Observations from a VAL: “Surfers, it seems to me, are happy all the time!”

"If you added up the seconds that a good surfer actually spent riding the waves..."

There is so much VAL literature these days that I think it is officially its own genre and I have a nagging recollection that I’ve already written this but jet-lag is clouding my normally clear thinking. The VAL’s perspective, looking in from the outside while also trying to join the movement, as it were, is valuable. Like a mirror showing us our best selves and how often are you your best self?

I am not very often and especially not whilst surfing. Owner of professional surfing at co-Waterman of the Year (’19) Dirk Ziff had it right when he spoke about grumpy locals.

But a new piece in this morning’s New York Times makes me want to be better. Makes me aspire to a brighter life and I will give you the quick backstory. A 41-year-old-man decided to become a nurse but also had debilitating arthritis that left him unable to walk. So he went to nurse school in a motorized scooter then transferred to a University in Melbourne, which made me chuckle because… well, I never think of “school” and “Australia” at the same time unless I’m thinking “schoolies” and have you ever seen schoolies in action? It is Australian art. Like a debauched version of the Mormon’s Hill Cumorah Pageant.

In any case, the 41-year old man went to Bondi for a month and observed the wildlife from his window.

Watching the surfers, I noticed that the time they spent standing on their boards, riding waves — doing what nonsurfers would call surfing — was minimal compared with the time they spent bobbing around in the water next to the board, generally going nowhere. Even the really good surfers spend far more time off the board than on it.

If you added up the seconds that a good surfer actually spent riding the waves, it would amount to only the smallest fraction of an entire life. Yet surfers are surfers all the time. They are surfers while they are working their crap jobs, daydreaming about surfing. They are surfers when they wake up at 4 in the morning. They are surfers when they walk the board down the hill to Bondi Beach. They are surfers when they drink their predawn espressos. They are surfers when they paddle out on their boards. They are surfers when they wait and wait for the right wave. They are surfers when they wipe out, thrashing around blindly in the waves, praying the board doesn’t crack their skulls. They are surfers when they sit by their trucks with their friends after surfing, silently eating their grain-bowl meals.

And the thing about surfers? They don’t seem to regret all that time they don’t spend standing on boards and riding waves. Not only are they surfers all the time, they are, it seems to me, happy all the time.

And doesn’t this make you want to live your best life? Doesn’t this encourage you to make every day count? Doesn’t this inspire you to eat, pray, love?

It does me.

I didn’t finish the story but assume he went on to surf himself and learned more valuable lessons that he applied to his nursing patients.

Speaking of nurses, my cousin once became a nurse and then started robbing banks. He robbed almost thirty in California before he got caught and sent to jail where he did eight some years. I always thought that was a pretty good deal. Almost thirty banks for eight years and also “bank robber” is a better job description than “nurse.” The math really adds up on that one. Anyhow, he got out of jail and started robbing banks again. I was hoping he’d hit the all-time record (50) set in 2002 but he was caught again just shy of 40, I believe.

Eat, rob, love.

Bodyboarders accuse Santa Cruz legend of “bitch slap”; Sheriff called!

And as recorded by Surfline cam!

Earlier today, the noted big-wave surfer from Santa Cruz, Ken Collins, also known, variously, as Skindog and Skin Dizzle, announced that he’d received a citation for the “bitch slap” of two bodyboarders.

From the Instagram account @skin_dizzle: I was surfing small Pleasure Point with my kid. 2 boogie boarders called the sherif on me. They said I bitched slapped them both. I got a citation to go to court. @surfline rewind shows them dropping in on me and I just put my hand down and pushed them back from hitting my knees as I went by. Interesting times we live in. Thanks @surfline for the rewind camera.

Cue commentary re: the insanity of a world where two boogers can’t be brushed aside without the cops being called.

From the noted surf journalist, Sean Doherty: “You invaded their safe space.”

Kook of the Day: “Sad, sad entitled privileged world we live in. I remember getting dunked and if I want and told my mommy or daddy they’d be, like, ‘What the hell did you do out there? You must’ve fucked up!'”

Life_surfer77: “Crazy to think what would’ve happen to them ten or twenty years ago.”

And the shaper Chris Christenson, “The world has gone soft. Just say you’re transgender and they’ll let you go.”

In 2015, Collins was ticketed on suspicion of misdemeanour battery after pushing another man in an argument over a one-foot wave.

From the Mercury News, 

Collins, 47, was surfing at the popular spot near 41st Avenue and East Cliff Drive the evening of Jan. 8 when he “dropped in” on the Los Gatos man and got in his way, said Lt. Kelly Kent. Collins and the other man argued in the surf, and Collins grabbed the man by his shoulders and pushed him in the water, deputies said.

The surf was about 1 to 2 feet, according to Surfline.com. Collins and the other man started arguing again near East Cliff Drive, where Collins allegedly grabbed the man’s shirt or sweatshirt and stretched it out. Deputies arrived about 6:10 p.m., saw the stretched clothing and ticketed Collins.

No one was injured.

I asked Collins for a comment, ’cause you know he’s gonna light up, but he’s gotta talk to the DA first etc.

Revealed: The United States of America makes up less than 8% of surfers worldwide!

Surfing is exploding in popularity but where do the majority call home?

I am not a mathematician, by nature, not have I ever passed a mathematics class but numbers still fascinate because they never lie. There they stand, cold, stark, naked and true. Honest. Sincere. There are no adjectives in the number language and no adverbs either and so when I stumble upon them in our surfing world I pour over them, attempting to discern real meaning is this sea of fibs.

As you well know, surfers are great liars. We lie about anything and everything but numbers cannot be lied about because they are all verifiable and legitimate and today I saw two numbers in a Forbes magazine article that are extremely interesting and would you like to look at them with me?


Surfing’s inclusion in the 2020 Olympics is a testament to the sport’s global growth. According to the International Surfing Association (ISA), the world governing body for surfing, more than 35 million people surf. The ISA has also grown from 32 member nations in 1995 to more than 100, including non-traditional surfing markets like Russia, Sierra Leone and Iran.

There are 2.874 million surfing participants in the United States, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. From 2017-18, the amount of surfing participants in the country increased by 7.3%.

And there we have it. Do you see? There are 35 million surfers, worldwide, and only 2.874 million of them live in the United States of America. Now, I sat for half an hour struggling to work out the percentages but think that 2.874 million of 35 million is less than 10%. Even less than 8%. Is that correct? Am I right?


So where do these other 32,126,000 live? Australia for sure but the population of that Lucky Country is only 24 million. Even if all of them surfed that still leaves us with 8 million but we know that it is impossible for all Australians to surf. We know, for instance, that Iggy Azalea does not surf.

Brazil is surf mad, just crazy for the Pastime of Kings but has 130 million less people than the United States of America and also a tiny fraction of coastline compared to its northern friend.

Japan now has Kanoa Igarashi but has been declining in population since 2014.

The non-traditional surfing markets Russia, Sierra Leone and Iran excite me very much and likely contribute significantly to overall surfer numbers but I feel I must be missing some grand surfing nation. A place where millions and millions of surfers live in perfect harmony.

Is it Great Britain?

Maybe Peru?


Where are you, millions upon millions of surfers, and what language do you speak? We’ll change BeachGrit to reflect your hopes, dreams and native tongue.

Help me help you!

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.