Photo: Steve Sherman @tsherms
Photo: Steve Sherman @tsherms | Photo: Steve Sherman/@tsherms

Quit-lit: Riddled with cancer, body poisoned by chemo drugs, surfer returns to the ocean

A reminder of what a pleasure it is to draw breath, to be alive, to feel the kinetic energy of a wave underfoot.

I pulled into the St Andrews State Park lot on a hot, sunny early summer day.

It was full of work vans, trucks, and rusty old Volvo wagons with ancient Free Tibet and Gotcha stickers. Wave riders were scattered about the lot in various stages of their ritual, waxing up, changing, recounting high points of the day in excited tones and with animated hand gestures.

The first tropical swell of the year had arrived and a charge filled the air. I was cautiously optimistic, having not ridden waves of any consequence since my return from California.

My muscles felt weak, my body fragile.

The reckless confidence I’d come to rely upon since a youth full of sandbottom tubes and concrete skate parks was gone. Suddenly, I felt very old. I tried to assume the countenance of all the other happy-go-lucky surfers attempting to match the vibe of the guy parked next to me just returning from a five-hour session.

“The best I’ve ever seen it!” he said.

“Yeah,” I said to myself, “People say that every year.”

I had come home to the Gulf coast in December for Christmas with the family, a weeklong visit that turned into a nine-month ordeal.

On January 1, 2020 I skipped my return flight to LAX to get some health issues checked out. One thing led to another and, after a week of workups, I found myself on the receiving end of a call from my family’s homeopathic doctor instructing me in a somber tone that I needed to get to the hospital right away for a blood transfusion.

My haemoglobin was six. Was that bad?

The average range for a man is between thirteen and seventeen, I protested a bit, but the truth was I hadn’t been feeling well for a while. My folks dropped me off in the ER parking lot at the hospital where I was born and I proceeded to endure one of the worst nights I can remember.

I had an allergic reaction at some point in the transfusion and spent most of the night in a delirium, fevered and sweating through my hospital gown (I hate those fucking gowns).

It was a night that seemed to last forever and I was reminded of a Jorge Luis Borges’ short about an old general due to be executed who lived the span of a lifetime in the moment just before he was shot.

I watched the shoulder-high peaks from sand just as I had went years prior as a cocksure, invincible youth.
The surf was good, and not just by Gulf Coast standards. The swells wedged themselves along the jetties to the east, contorting into shapely peaks before roping west along the bar. A small handful of locals were picking the waves to pieces. One grom was having his way with the critical sections launching airs on the inside and drawing graceful lines over the deeper, outer bar.

After a bit of a battle I was in the lineup.

Well, I thought, at least I’d made it out.

I had a premonition that my trip to the ER for a pint of blood was not going to be an overnight visit. Sure enough, a week later I was still an inmate of Tallahassee Memorial. I would go for walks around the halls in the mornings much to the alarm of the staff, and got myself stuck down a desolate passage one day when I lacked the strength to complete the journey.

I was escorted back to my cell by a stern nurse and was warned in a menacing tone to remain in my “suite.” After eight days, a bone marrow biopsy and countless blood tests and scans, the doctors told me I had stage 4B Classical Hodgkins Lymphoma.

And with that, I was allowed to go home.

Several days later the doctor called and announced the radiologist had noticed a bit of fluid around my heart on my MRI and decided it must be removed pronto. I said the fluid showed up on an MRI five years prior and had been perfectly harmless there minding its own damn business.

They removed the fluid from around my heart with a long needle at which point, I’m told, my heart stopped. The doctors notes mention it remained thus for fifteen minutes, during which time the two largest fellows in the room, to whom I’m forever indebted, applied maximum pressure to my chest in an effort to restart the old ticker while my mother prayed in tongues in the corner as they urgently ushered her out.

My objections were dismissed and I was brought in for the “routine procedure”.

They removed the fluid from around my heart with a long needle at which point, I’m told, my heart stopped. The doctors notes mention it remained thus for fifteen minutes, during which time the two largest fellows in the room, to whom I’m forever indebted, applied maximum pressure to my chest in an effort to restart the old ticker while my mother prayed in tongues in the corner as they urgently ushered her out.

Or attempted to, anyway.

She insisted on remaining and appealing to God Almighty on behalf of the surgeons and, presumably her son. Her requests must have been heard. I came back with full mental faculties (or at least as full as before) which I’m told is quite rare after fifteen minutes gone.

Nonetheless my chest was subsequently sawed open at the surgeon’s hunch there was a clot somewhere. No clot. And just like that I was put back together more or less as they remembered me having been assembled in the first place.

The water was a radiant blue-green.

The tall dunes with their seagrasses and coast oaks bristled under the glaring Florida sun. I was thrilled just to be out among the roiling swells even if my chest felt tender, as if one wrong move could snap my sternum still healing from surgery.

A chunky left came my way and I paddled for it as if it were my final wave, momentarily forgetting the sharp pain across my ribs. To my surprise I felt the familiar lift and glide under the 6’4” quite early. I was up and riding before the wave ledged over the shallow bar and was momentarily at a loss for what to do with all the kinetic energy underfoot, but soon found some rhythm and was on my way down the line.

Coming to the inside with a surprising amount of speed, I drew out a bottom turn, but mistimed my closing maneuver and was obliterated by the end section.

I’ve never been more stoked in my life

I took three waves in all that day.

After that first exhilarating left, two wide open, reeling rights after which I came in more exhausted and euphoric than after any session I can remember.

It had only been an hour or so but took a toll, what with the long break in surf sessions and all the chemo drugs coursing through my veins destroying cells.

I stashed the Album in the back of my car and retreated to the wooden overlook to watch the fading swell with all the bird watchers and toothless old salts gnawing on their cheap cigars.

A light wind had picked up cross offshore blowing off the tops of the waves and making little hollow sections on the inside.

A flock of gulls glided by, fishing boats returned from outer reefs. That kid was still out there ripping, hucking throwaway airs on the end section.

I was glad for him and watched intently hoping he’d go on ripping for many years, never getting cancer or a broken bone or even mistiming a turn.

(Editor’s note: Greg Mitchell is an LA-based woodworker who builds handcrafted furniture for his company West of Noble, “inspired by a lifetime of various creative pursuits, odd jobs, musical and literary influences, long stretches of no money and few prospects, barely running vintage cars, south american surf travel, and friends and family.”)

Creative director of greatest advertisement ever made reveals secret to success: “Knowing the rules on what we weren’t allowed to suggest in a beer ad – no sport, bravado, success, or prowess – it had felt like a fun game to try to bend every one of those!”

Pure surf.

I’ll tell you, anytime, and I mean anytime, our wonderful surfing appears in a television commercial it captivates me completely. I’ll stop whatever I’m doing and study to see if shaper is visible on board, if fins are in correctly, if the essence has been captured or poorly appropriated.

Over time, I’ve become somewhat of an authority, maybe the authority, and can say, without fear of contradiction, that the worst is Jeep’s “Surf the World” effort.

The best?

Guinness beer’s 1999 “Surfer.”

It may, in fact, be one of the greatest commercials ever made full stop.

Very iconic and its genius, creative director and writer Walter Campbell, recently explained how it came to be.

The brief spoke cleverly about the audience and making ads that moved Guinness into a broader, more accessible arena. However, it also said: “The Guinness extended pour time shouldn’t be mentioned, as the dwell may well be a potential barrier to a younger demographic.”

I felt clearly that the “pour” was a treasured part of the Guinness experience. I’d seen mates who are devoted Guinness drinkers look at the settling glass with a distinct sense of longing. Wanting the result of the wait and yet wanting the wait at the same time.

Knowing the rules on what we weren’t allowed to suggest in a beer ad – no sport, bravado, success, or prowess – it had felt like a fun game to try to bend every one of those rules but in a way that would still let the story get on air.

And there we have it. “…no sport, bravado, success or prowess…”

Pure surf.

Campbell goes on to discuss the casting, making etc. and worth a read but savor slowly, again, here.

Surfer seriously injured after hit by Great White shark at clothing optional beach near famed big-wave surf spot Mavericks!

Maybe the attack ain’t such a surprise given a dead whale washed up on nearby Pacifica Beach a few weeks ago, the twelfth since February,

A thirty-five-year-old surfer, maybe swimmer it ain’t clear, has been hit by a Great White shark at Gray Whale Cove, a gorgeous little clothing optional beach just north of Mavericks and twenty miles south of San Francisco. 

The man, who was bitten on the upper leg, was treated with “advanced life support measures” at the scene and taken to Stanford Med Center’s trauma facility where he’s in a serious condition. 

The beach has been closed. 

Maybe the attack ain’t such a surprise given a dead whale washed up on nearby Pacifica Beach a few weeks ago, the twelfth since February, nine grey whales, one pygmy sperm whale and a fin whale.

Twelfth dead, beached whale since Feb.

Most of ‘em killed by ship strikes. 

More on the attack as details are revealed etc.

Watch: Hero with no apparent care for life or limb dramatically frees baby Great White Shark caught on fishing line in North County, San Diego!

Notes for the apocalypse.

I wander through this life quietly making mental notes about who I want to be around during the apocalypse. Who cuts and runs versus who stands and faces situations dire and scary. It’s often surprising, you know. Men standing tall and proud will abandon a scene at a sniff that it might go sideways. Women seemingly meek and mild will roar like lionesses and fear no action.

That’s why mental notes and I would very much like to have the hero who, days, ago freed a baby great white shark caught in a fishing line on Carlsbad’s Tamarack.

The scene was captured by a beachgoer named Kelly Bailey who told Fox 5 News, “I was walking over towards the Jetty where my son and his cousins were exploring and I noticed a fishing line pulling from far out in the water. I then saw a man reeling in a large marine reel and another man running towards the water with a spear. After the man was fighting to reel in what we all thought was a sport fish, was told by the other man holding the spear that it was in fact a shark.”

Yes, a baby great white shark teeth gleaming in the June gloom, head whipping to and fro trying to find a snack.

The hero, though, is completely unperturbed and deftly goes to work freeing the beast then dragging out to sea.

Very cool under pressure.

And while I surf the general region, and imagine this li’l man-eater is swimming around with much rage, the hero’s poise and desire to throw himself in harm’s way to help a creature makes me proud.

His family and friends lucky come apocalypse time.

Volcom’s best surf trunk designer quits, starts soon-to-be-iconic wavepool clothing brand parodying Surf Ranch’s ultra-exclusivity: “Wildly visionary playfulness!”

A surf brand inspired by WSL's Future Surf Classic.

If you knew Joey Frizzelle like I know Joey Frizzelle, why, you’d love him to pieces, too. 

Joe was at Volcom for fourteen years, all through the good ones, through the great float, and before getting the joint got bought out by the French luxe group Kering, owners of Gucci, Saint Laurent and Bottega Veneta and finally, Authentic Group, makers of Juicy Couture’s outstanding velvet tracksuits (a personal fav.)

“It changed a lot for over that time,” says Joe, who was Volcom’s surf trunk designer of note. 

His little light bulb moment for a brand centred around pools came when he was watching the Future Classic at Surf Ranch in 2017, the world’s second-ever major wave pool event, a contest where spectators were excluded. 

“No one could see what was going on, it was so exclusive, so elitist and all of a sudden everyone had a comment about it, the death of surfing and so on. Everyone had an opinion on it.” 

Joe said to a pal, “You know what’s so funny, somebody is going to have a wavepool brand and it’s going to be called Country Club Surf Club or something.” 


Joe went out and got the Instagram handle, bought the domain, he yelled from his Volcom cubicle, “Can somebody make a logo?” 

By the time the afternoon had spilled into evening, he had a logo, a website, had posted photos on Instagram and had mocked up a full range of hats and tees. 

“It was epic,” he says. “We tagged BeachGrit and Chas came back and said how much he loved it.” 

Joe Frizz at pool in CC tee.

He had to keep it under wraps, howevs, at least the part where he was in low-level cahoots with BeachGrit. 

“The management were not too keen on BeachGrit and here I am sending stuff to Chas.” 

The brand started as parody but Joe is anything but anti-tub. He hits the Waco pool when he can and even blew his money on the old Austin tank before it got bought out by KSWaveCo, demolished, and abandoned. 

“The Austin pool was tough, that was horrible. It was like bad San Onofre,” says Joe. 

Still, even at Austin “we had a really fun day. Wavepools are so dope, they’re sick, that’s what we dreamed about when we were kids. You have Travis Ferré saying they’re the worst thing ever, never do it, everyone splitting has on it, flip-flopping back and forth. But when you go, everyone’s rotating, no one’s hassling, everyone’s stoked. It’s better than sitting at 56th Street and battling all the groms all day for shitty waves. At BSR, it’s a pretty good three-footer. You’re with your friends hooting and hollering and you’re not out there thinking, aw, the wind just came up, the tide’s not right.”

Instead of a Pro Team, Joe has a Bro Team, which includes the aforementioned Chas Smith. There isn’t a huge barrier to entry.

Bro Team uniform.

“Everyone is on the Bro Team,” he says. “If you want to apply go for it. When you show up at a pool rocking a Country Club shirt, you’re in the know, part of the club.” 

Country Club Surf Club ain’t even close to being self-sustaining, Joe’s got himself another gig to pay the bills, but the dream is to get enough of a buzz around it, to build relationships with the guys at the pools and get a discount on sessions so he can take his twin five-year-old shredders on his choline adventures without melting his card.

In the meantime, “It’s a fun spin on what’s happening in core surf,” says Joe. “It keeps me self-entertained.”