The Magic Elf Syndrome: Is the WSL fetishising People of Colour?

"A kind of saintly, adorable ET whose sole purpose is to remind us only about tolerance and our prejudices…"

Transformed is a documentary series from WSL Studios, currently into its second season, that tells “stories of surf ambassadors whose lives were transformed through surfing, and who are now transforming their communities through the power of surfing.”

The first series “sparked an emotional response from surf fans and resonated with a broader audience,” said the WSL’s CEO Erik Logan.

It’s a good spin.

The YouTube numbers were terrible, between four thousand and six thousand views an episode, a handful of comments.

The second series, between three thousand and thirteen thousand.

On a medium where Jamie O’Brien gets two-and-a-half million views for riding softboards down a sewer drain’s steep incline, the numbers are catastrophic.

Why the lack of engagement?

These are pretty, well-made films with every emotional button pushed: brave women fighting patriarchies, a legless Colombian, cruel Taliban overlords in Afghanistan and a focus on People of Colour.

Of series two’s four eps, the first three feature,

India’s First Female Surfer,

How Women In Surfing Are Changing the World, with Senegal’s Khadjou Sambe

And, A Surfer From South Central,

All gorgeous stories, break out the tissues etc.

I watch ‘em all over and over, big fan, especially chubby LA guy gets out of gangsta lifestyle  via surfing, a real weepy.

Yesterday, this IG post appeared.


I hadn’t noticed, too busy sniffling and jazz-handing, although it did make me wonder,

Is the sentiment of Transformed the same as the media’s canonisation of the Gay Man as Magical Elf, a theory held by superstar eighties author Bret Easton Ellis.  

“The sweet and smiley and sexually unthreatening elf with liberal values and a positive attitude is supposed to transform everyone into noble gay-loving protectors… a kind of saintly, adorable ET whose sole purpose is to remind us only about tolerance and our prejudices,” he writes.


Is the WSL festishising people of colour and is it this patronising approach masquerading as progressive values that has its potential audience staying away in droves?

Or not?

Surely, cannibalism is only days away. | Photo: 9news

Indonesia locks down ports: Twelve Australian surfers stranded on charter boat off coast of Sumba!

Booze, food, fuel, running low.

Ramifications from the world’s response to coronavirus are far reaching. Yet to be fully understood.

Border closures. Enforced quarantines. Essential social services in many countries suspended. Macro decisions that hit on a micro level.

The biggest social upheaval since World War II plays out in myriad ways.

As I write, twelve surfers from Newcastle, Australia, are in limbo off the coast of Sumba, east of Bali. Stranded by a political decision that sees them unable to disembark from their boat nor allowed to return home.

While they were out chasing waves in a mobile reception dead zone, local government authorities decreed no foreigners could set foot on land in any of their ports for fear of spreading the mildly lethal virus further.

Upon their return, they found the world had shut up shop.

No back to life, no back to reality.

At one stage, the dozen were down to the final meal and running dangerously low on basic supplies. The skipper they’d use the last of their fuel to travel to nearby Flores, but there was no guarantee they could land there either.

Many have already missed connecting flights home (and will now face a two-week quarantine for their troubles when they do finally make it).

“We’ve had one boat come out to speak to us to basically tell us we can’t come to land,” one of the surfers, Brydon Roper, told 9News.“This is a ten-day surf charter so the guys that run this boat stocked it for ten days only of food and water.”

Dire times east of the Wallace line.

Yet surf travel companies in my Facebook feed are still advertising business as usual in the Ments, up the other end of the archipelago. Freedom of passage assured, lack of crowds guaranteed. Social distancing to be enforced on the trip, allegedly. But any person that’s ever stepped foot on one of those testosterone-soaked love boats knows how that will play out

Cheap deals for you, mister.

Special price for today only. Shred the apocalypse.

But the situation is evolving as quickly as the virus spreads.

The only knowns are the unknowns and a real-world, geopolitical unravelling that would rival any right-wing-left-wing conspiracy fantasy.

So what would you do for love in the time of coronavirus?

Risk a dirt-cheap trip and uncrowded perfection for the chance of quarantine, forced berthing, or worse?

It’s a yeah, nah, for me.

Heedless surfer-father and young daughter enter Coronavirus travel nightmare; forced into boutique Parisienne hotel like “filthy refugees!”

A vivid dream.

“Would you rather be here or back home waiting in a mile long line for Trader Joe’s canned beans and…banana chips?” I ask my young daughter as we drop luggage off in our Opera-inspired, Jacques Garcia designed Paris hotel room.

“Ummmm. What’s Trader Joe’s?” She responds while washing her hands with the supplied Hermès soap in the bathroom.

“Exactly.” I say and it’s the right answer though we are now, officially, Coronavirus refugees. Instead of being allowed on to our scheduled Air Tahiti Nui flight tomorrow we are forced to cool heels in Paris for extra days, near the Palais Garnier, a stone’s throw from le Chapelle Expiatoire.

Brutal but like our brothers and sisters fleeing war torn Syria, war torn Afghanistan, conflict ravaged west Africa we will survive.

The Coronavirus Zombie Apocalypse has reached full tilt, or a much fuller tilt than any sane person could have ever imagined. I thought the flu-esque paranoia would grip Europe and we’d shred empty palaces, empty restaurants, empty plazas, parks, zoos and museums and that has been true, all of that and more, but Europeans, or at least the French and Germans, seemed generally lassiez-faire/lass los about the whole business. Nobody panicking. Nobody over-purchasing. Life as normal but… decidedly, gloriously less crowded, or at least until midnight tonight when all restaurants shutter and theaters screening The Best of Brigette Bardot turn black.

Aside from the elderly, who pull away in horror from my own personal walking immune system booster, we have lived a vivid dream but then, overnight, flight delayed. Postponed until the next day and who knows what then? Into an America hoarding nightmare? Otherwise healthy people crushed to death by cans upon cans of Trader Joe’s beans?

Honestly, what is going to happen to all the hoarded foodstuffs, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, masks? Has stockpiling suddenly mainstreamed and will awakened Americans begin digging bunkers as soon as this virus passes or will it all end up in landfills, hastening the Global Warming Zombie Apocalypse?

Well, we may as well learn French in the meantime.

“Oh can we please learn to speak French… ples vous? That’s how they say please. I’m serious.” My young daughter says while pulling me out the door for a steak frites.

Oui Vuitton je ne sais quoi.” I respond. “That means yes.”

My phone rings at that very moment and it is my wife, back in California.

“When are you guys coming home?”

“I don’t really know. The French are sending us to the Caribbean, theoretically, tomorrow.”

“What?” She does not sound happy. “You are NOT getting sent to some crazy quarantine island in the Caribbean with OUR daughter!”

Minutes later she’s busted us free and has us direct without even paying a gouged fare.

Charles de Gaulle to Los Angeles International.

“Your mama is better than Papillon.” I tell my young daughter as we push out into the almost warm night, the City of Lights glowing in puddles as the French, seeming to ignore social distancing norms, continuing to see life in pink.

“It took that bro a decade, or something, to escape from his crazy quarantine Caribbean island. Your mama is, historically, legendary.”

“What did Papillon do to go to the crazy whatever island?” She asks.

“Not cry when his mother died…” I respond. “Or wait. That’s my other favorite Frenchman. But your mama, classically legendary.”

Watch: Audi and Stephanie Gilmore recreate Kai Neville’s epoch-defining 2010 wavepool session!

Obvious question: who did it better?

In 2010, the filmmaker Kai Neville was shooting for what would become his, and the epoch’s, defining masterwork, Lost Atlas. 

That golden period. All collaborative artists have ’em.

It’s only years later, upon reflection, that we can trawl through their work and call it.

Kai Neville, the now thirty-seven-year-old filmmaker and sunglass company co-owner had grabbed the performance surf film space after his debut Modern Collective.

But for Kai, it was his second film, Lost Atlas, that built his reputation into a profitable exercise.

A decade later it’s still his masterwork. It came at a time when he had John John Florence, Jordy Smith, Dusty Payne and Dane Reynolds in his pocket.

And, in the middle of 2010, Kai joined your ol pal DR and the Stab gang to shoot Oakley teamriders Julian Wilson, Kolohe Andino, Adam Melling and Evan Geiselman in a Canary Islands wavepool, with lighting and stills by master technician Richard Freeman. 

The clip, which starts twenty-eight minutes into Lost Atlas, is most surreal, an ethereal interlude in a most prosaic film.

Recently, the German motorcar company Audi, employed the surfers Stephanie Gilmore, Coco Ho and Leah Dawson to, and one must suppose here, recreate the Lost Atlas sequence, and which you can watch below.

The obvious question is who did it better?

Do bear in mind that Kai shot and edited his sequence solo, and using a seven-hundred dollar Canon 7D camera, while the Audi team hired the noted Australian filmmaker and artist Daniel Askill (Chanel, with Kristen Stewart, Dior, with Jude Law, BMW, Air France) and a cast of many.

(Watch the behind-the-scenes clip of Audi film here.)


“Self-integrating” surfer-father and young daughter honor their Coronavirus banishment by visiting Berlin Wall!

An abundance of lacking caution.

“Did you know that all of East Berlin was forcibly quarantined, like we are now, except theirs lasted 30 years or some such and none of them were sick with anything other than questionable taste?” I ask my young daughter as we’re standing in front of Checkpoint Charlie, a sleight of hand Gypsy tugging on my pant leg, insisting we watch his dumb show.

“That’s super duper sad…” she says “but what did they like that was bad?”

“Well, some of the same things they like today. Sausage, theatrical rock n roll, mullets but, more importantly, this is history. We’ve become so lulled by decades of relative stability that we forget how easy we have it in comparison. 20 million people died in WW I, 75 million in WW II, and that’s nothing compared to the Black Plague…”

“Are the Black Plague a theatrical German rock n roll band?” She interjects.

“Probably.” I say and we fall into silence again, studying the graffiti. Feeling its weight.

We may be stuck in Western Europe for 30 days but, worst case scenario, we’re stuck in Western Europe for 30 days. An absolute dream and I’ve been salivating over the road trips we can take, places we can go, mountains we can ski, rivers we can surf, food we can eat, subsidized medical institutions we can tax.

Nothing against the very real threat of a Chinese manufactured cold but…



And with the World Surf League canceling March, likely April too, what has become of fortitude? Of knowing millions of people are going to be “self-quarantined” with nothing to do?

Professional surfing could have been their savior this “you can’t script this” moment but no. World Surf League CEO and Lord Commander over the Wall of Positive Noise Erik “ELo” Logan made his first executive decision, yesterday, lopping the first month, maybe two, off the season.

The reason?

“An abundance of caution.”

“Out of an abundance of caution for the safety of our athletes, fans and staff…”

Certainly the WSL will point at Australia for shutting down events attracting more than 500 people but live professional surfing isn’t really a “thing.” Santa Monica could have easily hosted the Coronavirus Corona event, 32 surfers in the water, 3 men in the booth (’89 World Champion gifted the of his life off), all the judges in Santa Monica where they should be anyhow. A total of 40 folk very much under the limit. For the hundreds upon hundreds of jobless, school-less, entertainment-less surfers around the globe it would have been rebellious art. Others would have glommed on too with no basketball, baseball or soccer.

The unicorn moment professional surfing has been waiting for since 1976.

Official mainstreaming. Being a real sport.

But no.

“An abundance of caution” and we surfers, we true grumpy locals, know what happens anytime an abundance of caution is exercised in the lineup. Either a rightly deserved burn or a trip over the falls.

“Well, ELo just took a trip over the falls…” I mumble after some time as the Berliner wind almost blows us both into that damned Gypsy.

My young daughter looks up at me, her confusion having turned into pure annoyance over the past week.

“Never mind.” I say. “Want to go get matching tracksuits for you and mama at the Adidas flagship store?”

She nods, happy again.

I’ll find a place to embroider Covid-19 on them later.