Reef, my favourite spot in the world, huge and absolutely perfect, by myself. It was fucken sick, crazy. Surfing my spot at that size requires you head out from the back side of the set-up, so the water sucks you out into the bay between the rock pool and the reef. Clambering over the rocks, I found three bodyboards and a surfboard just lying there. Heard a commotion up in the bushes above. Out through a gap in the bushes came Harry Woolvern, one of the young Newy locals, followed by three or four booger mates.

“We went out there,” Harry said, “I got SMASHED.”

Harry’s got the right stuff. I jumped and got out into the open without any trouble other than a slight scrape to the right fin. Paddled through all that open water, totally alone, paddling into empty water, breathing deep, getting a focus. While the water in many places had been dirty and brown thanks to runoff, the reef tip is a long way offshore and clean as can be; it was glowing a deep blue, and you could feel the ocean vibrating. Almost as soon as I paddled into the zone, a twelve-foot set hit off the bombie and stormed through onto the reef. The set stood up square, magnificent and truly terrifying – a deep blue wave face, drawing and sucking clean and way out of my reach. I watched in complete awe as it pitched, roaring like a wild animal.

I surfed waves like that alone for about an hour, taking my time, until a bloke I know, the casual goofyfoot from the morning session a month past, came out and sat a bit wide for a while.

“I’ve got the worst flu!” he said. “I shouldn’t be out here, but…”

We both shrugged, laughing at his “but”.

Next wave was a full-on bomb, and fading back down the face, I was filled not with lust but instead with a glorious sense of everything, the cliffs to the side, the open sky to the northwest, the foam, the deeps and the shallows, the sun lighting it all, the impossibility of it, the impossible beauty of such a day on the rim of a reef and the clean water and the foam line and the feeling of a turn down the face of a 10-foot wave.

Paddled back out and me and the goofyfoot watched as another one of those twelve-foot sets hit. We watched in complete slack-jawed amazement. I thought about my 8’1″ Sunset gun, sitting in the rafters of a mate’s house on Oahu, it coulda caught one of those waves. Maybe I coulda, on the 7’1″, if it was 15 years ago. I said as much to my mate. He said, “Nah, too much side wash.”

Maybe he was right.

I caught a last wave and paddled all the way across to the mid-beach rip next to Bozo’s Bowl, and got a small right to the beach. Almost all of Newport Beach was gone by this time, but still there was a small cliff of sand left facing the rip, a cliff just metres from the council’s dune preservation system, where once, 33 years before, as a grommet, I’d lit fires to warm up after a session. I slid up on a shorebreak foamie, turned, and the next shorie wave came exploding up across the sand and slammed me back against the cliff. I threw my board and let it slam me, laughing.

It’s funny how quick a surf pattern changes, and how final it feels when the change settles in. Only a few weeks later, the middle of August, I wandered into the car park and found a mate checking the surf. It was light offshore and dead flat, as it’d been for some days. The air was unusually warm. We both knew not to expect anything much for a while.

“Just as well for them houses,” my mate said, indicating the south end with a flicker of his eyebrows.

“Yeah, I bet for a while there they were having fucken kittens.”

We sat a bit longer, and my mate said, “Wonder how long it’ll be till that happens again. ’74 last time, jeez we’ll probably be waiting another 35 years!”

Then the thought struck me and him at the same moment, and I couldn’t help laughing at it.

“Fucken hell, next time that happens we’ll be eighty years old! There’s no way we’ll be surfing it … we’ll be sitting on folding chairs watching the grandkiddies! ‘Gooo, little fella! He’s having a dig isn’t he!’”

Those wild storms will come again.

I’ve had two of ‘em.

The first marked my birth as a surfer; the second marked something else – like I said, I still don’t know what.

I count myself lucky for the two.

I wonder if I’ll be lucky enough to see a third, and if so, what those storms will bring.

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.”