In a real sense, Reports from Hell, with Christian gents analysing the Middle East is a mirror image of the book the Father of Salafi Jihadism Sayyad Qutb wrote after returning to Egypt after two years in America. In his book, “The America that I have Seen” Qutb found American life primitive and shocking; he saw Americans as “numb to faith in religion, faith in Art, and faith in spiritual values altogether”.

Longtom reviews Chas Smith’s Reports from Hell: “Chas Smith looks, as my Grandaddy would say, like a ‘long streak of pelican shit’. Or, as my wife whose roots are in the swamps of Essex would say, ‘he’s all prick and ribs'”

Courage, insouciance and a true belief somehow unite Islamic radicalism, surf culture, war, American decadence and the hunt for true adventure in this very funny book.

Fifty-five dollars I paid. Hard cover.

Ordered it in and had to wait weeks like a custom board for it to show up, all the way from America.

“Fifty-five dollars hey,” the babe at the counter of the Lennox book shop smirked at me. “What? You gone off your fuggen Russians?”

“Nah, nah” I waved a little penguin copy of Dostoevsky’s “White Night at her as rebuttal.

“It’s just, Chas,” I pointed at the name printed in yellow under the Title “Reports from Hell”, “is a kind of colleague, boss and I wanted to pay full tick so the cunt wouldn’t feel I was treating his book  kindly because I got it for free”.

“Ah, yep” she nodded, “the reviewer’s curse”. 

I paid overs because I wanted no bias.

If I got gypped, then I could feel justified in giving it to Chas, full blast. Also knowing: when I take up my 80 grand (plus benefits) package at the WSL he could go after me without kid gloves. I hate kid gloves.

Reports from Hell is a very funny book, a rollicking adventure yarn, geopolitical exposition and chronicle of a period in recent history that already feels incredibly ancient. I refer to the post 2001 War on Terror, whereby the West, principally the United States of America referred to by Al Qaeda as the far enemy, invaded the Middle East as retribution for September 11 and caused a conflagration that the World is still coming to terms with. 

The basic narrative outline of the book follows Smith and his pals as they make multiple journeys – more than journeys actually, more like the Homeric odysseys of old – to the Middle East in search of the well-spring of Islamic terror, or what his pal Josh more accurately terms: the roots of violent, anti-state radicalism.

The twist in the tale, as we all know, is that Chas combines the search for the roots of Islamic terror with a surf trip. This leads to some very funny scenes. Successfully pitching Surfer mag editor Sam George to bankroll the trip is a highlight of the opening chapters of the book.

The prologue where Smith both interviews and regales former US commander David Petraeus with tales of surfing in Yemen is classic Chas Smith. The prologue ends with a piece of prose which can be regarded as peak Chas: “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”.

The prologue hooked me, but one of my terrible weaknesses  is reading the ending of a book after  I’ve read the first beginning to see whether the juice justifies the potential squeeze, so to speak. Reading a book is a substantial investment of time. Smith’s final line is a classic too, a commitment to a life as a “violent anti-state surf journalist”. I knew I would finish the book after reading it.

That last line, and the book as a whole, can be read both as a prequel to Smith’s surf journalism career and the modus operandi of said career. It illuminates the rambunctious fixation on the superficial which somehow uncovers the swirling morass of absurdity below. Seen through that prism a surf trip to Yemen with a side mission to discover the well-spring of Salafi jihadism in one of the most violent countries on earth makes a weird but perfect sense.

I spent the opening chapters with some unease about whether I would find Smith’s travelling companions Josh and Nate likeable enough to enjoy the book. Soon enough though these fellow young Christian Americans revealed themselves to be perfect foils for the main narrator.

That Christian innocence and lack of depravity did strike me as odd through the opening stanzas, somehow I expected more sex, drugs and rock and roll from our protagonists. Scenes where the guide, driver and protector of the first trip to Yemen, Major Ghamdan is keen on some whoring while the Americans shake their fingers at him in moral disgust have a peculiar comic flavour from the inversion of expected values.

You’d expect the young Americans to be the ones sucked down by what Osama Bin Laden called “the most decadent culture in human history…corrupted by a depth of moral licentiousness never before seen.”

There are very many classic scenes chasing surf in Yemen with Major Ghamdan, which I think justify the price of admission alone.

Smith is very far from the only writer to employ provocation as a chief rhetorical weapon, even if in the chummy world of surf journalism back slapping, pocket pissing and mutual appreciation of flatulences are the far more accepted methods. By the measure of provocation, even if delivered in good faith, he is aligned more with both classic American satirist/humorists like HL Mencken and Mark Twain and more nihilistic European writers like Michel Houllebecq.

Houllebecq stated, “I admit that invective is one of my pleasures. This only brings me problems in life, but that’s it. I attack, I insult. I have a gift for that, for insults, for provocation. So I am tempted to use it,” adding in a later interview, “My desire to displease masks an insane desire to please”.

Without too much speculation, the same motivations could be applied to Smith. The list of stinks his provocations have landed him in is a long and legendary one. Mick Fanning, Rip Curl, the WSL, former BG writer Rory Parker,  the Ashton Gogganses, many more I’ve forgotten and, most notably, Hezbollah. 

A good chunk of the middle third of Reports from Hell is spent detailing the adventures of Chas and colleagues as war correspondents for an Al Gore internet channel when Israel invaded Lebanon. It’s very good, very funny, very tense writing. A send-up of classic war correspondents and a damn fine account of being taken hostage by Hezbollah during an actual war. 

What makes Chas relish for the stink so comic is his lack of genetic gifts as far as the pugilistic arts are concerned. He looks, as my Grandaddy would say, like a “long streak of pelican shit”. Or, as my wife whose roots are in the swamps of Essex would say, “he’s all prick and ribs”. Which makes Smith less physically qualified to stare down Hezbollah bro’s or infuriated surf journos than it does to embrace designer jeans.

His development of a new genre of non-fiction, war fashion, with it’s delicate and detailed inventories of clothing and accoutrements pays homage to Bret Easton Ellis’ infamous character Patrick Bateman in American Psycho. 

The final third of the book, carried out in an increasingly melancholy tone as the three protagonists began to disentangle and the various dreams and aspirations that had united their quest began to fade bought forth weird and conflicting feelings in me.

It took some time to identify them. 

The War on Terror, as horrific as it had been, now seemed far enough back in the distant past to bring on a strange feeling of nostalgia. Nostalgia for a simpler time. And despite my intense fear of Islamic mobs, I felt strange yearnings to be among the goat herders and believers of Yemen.

Radical Islamic fundamentalism is the new alternative discourse claimed Josh at the beginning of the book. Despite the tale being told from the point of view of the Americanos it was increasingly the Yemenis and the Lebanese who’s positions I began to identify with.

That yearning for the pre-modern may be something more universal than accounted for.

Smith runs through a potted history of Islam, up to the development of Al Qaeda by Yemeni-Saudi Osama Bin Laden and Egyptian physician Ayman al-Zawahiri. My ignorance of this geopolitical as well as religious force had been as complete as my lack of knowledge of the surf potential of Yemen.

In a real sense, Reports from Hell, with Christian gents analysing the Middle East is a mirror image of the book the Father of Salafi Jihadism Sayyad Qutb wrote after returning to Egypt after two years in America. In his book, “The America that I have Seen” Qutb found American life primitive and shocking; he saw Americans as “numb to faith in religion, faith in Art, and faith in spiritual values altogether”.

It’s hard to say what Qutb would have thought of Smith and his pals but lacking in faith would not be a criticism he could level against them.

Courage, insouciance and a true belief somehow unite Islamic radicalism, surf culture, war, American decadence and the hunt for true adventure in this very funny book.

This is the first Chas Smith book I’ve read but I already know it’s by far the best.

For postage and handling I’m happy to send mine around.

Or buy here. 


Open thread: Comment live Margaret River Pro!

Saddle up…


Juzzy Dupont, Jaws, January 2021. | Photo: WSL

Historic opportunity beckons for World Surf League and world’s best female professional surfers as Margaret River WCT event set to launch in Waimea Bay-like “twelve-to-eighteen-foot surf!”

Give 'em the stage and they'll dazzle.

Tomoz afternoon Main Break Margs, site of the fourth event on the abbreviated WCT calendar, is gonna light up size-wise, eight-feet, maybe a few ten-footers, twelve-to-eighteen if you prefer your size via Surfline. 

The spike is short, but it’s gonna be good, although nothing is real, as this local says, until y’see it on game day. 

For the WSL, the swell is a godsend after the nothingness of Newcastle and Narrabeen and gifts the company a canvas to showcase its commitment to its fav cause, equal pay, equal play for gals. 

Three years ago, the WSL, and I quote the presser, became “the first and only US based global sports league, and among the first internationally, to achieve prize money equality.” 

A good thing.

Tomorrow, some time around three pm, and after mowing through a dozen heats of the men in a building south-west swell, the WSL is expected, at least by me, to loose the best women in the world into serious Margaret River.

Courtney, Tyler, Bronte, Stephanie, Carissa, you know they got the skills to ride these bulldozers. 

Give ’em the stage and they’ll dazzle.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CLi5KYCn5Gk/

In 1991, Pauline Menczer,  body pretzeled with arthritis, had a swing. 

Four months ago, the big-wavers Justine Dupont, Izzi Gomez, Keala Kennelly, Paige Alms, Andrea Moller and Annie Reickert made history by throwing ’emselves into thirty-foot waves at Jaws. 

Will tomoz be a repeat or will the WSL squib it and keep the gals heats until the swell evaporates on Monday?

After an Australian longboarder called out event organisers for paying the women half as much as the men, debate was split, I think it’s safe to say, down three lines. 

Argument 1: I mean, prize money should be equal for men and women, obviously. Duh. I don’t know why this is a thing we still have to argue about in 2021 but here we are. (Jen See.)

Argument 2: the men have a way bigger viewer draw, more ‘eyes watching’, isn’t that really what the sponsors want, what the advertisers are paying for? It seems with the men, the sponsors, the advertisers, get more return, (more eyes watching, thus generating more income), for their investment. (Sam Waters.)

Argument 3: Scrap the menswomens division and have just one division so $ from both goes in one pot for the best riders be they men or women (sorry woke crew, I invoked gender something totally made up I know). Besides, it’s longboarding which is womanly so they should be able to compete. (Aloha 12)

The documentary Girls Can’t Surf was built around the premise that if only men released the jackboot from women’s necks and allowed ’em to play in real waves, you’d see an unprecedented shift in what was possible.

Big day tomoz.


Interview with a VAL: Two-time surfer famously posterized by style master Devon Howard comes clean in scintillating tell-all!

God bless the VAL (sort of), God bless Devon Howard, God bless you.

Here, on your BeachGrit, we often speak about Vulnerable Adult Learners but we rarely, and by “rarely” I mean never, speak to them. Unless yelling in the water. Unless hate scrolling The Inertia and chortling words like “5 things I hate about you, more like it.”

A shame, truly, because as the great military strategist Sun Tzu said, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

Over the past weekend, the great style master Devon Howard was captured full spraying a shoulder hopping VAL. Yesterday, the video and images were posted to various surf Instagram sites, achieving a modicum of virality.

Today, I spoke with the brave WaveStormer.

I’m still soaking it all in. Am I enjoying it? God, yes of course! 100%! I can’t imagine something like this happening and not being able to laugh at it.

My story?

Ok, so I had surfed twice in my entire life before the weekend, in Santa Cruz when I was a teenager, and haven’t paddled out since. I’m a DJ and my boss, KC Campbell, and I were having a brief business call on Saturday when he said, “Hey, I’m going surfing at this spot in Malibu. Would you like to come out? You have to.”

At first I didn’t want to, but he’s my boss and it was Saturday so I thought, “Ok.”

I don’t own a surfboard, but my roommate just bought one from Costco for $50. I grabbed it, a pack of waters, a six-pack of Corona beers and headed to Malibu.

My first mistake, I parked on the wrong side of the pier and realized when I walked down the stairs. The tide was high, water hitting the rock wall, so I had to figure out how to get around. I waited for the water to recede then ran but as I’m running, the plastic ripped on my water bottles and I lost them, spilling everywhere, then I got pummeled by a wave fully-clothed. I’m soaking wet, my towel is soaking wet, sneakers soaking wet my water scattered.

This was going great.

I picked up everything I could and am looking for KC Campbell but can’t see him anywhere though can also see all the surfers in the lineup wearing wetsuits. I don’t have a wetsuit but that wasn’t going to stop me. I put my stuff on the beach, hopped in the water, stubbed my toe all clumsy getting in but keep going.

As I’m paddling out, this surfer says to me, “Well, this isn’t the best decision you’ve made, huh.”

I responded, “Because I’m not wearing a wetsuit?”

“No,” he replied. “In general.”

Once I made it out, I realized the movies are real. Surfer dudes are territorial and they must be realizing that I was a total newbie.”

I found KC Campbell in the water and he said, “Look, if you see a surfer coming at you, get on your board and flip over. You do not want to get in their way.”

Ok.

I was doing my thing and this nice wave came in. I saw this guy on the wave doing all this cool shit that I can’t name… the names of the tricks he was doing. He’s coming closer to me then he cuts the wave, or whatever it’s called, and sends tons of water in my face.

I think, “Ok. That was either unintentional or that guy is a complete asshole.”

I stay out for another hour, or so, observing, thinking surfing has a very specific and unique culture. A cohesive culture. Then I realized I had that spray-to-face coming. I tried to catch waves but never did, thought, “Fuck this,” got out to wash my surfboard off.

As I was walking the leash was dragging behind me and some dude says, “Pick up your leash. Surfers are going to think you’re uncool.”

That ship had sailed.

At the end of the day, sun setting, I passed my Coronas out to the surfers who were sitting around. One of them, a real nomad-type, saw how cold I was and offered me his jacket and hat then gave me a piece of art.

Everyone was super kind. I watched the sun go down, cheered the surfers on and had a great time.

The next day, KC Campbell called me up and said, “You’ve made it on Kook of the Day!”

I didn’t even know what a kook was but realized it is like a buffoon, a village idiot. I’ll take it. He called yesterday and said, “You’ve made it on Surf Journalist!”

https://www.instagram.com/p/COQ8unTH5Yu/

Life is crazy but it was honestly a fantastic experience and I am so lucky to get a peek into this world. I’m working on a web series, actually, called Talking to Earthlings. It’s a show where people from all different walks of life talk about their experiences to help connect us as earthlings. We haven’t had a surfer, or any guest remotely close to that.

Maybe Devon Howard would be interested in talking.

He will be now!

And I dare you to tell me your heart isn’t warmed by this beautiful story.

One tiny layer beneath our crust, our grouch, is a generousness of spirit.

You know it’s true.

You know, each and every one of us, bleeds anti-depressive.

God bless the VAL (sort of).

God bless Devon Howard.

God bless you.


Listen: Come ye weary travelers, grumpy locals, and rediscover the fountain of youth in the form of a highly addictive talc-like powder!

A love story.

David Lee Scales and I recorded another podcast yesterday morning. It felt, to me, like we had recorded one the day before that and the day before that as well. A non-stop, one-after-another, unbroken string blurring right into each other like a Kelly Slater produced Bad Religion song (read here).

These days, man. Flying. Going by so fast, too fast, and I wondered, out loud, at the beginning of the show, if our perception of time is not tied directly to our tastes.

To wit, at this point in my life my favorite foods, in order, are: 1) anchovies 2) whiskey 3) vodka 4) blue cheese 5) horseradish.

When I was a child, though, time moved so slowly. A summer would last a seeming three years. The school year a full thirty.

And when I was a child my favorite foods, in order, were: 1) Corn Pops 2) Lik-m-aid Fun Dip 3) Toaster Strudel 4) Eggo Waffles 5) Funyuns.

Time passage, or the perception thereof, must be tied to taste, no?

The fountain of youth a highly addictive talc-like powder licked off a stick not gross stink?

David Lee and I also discussed The People’s™ sponsorship of Caio Ibelli and I can’t remember.

Fun Dip time.

Listen here now or later.*

*Now n’ Laters were, and are, gross.