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.

Yes.

Why?

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.


Slanderous: Teenaged boy on mid-length surfboard calls Jen See a kook!

"I don't know how to come back from this..."

On a warm summer Saturday, I pulled on my bikini, not the red one, but another one, and headed to the beach. Jauntily, I walked down the dirt trail, an umbrella tucked under my arm and a romance novel stashed in my bag. Also, snacks. It’s important never to go to the beach without snacks. The gentle citrus scent of sunscreen surrounded me. Smells like summer.

(Pro tip, because I know you are here for the tips! Put sunscreen all over your naked body before leaving the house. This exercise prevents the possibility of weird lines and blotches of sunburn in the spots you missed. Also, sand and sunscreen are not super fun together! They are not.)

You were wondering about the bikini. Striped top, solid black bottoms. You can never go wrong with bright top, black bottoms, in my opinion. Also, anyone who won’t let you mix and match bikini parts is a fascist, and I reserve that term for the worst infractions, let me tell you. But I am wandering from the point.

In addition to my umbrella and my romance novel, I also carried my softtop, a lime-green Beater, encased in a thick patina of sun-baked wax. It’s far from stylish, but it’s easily carried. Toss it casually in the sand, it won’t even care. On a warm summer Saturday, I can’t be bothered with a surfboard that requires any sort of special treatment. Low-maintenance, that’s what I need.

And if I’m honest, I will say that I didn’t expect to see any waves worthy of an actual surfboard. I expected to lounge under my umbrella in my striped bikini top and solid black bottoms, and read my romance novel. This is a good life and I would recommend it to anyone. I figured maybe I’d go wade in the water when the sun hung high in the sky and the heat waves began to shimmer up from the sand. But I certainly didn’t think I would go surfing.

Then, peering out from under my umbrella, I noticed the tiniest bump in the water, not much more than a whale fart, if I’m honest. Perhaps I could surf these tiny bumps, I thought! Perhaps I could paddle my low-maintenance, lime-green softtop out into the sea and slide along the tiny summer waves in my mismatched, but perfectly matching bikini.

It turned out that I could. I slid along and giggled madly. Look at me, look at what I’m getting away with right now, going surfing on a random summer Saturday, wearing my bikini, on a surfboard that’s not even really a surfboard, but it works just fine. I sat there staring at the horizon, happily waiting for another little bump to arrive, so I could defy the laws of the physics and the seasons, and slide along on waves almost too small to even count as waves.

Suddenly I heard a voice. It was coming from somewhere right next to me. I’d been so distracted by the summer sun and infinite blue horizon that I’d allowed someone to drift up right next to me. This was a surprise, to be sure. I turned to look, and there sat a teenaged boy on a middle-sized surfboard of some kind. He seemed to be talking to me, so I tore my attention from the ocean’s bright expanse.

“You’re a kook!” he said.

This was not at all what I expected. I’d anticipated some sort of friendly greeting. Like, hey, how’s it going. Or, nice day, we’re having. Plainly, my expectations were totally out of alignment with the reality of the thing.

He called me a kook! Me! There I sat in my mismatched bikini — should I have worn the red one? Would my red bikini with matching top and bottoms make me less of a kook? I felt quite suddenly a deep anxiety. How had I gone so blissfully through life unaware of my status? All this time. A kook!

I don’t know how to come back from this, you guys. Do I just buy a house and move to the suburbs? Siri, what is the suburbs? How do you even buy a house. Maybe this is too complicated. Do I have to put my boards on Craigslist now, even the cute blue one and the other cute blue one? I don’t think I really want to put my cute blue boards on Craigslist, honestly. Perhaps there is an exorcism or a penance that can erase this blot from my soul.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, I kept right on surfing. I wasn’t about to abandon all those cute tiny waves. I guess, if I’m going to be a kook, I might as well be a happy kook, is what I thought. So I kept sliding along, tan feet square on the lime-green deck, gripping the sun-baked wax, wearing my striped and solid bikini, floating over glittering blue.


Our vanity causes us to massively under-estimate outsiders' ability to “get it”, to represent it in print and motion picture. Hollywood's fictional treatment of surfing has been outstanding. Fast Times at Ridgemont High is a stone cold classic. (Here, Sean Penn as the template for all surfers, Mr Jeff Spicoli.)

Good News for Modern Man: Surfing not addictive nor impenetrable!

Look around. There are shapers who don't surf. Surf Photographers! Hardly any of them surf. What's up with that?

We learned late last week that big money was pouring into a TV Series about surfers and drug money which elicited mild scepticism and to which Novocastrian surf writer Surfads responded (magnificently):

“Surfing is an impenetrable mess only understood by those cursed enough to be betrothed to it”.

Surfing historian Matt Warshaw bowed down (almost literally) before that statement and when I queried it by saying “surfing’s no big deal, even for the vast majority who do it”, the normally temperate Warshaw was so exercised he called “Bullshit, total bullshit”.

Is it?

Is it an impenetrable mess?

Something that can’t be understood or represented by outside forces like books and movies and TV series?

It felt so simple this morning. Surf was pumping so I paddled out and rode a few waves. Then I came in and got on with the day, stoked off my gourd because the waves were so good.

This will be a friendless viewpoint.

Get to the end before you start swinging.

We think surfing is amazing, addictive, an obsession like no other; but that is only true for the very few, the exceptions. We consistently confound the exception with the rule.

The rule is quitters. Dabblers.

Matt himself sheathed the broadsword at the age of 49. No judgement. I see it all the time.

I know it will piss people off if I call in the Russians but in this instance it’s warranted. In the famous Stalin scenes which anchor Solzhenitsyn’s Nobel Prize winning The First Circle the Russian dictator, feeling a little off colour, observes ruefully, “In the Caucasus at seventy a man was in his prime – he could climb mountains, ride horses and chase women.”

Fifty, for a decent obsession, is just getting started.

And yet Matt found giving up “incredibly easy”.

This is not news to me.

We overstate its importance, even to the individual. Our vanity causes us to massively under-estimate outsiders’ ability to “get it”, to represent it in print and motion picture.

Hollywood’s fictional treatment of surfing has been outstanding. Fast Times at Ridgemont High is a stone cold classic; Big Wednesday has aged very finely as a cult movie and period piece, Point Break and North Shore are epic cheese. Surf’s Up with the penguins and BigZ might be the best depiction of surfing ever.

My favourite, Blue Crush, with the flinty foxes cleaning Hawaiian motels and ripping up the North Shore has one of the finest closing sequences in movie-making history. Try and imagine a better collection of pixels than a cross-dressing Noah Johnson dominating Pipe as our conquering female hero. You’ll try in vain*.

By contrast, all the earnest as oatmeal insider documentaries aimed at square audiences – Riding Giants, Bustin’ Down the Door, Endless Summer 2, there are (many) others I’ve forgotten – come off like a wet fart.

Tim Winton’s Breath descends into a turgid, overblown mess (true), like all his novels. But the first two thirds are note perfect. Impossibly good. Barbarian Days is the first non-pro depiction of the surfing life written in loving detail. It deserves its Pulitzer. Sure, the slightly condescending New Yorker cool/objective tone alienates. But that’s life. That’s show-biz.

I used to cleave to the romantic ideal of the hard-core committed surfer. The obsessed, the addicted for life.

On a final night on the North Shore, waiting for a ride to the airport, I was passed out on a couch in Owl Chapman’s slummy bedsit behind Sunset beach. I don’t know what we’d been up to except it was no good. Smoking joints, doing lines probably.

Our ride arrived.

Owl woke up, with a blankie wrapped around his knees. He looked like every other old man passed out in front of the television, not a big-wave rider still surfing Sunset Beach and Waimea every time it broke.

He told me out by the post box in the cool night air, “There ain’t nothin’ like ridin’ a cool, blue wave. No skiing, no mountain climbing, nuthin’. It’s so sensuous, so close to nature. It’s a better me.”

I thought that was gospel truth for every man, woman and child fortunate enough to ride a wave.

Wrong.

A noted BG commentor suggested it was almost unfair to introduce people to surfing because it would take over their lives and rule their day-to-day existences. Yet, over the next decade, I introduced thousands of people to it, as the (despised) surf instructor/guide.

And at the end of the week, or the day, I’d watch incredulous as these people ticked the box and moved on with life. I was slapped in the face by Nassim Nicolas Taleb’s “hidden evidence”. The cohort that don’t find surfing that addictive or obsession forming, the very vast majority.

We don’t hear from them because they don’t write books, become surf writers or become surf commenters. A handful moved to cities near the coast and continued to dabble.

Still, they were kooks, the legions of the unjazzed. Squares.

No-one salty and hard-core with a skill set would ever quit, surely? Yet they did, they do. Get sick of it. Circling the drain is a common reason: get older and fatter with less time to do it. Shortboards don’t feel so good, satisfaction declines. Declining satisfaction reduces motivation.

Weeks turn into months. Before long it’s fuck it, where’s my golf clubs?

At the other end of the myth, the myth of the hard-core, we over-reach massively about the level of sacrifice required to maintain a surfing habit. Derek Hynd, when asked by Andrew Kidman in Beyond Litmus, if there were sacrifices to be made in choosing surfing as the main thing in your life said, “I don’t think so… Freedom’s no sacrifice. The end of a good day (surfing) is hard to beat anywhere doing anything.”

It’s ridiculously easy to live as a surfer and hold down a job in a city. A good, proper white collar job. Pound nails, tile bathrooms, build pools, hang drywall, render brick, unblock dunnies and the world is your oyster: raise a family and get go-outs. Modern forecasting outsources all the semi-mystical knowledge that had to be so laboriously grafted for.

Soon, it’ll be even easier.

We maintain the myths because they are beautiful and sustaining. They make money for people. Because when whitey found surfing, lions like Jack London and later Tom Blake weaved so much magic into it we’d rather get drunk on a spoonful of their glorious syrup than grimace through a slug of cold hard reality.

Look around. There are shapers who don’t surf.

Surf Photographers! Hardly any of them surf. What’s up with that?

No anti-romantic here. I’m fucked! Proper rogered. Eleven on the dial.

I like surfing barrelling lefts. Grajagan, Gnaraloo, Jakes etc etc. My one surfing goal was to get to Teahupoo and get inside the green room. I did get there, with the help of other people. New born baby boy and beloved at home. Day one I got stuck at the boat harbour with two ladyboys fishing and ended up on the end of a tallie of warm Hinano.

By the time I got down to the end of the road I was in another dimension. Completely unmoored. Paddling out through the lagoon I felt the urge to stop and sit up. I turned around; razorback peaks punctured the sky. Ahead Teahupoo, below sea level and spitting white clouds of spray into the distant horizon. My throat constricted and a little boozy sob escaped.

A grown man reduced to tears before he’d even caught a wave.

Ridiculous!

But my feels ain’t the way of the world.

OK, you can swing now.

*Maybe the final shot of Midnight Cowboy with Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight at the bus station.


Sunset hole during latest round of testing. | Photo: @surf_lakes/Dany Taylor photography

Latest photos: Yeppoon pool set to make “eight-foot” waves!

The company says it is has "successful(ly)…achieved wave face heights of 1.8m (6ft). Adjustments to reach 2.4m (8ft) are being made in the coming months."

Four days ago, we reported, or more accurately cribbed an Instagram post, that Surf Lakes had fixed the busted plunger at its central Queensland wavepool and had recommenced testing.

The Occy and Barton Lynch-endorsed Surf Lakes is a a full-sized demonstration wavepool located midway between the towns of Yeppoon and Rockhampton and uses a giant plunger to create waves, unlike the sled-foil combo of the Slater pool and the air pressure game of American Wave Machines.

The waves at its initial reveal were very small (one-to-two feet, with the plunger working at forty percent capacity), very pretty and green (Surf Lakes uses tap water) and the background to the pool is artist’s impression-perfect mountains and cattle farms.

This ain’t dirty ol Lemoore or cult-crazy Waco although the North Queensland sunset is juxtaposed expertly with machinery so dystopian one expects there to be a large clock somewhere striking thirteen.

Now, the company says it is has “successful(ly) run sets of 4 consecutive waves, and achieved wave face heights of 1.8m (6ft). Adjustments to reach 2.4m (8ft) are being made in the coming months.”

Bullish numbers.

One might ask, is this Surfline‘s version of eight feet, three-feet or so by the regular measure, or the Hawaiian method which would make it four-times overhead?

The company expects its testing to be complete by the end of 2019 with licensees ready to scoop up the technology shortly thereafter.

Examine latest photos here.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B0ww9CynPWu/


Confirmed: Los Angeles’ Silicon Beach is the kookiest place on earth!

A runaway victory!

I am currently in Paris, the City of Lights, the City of Love. Everything is very stylish, as you’d imagine. Plats du jour radiating under a hazy afternoon sun. The Tour Eiffel looking on in the distance. Poodles and bebes licking each other’s gentle faces while Chanel collars and necklaces tangle.

It is certainly the chicest little town in the whole wide world, and I defy you to argue otherwise, but today I saw something profoundly disturbing, online.

A picture from Google’s Venice-adjacent Los Angeles offices also known as Silicon Beach.

Now, what the hell is that? A man with below the knee trunks holding a giant egg and/or Wavestorm making up Google’s “L?”

Yes. that’s what it is and let us discuss, briefly, what else is in, or near, Silicon Beach.

The Inertia, Stab, the World Surf League, Facebook.

I believe Silicon Beach is the kookiest little town in the whole wide world and I defy you to argue otherwise.