Excerpt from Chas Smith’s new Reports from Hell: “Wait. I really don’t understand. Why were you kidnapping a monkey again?”

"A place where the monkey will live a life that other monkeys only dream."

Reports from Hell will officially loose onto the public this Tuesday, Aug. 11 Here is an excerpt. Buy here, here, here or here if you’d like to partake in a wonderful live reading on Wednesday, Aug. 12 

Djibouti, Today.

“Wait. I really don’t understand. Why were you kidnapping a monkey again?” Nate twists around on his baking hot wooden bar stool underneath a thatched roof covering the outdoor bar of Kempinksi’s Djibouti Palace. The bartender, a kind-faced Djiboutian woman with a loose scarf covering her head, is listening, waiting until I finish whatever it is I’m going to say before kicking the blender to life again.

Nate is looking at me and the back of his white button-up is drenched in sweat, though the front looks remarkably dry. The half- Windsor knot of his pencil black tie is slightly loosened as a subtle nod toward the extreme temperature, but that’s all. His two-year run in Baghdad as a liaison between the United States of America Army and the international press had served him well.

He chased that gig by cofounding a high-end design-build firm that operated out of Kabul and Sana’a with Josh, who gave up on being Islamic Studies’ enfant terrible and decided that what Kabul and Sana’a needed was a high-end design-build firm.

He and Nate spent years on daily flights, shuffling back and forth between Kabul and Sana’a before the whole region blew up in a new fiery ball. Nate mostly keeps his work secret now and refuses to respond to direct questions, so it’s mostly impossible to know what he does with his days. The only thing I know, for a fact, is that he attends Elton John’s annual Oscar party each and every year. Josh is back in Los Angeles, collaborating with Jay-Z and Beyoncé on something I’m equally confused about.

And I quit my job at Los Angeles City College to become a fulltime surf journalist. A literal and honest surf journalist. The fact that such a thing exists is absurd enough. The fact that I do it pushes it right overboard.

“Because, bro,” I say between sips of still cold piña colada that I insisted we all order since the outdoor bar has a thatched roof. “Josh was right and you were right. Being on camera is true hell and we were never meant to be famous in any sort of actor-y way. Our trajectory was never supposed to be tied to being famous.

That’s the simple truth, and I understand it now. Sorry for making us pursue cellulite stardom all these years. It wasn’t a well-thought- out plan.”

Josh snorts from his bar stool.

Nate says, “Celluloid.”

We had flown to Bombay just a few short months after returning from Yemen triumphant, though completely exhausted and filthy. Mimi had watched the footage and was excited to keep pressing.

“You’ve discovered something so fabulous, darlings…” she breathed heavily the day we arrived home, exhausted and dirty. “We’re leaving as soon as I get the rest of our budget to…where? Where is that fabulous school where they teach the radical Islamic terrorism?”

“Deoband, India,” Josh replied.

“Absolutely gorgeous, and I’ll come too. India is marvelous, and this Deoband sounds very chic.”

We were too tired to argue.

So there we all were, night one, in the bar, a monsoon rain pouring outside with our Punjabi bartender towering above us when Mimi told Tony to pull his camera out and get some real descriptive interview. The bartender was in a Sikh motorbike gang, very tall and handsome, and looked on, interest piqued.

Josh nominated me to start and Tony swished his brown corduroy pants over to his camera bag, set it up, and turned it on me and said “speeding” while clapping his hands in front of the lens.

Something happened in my heart when I saw that little red light come on. Something deep and profound that I can’t quite explain. I just knew, in that moment, that I hated being on camera. I hated it in Lebanon, I hated it in Yemen, I hated it in Bombay. Hated everything about it. Hated the way it made me feel, hated the way I looked afterward, hated the way my voice sounded. And for the first time in my life, I thought, “Those cultures that believe the camera steals your soul are right.”

I looked at Josh for help. Tony swung the camera his direction and I was momentarily off the hook. Josh fiddled with his rings for a minute, explaining some deep cut seventeenth-century Islamic nugget before excusing himself for a cigarette.

Tony pointed the camera toward an ornate picture frame, and I wasn’t at all upset with him. It was very beautiful.

That night, after Josh and I got back to our room, I sank, emotionally, and moaned, “This fucking sucks.”
Josh laughed. “After just one take? Come on. We went all the way through Lebanon, twice, with cameras, and now Yemen without you pitching a fit. You’ll smash it tomorrow. It’s what you want to do.”

It wasn’t anymore, that dream evaporating in a millisecond and leaving nothing behind, but how could I tell Josh that? I had wrangled us into ugly relationships with Vice, Fremantle, Al Gore, and now Mimi, all in the hopes of a cinematic capturing of the lives we led instead of just enjoying them ourselves like he had wanted all along.

I headed over to the TV and magically found a Lebanese music video station. “But I won’t,” I told him, dejectedly. “I know this time for a fact, I won’t. I have a horrible sinking feeling in my gut that I won’t be able to ever look good on camera. Not tonight. Not tomorrow. Not ever.”

Josh laughed again. “On the plus side, it looks like we’ll be paying out of pocket for Mimi and Tony the whole time. That’s fun.”

Mimi had “accidentally” forgotten her credit card back home but was “getting it FedExed straight away.” Tony wore brown corduroy pants. And the “film’s budget” seemed like it might have been spent on drapes for a Beverly Hills apartment.

“This is a disaster,” I moaned again, falling onto the bed. The first actual disaster of our run together, which up to that point had featured a weeklong hospital stay replete with IV bag after IV bag into my veins, which were shutting at an alarming rate; our theoretical lives being threatened by a sword-wielding Somali; hookers that we didn’t pay for or want secretly destroying our personal property; getting told we were awful at skateboarding by a Hezbollah officer so unversed in skateboarding that his honest assessment would ping until this very moment; and almost dying astride spray-painted Chinese motorcycle toys.

“Is this how all those damned Disneyland employees who call themselves actors feel?” I asked the ceiling. “A delusion of possibility that, carried by its own momentum, propels a man or woman to the ripe old age of forty still believing he or she can be someone who matters?”

Leih Beydary has given way to some older, seemingly wealthy woman crooning passionately alongside a tuxedoed orchestra in front of some dramatically lit ruins.

“This is shit,” I continued to mutter. “Absolute shit.”

Josh smirked at the TV then looked at me. “Wait, are you saying this trip is shit? Seriously, help me understand. Why are you so bent out of shape here? I’m sure if it’s what you want you can totally figure out how to be good on camera. Look at…Ben Affleck.”

“Yeah, look at him,” I said. “He basically carried Good Will Hunting, but I don’t want to be an actor anyhow. I just knew in my heart of hearts that this thing, what we do, whatever you want to call it, would get carried along via visual representation. But when Tony’s camera turned on today, it was like peering into a succubus. Or…what is the girl demon that sucks your soul?”

“A succubus,” Josh said. “The man demon is an incubus—just like that super sick band.”

“Maybe I’ve got Incubus sucking my soul, but I don’t know if I can come back from the way that felt. I hate to keep coming back around to damned feelings here but—son of a bitch—I’ve spent our entire run, through Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, India, building for this way to represent what we do in a way that actually looks how it feels. But today, something snapped.”

“Yeah,” Josh laughed. “But I think you so quickly forgot the amazing company we have along for the ride. That makes it worthwhile.”

I grunted and laid my head down on a starchy pillow. It was too early in the evening for sleep, considering the thick jet-lag on the horizon, and I knew I was just giving in to the sirens calling me toward rocky shores but it was better than thinking about Incubus anymore. Josh was right. He had been right all along. I closed my eyes and drifted into the blackness. Maybe sleep would change the predicament. Maybe sleep would give me some new insight into how to carry this thing. Maybe sleep would…

I woke up exactly at 2:15 in the morning, the red digital numbers of the bedside hotel clock shining like a beacon beaming the address of hell. The dread had not only not abated, it was strangling me. It had its hands around my throat choking my will. I stared at the ceiling, the dark cracks that ran away from the overhead light, a spider in the corner catching malaria for snack. What were we going to do? What on Earth could we possibly do?

“We’re going to steal a monkey.”

Josh’s voice cut into my despair so clearly that I thought I was only imagining it.


“We’re going to steal a monkey, or get a monkey, and take it to an epic monkey temple up past Deoband that I heard of last time I was here. A place where the monkey will live a life that other monkeys only dream. That’s what we’re going to do.”

The Center Will Hold: Anti-depressive surf-adjacent website saves the political conversation worldwide!

"Are you taking cocaine or not?"

And I have had enough. Had too much. Can’t take no more for I love me some politics. Always have and thought I always would except something has happened since Donald J. Trump ascended to the highest office in these United States of America.

The media has lost its ever-loving mind.

On the right, craven sycophants fall all over themselves to justify the unjustifiable, or at least unjustifiable according to conservative-ism’s most cherished values. On the left, perpetually triggered adult-children have devolved the entire discourse to “Trump is farts and smells like a butt, according to unnamed sources close to the President.”

It’s asinine and there is nowhere to turn. Fox is a silly circus, CNN has become the National Lampoon. NPR, with its paternal tone and know-it-all dismissiveness, is often worse. The New York Times, Washington Post, NBC, CBS, etc. all laughable.

There is officially nothing to read, listen to, watch… except for an anti-depressive surf-adjacent website that you know and love.


I have more fun, more thoughts provoked, reading the comments here than anywhere which made me think. Let’s chat more.

Like here, there is a major conundrum that has kept me awake at night. Donald J. Trump and his presumptive challenger Joseph R. Biden Jr. are both very old and say wacky things. Trump maybe on purpose. Biden certainly not.

Take this recent interview where he happened to ask if the British-born journalist was a “junkie.”


You’re Biden’s people. There is absolutely no way you let him onto a debate stage, right? How could you?

But how in the world do you get out of it? The first one is scheduled for Sept. 29, a month and a handful of weeks away. Unless his “mental slippage” strategy is of the classic “rope-a-dope” variety, he will get pummeled into oblivion.

So what’s Team Biden’s play here? The bunker strategy can only go on so long.


A new surfboard? No you don't…

From the no-you-don’t department: Girlfriend won’t let man buy surfboard; says “not prudent”!”

Californian moves to middle America, makes poor life choices…

I’ve been missing the ocean lately.

Also been sweating to death in middle America. Humidity is antithetical to human existence; the scorn of my existence.

I regularly question why people deal with it.

My dad just chuckles while sipping a Pacifico in his Southern California backyard.

“I told you so.”

I’ve taken up running to fill the time that used to be spent surfing. Ran my first half-marathon the other day. I don’t particularly like running, especially when it’s eighty percent humidity, but I’ve discovered that a few surf podcasts and two hours of running somewhat satiates me, though if I’m being honest the vast majority of that time is spent trying to figure out what my first board order will be when I triumphantly return from my exile.

Until then, my girlfriend won’t let me buy one, as it would not be “prudent.”

I usually counter with something to the tune of “it’s never prudent” but I’m starting to realize that argument may be more detrimental than effective.

The worst part is, I know she’s right, though I refuse to admit it.

My lack of income, absurd tuition payments and ever accruing student debt, and the two-hour drive to a freshwater lake that rarely produces waist-high waves doesn’t really warrant a new board.

It likely doesn’t warrant any board, but that’s another discussion to be had.

Starved for waves, I’ve started googling obscure surf spots.

I’m becoming a bit of a poor man’s Dylan Graves.

There are a few promising river waves within a few hours, which is honestly incredible given how flat it is here, but I’m still waiting on a little rain.

Things are looking up though.

I’m starting to fully embrace the “No Salt, No Sharks, No Problems” lifestyle.

I might even buy a sweatshirt with the motto. They’re more or less the equivalent to the white and red lifeguard sweatshirts sold by coastal cities to Midwesterners, so I feel obligated to buy as the role has been reversed.

It’s also looking like I might get vibed out my next Lake Michigan session.

My article condemning the most welcoming of all surf cultures has been circulating a bit on the freshwater web.

I’m not too hopeful, though.

From what I’ve gleaned they’ve celebrated the positive lines and ignored any of the criticism. I haven’t even received one hateful DM. Was really looking forward to a mid-west polite condemnation.

We’ll see if I can find the breaking point of their positivity.

I’ve been contemplating a few new strategies, but I’m going to really have to think outside the box. A Wavestorm takeover will be more welcomed than denounced here.

Maybe when you surf a wave that rarely breaks and has forty-degree temperature swings, positivity is all you have.

On the shark front, I’m seeing some potential too. Spurred by boredom and BeachGrit’s commitment to documenting shark attacks, I recently googled “shark Great Lakes.”

According to the Global Shark Attack File, in 1955 there was a bull shark attack just outside of Chicago. Now, there’s little scientific evidence, but as this is BeachGrit, it would go against my journalistic integrity not to take it as fact.

I like to think there’s some rogue bull shark roaming Lake Michigan as we speak.

A Loch Ness monster type keeping the dream alive in the mid-west.

Its lone dorsal fin filtering through the pollution spurred algae blooms, preserving the one tether I have left to the ocean.

About as anti-depressive as I can get.

Listen: “Would you rather be Jack from Jack-in-the-Box or Subway’s Jared Fogle?”

Important surf talk.

“I don’t have a ton of research on child molesters…” David Lee Scales said around the 5o minute mark of today’s The Grit! podcast “…but if someone wears a Polo shirt that he tucks into pleated Dockers you had better hide your kids.”

Sound advice, I think.

David Lee and I also speak further about Rumble at the Ranch, much further, dissecting potential winners and losers, segue into a long discussion about ranch dressing that bends toward American fast food chain Jack-in-the-Box, begin deciding who will win the 2020 CJ Hobgood World Championship and speak about Chris Ward’s surprise, wonderful path to redemption (see the YouTube comment).

A fine show, all things considered, and two hours you will not ragret wasting.

Coming soon: World Surf League announces co-ed teams for this weekend’s thrilling “Rumble at the Ranch!”

I can't quit pro surfing!

And in a mere 48 hours we professional surf fans, we exalted amongst professional in-line skating, professional lip-synching, professional shadow-boxing fans, shall have our game back again.

Can you believe?

The Rumble at the Ranch kicks off this Sunday, August 9 at 12:00 pm Pacific Standard Time and unveils a never-before-seen format.

Girls and boys making up teams that fight against other girls and boys in a bracket tournament.

Very cool.

Who those girls and boys were, though, has been a mystery, until just today (or something) and now the picture is complete.

As you can see, Round 1 pits Coco Ho x Filipe Toledo against Alyssa Spencer and Kolohe Andino

Carissa Moore and Seth Moniz against Sage Erickson and Kelly Slater

Kirra Pinkerton and Conner Coffin against Sweet Caroline Marks and Adriano de Souza

Lakey Peterson and Griff Colapinto against the Mother of Dragons and Kanoa Igarashi

Really awesome.

But, quickly, let’s fill our brackets in together. I’ll start.

Round 2: Ho/Pip against Sage/Kelly

Marks/ADS against Mother of Dragons/Kanoa

Final: Ho/Pip vs Marks/ADS

Winner: Marks/ADS

Now your turn.