Listen: Longtom and Chas Smith talk Rumble at the Ranch “Two seconds of Joe Turpel and I felt such disgust” and Pat Curren: “The only shame in this story is I didn’t know he was living so close to me. I should be down there pouring out a bottle of vodka with old Pat right now!”
Today’s episode of Dirty Water, number twenty-four, is a virtual roundtable with flap jaws Charlie Smith and Steve “Longtom” Shearer, one a ravishing blond, the other with narrow maroon eyes.
Steve has been hailed for his artistic independence and the honesty of his portrayal of professional surfing. Unlike every other surf writer, he subordinates himself to the story, explaining that “any story I reveal myself completely in will be a bad story.”
Topics discussed: The Rumble at the Ranch, the first WSL event of note in eight months.
“I’m terrified that people still think that contests in tubs are the future,” says Longtom.
“I wanted pro surfing. I wanted something. But Turpel’s nonsense, I thought, this is a proper Dante’s inferno here. I don’t know what level it is, but it’s hell,” says Charlie.
True to my word, I did not watch the Rumble at the Ranch though did spend much time looking at the home Kim Kardashian and Kanye West once owned. Not that much, actually, but I did glance a few times and, to be honest, also glanced at the World Surf League’s first narrowcast of professional surfing since…. whenever.
I am a surf journalist after all.
My glance came as traffic slowed on the 405, right after noon, and I thought, “What the heck. We’re stuck in traffic, young daughter killing people in Fortnite, lemme just check in.”
Ill-advised, certainly, on multiple levels.
I heard Joe Turpel. I saw Rose. I couldn’t take anymore. Skin crawling, wanting to drive into the center median, etc.
PTSD, I believe, is what it’s called.
Later, I wondered if it was good. Maybe great. I devoured Longtom’s analysis and wondered if Longtom is only a hater. I giggled at Kanoa Igarshi’s onesie but remembered my many mispelings a day.
Then was sent this abomination via Instagram.
“Put money on this trash between some friends, just to make it somewhat bearable and the WSL couldn’t even get that right. This is bracket they publicly posted (which we made our picks off of)…”
“…And this is the one they’re using for today’s event. Fuck the WSL.”
Is there a worse crime?
World Surf League CEO Erik Logan has much to answer for (including Lawn Patrol) but this….
The words escape.
Can someone on the pro wavepool side of the argument explain to me why, given the basic repeatability of the wave, some new trick is not conceived, mastered and then executed to a stunned judging panel ala vert skating or snowboard half-pipe? Wasn't that the whole point? That with the randomness of the ocean taken out of the equation we would see moreoreless choreographed “runs”? Not the same two alley-oops that we saw two years ago.
Longtom on Rumble at the Ranch: “The gap between the rhetoric, that tubs were going to loose a tsunami of radical innovative surfing, and the reality, conservative surfing, is becoming clearer every day”
The Rumble at the Ranch: it’s not an ideal moniker, let’s be honest.
There wasn’t much heat in the first WSL comp for 148 days, since Leo Fioravanti took the W in late afternoon onshore two-foot surf at Manly on pro surfing’s darkest day.
There was much potential for some sly sexiness, beautiful bodies doing beautiful things will always draw the eye no matter where you are on the sexual spectrum. But the Wozzle bobbled the potentially most dramatic moment: when the couples are revealed. By going prematurely on that announcement they robbed the beginning of the day of any kind of anticipation which might natively belong to it.
As for the rest?
The wave and the surfing it has now produced for four competitions spanning many hundreds of rides has changed very little.
Filipe Toledo produced the best ride with a pigeon pair of alley-oops during the Final, same as he did in 2018.
I swore off watching after last years snooze-fest.
“This time it’ll be different” is the thought of anyone in an unhealthy relationship.
And it never is.
We’re five years into this thing now.
Five long years.
The gap between the rhetoric, that tubs were going to loose a tsunami of radical innovative surfing, and the reality, conservative surfing, is becoming clearer every day. It’s become what Orwell termed the “inadmissible fact.” It’s put us in upside down world, where Chris Cote, when he hears the train says, “ This never gets old” means “there’s something deeply wrong here but I can’t dare acknowledge it”.
Can someone on the pro wavepool side of the argument explain to me why, given the basic repeatability of the wave, some new trick is not conceived, mastered and then executed to a stunned judging panel ala vert skating or snowboard half-pipe?
Wasn’t that the whole point?
That with the randomness of the ocean taken out of the equation we would see moreoreless choreographed “runs”?
Not the same two alley-oops that we saw two years ago.
The same combinations of turns for the same sevens that we were promised salvation from?
My admittedly tiny straw poll of the sexiest couple, ala Olympic Figure Skating, dubbed Filipe and Coco the clear winners.
OK, that was Derek Rielly, but a finer judge of sexy couples, would be hard to find.
I think we can agree on that.
Sage and Kelly also cut a very fine couple in the Steinbeckian heat shimmer.
Was anyone watching?
I couldn’t find a heartbeat amongst the surfers at my local for it. Facebook registered 11, 700 viewers during Kelly’s semi-final runs.
Pretty respectable numbers for live pro surfing. Especially on a Monday morning in Aus.
My viewing experience was unpleasant.
Site crashed every second wave, app no better. I watched more Sally Fitz shilling Boost Mobile than live surfing. It was a test of endurance, despite the whole thing being run and done in four hours. That has to be the future of the Basin game: novelty events, mixed doubles.
It don’t hold up as a full scale CT venue.
A QS would feel like a jail sentence.
Any highlights worth a re-watch?
Check out Filipes double twirlybird in the Final, for completeness. Kanoa’s Nine was the most technically well surfed wave. Tatiana-Weston Webb’s 7.93 was a little herky-jerky but siphoned off a very fine tube ride. The Derek Ho tribute wave which opened proceedings where Kelly muscled people off the wave and then pulled in will confirm all your impressions of the King circa 2020, for good or ill.
I thought, a little more grace from the GOAT on his home-turf would have been appropriate.
When you strip out the ocean and the possibility of anything that adds unexpected drama to pro surfing, a Medina brain explosion, lulls, a heat-winning ride in the final seconds, sharks, coral etc etc, it boils down to a bland formula.
For the viewer, a dull ache of unrealised desire at the deathless sight of that impossibly perfect wave that fades with each wave to be replaced with niggling boredom and a jarring resentment.
Watch the four-hour replay here.
Eighty-eight-year-old surfboard design pioneer and daddy of three-time world champ “drowning in poverty” and living in Encinitas carpark with wife and special-needs daughter
Paul’s story of meeting Pat post-surf will jerk a few tears out of anyone who knows the legend of Curren.
This past January, I hopped on a flight for a quick trip to California. A few friends and I rented a Westfalia and spent two weeks surfing and camping in San Diego. Luckily, a swell had arrived on the last morning of the trip; I paddled out at Swami’s, caught a few fun ones, and then ascended the long flight of stairs back to the parking lot.
As I made my way to the top, a woman approached me and asked if I had built the board I was holding. She said she could tell just by the way I was holding it. The enthusiasm with which she addressed the work far surpassed what I would call the ‘usual intrigue’ of a passerby. We chatted for a bit and, as she walked away, I thought I heard her say, “You should bring the board over to our car. My husband, Pat Curren, is in it and he would love to take a look…”
I must have mistaken her, I thought. I actually began to walk back to the van as I reheard what she had said in my head. Then I stopped, turned around and looked across the lot. There, in the front seat of a Tahoe, was an old man, with a white beard and a matted, thick head of hair.
I made my way over to the car slowly and in, I’ll admit, a certain degree of disbelief. Of course I was well aware of Pat Curren’s name, his beautiful gun shapes and legendary first-day-out at Waimea story, but otherwise, I knew nothing of what he had been up to in his later years.
An 87-year-old Pat Curren stepped from the car, and we shook hands. He was characteristically quiet, and carried himself with an utterly distinct and captivating blend of dignity and humility.
For the next three hours, we looked over the boards I had brought with me, talked tools, travel stories, and his early years of board building with Velzy. I realized at some point that I was dehydrated and a bit dizzy, standing there baking in the sun, still wearing my wetsuit. That’s what happens when you get caught up in the magic joy of chance encounters with people you look up to.
Pat’s wife, Mary, and I exchanged numbers and have stayed in touch over the past 7 months. Over long and frequent phone conversations, I’ve learned about their lives and struggles. As I’ve grown to better understand the depth of Pat’s indomitable spirit and determination to continue building boards, regardless of age, multiple near death experiences over the past year, a pandemic, lack of proper space and materials and finances, the effect has been both inspiring and difficult to accept.
Most days, weather and health permitting, he works on a template outside their small trailer, in the open air. I even caught wind that he may have been doing a bit of shaping out there too, despite having no shaping bay to work in. When I learned of this, I instantly called some friends in the SoCal area to try to find him some space. That’s what you call youthful optimism and maybe even a naive eagerness to fix a problem without fully grasping the intricacies of a unique situation. It just isn’t that easy.
There isn’t enough room for Mary to sleep in the trailer with their special needs daughter and Pat, so she’s been making her bed in the back of the Tahoe for the past year. They have no private bathroom. Mary receives food from local food banks when possible. Pat has been in urgent need of dental surgery for the past 6 months, which they cannot afford. They are at risk of losing what little they have left, including their trailer.
There may be a tendency to think someone else is sure to help out, so I don’t need to. While avoiding the uncomfortable realities standing before us in plain sight, a family slowly drowns in poverty, just down the street from multimillion dollar, beachfront homes and organic supermarkets.
I am well aware of how hard it is for Pat and Mary to allow me to share some of their current situation – she’s been stoically resistant to offers of help for over 7 months now. Most of my ideas were small fixes; another potential customer for Pat, an extra set of hands for an afternoon, thoughts and prayers. I’ve seen and heard how Mary and the family have supported him as best they can, but this family is weary.
Pride can be a beautiful thing. The pride Pat has taken in his work which bears his name is evident to even those far outside the surf world. But when we are in moments of dire need, when we’ve exhausted all viable options on our own, it is through simple acts of honest vulnerability that we can open ourselves to the inherent kindness in each human being’s heart.
Today, August 9th, Pat turns 88 years old. We have an opportunity to lift up and support someone who has devoted his entire life to being the very thing others have commodified, and packaged, and sold, and made millions feeding to the surf-hungry masses.
While most of the surf world went the way of carbon copy machine cuts and overseas production outsourcing, Pat chose to do it his way. He has stood as a guiding light for the younger generation of by-hand board builders, of which I find myself a part, for 70 years. 70 years and hardly a penny to show for it.
Mary told me once, “What people don’t understand about Pat is that he would give somebody the shirt right off his back with no idea if he’d get another one.”
We’ve created a GoFundMe page – Friends of Pat Curren – where you can help raise funds to get a more permanent roof over their heads, room for them to breathe and get some much needed rest, health care, food, and space for Pat to work.
This is our chance to make a real difference in the day-to-day life of a pioneer of our collective surfing tradition. Any donation of $100+ will receive a limited run t-shirt with this image, taken a few days ago of Pat and his planer, next to their trailer.
My girlfriend wasn’t too stoked on Derek’s choice of photo for my last article (for those of you who didn’t see it – a very full bodied woman portrayed by Eddie Murphy in the movie Norbit) so naturally I was surprised when she sat down next to me as the Rumble at the Ranch began.
“So this wave is in Central California? That’s kinda cool.”
She always expresses interest in surfing for my sake, which I truly appreciate, but even she couldn’t keep up the façade.
Two waves into the contest, she had reached her breaking point.
“So this is kinda… boring.”
Don’t worry, I’ll spare you my description of the surfing, as poor writing coupled with boring surfing does little to tickle the soul.
Yes, the event felt dull and redundant, but after my recent shellacking in the comments for a more negative story, I have tried to brighten up my writing.
So here it goes, a few of my positive takeaways from the event.
Candidly, Rosy’s commentary was poor. She appeared lost at times, even as Joe Turpel desperately tried to drag her into the conversation. When she did speak, her commentary was stunted and littered with “umms.”
I applaud Rosy. My guess is she couldn’t bring herself to continue the disingenuous excitement about safety surfing in an exhibition event staged in a pool. As prepped as I’m sure they were, she struggled to match Turpel’s patented prepared lines about how revolutionary the surfing was.
A veiled heroine.
If you didn’t watch, Joe Turpel and Peter Mel were convinced of this wave’s oceanlike quality.
Joe kept coming back with variations of “groundswell power” but my favorite has to go to Peter Mel.
In his discussion of the wave, he couldn’t help but mention the patented “groundswell technology.”
I struggle to find the words to adequately give that quote its due.
And if you didn’t enjoy their discussion of ground swell, Peter and Joe doubled down on the ocean-like nature of the mechanical wave, consistently stating variations of “the wave is really standing up now.”
It was, but it’s unnecessary to point out when the wave is engineered to stand up at that precise moment.
The Inevitable Checking of the Fins After a Fall
I really enjoyed this as I wholeheartedly relate.
Several surfers, after falling early, immediately flipped over their board to check their equipment.
I’ve done this on several occasions, and while this maneuver has never convinced anyone that it was actually the board, I applaud the effort.
Watching Filipe do it on the first wave of the day made me chuckle.
Strider’s Voice Inflection
Strider Wasilewski, the WSL’s resident ocean commentator, was situated on the back of a ski. The commentary would rarely switch over to his mic, but when it did, he produced gems.
At first, his joyful exclamations at safety surfing was annoying, but it really started to grow on me.
The disconnect between what I was watching and what I was hearing was delightful.
Like listening to a Latin America soccer game while watching curling.
Strider really hit full stride when he picked up Slater, who had just fallen needing a score.
Strider coyly asked if Slater needed the Heimlich Maneuver, and then motioned to his neck to mimic choking.
I’ll bet Elo already has Strider on timeout.
Kelly Slater and Adrian de Souza’s First Wave
I couldn’t believe it.
After Slater showed the world “the perfect wave” just days after de Souza’s coronation as world champ, here he was, at the very same wave, talking over de Souza’s first ride at the Ranch.
Slater was fairly gracious after he stopped talking over de Souza’s ride (albeit halfway through) but the timing was spectacular and I’d say too perfect to be coincidental.
The perfect finger in the eye from the champ.
“A wave system in Texas”
During one of Coco Ho’s rides, one of the commentators mentioned how Coco was coming off an injury sustained in “a wave system in Texas.”
It’s just too perfect.
The WSL encapsulated in five words.
Out of touch but refusing to admit it.
The Comment Section
Truly the only thing that got me through the event. Pure art.
(Editor’s note: Longtom’s analysis live in sixty-nine minutes…)