Opinion: “I’m immune to the magic of dancing on water; the act of surfing holds no spiritual magic for me, no Shangri-La! “

I don't see tribe; I see competitors for a finite resource. I only care about the environment if it's going to affect my ability to go surfing.

(Editor’s note: One week ago, Dan Dob wrote a lovely condemnation of surf culture called, An Open Letter from a Bodyboarder: “You Whored Out Your Culture and Identity For Money and Now it’s Being Taken From You!”. Today, the writer reveals his foray into the upright world.)

Okay, I lied. I’m not a bodyboarder.

Well, I am, but I’m not just a bodyboarder.

I’m also a surfer. Not much of a surfer mind you. The word “serviceable” might be used to describe my ability. I’m out on the solid days, I’m laying down some turns, but I’m realistic about my place in the pecking order.

A move home a decade or so ago, to its mostly soft beachies spawned the out branching in my outlook and equipment.

A bodyboard is a boon in certain waves, a bust in others.

So, I got some foam wrapped in fibreglass, rather than foam wrapped in foam. I practiced, I learned, and I kept waiting for the magic to happen. Once I started surfing on a “proper” board, I’d never be the same etc. Some transformative epoch surely awaited. The higher state of a “real” surfer.

But it never fucking happened.

I hate to break it to ya, but the experience of wave riding ain’t that different, no matter how you’re doing it.

Now it’s incredibly engaging, it the entire centre point of my life, but it’s not the state of nirvana and enlightenment and cure-all that you’d think it to be if you’ve hung around the surfing world long enough.

Nat Young’s currently sprucing his book the The Church of the Open Sky with talk of nature = god, and elders, and tribe and Zen meditation from watching the horizon.

I love Dave Rastovich’s surfing as much as the next everyone else, but I have not been able to get through more than five  minutes of his Waterpeople podcast, laced with pseudo-psycho-spirit-babel about the profoundness of water and waves and seas and oceans.

Derek Hynd talks about the experiences he’s had in the water with almost religious fervour.

Maybe this is all a reflection of my atheist bend and evidence-based approach to life, but surfing’s just has never been that deep to me.

I’ve had big waves, heavy waves, waves overseas, waves with my kids and wife. Not a profound life-changer among them.

But, there are a lot of people out there searching for meaning in our late-capitalist societies. Nature, exercise, experience. These are the current buzz tonics for the detachment, depression and deficit of purpose that many seem to suffer in our first world havens.

It’s also the vein of marketing that much of the surfing industry seems to have adopted of late.

Just like when moisturising companies realised that if they marketed to men in the early 2000’s they could expand their market, the surfing industries marketing eyes now extend well beyond the traditional “core” coastal, middle class, white male.

See the WSL’s Transformed series. Anything put out by Vans. The whole sub-genre of “cold water” or “desert” clips and films, Byron Bay’s “Murfer” mobs, The Yoga/Surf retreat coming to the tiny village near me, previously more famous for its breakwall, propensity for its fishing fleet to come home with dry nets after late-night rendezvous, low socio-economic community and perhaps the seediest pub on the NSW coast.

The ongoing “greenwashing” hypocrisy of large sections of the surf industry has been covered by others more insightful than me (usually in the comments section). Surfing alone isn’t going to save the reefs, stop big oil or defeat climate change.

Despite the rhetoric, I don’t think surfers sit on some elevated plane of environmental engagement just because they’re in the ocean regularly. Despite being a lifelong Green Party voter, I often feel patronised by the carry-on.

But, it’s a clever premise. You don’t need to rip the absolute shit out of a shortboard and be an aspiring pro to be part of the “transformative surfing lifestyle” narrative that’s pedalled. A board, a desire for betterment, perhaps a bohemian aesthetic and a vibe of caring for Mother Gaia will get you along.

The doors are open, there’s room for everyone in the church of the open sky! Depression, the environment, corporate greed, Indigenous rights, equality of the sexes. Given a chance, surfing can fix it all!

I’m not buying it.

Yes, surfing is good for your health.

Yes, you feel better after any ol’ dip in the ocean. It’s continually challenging and fun. It can give your life purpose and direction.

In my experience, however, the act of paddling out and riding waves holds no spiritual magic, no Shangri-La. For me, it’s never felt like the answer to the ails of the world.

I’m selfish, I’m riding waves for me.

I don’t see tribe; I see competitors for a finite resource.

I only care about environment factors if it’s going to affect my ability to go surfing. I don’t want to lose myself in the desert or the arctic on a transformative quest.

Maybe I’m dead inside, immune to the mystic that others seem to draw from water dancing on the waves.

Maybe Bodyboarders, like gingers, don’t have souls.

Or maybe, just maybe, those who are spokespeople for product are full of shit.


The greatests to ever do it.

Question: Is Nicaragua a wormhole where all dreams come true, where family and surf become one, where Todd Kline appears as if conjured?

Is this real life or just a fantasy?

I am paddling for a wave that rolls in straight from dreams, rarely from life. Green, a-framed, groomed by gentle offshore breezes and by a-framed I mean truly teepee’d plus barreling. Spitting. Like a mini Pipeline/Backdoor if Off the Wall went to hell, Backdoor wasn’t a glorified closeout and the bottom was sand instead of death.

It is mostly empty save my wife, a lime wedge throw away, addicted to the left she rode yesterday and my best friend Josh, a lime wedge throw the opposite direction, picking off the ones that run wide. All on crisp, new, perfectly tailored Album surfboards.

Everyone.

If we had one more surfer in the water, one more family on this surf trip, we could be running overlapping heats. We should be running overlapping heats with a dream commentary team to match the dream waves. Vaughn Blakey in the booth. Todd Kline on the beach.

The greatest to ever do it. The one who, for a gleaming second, showed the world what professional surfing could be, might be, should be, standing there with Bobby Martinez as Santa Barbara’s greatest to ever do it, smirking, while Bobby called professional surfing “this dumb fucking wannabe tennis tour.”

Brilliant.

Prophetic.

A phrase that will someday be graffitied on the rubble of Santa Monica’s Wall of Positive Noise once we crumble it like those brave East Germans crumbled theirs.

Josh arrived at Rancho Santana at sunset last evening after an even more grueling haul than mine. Carrying two children under the age of five and a Ndijilian/Parisian/Helsinkian fashion designer wife that suffers no hiccups. No red-eyes. No transfers, bad domestics or cocktails mixed from plastic bottles.

He flew his family from LAX at midnight, even a touch after, connected through Houston before doubling down by re-connecting through Miami before arriving in Managua and driving the three plus hours to Rancho Santana.

He was also stopped by two separate policemen on the way who tried to pull his sleeping wife and children out of the car in order to pat them all down.

All it took for his wife to forgive that ordeal and accept the family surf trip as not only workable but divine was a trip to the spa, hovering above the jungle canopy, above the organic farm, all dark tropical hardwood and world-class masseuses.

And now? I’m surf gorged, mojito gorged, wives are happy, children are happy, everyone is somehow dreamily happy.

The only problem?

No Todd Kline.

My wife, Josh and I surf for an hour or more before retreating to our sunbathing, book reading, swimming, happy counterparts at one of the multiple pools and…wait. Who is that in the far cabana tucking a Red Bull branded Mayhem under the chaise lounge in order to prevent wax melt?

Could it be?

Todd Kline?

I honestly can’t believe my eyes and saunter straight up after ordering a mojito with freshly picked/muddled mint etc.

“Todd?”

He smiles.

“What are you doing here?”

“The family and I love Rancho Santana.” He responds. “I’m here with my wife and the grom. It’s the poor man’s Tavarua. I was surfing the wedge this morning after ordering breakfast, saw the server come out with the tray and was at my table before she set it down. It’s epic.”

I walk back to my cabana shaking my head. I thought I could break the notion of a workable family surf trip by inviting another family along. Not only did it not break, Todd Kline and his family have now been conjured out of thin air.

The poor man’s Tavarua. And to think, for one second, that thou of little faith J.P. Currie thought I wasn’t The People™.

To think a Scotsman doubted this modern incantation of William Wallace for one second.

But maybe I didn’t push hard enough?

Maybe I’m doing something wrong?

We still don’t have enough people to run overlapping heats.

More as the story develops.


Discovered: The greatest surfing law enforcement officer of all time!

Plus the cure for post-traumatic stress disorder!

Here I sit on a warm patio drinking freshly brewed Nicaraguan coffee while waiting for the tide to fill in just a bit and perusing the news. It’s all fairly typical, bees have learned to surf, scientists have learned to deflect Great White shark attacks, many stock broker wives are paddling out in Australia to learn the Norwegians not to mess, etc. but I just stumbled upon a glorious story that brought a tear to my eye or maybe it’s just sweat.

You tell me.

It was titled Wollongong Cop Links Good Mental Health to Daily Surf and illustrated with the above picture.

I snorted loudly, clicked and read and was thoroughly won over by Detective Senior Constable Jeremy Barnett and the case he makes.

A sample:

After being in the job for 17 years, Det Snr Con Barnett hasn’t suffered from post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety or depression, as many of his colleagues in blue have.

“They say if you have been in the job for seven years than you suffer from PTSD,” he said.

“I have been there for 17 years and I don’t know. Maybe, but I don’t think so.

“I have my bad days, as everyone does, but once I go out for a surf it is all forgotten.

“I have seen some pretty horrific things, but I put my good mental health down to surfing.”

Det Snr Con Barnett said he felt like a new “bubbly” person after he went for a surf when feeling down.

“If I’m like that at home, my wife often says to me, ‘just go for a surf’,” he said. “I come back with recharged batteries.”

Beautiful, no?

But what brought the tear to my eye, I’m now certain that it’s a tear, is the photo of Det. Sn. Con. Barnett actually surfing. Of course I pictured some very ugly turn on an 8’0 TufLite or maybe a SUP even though he’s holding a Stretch in the above picture but look here.

A snap that would make any surfer proud, even Kelly Slater himself.

The greatest surfing law enforcement officer of all time?

I defy you to find me a better.


Another last-minute thrill-kill for Kelly Slater.

Kelly Slater’s buzzer-beater tummy ride to thrill-kill snap at Hawaiian Pro: “The power of Dane at Haleiwa mixed with the precision of the JJF-at-Margies hammer!”

Ultimate difficulty. Pure mastery.

I do love the Hawaiian leg.

For me it denotes season’s end, Xmas shut down, life’s stresses receding for just a month or so. Plus the competition plays out at an entirely watchable time of day for east coast Oz.

And for me, a busted knee meant working from home for the week, which means binge watching the Hawaiian Pro at Haleiwa.

Consistent lines of eight-foot (Australian) juice under light cross-shore trades. Haleiwa is a legit arena, and in this reviewer’s eyes delivers more value than half of the stops on tour.

Why shouldn’t Hawaii have two CT events? Did I miss the memo? Politics?Permits? Tell me.

(Note from author: This article is being crafted in iPhone notes as my wife drives us north for surfads family holiday take two, so in the interests of brevity I’ll focus on Kelly’s heat. On that turn.)

Round 4. Kelly v Luel Felipe V Wilcox v Ibelli.

Most surfers are riding step ups in the raw, unruly conditions. but Slater, in savant mode, is on his 5’3″ Cymatic quad with snub trailer fin. A five-finner!

The conditions are consistent, but not perfect. Wave selection and rhythm is key. Getting caught in the wrong part of the set rotation results in waves not hitting the bowl right. Some offer flat faces, some ribs and cross chop, some just shut down. Generally, only the second and third waves of the set are flashing that famous Haleiwa bowl.

Luel Felipe, who I’d never heard of before despite the fact he looks about forty, has the rhythm. He delivers solid, no-nonsense surfing, on the best available waves, and does everything he needs to lead the heat throughout.

Slater opens with a four and a six, the latter being well surfed, but the lack of board is hurting him. He looks skittish in his set up and though his turns are critical he seems to be pulling them early, focusing on transition and flow instead of just fucken jamming it.

Wilcox is earning second spot. Precise, powerful surfing on his backhand, emulating the checked aggression of Ryan Callinan, and still a few years from maturity for the young sandgroper. Big things await.

Slater opens with a four and a six, the latter being well surfed, but the lack of board is hurting him. He looks skittish in his set up and though his turns are critical he seems to be pulling them early, focusing on his next move instead of just fucken jamming it

He sits in third place mid-way thru the heat. holds priority but blows it on a carving 360 that Ross Williams says he would make ninety percent of the time.

Maybe ten years ago, Ross.

Now it’s obvious his equipment choice is wrong, the muscle memory is fading, the magic quickly disappearing in the rear view mirror.

Cote is generous in his praise regardless, astounded the most winningest surfer ever has found himself in a non-winning position. It’s the same narrative we hear every time Slater surfs, the commentators seemingly omitting the last eight years of misfires and disappointment from memory.

For the rest of us, the more familiar story is playing out.

Slater is beating himself.

A minute to go and he’s is still in third, sitting in second priority to Felipe. He needs a mid-six to leap frog Wilcox, and based on all current data it ain’t looking likely.

A well-angled set arrives. Felipe throws his earlier strategy out the window by taking the first wave. The door is left ever so slightly ajar.

Kelly gets his chances on wave two, one of the biggest of the day. It caps and breaks on his head, sending him flying down the face still prone.

For a second he appears to have blown it.

But there’s still some spark left in the old goat yet.

He engineers a mid-face take off that would leave any mortal and ninety percent of pros face planting in the abyss from the sheer momentum behind him. It calls to mind Owen Wright on a Cloudbreak roll-in from his 2014 perfect heat.

He pops to his feet almost mid bottom turn. The way his thighs and calves engage to set the line on that tiny disc is so immediate, so perfect that somewhere in the world Brad Domke involuntarily orgasms.

Ultimate difficulty. Pure mastery.

He pops to his feet almost mid bottom turn. The way his thighs and calves engage to set the line on that tiny disc is so immediate, so perfect that somewhere in the world Brad Domke involuntarily orgasms.

But that’s only the half of it.

He lays the Cymatic over with extreme prejudice, lifting up and under the enveloping lip. all five-fins strain at 130%, 150%.

Then, finally, just as it looks like he will skit out again, he fucken jams it.

The line he lays down has the power of Dane at Haleiwa five years previous mixed with the precision of the JJF Bells/Margies hammer.

And on a five-fucken-three.

All of a sudden that pulled-turn technique makes absolute sense. This is the section he was waiting for. This is the moment he was waiting for. His positioning and timing is measured down to the millimetre, to the millisecond. Advanced trigonometry is explained with a flick of the wrist.

He flies out of it on the buzzer, nonchalant, forever the king of theatrics.

Cote and Ross lose their shit as the judges deliberate.

“Can you believe that was on a stock board too?” asks Ross.

“Yep! You can go and buy one right off the shelf,” Cote responds.

All that’s missing is the “buy here now!” pop-up ad in the corner of the screen.

The judges give it a 6.9 and somewhere in the world Mikey Wright involuntarily orgasms.

If you can’t rock’n’roll, don’t fucken come.

Kelly progresses to second and to the quarter-finals.

And we are reminded why he will forever be the greatest of all time. Even his biggest detractors can’t argue that they’ve just seen a miracle.

This is why he does it. This is why we love him. This is why we love surfing.


Sixty-two paddle-outs around the island continent, tens of thousands all speaking the same message: Fuck off Equinor. A legitimate display of surfer-consciousness, surely. | Photo: @seano888/@ozziewrong

Longtom on Australia-wide anti-oil drilling protests: “The reactionary case will rest on the charge of hypocrisy!”

How do you stand? Drill baby drill? Back to the garden? Techno-capitalism will save us? We're all gunna burn?

Massive paddle out in Byron Bay to protest the Equinor proposal to deepwater drill for oil in the Great Australian Bight just ensued.

How massive? Not sure, there could’ve been a thousand.

Some red-headed Irish bloke I spoke to with a Merrick twin fin reckoned two thousand. Neal “Freddo” Cameron, president of Byron Bay boardriders said somewhere between five hundred and a thousand.

Heaps and heaps anyway you slice it.

The protest objective: to fill the frame with masses of bobbing, shouting splashing humanity was easily achieved. Enough to scare the oil company Equinor, nee Statoil, who in fairness have helped raised the Norwegian standard of living to the highest in the world?

Heart says yes, head says no.

Still, Byron Bay is a nirvana for Norwegians and if the Scandinavians get a sniff that they ain’t welcome here, who knows what might happen.

The mise-en scene was nutty.

Representatives of every little sub-tribe out in the hot sunshine and howling onshore wind. Gurfers, murfers with their stock-broker and hedge fund husbands, rockstars, movie stars, slightly anorexic goddesses with logs, hipsters with finless foamies, sinewy old sea dogs, spanish-speaking Euro babes, sultry tattooed Peruvian, Argentinian and Brazilian studs, ageing local shredders on nineties thrusters and their progeny, kiddies, cops, magistrates, bankers, dentists, doctors, ex-pros, “soul” pros, scumbags and every other flavour of surfer. Surf witches were there, no doubt, but likely the blue bands were left behind.

The point of it, as local Bundjalung fella explained, was to put aside our differences to make a unified statement of love for Mother Earth.

If we concede that the Byron Bay hipster, being at the centre of cosmopolitan surf culture is now the arbiter of global taste, then the surfboard of choice for the conscious paddle-out is a single fin.

The beef, for those not living in Australia and unfamiliar with the issue, is two-fold.

One, if there is an accident like the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, oil would smother huge sections of the pristine Southern Australian coastline.

Even the staunchest fossil fuel advocate would acknowledge that as an eco-catastrophe.

Two, burning more fossil fuels cooks the kids via Climate Change.

Sirens wailed by my place yesterday afternoon. I took the kids for a paddle in the lake; a Taiwanese kiddy who could not swim had waded in and drowned. We arrived to paramedics pumping the kid furiously* and, feeling the sting of death close-by, stopped by the bottle-shop on the way home to anaesthetise the feeling of mortality.

Unique to Australia, this run-up to Christmas is known as the Silly Season, when random drinking sessions are a daily reality. This Silly Season, with heat, bushfires and lack of surf has been particularly intense.

Sirens wailed by my place yesterday afternoon. I took the kids for a paddle in the lake; a Taiwanese kiddy who could not swim had waded in and drowned. We arrived to paramedics pumping the kid furiously* and, feeling the sting of death close-by, stopped by the bottle-shop on the way home to anaesthetise the feeling of mortality.

I’m no natural activist, not a joiner like Jen See. My tendency is to observe with an ironic eye, cognisant of the counter-arguments. The reactionary case will rest on the charge of hypocrisy. Hundreds and thousands of boards, all made of petro-chems. I drove a car, solo, from Lennox Head.

“Look at these dumb cunts,” so the argument will go, “don’t they see their utter dependence on fossil fuels. Don’t they see the utter economic devastation wrought if we stopped drilling for oil. We are part of nature, what we do is natural, go live in a cave or fuck off etc etc”.

To which I would add my own moral quandary. I got kith and kin out bush in high-vis and on the rigs working FIFO in the mining/drilling game. If I’m honest I care more about their fate then the trust fund murfer and her stock-broker husband living in the insta-perfect mansion in Bangalow.

Presenting the unified argument in favour of Mother Earth I have to report that the mood for change is strong. At least in this part of the world.

Paddle-out co-ordinator Damo Cole, son of rabble-rousing shaper-designer Maurice Cole called the Torquay paddle-out “incredible” with “maybe three thousand people, I dunno!”.

How do you stand?

Drill baby drill?

Back to the garden?

Techno-capitalism will save us?

We’re all gunna burn?

Have to admit, in my heart of anarcho-primitivist hearts the rapidly de-gentrified dystopian vision of a post-capitalist world without fossil fuels does have some appeal.

The stock-broker might struggle when the shops shut and the bunker runs out of tinned food but I’ll be fine. Trading fish for nuts and berries. Probably got enough boards to see out the End Times too.

Sixty-two paddle-outs around the island continent, tens of thousands all speaking the same message: Fuck off Equinor. A legitimate display of surfer-consciousness, surely.

*Kid ended up living, condition unknown.