Two surfers who love The Machine, Gabriel Medina, Pip Toledo. | Photo: Steve Sherman/@tsherms

Opinion: “The Freshwater Pro is vital; a surfer can get lucky in France, not in Lemoore!”

The Machine exposes the weaknesses of the top 34 professional surfers. And that's something that deserves to stay.

The WSL is in full social media promotional mode for the Freshwater Pro this weekend and if you scroll down you will see the comments, probably left by some of you.

“Bring back Trestles.”

“LeBoring.”

“Worst Event Ever.”

There’s very little variation to these comments. It’s overwhelmingly negative.

And, yes, the marketing screams VAL-Kook. The overall feel seems to be inspired by Slater’s Pottery Barn Teen collection.

But, is The Freshwater Pro that bad?

It deserves its spot on the Championship Tour. It is the necessary thorn in every professional surfers side. A surfer can get lucky in France, not in Lemoore. The Machine exposes the weaknesses of the top 34 professional surfers. And that’s something that deserves to stay.

Last year, the best surfers made it to finals day: Medina, Felipe, Slater, Wilson, Igarashi, Wright.

Out after the first day? Wiggoly, Mikey Febs, Jesse Mendes, Willian Cardoso, etc.

It was reported, here, that there will never be another World Tour stop in Lemoore because “the pros hate it”.

They hate it because it’s difficult to surf.

They hate it because it’s different than the other waves on tour.

They hate it because it’s ruthlessly perfect. The machine pulls no punches and has even the world’s best fumbling through the owner’s manual with furrowed brows.

Should it be easy because it’s man-made? Nay, for Slater created it in his image. And even he sometimes bogs a turn or gets caught in the foam.

I’m sure the complaints were cast by those whose weaknesses are most magnified in the pool. The best waves on tour humanize professional surfers. They instill fear and inspire greatness. They get thumbs caught in door jams. They expose weaknesses. This is exactly what The Machine does. When those absurdly loud engines start chortling coal and that train screams down those tracks bringing with it a force of human will, it’s do or die.

It’s wonderful!

We’re also assuming most of the online hate comes from people who have never been to Lemoore. Yes, it’s a methy backwater of a town, and a little depressing. But that’s what makes it great.

Romanticize with us for a moment…

It’s a waterless, droughty day in Lemoore, California. You’ve just driven in from Los Angeles. Your first stop: The Tachi Palace and Casino. As you walk into the lobby, you’re hit with that sterile, hand-sanitizer scent of casino dreams crushed. You saddle up to the bar and order yourself a two-dollar Bud. You glance to your left. There’s a rancher and his girlfriend canoodling, engulfing an armada of cigarettes after a long week of wrassling cows and tending crops. You note the dried dirt beneath their fingertips and the tobacco staining their gums. Then to your right. There’s a duo of Slater fans (you can tell by their merch) suckin’ on Mickey Ultras.

You smile to yourself and wander to the tables, where you are soon gambling with every Australian on tour. Last year, this became reality when we gambled for hours with Parko, Kerr, Gilmore and watched Medina and his posse lay down some heavy vibes at the bar.

Kerrzy refused to place another chip on the felt until drinks were served. And demanding all in attendance join him on this worthy demonstration.

The pit boss was not pleased, but that did not deter Sir Kerrzy.

“Flip a chip, win a chip!” he bellowed as he catapulted a token in the air with his thumb.

The thing nearly nicked the pitty’s nose before dropping down into his open palm. “Another one for me, ya cunt!” he said, cackling as he did. NOT until the drinks were brought would we relinquish our hold on the casino floor and continue our staking.

Where else on tour can you go hang with surfing’s elite and play some cards while blasting cigs inside? It’s a throwback to the punk rock days of the ASP, and we can’t get enough.

As you arrive to the Surf Ranch Gates with a Tachi hangover, you begin to feel the earth rumble beneath you. The preliminary tests are underway. After winding your way through the dry-dirt parking lot, you finally lay eyes on The Machine. It roars to life and you watch the world’s best surfer’s attempt to tame it. It’s a fucking water-logged nightmare, and I love everything about it.

As far as the broadcast and the live viewing event go, they’re too long and static. There’s no music to it, at all. That’s on the WSL. There are so many opportunities to spice up the day.

Why not pick a random person in between heats to surf a wave?

Why not have a band play during the competition?

Why does it have to be two days?

Let’s mix up the scoring! We can all agree the current contest formula does not work at The Machine of Lemoore. It’s too perfect. It’s too consistent to be judged like other waves.

One bright spot of last years broadcast that ELO should, in Santa Monica corporate speak, “lean into” is give us more Strider. That guy is the kid at the pool party who ate too much cake and is rocking a glorious sugar high to the hall of mirrors. He was in full froth mode in the tub while commentating himself weaving through a wave. Strides pulled into a barrel with a clunky backpack weighing him down, shot out and screamed upon exit, before levying two nooner snaps! Each one was adorned with a screeching “BANGO!”. Weighty and potent.

The people demand more Strides. Unleash him!

With this year being possibly the last year before the VAL Corporate Takeover, let’s appreciate The Freshwater Pro for hosting an event that rewards the best surfers with points, and hope the WSL delivers on the production side.

Give it a chance.

Get lost in the majesty of the cow shit.

The novelty of the man-made wave.

The power of its grip.

The exposing of weaknesses of the world’s best surfers.


"The funniest woman on Instagram", the Australian Celeste Barber at Surf Ranch. | Photo: WSL

Quit-lit: “We made surfing too easy. Surf schools, wavepools, foamies and funboards. It’s a massive, multicoloured foaming shitfight!”

"For as long as I can remember I wanted to be a surfer. But at some point it became a noose around my neck."

It’s funny what we hold onto. We assign value to things we keep in dusty boxes under desks, in lofts and garages.

I have boxes, Important Things, surely, that have been through multiple house moves unopened. At each new place, at the turn of each new chapter, I usher them to a safe corner, tucking them away like rare bird’s eggs. They rest in the recesses of my mind, in great nests of broken branches and feathers and mud, but in my heart I know they are hollowed out.

One day I think I’ll sit down and go through the boxes, and I will laugh or cry, examining the tiny fragments that symbolise who or what I once was.

But I won’t.

The boxes are cradled, unopened, from one safe space to another, and as the years pass, and who I was becomes ever more distant, and ever more alien, the contents become ever more useless. They hold shards of a person I don’t want to know.

What Chas Smith said recently rang true for me, too. Surfing used to be a world of rebels and bandits. It was something that felt edgy and different. It was a place to run to. In some parts of the world I’m sure this hasn’t been the case for decades. But in Scotland, as recently as the nineties, surfers were still rare. Surfing was an outpost. Those chasing it were outlaws. It was a clear path for a young man looking for a tribe.

For as long as I can remember I wanted to be a surfer. I’ve cherished the idea of being “a surfer” sometimes more than the act itself. It has been my identity. But at some point it became a noose around my neck.

What Chas Smith said recently rang true for me, too. Surfing used to be a world of rebels and bandits. It was something that felt edgy and different. It was a place to run to. In some parts of the world I’m sure this hasn’t been the case for decades. But in Scotland, as recently as the nineties, surfers were still rare. Surfing was an outpost. Those chasing it were outlaws. It was a clear path for a young man looking for a tribe.

But this is gone.

There are still places where you can find empty surf, but that statement feels like a vile cliche to write, nevermind to have as a goal.

I’m not sure when it changed or exactly what did. Geography changed, work changed, family changed.

In the end, I think I just grew up.

Why have anxiety about VALs, or what the WSL are doing, or crowds, or forecasts, or the Olympics, or what wavepools might mean for the future of surf?

Why not just give it up?

Why not just stop pretending that it’s any more important than kicking a ball around the park, or swinging a club round 18 holes once in a while?

It’s not a fucking lifestyle. That’s what the teenage me with the straggly hair and the lump of dirty hash in his pocket and the shit sketches of waves on his jotters would say.

Move on, you dumb cunt, the adult me says.

To chase surf is not a good use of my time. Constantly checking forecasts before I commit to things, then not committing anyway in case the forecast changes was a burden. Driving for hours for mediocre surf instead of spending time with my kids was untenable. Surfing, at times, felt like a penance. Without it, I’m free to do things without feeling the great weight of unfulfillment pressing me down.

Surfing is not for me anymore. Not really. I get my kicks elsewhere. I’m lucky enough to live surrounded by mountains and gorges and rivers and forests and lochs. A land compressed and released from the grip of billions of tonnes of ice. I found myself wondering why I was regularly ignoring the beautiful, unflinching wilderness in front of my face in pursuit of waves that always seemed to let me down.

I stopped gambling, too. Like all addictions it was something I ran to when I was pissed off. Not surfing used to piss me off. Shit forecasts, shit sessions, and all the aching time in between always sent me back to the bookies. I hadn’t placed a bet in months til Teahupoo. Hadn’t watched a comp either. Lost a fortune there. Shouldn’t have bothered.

Surfing is not for me anymore. Not really. I get my kicks elsewhere. I’m lucky enough to live surrounded by mountains and gorges and rivers and forests and lochs. A land compressed and released from the grip of billions of tonnes of ice. I found myself wondering why I was regularly ignoring the beautiful, unflinching wilderness in front of my face in pursuit of waves that always seemed to let me down.

The land here is still wild. I can run from my front door and be completely alone amongst trees and rock and tumbling water within 20 minutes. In 40 I stop seeing signs of civilisation altogether. And beyond this I can be at the mercy of weather, or a slip away from death. People die in the hills here with regularity. It feels like you’re doing something consequential.

It’s much harder to find this sort of exposure in surfing. I could dedicate my life to giant surf or death slabs, but that’s hardly realistic, or sustainable. Surfing, for the most part, is too soft. We made it too easy. Wetsuits, surf schools, wavepools, foamies and funboards. It’s a massive, multicoloured foaming shitfight. It’s more like a pre-teen birthday party at McDonalds than a stimulating outdoor experience.

And running. Fuck me. Have you ever ran? Like, just ran, with no care for where you are going or why?

Man, it’s exhilarating. I have genuine moments of euphoria. No word of a lie, it can be like you’re coming up on a pill. And you need nothing to tap into it. You rely on nothing.

But it’s the shedding of ego that I’ve most appreciated. Like an old, useless skin has finally flaked away. Running for me is a solitary thing, there’s no ego, no excuses. I don’t need to obsess over style, there’s no-one around to impress. There’s no equipment to use as a scapegoat. It’s just simple. And I can do it anytime.

So, to all intents and purposes I’m done with surf.

I mean, I went last weekend, but that was primarily to spend time with someone I’m writing about. It was good. I can enjoy it again without feeling like it has to be something more. For my second surf I grabbed a foamie I bought for the kids. I’d never tried one before. There was a little left hand wedge, waist to chest high at best. The sun was out, and with it a crowd. There were a few guys on shortboards, but they were stretching. I paddled for everything, consciously ignoring everything I’ve learned. I caught a ton of waves, backpaddled, caught waves from way outside, ignored all the glares.

And you know what? I fucking enjoyed it. Surfing isn’t serious for me anymore. I don’t care who thinks I’m a kook. If you can’t beat them, join them.

It was the first time I’d been in four months. Maybe five? Who cares. Easter it was. A

few days of great surf on an idyllic isle. The memories smoulder gently in the back of my mind, suspended, as if in amniotic fluid. They are free of burden.

Quitting surfing?

I feel like I have, at least in some way. And I probably should have done it a long time ago. I’ll still surf when I can, I just won’t feel like I need to. You should try it. If you let it go I promise you’ll feel better.

As for those boxes, I’m never going to open them.

I’ll just burn them. Probably.


The long road home: Sunny Garcia “has said a few words and is now in therapy daily”

"It’s going to be a marathon not a sprint but we work every day to make sure he is surrounded with love, laughter and Ohana."

In an update via the GoFundMe page set-up to pay for the medical bills of former world champ Sunny Garcia his family reports,

“We are taking one day at a time and celebrating each little triumph. Sunny is a warrior and fighting everyday to get better and stronger. He has said a few words and is now in therapy daily – physical, speech and occupational. The family thanks you for your continued support for Sunny as he continues to heal. It’s going to be a marathon not a sprint but we work every day to make sure he is surrounded with love, laughter and Ohana.”

A family friend, Janae Twisselman, told the Hawaiian news channel Khon 2, “With the family members, he’s paying attention to voices. He can follow people’s faces. He’s moving his head. He’s speaking a few words. When he first started, he was in an induced coma a few months ago, and now we’re in a place where he’s functioning completely on his – you know for his physical self, his body – on his own.”

In April, Sunny, a perennial Triple Crown winner, was found unconscious at his home in Oregon, almost dead, and supposedly by his own hand.

A few weeks later, Sunny was off sedation, but still in a coma, with doctors treating his kidney and liver with dialysis (an induced coma, where the body and brain is anaesthetised often results in further complications). It was reported, then, that Sunny was “surprising doctors as he continues to get better.”

So far, $121,000 has been raised, of a $150k goal, to cover his myriad expenses.

Significant donations came from Jason Mamoa ($2000), Bruce Irons ($1500), GoPro’s Justin Wilkenfeld ($2000), moto-king Carey Hart ($1000), Hawaiian photographer Peter Hodgson ($1000) as well as cameos from Lyndie Irons, Nick and Tom Carroll, Luke Stedman, Ross Williams, Kirk Flintoff and Cory Lopez.

“If you are my friend I’ll go to war for you. I’ll give you the shirt off my back. But if I don’t know you and you are talking shit, or messing with my family or friends? Then I will punch you in the face. I don’t care. The press has always made me out to be a rough character but it is not who I really am. I just don’t have time for people I don’t coming up to me and causing problems.” SUNNY GARCIA

The most surprising donation came from Percy “Neco” Padaratz, who fled Pipeline in 2007 after he hassled hell out of Sunny in their Pipe Masters heat.

On the beach, Neco jumped a fence and climbed into the relative safety of the judges’ tower and was given a police escort back to his house.

When asked about his tough-guy image by Chas Smith, Sunny said, “I don’t fucking care. I don’t think of myself that way. If you are my friend I’ll go to war for you. I’ll give you the shirt off my back. But if I don’t know you and you are talking shit, or messing with my family or friends? Then I will punch you in the face. I don’t care. The press has always made me out to be a rough character but it is not who I really am. I just don’t have time for people I don’t coming up to me and causing problems. You would, too.”

Donate here. 


Watch: Son of Iconic Pro surfer shrugs off tour dream for interesting life!

The first of a three-part series about lesser-known but nevertheless compelling surfers…

Beau Cram, now that surname rings a bell, don’t it?

In the nineteen-eighties, his daddy, Richard, was a top ten pro with a physique that made women dizzy and a cutback that was all butcher’s knife. 

Richard, who is now fifty-eight, quit the tour in his twenties, said the sorta focus needed for success made people “really weird”, got a job and raised four boys Baden, 31, Dylan 29, and twins Jed and Beau, 25. 

Hit the play button or scroll down to the bottom and you’ll see what game Beau plays. 

Like all the Cram brothers, Beau’s surfing DNA is unmistakable. The power through turns. The drooping left hand. 

What marks Beau’s career trajectory from other shredders, and it forms the first of a three-part series of short films of interesting surfers by unsung auteur Danny Johnson (and funded by wetsuit company O’Neill), is the way he zigged into a carpentry gig instead of zagging into pro surfing. 

“I accepted the fact that it was going to be a fucking struggle to get to the very top and there were a lot more paths to take,” says Beau who, at three-thirts in the afternoon has just finished his day on the tools.

Daddy Richard was smart enough to persuade all of his kids to get a trade. Let ’em chase dreams but, you know, listen kiddo, you gotta get something solid behind you.

“I spent my whole school life, as most young competitive surfers do, just psyched on surfing and not paying attention to the teachers,” says Beau, who says finishing his apprenticeship was a “slog” but it means he has a freedom, and the cash, to chase waves.

“I try work half of the year and go away for the other half,” he says.

And, says Beau, “It’s a life skill. You’re learning step by step, how to efficiently manage your time, and how to create something on a budget. Going from being a boy in year twelve to a full-time job, it’s pretty honest.”

Beau says working on building sites makes him insanely keen to get into the water at the end of the day; pro surfing has the opposite effect. Your love becomes your job.

Loosed from the shackles of competition means Beau can ride whatever gives him that flicker of sweet kinship.

Right now, his room is filled with surfboards, ranging from five-four to six-ten, shaped by the American Chris Christenson, who learned his craft at the side of the Hawaiian Dick Brewer.

It ain’t homogenous, by any stretch.

From pistols to guns.

“Thrusters, long fishes, fishes, a few finless boards. It’s a joy to experiment with,” he says.

This six-minute short was filmed in South Africa, Mexico, Western Australia and New Zealand.

“All pretty fucken nice trips,” says Beau.


Co-Waterperson of the YearDirk Ziff (right) pictured with Tom Cruise's ex-wife Katie Holmes (5'9).

Question: If you were drowning, and co-Waterperson of the Year Dirk Ziff was in the water, would you feel confident?

Yes or no?

You have by now, no doubt, read the heroic story of two professional surfers who saved three girls from drowning just ahead of their heat in the Belmar Pro in my third favorite state New Jersey. Oh it was heartwarming, so heartwarming, in fact, that it forced me to pause and reconsider my normally grouchy ways.

Were you too won over?

Some of you yes but our friend shootsthen took a more prosaic approach on the moment in the comments, writing, “For experienced water persons, ‘saving’ people from the ocean is like opening the door for old people, it’s an act of common decency, not a newsworthy headline.”

An interesting point, to be sure, though jaded. Grumpy even.

Now, have you ever saved a person from the ocean? A flailing child? A VAL with too much water up his nose? I, myself, have guided a few pre-teens to shore, them using my Album surfboard (buy here) as floatation, after a “big set” caused panic but I’m no hero, no co-Waterperson of the Year, which brings us to the owner of professional surfing and co-Waterperson of the Year Dirk Ziff.

Let us pretend that you are out in the water “over your head” and something goes terribly wrong. Would you feel safe if you knew that co-Waterperson of the Year Dirk Ziff was there? Would you trust his instincts to jump in and rescue you?

A serious question and I don’t know the answer.

On one hand he is co-Waterperson of the Year. On the other, I’ve never seen a picture of him out of a collared shirt. Oh don’t get me wrong, I’m wearing a collared shirt even as I type, pink even, but there’s something about his shoulders that give me pause. Something about his shoulder to waist ratio.

What?

No.

And it is beyond the pale that you, even for one moment, would consider that’d I’d participate in body shaming.

Shame on you, in fact.

I just want to know if you have ever saved a person from the ocean?

And if you’d trust co-Waterperson of the Year Dirk Ziff in saving you?

Damn it, I’ve totally fallen back into the grouchy again, haven’t I.

Well, “Good News” had a good run, didn’t it?