The Champ, with buckle.

Question: Do you want a Wavepool tour and chlorine world champion?

The missing link, yes?

A little while ago, a lesbian big-wave surfer whom I’d previously thought lovely and reasonable, got steamed up when I suggested, in passing, that two failed take-offs did not a big-wave world title make.

The surfer issued an invitation on Instagram for readers to pile on, which they did with gusto. Some very good points were raised with The Inertia’s Zach Weisberg and Blue Crush lead Kate Bosworth making fine cameos.

Read that here. And here. 

I’m not sure why, I certainly didn’t complain, but the Instagram post was deleted.

Anyway, the world titles-being-handed-out-at-single-events thing demonstrated that there was nothing stopping BeachGrit from anointing our own world champion.

Given there isn’t a wavepool tour or world champion, and given the innumerable world titles already birthed, big-wave, small-wave, amateur, Olympic, junior and so on, the matter seemed obvious.

I thought Stab High was a very good idea, although the number of competitors too many.

So.

I would contact each of the major pools: Waco, the new builds of the Cove in Melbourne, Bristol and so on, ask for ’em for use of the pools, get a blanket sponsor, sign up a dozen non-WSL surfers (WSL surfers are embargoed from competing in non-company events) and, at the end  of the little tour, give out a trophy and crown our own world champion.

My comrades at BeachGrit thought the idea dumb and it progressed no further.

With Kelly’s pool being the centre of attention and without permission from the BeachGrit politburo, I’ll ask:

Would you drop a ravenous mouth on the nipple of a wavepool tour and the subsequent crowning of a Chlorine Champ?

The world title trophy would be a belt buckle fashioned to look like a surfer on a wave at a cost of several hundred dollars, including luxury presentation case.

The women’s champion would receive the same belt buckle.


Filipe Toledo did not safety surf, proving that the changes to the wave from CT two to three, or the reverse were no impediment to high-risk, hi-fi surfing.

Freshwater Pro, Day Two: “Like a half-dangling, half-sucked cock at a wedding!”

Despair and frustration from the (diminishing) legion of hard-core surf fans who have stuck with the broadcast from the basin…

Part of the feelings of despair and frustration from the (diminishing) legion of hard-core surf fans who have stuck with the broadcast from the basin has been the slow dawning reality that things have gone backwards from last year.

It was impossible to complete a statistical analysis comparing this year from last because instead of a “cut” day we got a half-dangling, half-sucked cock at a wedding (as my friend would say) day which left only half the surfers having finished their bonus runs. Nevertheless, prelim analysis suggested average scores are down about a point-and-a-half from last year.

There are outliers, Gabe Medina obvs, and almost the entire women’s side of the draw who rendered the normal gender disparity almost mute in the mechanical copulation of the basin.

Why?

Debate raged with some blaming the technology and some blaming the surfers. I think a complex-ish interplay of factors has created almost the perfect storm for producing and rewarding safety surfing and conservatism. The lack of practise waves is huge. Kelly Slater made the astute observation that Medina and Italo had an almost snowboardery (sic) look to their surfing.

Snowboard half-pipe is the obvious parallel to make with the basin. Except instead of unlimited opportunity to practice and perfect high-risk runs surfers here get two waves a day, a farcical amount of practice time. Kelly himself admitted that with only two waves available surfers were hardly likely to risk them by going big.

Practice safe = surf safe.

Another factor is simple calculus.

Despite their reputation for being intellectual pygmies pro surfers have been rational actors in the tub. With the double-cut format, a pair of sixes was a fair bet to get to the bonus round. Judges relentlessly awarded mediocre surfing with mediocre scores but pros held solid and in the reckoning their math was correct. Those who went big early and fell, like M-Boz, got shovelled out the backdoor with a thirty-third jammed sideways where the sun don’t shine.

That is a technology and a format problem.

The third factor was a lingering resentment from last year held particularly by Jordy Smith and Kolohe Andino, who felt judges did not reward progressive surfing. Jordy was staunch in his commitment to offering up solid safety surfing and got duly rewarded.

Kolohe choked.

Made it to the bonus round, cruised a left and fell.

Came to his final right and boiled over. Loosed the fins on a section, got caught behind and in a moment of pure frustration went even bigger on the next section. The wave, as it does, peeled off without him.

He dodged the presser with Rosie but Strider caught up with him in the Jeep as it whisked him off the premises.

“How you feelin’ buddy?”

Silence.

“I’m stoked,” he offered in a voice as deadpan as Death Valley.

In one of the more beautiful unscripted broadcast moments of the day the camera panned to Snips looking grave and Dino Andino tapping furiously on the wooden edge of the fence as a diminutive figure scurried behind in the background.

Sophie!

The vibe was, let’s be kind and allow for the flattening effect of video, low.

In the tent, a different reality prevails.

Could Soph detect the tragedy unfolding around her?

We’ll never know because the modern CEO maintains the veil, until death, or the ghostwritten memoir, whichever comes first.

Filipe Toledo did not safety surf, proving that the changes to the wave from CT two to three, or the reverse were no impediment to high-risk, hi-fi surfing.

The left is his weakness. He fell early on his first try, then spiked a right with various potent concoctions including a rapid-fire reverse and a club sandwich which clicked so smoothly it made the crowd gasp. He made a wave on the next left attempt and then threw away his final right before shepherding his young daughter away from the water’s edge.

Precision is key said Kelly in the booth, perhaps unaware how ironically the machine both demanded and robbed surfers of the ability to achieve it.

Brisa Hennsesy took a more philosophical angle, declaring that the mise en scene was beautiful and her method was to pretend she was in the ocean and this was part of her fate in being born as a surfer.

That romanticism attracted me. Her surfing, not so much.

It was left to Courtney Conlogue to come up with the perfect blend of the philosophical, the artistic and the athletic on afternoon bonus runs. Her exaggerated soul-outs into the tube section, producing flamboyant late entries seemed perfectly formed homage to Terry Fitzgerald in Morning of the Earth. Even allowing for an under-score those waves rocketed her up the leaderboard.

Was the day going to go on forever?

In late afternoon light and an atmosphere tinged with melancholy, like the end of a child’s birthday party, as the last guest prepares to leave and the child looking at his Dad asks, “Does night really have to fall on my birthday” the last bonus runs of the day were held. The commentary team were tight-lipped on the schedule, the website obstinate in its refusal to yield information.

Maybe it was going to go on forever.

Wade Carmichael crushed his left and improved the right.

Owen Wright mastered the low-risk, high-speed quasi-progressive surfing the basin demanded, first on the left with tail wafts and whips and a dramatic late-hit-to-freefall-tube-ride and then on the right, burrowing in on the outside tube section before unleashing a flurry of tight snaps.

For a man who had done no surfing for the day it was an impressive feat. Matched by few.

On a brown leather couch the man who had been thanked as a God by Deivid Silva a few minutes ago (“Thanks to God for the opportunity to ride more waves here”), the GOAT, Morpheus according to Ronnie Blakey, more Mephistophelean to me, watched his creation whirring on it’s tracks, the final perfect wave silhouetted in the scotopic light.

Men’s Freshwater Pro pres. by Outerknown Leaderboard Top 8
Gabriel Medina (BRA) 17.77
Filipe Toledo (BRA) 16.07
Owen Wright (AUS) 15.97
Jordy Smith (ZAF) 15.90
Griffin Colapinto (USA) 15.50
Italo Ferreira (BRA) 14.97
Wade Carmichael (AUS) 14.90
Willian Cardoso (BRA) 14.70

Women’s Freshwater Pro pres. by Outerknown Leaderboard Top 4
Johanne Defay (FRA) 17.50
Carissa Moore (HAW) 16.23
Caroline Marks (USA) 16.10
Courtney Conlogue (USA) 15.83


Santa Monica Sessions!

Listen: “Surfing’s long-forgotten core just kicked well-financed, wildly connected interlopers over a cliff!”

We are living in rare historical times. In movies, Robin Hood steals the money, gives it to the poor and gets the girl. The kids who want to keep their vacant lot to play baseball thwart the evil mall developer. The little guys inspire and overcome. Eddie the Eagle soars. In real life, courts are stacked in favor of the Jeffery Epsteins, corporations snatch any vacant lot they want, little guy is ignored until he goes away broke, sick and/or dead though Eddie the Eagle still soars.

And right now, right here, we are soaring too. This rare historical time when surfing’s long-forgotten, long-dismissed, long-taken for granted core rose up and said, “What? This isn’t us…” and kicked one of America’s most well-connected billionaires plus all of his collaborators over a cliff.

In real life, not movies, unfolding right now, The People™ are winning.

Surf Ranch’s Freshwater Pro, the World Surf League’s Instagram Influencer geared content, the round tables, platitudes, bald-faced mining of true nasty, addictive, self-destructive passion for profit are all over.

Finished.

Not even the Wall of Positive Noise can block the roar. Not even sustainable plastic bag after sustainable plastic bag filled with Joe Turpel’s verbal cotton candy stuffed so deep into ears can stop the hammering truth.

It’s a wrap and the sort of ending everyone can feel before it actually happens. The World Surf League is cratering in Lemoore, a fitting place for it all to happen. It is reeling underneath that cow stink sun and it will not recover, mark my words. A truth has taken hold amongst all those not on the payroll and they know. Everyone knows but more importantly feels.

Oh, I am very aware that Chris Cotê thinks, “Surf media has become so negative.” That he believes it would, “Be cool to see more positivity and less click bait…” except he’s aiming his WSL issued firearm in the wrong direction like all collaborators do.

I still believe in surfing’s core, for pity’s sake, and how much more childlike, rose-colored, naive, positive can a person be?

Zero more. It’s absurd. As absurd as the Freshwater Pro’s “growing crowds” on days that the public isn’t admitted and “spitting barrels” when those crouchy things don’t spit but I’m also right because our absurdity is cinematic, heartfelt and honest. It’s the absurdity of fables and dreams. Totally unsustainable, life-altering in all the wrong way dreams.

I still believe. And when the World Surf League fully craters we’ll dance a quick jig before paddling out while sneering, “locals only.”

Suck it, Dirk Ziff!


Comment Live: Day Two of the Freshwater Pro presented by OuterKnown!

It's peak World Surf League!

My favorite part of yesterday was when, following a Tomas Herdy ride, Ron Blakey said, “And the crowd is really starting to fill in here…” while the camera panned up, out, over the vast emptiness of Kelly Slater’s Surf Ranch on a day when the paying public was not allowed to enter. An amazing peek behind the Wall of Positive Noise. A rare and beautiful look just like those contraband pictures that get smuggled out of North Korea.

The day, itself, was so wildly odd and, if you didn’t catch, you must try today. I think when all this eventually collapses we’ll look back at these moments as peak World Surf League.

Franz Kafka could not have written it better and I’m dead serious.

Watch here!


Jen See: “I dreamed of a surf contest in the tules, the heat of a dying planet, a press conference with no questions!”

Our woman on the ground!

I am lying on a leather couch staring at a length of canvas that’s been stretched from the roofline to create shade where there is none. It’s mid-day in Lemoore, California. The air hangs weighted with dust, heat, the detritus of industrial agriculture, and the ghost humidity of ancient lakes, now drained. Kelly Slater fakes a phone call in the food line.

I had arrived in the morning for a WSL-sponsored media day. A press conference, interviews, and women’s round table comprised the schedule. I got coffee at the Tachi and looked longingly at the pool. What if I just went to the pool? What if I drove to Lemoore and went to the pool at the Tachi and then drove home? I give myself a stern lecture in responsibility and head to the Surf Ranch.

We assemble for the press conference. I have jotted some questions, because I never can think of them on the fly. There is a blessing from the Tachi natives, on whose ancestral lands the Surf Ranch now sits. Then Dave Prodan, sitting in for Joe Turpel, opens the press conference. Each of the six surfers at the table receives a question, which they answer. Then just like that, it’s over.

I sit in my white plastic seat, genuinely surprised. I have never been to a press conference where media do not ask questions. Generally, asking questions is the point of the exercise. I figure this must be some kind of special surf media ritual that I can’t possibly understand.

Because in truth, what do I know? I’m an imposter after all. I wandered into this house, sauntered to the kitchen, and made myself a sandwich. I laid down on the couch and made myself comfortable. Maybe eventually Chas and Derek will come home to discover that I’ve eaten all the food in the house and fallen asleep on their couch and what the hell is this weirdo even doing here. Until then, I guess I live here now.

I see Dave Prodan, so I ask him why there were no questions at the press conference. It turns out that in fact, this is a strange surf media ritual. During the early years of the present century, media would turn up for press conferences and ask Kelly Slater two hours of questions, while ignoring the rest of the athletes at the table. Everyone involved got tired of this pattern — Slater, the event sponsors, the other surfers — and this is why we can’t have nice things.

(As a side note, this is bad press conferencing, do not press conference like this. Scribble down the question you really want to ask, but also, several generics you can throw to anyone on the panel. If one person at the table has been asked ten questions, throw something to one of the others. Your stories will absolutely be better for it.)

I interview four of the women. More on that in a future dispatch, because I can not live transcribe like Derek, which is a source of great sadness to me. Carissa Moore is happy to have stayed under the radar in the world title race. Sally Fitzgibbons has enough energy to light up a small city. Courtney Conlogue, wearing rainbow tie dye from Lauren, tells me that “she doesn’t fit in anyone’s box,” which comes as no surprise to me at all. Steph Gilmore is her usual poised self and doesn’t give much away.

The women convene for the round table, which includes Sophie Goldschmidt and the five women who have won CT events this year. Jessi Miley Dyer leads the discussion, which focuses on equal prize money and the ways the women feel it has changed the sport. There isn’t much new here, but it’ll make a nice video package. My foot cramps and in deference to the rolling tape, I stifle a scream.

I head for the exits as Julian Wilson shows up for his practice wave. He carries a new board under his arm. Everything about this feels like an exercise in surrealism. He looks like an alien whose spaceship dropped him off at the wrong destination. Expensive-looking sunglasses hide his eyes (Smith, I believe), but can’t conceal the lost look on his face. How did I end up here?

Then I’m on the road, dreaming of that first fresh breath of ocean-infused air. I imagine marine layer and onshores, anything to blow away the heat-spun cobwebs in my head. I don’t bother to hope for surf, that would be far too much to ask for now. Just proximity. If I can just see the ocean, I can survive.

I’m halfway to Kettleman City, when the traffic grinds to a halt. There’s a paving project in progress. One-way traffic only. So there we all sit, a long snaking line. The sun bores down. I live here now. I live here in this shitty rental Nissan Sentra on the highway that should be carrying me as far as fast as possible from Lemoore, but isn’t. We’re stuck here. The No Exit jokes write themselves.

I never thought I’d be happy to see Kettleman City, which is a two-block road stop of a town. There’s gas stations on every corner, a Starbucks, several fast food outlets, and that’s about all. I strip off my Lemoore clothes (lululemon to hide the sweat) in the gas station parking lot and mix an electrolyte bottle. Chas sends me a text, but I’m too busy eating ice cream to reply.

Ice cream understands. Ice cream understands being stuck in a never-ending line of cars on the road out of Lemoore. Ice cream understands having to go to Lemoore in the first place. Ice cream understands your existential dilemmas and doesn’t give a fuck.

I half expect to wake up at home, the cat pawing at my face, to realize that none of this has actually happened. In the heat of a fever, I dreamed of a surf contest in the tules, the heat of a dying planet, a press conference with no questions, a line of immobile traffic on a long, straight road to an invisible horizon.

But no, this is real. I’m still there, standing on the cracked pavement at the Chevron in Kettleman City. I pilot the Sentra west through the blanched yellow hills. Ice cream drips down my fingers and rolls into my lap. I suck down my electrolyte mix, which pairs badly with ice cream. It’s all of a piece, all out of joint.

I tell myself this is the last time and then I laugh. I realize I said this very same thing while driving the same stretch of road a year ago. Someday maybe I will learn from my own mistakes, but not yet, not today.