Long Read: “…so then we were kidnapped by Hezbollah and I wrote about it in a surf book that mostly dealt with life on Oahu’s North Shore from the perspective of a surf journalist raised in Coos Bay, Oregon!”

Reports from Hell.

In exactly two weeks, on August 11, my third book Reports from Hell releases into the wild. Books are strange things, antiquated and cumbersome, but I love them beyond any other human invention. Love holding them, smelling them, caressing them, reading them and writing them. As much of a silly narcissist as I appear, I don’t like promoting them, though, but that is a necessary part of the affair.

If you would like, you can pre-order a signed copy here. Or buy one on Amazon. Or anywhere books are sold. I’ll be doing an online reading with La Jolla’s iconic Warwick’s (link here) on August 12th too.

Here is the prologue.

Thank you, sincerely, for reading. As much of a shallow narcissist as I appear, I appreciate you all very much.

Miami, yesterday

I’m standing in the right wing of a Baz Luhrmann–designed theater behind a luxurious velvet red curtain with General David Petraeus, who happens to be telling me about Syria, and I’m nodding along but mostly thinking that he is not as short as everyone says. His biceps, knotted little balls sticking out of a shiny gray polo shirt, pull most of my focus. His skin is that waxy, shiny, taut thing that happens to people who work out compulsively in subscription gyms—but he seems normal, at least height-wise. Maybe even above average. Everyone had said he was really short. Like, exceptionally short.

On stage, a hedge-fund manager is talking about shorting Warren Buffett’s company, Berkshire Hathaway. Or actually he’s saying that he would never short Warren Buffett while also saying that Berkshire Hathaway’s stock will lose at least fifteen percent of its value when Buffett steps down as chairman and that he is basically two hundred and thirty years old and might step down any day, so it sounds to me like he is talking about shorting Warren Buffett.

The room is filled with other hedge-fund managers scribbling furious notes as titans of finance, political insiders, professors, doctors, and billionaires discuss the state of the world at a very exclusive, invite-only financial conference in Miami’s just-opened Faena Hotel. There is a twenty-million-dollar penthouse up top and a twenty-million-dollar Damian Hirst–gilded wooly mammoth in hurricane-proof glass out front.

And General David Petraeus is sharing with me that Syria will likely never again unify, but he’s doing so in a small-talky sort of way. After the brave man calling bullshit on Buffett’s empire is finished, I’m supposed to interview the general onstage about current events in the Middle East and how they affect international marketplaces. I’m also supposed to be calling him “general” but he’s not a general anymore unless “general” is like “doctor” and you get to keep the title even after being unceremoniously shown the door and retiring to save whatever face you used to have.
Either way, he earned it.

After graduating from West Point, he’d served in Haiti and Bosnia before being promoted to general and heading off to Iraq, distinguishing himself in both combat and the nation-building that followed. After, it was off to command the US forces in Afghanistan then retiring from the military and becoming the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. That’s where he had a steamy affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, and lost everything except his handle.

Of course, I’m not supposed to ask him about the affair, but really, and I say this even as a famous-in-some-circles surf journalist, who cares? The appetites and foibles of powerful men are as interesting and unpredictable as American Treasury Bonds, which I just learned about two speakers ago and which are neither interesting nor unpredictable. The narcissism that it takes to climb to the top—the drive, ambition, self-obsession, and the self-belief— is an utterly knowable phenomenon.

His voice is quiet yet authoritative. He delivers easily digestible, easy-to-understand drips of Middle Eastern insight that I imagine rack-rate conference-goers crave, though he isn’t looking at me but rather studying the printed notes in his hand instead. They are the questions I’m supposed to ask him once we go out onstage, ones submitted in advance, but I was drunk when I wrote them a week ago, so can’t remember what they are. I try to steal a glance, but the only one I can see reads, “Oil?”

He has transitioned now and says something about Hezbollah’s interference in regional stability and I accidently snort. He stops suddenly and fixes me in his steely eyes. They’re piercing, almost like a bird’s, and I wish he would stop looking at me again.

To break the tension I say, “Oh. I’ve spent some time with Hezbollah.” The stare intensifies and I want him to go back to looking at my drunken questions while patronizingly walking me through the current state of Syria’s union but add, “They kidnapped me and my best friend, Josh. Or not really kidnapped, but they did blind us, stick pistols to our temples, drive around for a bit, throw us in a blood-smeared dungeon, interrogate us, and then feed us a delicious dinner.”

He cocks his head slightly and now I’m stuck, so I just start rolling out the story.

“Okay, so do you remember when Al Gore launched his television channel Current TV in the mid-2000s? I can’t think of why he did it or who his partners were, but anyhow, along with my best friends Josh and Nate, we were sent over by Current to Lebanon in 2006 to cover the Israeli invasion because, well…” and I pause trying to do the math. His expression hasn’t changed. “…right after 9/11 we were the first people to ever surf mainland Yemen and while we were there sort of stumbled onto the headwaters of violent anti-state radicalism…or, wait, we found that the second time we were in Yemen, riding motorcycles through Osama bin Laden’s ancestral village, which we were only doing to get to India and this madrassa where that ideology had metastasized but got all screwed up because Josh saved me from a life spent trying to be famous and decided we needed to kidnap a monkey in Bombay and take it to Pakistan first…or not kidnap but somehow procure a monkey in Bombay and take it to Pakistan because in Pakistan he would be truly revered and live a better life but…sorry, that was right after Lebanon.”

My mouth kept moving and the words kept coming out, even though they all sound patently ridiculous even to me, even though I lived them. Like, what the hell was Al Gore thinking when he launched a premium cable network channel in the mid-2000s? Especially one built off user-generated content? Hadn’t he foreseen the Internet and/or invented it?

In any case, a producer at Current had read some of our adventure stories, reached out and asked us if we’d consider doing a bit for them, possibly a series or host a segment. “Pods” is what they called them, and they were basically YouTube videos for cable television before YouTube videos existed. Tensions between Hezbollah and Israel had just started to flare with Hezbollah snagging two Israeli soldiers and Israel threatening full-scale invasion. We told him that the only thing we were interested in was the impending war. They agreed at once and Josh and I were thrilled because we had signed a development deal at Fremantle Media the year before as they had also wanted to make a show about our adventures, partying with terrorists, etc., but things had taken a very ugly turn and devolved into a show about us going to Timbuktu in order to discover new musical acts.

We gave them an ultimatum—either let us go and cover a real war or let us out of our deal—which seemed a fine scenario, all things considered, and it worked like a charm. They balked, insisting that the musical acts of Timbuktu would shine if we would only give the concept a chance, but they understood our bloodlust. We recruited our other best friend, Nate, who had just finished his master’s degree at American University of Beirut in political studies and found ourselves on an airplane to Amman, Jordan, just two weeks later, right after Israeli bombs had rendered Beirut International useless.

“…so we found a cab driver in Amman who had agreed to drive us into Syria,” I continue to tell the general, “then we headed over the border to Beirut even though the border had been totally bombed out, but the driver started to get cold feet as we got farther and farther away from Amman because he said our giant shiny Mylar surf board coffin strapped to the cab’s roof would look like missiles or something nasty to the Israeli jets that were running around-the-clock sorties…”

Now General David Petraeus is really staring at me.

Going all the way back to Yemen, Bombay, and Amman to get to the damned Hezbollah kidnapping story was misguided in retrospect, but as I was thinking about it again, why had we brought surf boards with us in the first place? I mean, obviously to surf, but the war happened in the summer and the Mediterranean that laps Lebanon’s coastline is as flat as a pancake from late spring to late autumn. The only possibility of surf, which we had gotten pretty good on a few different occasions, was middle winter, when the seasonal storms were violent enough to whip the sea into little head-high nuggets. We’d had some honest-to-goodness fun sessions in Lebanon, though I pry my mind away from remembering them so I don’t spin General David Petraeus out any further.

“…but that guy had a brother or cousin or brother-in-law in Syria who agreed to finish the job, so we bundled into his cab and he was furious about the surf boards but also had a small Chinese or Korean van. You know the ones, right? I’m sure they were all over Iraq when you were there. Those super micro vans that they love to stuff forty adult males into throughout the Middle East. Yeah?”

General David Petraeus dips his head slightly in agreement, though his eyes have lost none of their intensity.
“Well, he called that in and figured we would put the damned surfboards inside the van and away from prying Israeli pilot eyes once we arrived at the border, which was a total junk show when we did. It was crowded with all sorts of displaced people and so bombed out and smoldering that his small Japanese van wheels had an impossible time and we had to get out and lift the damned van and our surfboards and the driver over the bigger craters. We were sweating like crazy, and I had an awful haircut then that made me look exactly like Ellen DeGeneres but we made it, somehow, to Beirut where our first stop was Europcar, where we rented an Audi A4 because we figured that was the only right way to cover a war…”

He thinks I’m slow. I can tell he thinks I’m slow because I’m telling him about an Audi A4 and I would think I was retarded too. He’s a decorated veteran who cut his teeth in Iraq, took towns under fire while bravely sitting shotgun in a Humvee with his jaw set and his eyes birdlike, scanning the horizon. I mean, I guess he’s short, though not that short. A Humvee is the sort of car General David Petraeus drives, though. Humvees or maybe Dodge Durangos. Something big and American, but it’s true. We had rented an Audi A4 because we figured that was the real way to cover a war, Anderson Cooper and the rest of them be damned. We would have rented a Porsche 911 if they had had one. It really was crazy that Europcar was open at all, much less renting cars, to say nothing of renting them to us. It was still very early days in the Israeli bombing campaign and I don’t think they had even sent troops across the border yet, but it was still a war, and what in the world were we doing there? Why did those Lebanese Europcar employees think we were there? They certainly didn’t ask too many questions, though we would later supplement our Audi A4 with two motor scooters because we realized quickly, and should have realized in the small Japanese van, that bomb-cratered roads are an absolute pain in the ass. We wanted the scooters to be motorcycles, cool James Dean café racers, but we couldn’t find any and had to settle for ugly Chinese toys.

“…and Josh and I were on our scooters because we had just ridden them from Beirut to Damascus to deliver our MiniDV tapes to our editor back in the States, who was a lunatic, and we had spent our entire budget on champagne and children’s Halloween costumes, but since the airport was all bombed out in Beirut, and since Israeli intelligence was snooping on every piece of mail coming out of Lebanon, it was our only play. The thing was supposed to be ‘current’ after all.

“Man, that was a savage run. Israeli drones strafed us as we throttled across the Bekaa at midnight. You could hear them coming. Hear them like giant mosquitos looking for blood… oh, and Hezbollah had gotten ahold of us on that run too but let us go because they assumed the Israeli Air Force would take care of the job for them. But we made it, dropped the tapes, slept for a few hours, had Bloody Marys in Damascus’s brand-new Four Seasons, then made it back to Beirut right when we saw a huge bomb explode in the Dahieh and decided we had to scooter in and check it out…”

I feel a tap on my shoulder and swing around to see the stage manager, a kind, middle-aged Puerto Rican or possibly Cuba wearing a navy-blue H&M suit looking at me very apologetically. “I’m so sorry but it’s time for you and the general…” He motions toward the stage.


I sure had gone off the rails there despite not wanting to begin, savoring the utter absurdity as I relived it again. General Petraeus is less into it. His eyes have transitioned from birdlike to politely interested to mildly shocked to mostly addled to dead as doornails, either because his Middle Eastern life is far more fabulous than my own, what with his leading troops into combat, knowing every secret in the CIA’s vault, and sexting a biographer with an epically shiny, Botox-enhanced forehead, or because my Middle Eastern life makes no sense at all. In fact, it makes such non-sense that it forces everyone from Fremantle to the general public to General Petraeus into a catatonic, what-the-hell-are-you-on-about- I-literally-have-zero-handle-on-your-references state. Or because my Middle Eastern life makes his look like a dull, uninspired sitcom where the punchlines are telegraphed, the lessons are canned, and the laughter is too. A tableau of suppositions and formula connected to reality by only the most boring strands.

In this particular case, it may be a combo of all three. I follow him on to the stage muttering, “…so then we were kidnapped by Hezbollah and I wrote about it in a surf book that mostly dealt with life on Oahu’s North Shore from the perspective of a surf journalist raised in Coos Bay, Oregon…” but he doesn’t hear me because he’s in conference mode, soaking in hedge-fund applause while the master of ceremonies details all of his decorations and then introduces the surf journalist who will be interviewing him. We both sink into the plush chairs that have been set up for us— General Petraeus sitting ramrod straight and me all bendy and fidgety. The conference’s founder thought it would be funny to throw a screwball at the audience. Something they wouldn’t expect.

I’m supposed to be the screwball, but I’ve also seen General Petraeus’s Global War on Terror from more angles than he has. I have seen it spreading across a Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Somalia, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan that no longer exist. I have seen and experienced a world vanished forever by an epic explosion, and as General Petraeus starts to drone on about Saudi Arabia being our great ally and a great investment opportunity, I put my Tom Ford sunglasses on, slouch deeply in my chair, and stare into the burning klieg light.

New York City shutters beaches after shark bites “mystery alien fish” in two!

The Bagel's sweaty summer of discontent continues…

The ´Ol NYC can take a chunk outta ya in many ways.

Every corner reveals some new chic and trixy way to liberate you of everything from self-esteem to the loose change in your sack.

And now you can add the loosing of a femoral artery by way of our old pals Selachimorpha.

The beaches of Hempstead (Lido, Point Look Out, Long Beach –The Quiksilver Pro was run there) are a pretty haven where the suburbs meet the sea. They rest about thirty minutes, or five hours if you take the Cross Bronx Expressway, from Manhattan.

As of today, where the weather hovered around ninety-six degrees, those beaches are closed.

Locals received this message via text today: *Shark Sighting Update* A second shark has been spotted in the water near Town of Hempstead beaches. Lifeguards have red flagged the strip of water as per the NYS protocols. Due to this second sighting, swimming remains prohibited at certain Town of Hempstead beaches: Civic Beach, Lido Beach, Lido West Beach, Town Park, Point Lookout and Town Park at Sands. Lifeguards will continue to monitor the situation and determine when it is once again safe for swimming to resume.

Remember Clash of the Titans ?

The Stygian Witches?


Apparently, being a member of the alien family with a wing span of an NBA point guard is not enough to win a game of tag verses Jaws.

Thresher sharks are common in the waters off Long Island during the summer months as the Gulfstream warms the waters, but their cute little mouths probs can’t incise the hunk of flesh ripped outta this carcass.

Any marine biologists care to take a guess what left this dental impression?

Open for Trading (again): Join BeachGrit’s winner-take-all Survivor League!

A twenty-buck stake to win a gee…

In the middle of last year, and shortly before the hellfires of 2020, we announced a terrifically exciting version of fantasy surfer.

Easy to play, limited numbers, a thousand bucks to the champ.

Its creator, Costa Mesa’s Taylor Lobdell, a recent migrant to the tech industry in San Francisco, was a fan of the WSL tour but not its clunky fantasy surfer league, and its absence of any sort of incentive to play.

So he created what he calls The Surfival League.

Four rules.

1. Pick one surfer each event.

2. Surfer must advance past round of 32.

3. You can’t pick same surfer twice.

4. Winner takes all.

Then came the pandemic, tour cancelled etc.

Anyway, tour is back, maybe, although Pipe is looking shaky (story coming shortly) but next year, maybe we got a tour.

Earlier today, Taylor asked if he might address BeachGrit readers re: The Surfival League’s reopening.

Hello Friends.

Taylor from The Surfival League here.
Remember us? We were a quick blip on the BeachGrit radar right during Chas’s Euro-Covid Tour. We promised a better “Fantasy Surfer Game”. No complicated lineup setting, no weird tiers and budgets. Just pick 1 surfer per contest. Win $1,000. Easy.
Right after the article was published, Elo and The WSL shut down the tour and we vanished in the night.
Well, we are BACK.

Full rules here.

There’s a $20 entry fee and BeachGrit is shelling out $1,000 to the winner. The winner will also get a BeachGrit write up, probably a traction pad, maybe a signed copy of Cocaine and Surfing, etc. We will spoil ya baby!
If you signed up back in March for the 2019 season, your entry will rollover. If you want to refund, email [email protected]. If the tour is cancelled, we will rollover to the next season or refund, your choice.
Want in? 


Give it to us!
Give it to us!

Listen: “I am at a complete loss as to why the World Surf League didn’t ram whatever tour it wanted down its surfers’ throats then scream in their faces, ‘Suck on that ultra hard surf candy!'”

The Goggansification of surfing!

David Lee Scales and I sat across from each other in Album surfboard’s upper room this mid-morning and I worked myself into a thick lather. We were at least six feet apart, not the twenty-seven that Barack Obama and Joseph “Bad Grandpa” Biden prefer, but it wasn’t fear of Covid that got me all worked up.

It was preeminent surf journalist Nick Carroll’s integrity-laden analysis of the World Surf League’s announced tour changes.

On Coastalwatch, a surf website for the immunocompromised 75-year-old + set, he detailed the various and sundry shifts and the vast minefield WSL executives had to cross in order to reach some working program.

Per Carroll:

The surfers are the power in the room. They’re also the most vulnerable. THEY need pro surfing. But Dirk Ziff had specifically instructed Pat O’Connell and his team not to point the money gun at them. Rather than coerce, Ziff wanted the surfers to see the opportunity for change, in a moment when big change was not only possible, but necessary. The world itself is changing; no pro sport can afford to sit on its hands, least of all our dicey little darling.

As Pat laid out the options before the talent, he found them split on a range of issues. One option — favoured by Kelly Slater, by the way — was a continuous Cut throughout the season, a whittling at every event, so each CT featured fewer surfers than the one before it. Another involved dropping any non-elimination rounds — lose a heat, any heat, you were done. Neither of these got a lot of backing.

Instead, the process turned into a slow nursing of opinions and details, giving something here, asking for something there. The Cut was set two seasons down the track, instead of straight up. The non-elimination rounds were left intact. Both spared the concerns of the pros, who didn’t like the idea of travelling halfway around the world for one heat, or getting slung off tour after five such heats.

But wait.

Why are the surfers the power in the room again? Aside from wave quality, locations and days that should be contested, who cares what they think? I understand that Peterson Crisanto may be sad to fly halfway around the world, lose his Round 1 heat and get bumped from the event then get bumped from the entire tour after three such performances but the viewer isn’t sad.

So long, Crisanto. Better luck next time.

It boggles my mind that Santa Monica is using kid gloves with the one asset it should be man-handling. Shoving whatever version of the tour is workable down their throats and telling them to suck on it.

Whether or not they enjoy it is entirely immaterial.

What’s the surfer option? A rebel tour? Going to work for Hurley? Starting a sunglass brand?

The World Surf League, in any form it takes, is all they have.

Co-Waterperson of the Year Dirk Ziff and CEO Erik Logan should have showed real hardbitten leadership, instead of trying to be bros with the pros, and dished up an offering tailored for the viewer. A cutthroat competition that dropped Round 1 heat losers into an alligator pit where they had to fight other Round 1 heat losers for their very lives.

Or something.

The Goggansification of surfing is what we’re left with and it won’t work and it has never worked. Being bros with the pros will garner a loose shaka, a “Hey, brah…” a “siiiiiiick…” but not a functioning professional tour in the time of global pandemic.

Ziff wanted the surfers to see the opportunity for change.”

Awesome. That’s not what surfers are good at especially when getting paid a decent wage under the current model. Ziff, ELo and the rest should stop trying to give back rubs and step up to a very winnable challenge.

This was professional surfing’s greatest opportunity and it was blown.

Want more froth?

I also get firmly behind Kanye West.

Listen here!

P.S. When the august Nick Carroll is googled, this is how it comes up.

Tom Carroll’s brother? I’m offended on behalf of surf journalists everywhere.

Close Shave: Hurricane Douglas barely misses direct hit on Hawaiian islands, skirting just north of Kauai!

"We hope we dodged a bullet."

A rare hurricane heading directly for Hawaii shifted slightly to the north and spared the iconic island chain of much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Hurricane Douglas had been tracking to land somewhere between Oahu and Kauai with National Weather Service meteorologists calling the storm a potentially deadly performer “bringing a triple threat of hazards, including, but not limited to, damaging winds, flooding rainfall and dangerously high surf.”

But have you ever known anyone who practiced musical theater? In that field a “triple threat” is someone who can sing, dance and act. Very devastating, leading to much destruction in the form of Cats, Rent and Into the Woods to name but three.

Some rain fell in Kauai and some rivers got choked out. Gentle rain fell in Oahu while blustery wind slapped palms. One small tree was false cracked on Maui and dropped onto a road.

Hawaii’s Governor David Ige told the press, “We hope that we dodged a bullet. We were fortunate in that we did not have major flooding or major dislocations.”

I had a major dislocation, once, at Kelly Slater’s Surf Ranch in Lemoore, California. It was uncomfortable and lightly embarrassing though not as uncomfortable nor lightly embarrassing as Nick Carroll getting snaked by Vaughn Blakey and Sean Doherty on the final wave of the day.

Did you know that when you Google “Australian surf journalist” it comes up like this?

I hope Tim Baker doesn’t feel too comfortable with his Wikipedia and walled off “top of the pile” positioning. That’s our Longtom right below him and, unlike Hurricane Douglas, he will not shy away from a direct hit.

You’ve been warned Tim Baker. Best to start filling sandbags and laying them below your “featured snippet.”