Warshaw on surfing’s great Svengalis: “I watched Sound Waves, Kelly Slater twice. It’s almost druggy, like MDMA!”

Men, always men, who come into the lives of great surfers offering success, happiness, friendship and just a little fairy dust…

It really is difficult to release grip on a fabulous story. Elo Logan’s masterful touch on the documentary Sound Waves: Kelly Slater, Surf Ranch has inspired stories, here, here, here and we’ll deliberate on it again, below.

The subject today is surfing’s Svengalis, men, always men, who come into the lives of great surfers offering success, happiness, friendship and just a little fairy dust.

I wondered aloud to Matt Warshaw, custodian of surfing’s historical archive and which you can subscribe to and access here, if he’d seen the Slater ep and if he would take time out of his busy Scrabble schedule to give BeachGrit readers an insight into the magical world of the Surf Svengali.

BeachGrit: I’m guessing you saw Sound Waves: Kelly Slater, Surf Ranch, where Kelly, beset by insecurities and an apparent unhappiness, is attended to by an Australian faith healer. 

Warshaw: I watched it the day it came out, and twice since. It’s almost druggy. Like MDMA, but the opposite, where everything, every exchange, every moment bends toward low-grade stress and tension. That scene at the beginning where Kelly’s watching somebody surf a left and says “Who’s that?” Zeke Lau says “Kaipo,” and Kelly says “I hope he’s super nervous,” then they both force a laugh, then Strider walks by and the mirthless banter continues. On it goes. The scenes with Kelly and his girlfriend, that awkward backstage moment with Jack White, and yes especially the bits with Kelly and the spoon-bender — there isn’t a relaxed frame in the whole thing. At some level I’m super impressed that WSL put it out there. It feels incredibly fifth column. It’s like if Wild Wild Country was released as a promo for Rajneesh.

But back to Charlie Goldsmith, named onscreen as “Kelly’s Friend.” It reminds me that pro surfers, in particular it seems, perhaps because of the arbitrary nature of how success for ‘em is measured, heat by heat, every wave out of ten, are susceptible to, how should we call ‘em, Svengalis? Is that your take?

I don’t know. Probably not. All athletes at that level, I’m guessing, are looking for any kind of edge or advantage they can find, mental and physical. Kelly has Goldsmith, Italo has God. If putting your faith in some person or entity gives you peace of mind, relaxes you, distracts from the pressure, then it works. Goldsmith laying that New Age hoodoo on Kelly makes more sense than his girlfriend telling him again and again to “have fun.”

My fav moment involving a surfer and his Svengali is Cheyne Horan’s pal and mentor, name of Kerry, in the vastly underrated movie Scream in Blue. He paces up and down their Burleigh Heads apartment after a bad heat at the Stubbies saying, “You weren’t doing any snaps! Why weren’t you doing any snaps? You have to do more snaps!” Do you remember that fabulous moment? What was Cheyne’s deal?

Scream in Blue was my greatest VHS treasure. A few years ago I plugged my ancient VCR into my MacBook to digitize everything I have, and the fucking machine ate Scream in Blue. I felt like Strider getting laughingly kicked in the nuts by Kelly. I’d kill for another copy. But yes, I remember the scene you’re describing well! That same year, I think it was 1987, I flew Matt George to Australia to do a profile on Cheyne, and Matt fully embedded himself in the Kerry-led commune up in the hills behind Byron. Yeah, there are similarities between what Kelly is looking for with Charlie, and what Cheyne was looking for with Kerry. Guidance, I guess. Maybe a short-cut to knowledge. But Kelly, by the looks of it, is just flirting with his guru; he’s halfway to looking at the camera and giving us an eye-roll. Cheyne went all in, just drank the Kerry Kool-Aid by the gallon. Cheyne’s deal with Kerry, to me anyway, looked almost dangerous, like brainwashing. I wonder what ended up happening there. At some point Cheyne broke away, but I don’t know when.

Another great mentor is the surf photographer Paul Sargeant, also called Sarge, who disappeared in a poof of smoke after allegations of sexual assault on a popular surf journalist, and which was sensationally brought to light by the writer Fred Pawle in Stab. (Read The Bottomless Vortex of Indugence here and subscribe to Sarge’s new YouTube channel here.) For a very long time, almost every young Australian surfer rode under his LMB banner, an abbreviation of various things, but initially, Lick My Balls.

I don’t know much about Sarge except what I read in Fred’s article.

Oh you dirty diplomat. How about Derek Hynd? Rip Curl coach for a lot of years, but some Svengali in there too, maybe?

For sure. I mean, you can’t put young and not especially educated surfers on tour, with that kind of pressure, and not have them grab onto an older, more experienced person. There’d be plenty of cases, a huge majority in fact, where it works out fine. The older surfer advising and looking out for the younger guys. But it can get weird and maybe even abusive, and now and then the rest of us hear about it. I interviewed Sunny Garcia a few years ago, and he said Derek “was a dick to everyone” and talked about how Derek would lock him out of his room and make him sleep in the hotel hallway. All in the name of getting Sunny to do better in heats. On the other hand, Sunny said it worked. On the other other hand, Sunny probably wasn’t the best person to argue the case one way or the other.

You’re the gatekeeper to surf history. Who else is there? We talked about Thor Svenson before. He was a wildcat.

In the 1960s, Thor made the Windansea Surf Club into a really big deal, almost completely on his own. Huge ambition. Got things done. Ronald Regan, when he was governor of California, gave Svenson and WIndansea a letter of introduction when the team flew off to Australia in 1967. Thor is another guy I only know about from articles, but there was always a creepy vibe around him, and after I posted about Windansea I got a few replies from surfers in Australia that were disturbing — nothing I was able to track down, although I didn’t try very hard.

What is most interesting about surf’s Svengalis is how few of ’em actually pick up a surfboard. What’s the attraction to be around gorgeous young men at the peak of their physical prowess you think?

I’ll check that one to the guy who founded a “sophisticated men’s interest magazine with an emphasis on high-performance surfing.” 😀

Questions: How do you feel surfing should be represented? What do you want to watch?

"Your people, sir, - your people is a great beast!"

Late last week I became very extremely frustrated with the World Surf League and its President of Content, Media, Studios and Crispy Boys Erik “ELo” Logan for delivering a slate of shoulder programing so ill-conceived, so bland, so tepid, so utterly divorced from anything I have ever loved about surfing plus Oprah Winfrey Network-approved that I lost my motherfucking mind then delivered a barely coherent, way too long, rambling call to arms.

A vaguely decipherable screed.

You might have thought I was kidding.

I was not.

Santa Monica’s vision of surfing, what they want from it, what they want for it, is shit. Utter complete shit replete with every shitty modern trope under the sun. Surfing as healthy. Surfing as unifying. Surfing as evolved. Surfing as environmentally considerate. Surfing as easy to understand, easier to do, easiest to sell broadly with absolutely no barrier to entry.

The best surfer in the water is the one having the most fun, etc.

Just ask Kelly Slater.

And seriously, fuck that. But equally seriously, how many times in surfing’s history has the power shifted from the corporate overlords back to The People™? Maybe it was that way when Drew Kampion was alive in the 1960s mists but it has never been that way in my lifetime. Surfing, as an idea, has always been held by monied interests too cloistered to even imagine reaching.

Until now.

And I’m not kidding.

The Biggest Little Website in Surfing will likely pass Santa Monica’s own worldsurfleague.com in traffic by the end of this month. Almost for sure and obviously I know that the WSL has robust social media channels, apps, etc. but those are all manipulatable and largely fake.

We actually have real power and to ignore that feels like an enormous waste.

But what to do?

Unfortunately I am purely destructive. I love blowing holes in the Wall of Positive Noise but once the cursed thing comes tumbling down what should it be replaced with?

I only know that I want Luke Cederman and his band of merry men to be allowed free access, with camera, to all World Surf League events plus the disappearing of any bloodless rounds but besides that I don’t know.

You do.

We’re The People™ and one of my favorite quotes of all time, attributed to Alexander Hamilton, hero of a fabulous musical, is “Your people, sir, – your people is a great beast!”

Alexander Hamilton was an elitist bastard but tell me, what would really turn you on? How do you feel surfing should be represented outside of the current contest structure which we can easily mold?

What do you want to watch?

It’s time to pound our ninety-five theses onto Santa Monica’s door.

Brave VAL (pictured) in Waimea squat.
Brave VAL (pictured) in Waimea squat.

Dangerous: Brave VALs and pre-VALs descend on North Shore, earn 1365 warnings from perplexed lifeguards!

In Hawaii there's a place called Waimea Bay where the best surfers in the world come to stay.

Oahu’s North Shore is currently getting pounded by very large surf and this is normally a very exciting time, especially with the Triple Crown set to kick off any day now, but also dangerous and more dangerous this year thanks to a wild influx of VALs and pre-VALs.

According to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser:

Surf is up on the North Shore at advisory level heights.

The National Weather Service said that surf on the North Shore will be 16 to 22 feet tonight, and will drop to 12 to 18 feet Tuesday.

Oahu lifeguards gave 1,365 warnings on the North Shore today, the Honolulu Emergency Services Department said.

They also made seven rescues.

Most of the preventive actions and rescues took place at Waimea Bay.

And son of of a bitch I can picture them now those bold VALs and pre-VALs standing there on Waimea’s sand having just consumed a heart-lifting episode of Transformed where the human spirit knows no bounds. Brand-new square-tailed, round nose’d SurfTech longboards tucked under pale but pilates-toned arms. Lululemon boardshorts cinched down extra tight.

Ready for battle.

Thankfully the North Shore’s famed lifeguards got to 1365 of them before the windmill paddling began for who knows how many emergency room visits would have ensued.

Many sand abrasions. Much nasal drip.

And have you been warned off a surf by a lifeguard?

How did you respond?

A dreamy indoor scenario in dirty ol Jerz. | Photo: @perfectswell

American Dreams super-mall: Indoor version of Waco wavepool nears opening day!

"DreamWorks Water Park offered a surreal scene visible through a large, thick-glass wall: a huge wave pool generating two-foot swells that broke on a concrete beach, lapping at the tires of motionless construction vehicles."

American Wave Machines, the Carlsbad-based company who created the tech behind the Waco BSR cable park, has just opened another pool.

This one’s in the new three-million-square-feet American Dream super-mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey, and which had a partial opening last Friday.

From NJ.com,

The public was allowed onto the ice of the mall’s NHL-sized skating rink and the thrill rides of its Nickelodeon Universe indoor theme park, even though parts of the interior and exterior looked like the active construction sites they still were — and will continue to be for several months.

Outside, there were backhoes, piles of dirt, stacks of unlaid pipe, and rows of port-o-potties ringing the structure, with fenced-off staging areas just across the mall’s loop road.

Adjacent to the rink, where dozens of skaters glided and teetered around the ice, the mall’s colossal, still-unopened DreamWorks Water Park offered a surreal scene visible through a large, thick-glass wall: a huge wave pool generating two-foot swells that broke on a concrete beach, lapping at the tires of motionless construction vehicles.

“Fantastic,” marveled Lionel Cruz, a 57-year-old IT specialist gazing through the glass.

Indoor, heated, waves year round.

My mind is melting. American Dreams indeed. After years of false starts and misfires it seems like we’ve finally hit wavepool singularity.

Offerings explode forth like some tectonic seam has busted its containment.

Will we now see an exponential curve upwards? Technology, quantity, output?

In a decade’s time will we giggle at the offerings of Kelly’s Ranch like a teenager today giggles at a mini disc player or an iPod?

Will there be a wavepool in every backyard?

Imagine the strip mall surfer! Flips and corkscrews on demand. Unlimited progression. Proto-punks sponsored by Starbucks with double-ended boards and fingers raised to the establishment.

There’ll be further divisions in the tribe. Street vs vert. Park vs pool. Almost indistinguishable. Almost. Eight feet of raw east swell will be our only arbiter. Surfing’s Voight-Kampff test.

For now, a strip mall in Jersey is pushing out waves of a quality and accessibility that will soon turn (small-wave) surfing into an assembly line production.

The Big O on the Big O Podcast.

Listen: Owen Wright on the multiple concussions that led to his post-wipeout injury; why he isn’t 100% and sis Tyler’s “post-viral syndrome!”

Isn’t it wonderful to see the Olympics team hone straight into one of the meatiest stories in contemporary surfing?

There’s a lot to unpack from JP Currie’s evisceration of Kelly’s Soundwave. What a trip, right?

But today I’d like to take a different tact, if you’ll allow me to indulge, and lift the bonnet of Sound Waves itself.

I wanna see what makes her tick.

The series came out of WSL Studios, Erik Logan’s media production unit which, as JP said, seems determined to make the WSL look like a cross between Friends and Teen Mom.

It’s the E-Lo worldview, copied and pasted straight from his Insta bio. A #grateful place full of #wellbeing and #squadgoals and upbeat guitar riffs, where anyone can reach their potential. All you need is good vibes’n vision boards. A space where Svengalis like Charlie Goldsmith are not just tolerated, but lionised.

In other words, a fucken Disneyland.

Compare it to this recent interview with Owen Wright on the Olympics media channel.

Introduced by British reporter Ed Knowles, with the interview itself conducted by Kiwi journo Ashlee Tulloch, the tone is straight BBC. Sparse, lean. No bullshit.

It offers real insight into Owen’s dome without the creepy, overwrought post-production that turned Soundwaves into an unintentional snuff flick.

I’d highly recommend the half-hour listen.

A few highlights:

Owen’s injury wasn’t a one off. A series of concussions led up to it.

He still isn’t 100%.

On sister Tyler: “She just couldn’t turn that corner (from Post-Viral syndrome) and then about three months ago she turned it and I was like, ‘Yeah, nice.’ Look out when she comes back.”

What gave me a kick, though, was how Tulloch plays to her non-surfing audience.

From pressing Owen to explain what ‘the inside ledge’ is at Pipe, to this description she elicits of what it’s like to get barrelled at Teahupoo:

“Just to get inside it, you’ve got to put yourself in a position where your mind thinks there’s no way you’re going to make this. Then you get in it, and if you’ve done it enough times, you can see where you are on the reef and have that moment where time kinda just… stands still.”

Top-shelf stuff.

Tulloch shows you don’t need to dumb down surfing down to make it accessible. She presses Owen when it’s needed, but also gives him space to breathe.

There’s a tip to the Olympics at the end, but it’s not forced.

And isn’t it wonderful to see the Olympics team hone straight into one of the meatiest stories in contemporary surfing?

O’s injury and comeback. Tyler’s ongoing illness. The Wrights are a dynasty, the surf game Kennedys, with enough drama, highs, lows, tragedy and success for a Netflix series.

Yet, we hear hardly anything about them.

Where’s our Storyteller-in-Chief when you need him?

Creating a WSL-owned media house is the right path to take. But E-Lo’s saccharine sweet offerings – Inspire. Uplife. Transform! – sit somewhere between Nickelodeon and the Teen Choice awards.

Surfing’s a fucking interesting deal, man. With real stories to tell.

The WSL are trying to move into a territory that’s dominated by sports with budgets and infrastructure that make it look tiny in comparison. The Olympics dwarves them all.

And, if their initial offerings are anything to go by, maybe they’ll be the ones to finally control surfing’s mainstream narrative. Sound Waves be damned.

Chas, you ready for another war?