The biz that never sleeps.

Dispatch from Bali #2: “I do not see one single Indonesian citizen, other than the hookers, male, female and in-between”

Meanwhile, at J-Bay, South Africa, two gnarly Afrikaner cops with bullwhips stand as a gauntlet in front of the keyhole…

So I am sitting out front of the Best Western Mini Mart, wiping my bottle of warm beer down with a baby wipe.

I happen to be looking through the rickety bamboo beach closure barriers and out at the empty line-up of “halfway”. The spot where every single famous Indonesian surfer in history rode their first wave (and to this day, much to the chagrin of funky visitors, still surf it with the same enthusiasm).

Near me is the most infamous surf photographer in the world. He’s working the neck of his bottle with a baby wipe too.

We are both thinking that it’s not such a bad thing, this lockdown. It’s like a Global Nyepi Day.

Which, by the way, just ended here on the island.

The ceremony where you must stay indoors, shut out the lights and reflect on your life for 24 hours or get thrown in the slammer. Except this year, as mentioned before, Nyepi was government decreed to be 48 hours.

Hence the need for a beer in front of the Best Western Mini Mart as soon as we were able to roll away the stones from our self-quarantined dwellings.

The first places to open were the mini-marts. Seems everybody could use a bag of potato chips and an ice cream bar after all that reflection. Warm beer too (The fridges were on self-quarantine as well).

This afternoon, the infamous photographer and I are watching a trickle of people making their way down to the empty beach past the Happy Face Surf School billboard. Some triathlete guy in a pair of sluggos and goggles, a super skinny longboarder (is this a pre-requisite these days, or is it because that kind of physique combined with those short shorts remind us of Stephie?).

A pair of Russians bodyboarders strolled by.


You know they are Russian because they carry their bodyboards like AK-47’s and are peppered with those scary tattoos you see in all those movies about Russian assassins. These guys never have to worry about social distancing, ever. No one wants to go anywhere near them on a good day.

There are a few pedestrians out, dodging antiseptic spray trucks and the hungry hookers who are zooming around on their scooters looking for the lonely. Both male, female and in between.

The hookers, I mean.

I do not see one single Indonesian citizen, other than the hookers, out and about.

The Indonesian devout know the rules, respect their beliefs and stick to them.

There is a reason this island has never fallen to a foreign power even though Bali has never had a military.

Unlike the asshole American the other day who wanted to “exercise his personal rights” by going to the beach on Nyepi day. He looked pretty chastened when he was roped in chains and thrown like raw meat into a cell of mouth watering criminals at the Hotel K.

The photographer six feet away from me was telling me about what was going on over at J-Bay in South Africa.

He owns some apartments there that he rents out to the LOST team during the contests (Hoping against hope they don’t burn them down or graffiti clever slogans on the walls).

Anyway, he’s telling me the a big J-Bay swell is coming but the beaches are shut down.

Now I don’t know if any of you have ever had to deal with South African cops, but I have and I can tell you I would rather face the Russian bodyboarders.

Aside from Afrikaner cops being among the world’s gnarliest bruisers they are also really, really bright.

So how to keep the surfers from a perfect J-Bay swell?


They shook down two surfers for the info on where the best place is to be stationed to stop surfers.

So there they are today, two gnarly Afrikaner cops with bullwhips, standing as a gauntlet in front of the keyhole.

Problem solved.

One can close one’s eyes and imagine Bruce Brown’s dulcet tones about all those millions of perfect empty waves breaking right now.


Unfortunately the surf in front of me was only ten inches.

An advantage in a certain sweaty industry, but certainly not in ours.

But taking it all in, all in all the photographer and I reckoned things were going okay here in Bali.

So fear not for us expat sinners.

All is as well as it could be in these troubling times.

After all, the sunset was beautiful, and the beer, though warm, was at least in hand and somewhere a speaker was playing the music of our mutual friend Jack Johnson singing about a monkey.

Excerpt: Do you recall, long ago, when radical Islamic terrorism was the west’s greatest fear?

Halcyon days.

Oh those halcyon days before this novel Coronavirus descended upon us, driving us into our homes, away from each other, anxious, suspicious, terrified, panicked. Back when we worried about climate change and, before that, radical Islamic terrorism.


Well, I have a book about radical Islamic terrorism + surfing releasing this coming summer, right when the Tokyo Olympics should have been. It is broken into three parts, Yemen, Lebanon and Yemen again, ambling along exactly as I did with my best friends Josh and Nate. Here is a small taste. If you like you can pre-order here and have it delivered to your door early and signed.

Part 3 Chapter 3

Josh pulls his Das Boot as tight as I am trying to pull my Wild One, and I can tell the glacial wind is getting to him too despite his growing up in rural northern Minnesota, despite his jacket being designed to protect its wearer from the frigid North Atlantic, not just the whips and chains of rival gangs, like mine.

“So how is Wahhabism not what we’re chasing here?” I shout. “How is it not the headwaters of modern radical Islamic terrorism that led to our current Global War on Terror?” A giant semitruck roars past, caravanned between two technicals overflowing with Yemeni troops in chic new desert camo.

Last time we were here, Yemen’s hinterland had been an untamed sandy wilderness. This time there are real roads, asphalted roads, and real semitrucks roaring who knows what to who knows where. The Global War on Terror had gutted oil production with improvised explosive devices and suicide bombers ripping giant holes in Vice President Dick Cheney’s dreams of energy dominance, and Yemen, previously thought to be oil free, was now puking black gold, its tribes seemingly purchased and compliant—or at least for the time being.

“What?” Josh shouts back, “You are talking at Nate volume!”

“I am not!” I belt, quietly missing Nate’s patently low, mostly inaudible voice and dour attitude. “But if I am, it’s because my throat is parched for those delicious headwaters of modern radical Islamic terrorism that led to our current Global War on Terror.”

Josh frowns. “I wish you’d stop calling it that because it really sells it short. What we’re after is the grandpappy of all transnational radical ideologies. The oldest, most durable factory of anti-state violent rebellion. The ideology that dandled on its knee every radical from Barbary pirates to Baader-Meinhof. The tiny little school that in three centuries has brought the British Empire, the French Republic, the Soviet Union, and finally the American ideal of freedom and crushed them each like a soda can—and it all begins here. Or that’s my theory.”

“Oh…” I shout, only hearing the words “Baader-Meinhof” above the wind and picturing the phenomenal stylings of the group that terrorized West Germany through the 1970s. “…and did you fix it yet?”

“I think so…” he hollers, climbing onto the seat and giving it three good kicks. It buzzes to life and he throttles it a few times while blue smoke fills the air. It sounds like a no-frills, older-model Honda Civic.

“Okay!” Josh hoots. “Let’s go find some lunch!”

“Tony!” I scream. He points his video camera from the camel to me and I wave him off. “We’re hitting the road again! Tell Mohamed we’re going to find a restaurant in Thamud!” He nods, and his brown corduroy pants scamper to the super microvan, where Mohamed al-Behlooly is sitting like a saint in a striking gray gown and skullcap combination paired with a perfectly baggy blazer, his green jambiya setting it all off nicely.

We had called Haitham, the son of Yemen’s ex-president and the owner of the country’s FedEx franchises. He was the man who made our exploration possible. Since we had survived our first Yemen blitz, Haitham decided we didn’t need Major Ghamdan al-Shoefy, who looked very wistful when we hugged him both hello and goodbye upon arrival, but we were going to need a chase vehicle where Tony could ride and film, plus our surfboards in their shiny Mylar coffin that we brought again, just in case, so he offered up a very respected elder from his tribe, Mr. Mohamed al-Behlooly, who worked in security at Sana’a International Airport and turned out to be a saint. The un-Ghamdan. He never forced his will, never ordered feasts, never pressured for illicit company, never questioned where we needed to go or why. He would get us through sticky checkpoints with his beatific smile alone, pulling intransigent guards aside and winning them over with grace.

He was the only Yemeni I’d ever met who didn’t carry a gun, which meant he never shot at sunbathing families. More importantly, it meant that Josh could carry a gun, and Sana’a’s gun market was our very first stop. Josh purchased a Brazilian-made Taurus 9mm and kept it stuffed in his waistband.

Listen: “Imagine if 10 years ago you were approached by a time traveler and he was like, ‘Look…!'”

"...the year 2020 is going to be an absolute circus."

Wild days. Wild times. Sheltering in place. Everyone in the world, save truck drivers and hand sanitizer manufacturers, jobless. Truck drivers, had sanitizer manufacturers and podcasters though podcasters do the work for free.

Out of care.

Out of love.

Because what does these wild times, wild days need more than endless banal entertainment?

Nothing so interesting as to cause anyone to want to leave their shelter inspired.

Also nothing so boring as it furthers depression.

Surf podcasts fit the bill and to a tee so David Lee Scales and I go to work for free for you.

Also, Tiger King is on Netflix and Ozark is back.

I’m currently watching Downton Abbey having missed it when it actually mattered.

Endless banal entertainment.

Listen here!

Watch: Fun-loving seal and flirtatious Great White Shark engage in “see it to believe it” bout of “tickle torture!”

Laugh and play.

Any man or woman who grew up with siblings is well acquainted with the playful agony of tickle torture. Laughing until tears then loss of breath then, more often than not, shouts to parents to make the whole thing stop. But always fun. Always wonderful fun.

And to think that Great White sharks, apex predators, man-eaters can put a pause on causing death/destruction and find a moment to play with fun-loving seals.

In moments like these, the beauty of nature uplifts and inspires.

Shows us all a way forward.

Many furious emails, messages, DMs regarding my flippant bastard position

Chas Smith on the ongoing disaster bigger than COVID-19: “Does death only matter when it potentially touches someone we know?”

Many have likely flown over bodies being thrown into pits on their way to a fine and fun surf vacation.

I am a flippant bastard, true, and horrible. Fallen, callous, an asshole to the nth degree and deserve all the scorn I’ve been dished plus so, so much more.



A surf journalist.

But this Coronavirus Apocalypse, this End of Times, will either be the hill we traipse over or the hill I die upon.

Many furious emails, messages, DMs regarding my flippant bastard position even though I myself am isolated.

Not surfing. Shut away in protection of others.

But I’m banking on the former.

That this will be a hill we traipse over then some of us will, should be embarrassed.

Now, let’s look.

Let’s think.

Worldwide death toll from China’s Great Gift is currently at 20k though climbing. Each a tragedy.

Each a travesty but would you like to know how many people died in Yemen during the last few years?

The vast majority equally innocent and from deaths much more traumatic?

Children by the wheelbarrow full?

Very near 200,000 in “directly target attacks” many more including starvation, lack of medicine, lack of care and lack of care.

A tragedy/travesty beyond scope yet so very few agitated people who screams about “self-isolation” and toeing that line knows or cares.

Many have likely flown over bodies being thrown into pits on their way to a fine and fun surf vacation.

So what?

Does death only matter when it potentially touches someone we know?

Does it matter only when our western hospitals are theoretically being overrun?

Tell me, please.

I’d love to know.