Whatever your position on the contest, you gotta admit, it's as fun as pools get.

Surf Ranch-lit: “Great surfing is about finding a line through chaos and watching great moments in surf comps is bearing witness to that pursuit!”

"Without the chaos you’ve just got an aquatic gym."

I’ve become obsessed with the Surf Ranch.

The more you think about it the crazier it becomes. It is insane, and it’s making me insane.

Looking at the skateboarding analogy you can see why building a wave version an un-changing handrail assists the technical side of surfing: try the same air, the same turn, the same combo, over and over and over on the exact same section on the exact same wave, you get better at them. The logic is unquestionable.

But great surfing is not quantified by technical precision alone, it involves something less easily defined.

I need to stop right here to clarify that I am not heading in the turgid direction of claiming that surfing is fundamentally a spiritual exercise, of course not.

Most of the time it’s a selfish exercise for joy junkies who fiend after more and more and extreme self-gratification, as I’m sure we all know, is the very antithesis of enlightenment. That whole conversation is as absurd as it is tedious (unless it is being had by the old-timers like Alby Falzon who have genuinely earned the right to go there).

The tedium I am referring to can be attributed to people like, umm, Rasta, Rob Machado etc.

Whether it is in the front of our minds or not, when we are watching surfing in the ocean there are sub-conscious questions being asked before a surfer even gets to their feet: how did they end up in position to get that one?

How often does that spot get like that?

Is there another one behind it?

And if we extrapolate this line of questioning to its limit we arrive at the bigger picture, the elemental forces at play to produce a single wave and the complex systems that animate weather. Now we begin to appreciate that navigating a lineup so to be in the right place at the right time to get that one bomb is not just some trivial element of a surf comp.

It is the seed of the drama. The vital game that precedes the performance itself.

What you gain from the stasis of mechanical perfection and consistency is nullified by the predictability that environment produces, predictability being the enemy of excitement.

Lamenting the loss of nature as a feature in a surf comp is not just some good-vibrations esoteric peace protest. The ocean as a system, or as an arena to complete in, if you want to frame it in the hyperbolic sports-crazed language of the WSL, provides a dynamic chaos out of which unlikely perfect scores occasionally emerge. Without the chaos you’ve just got an aquatic gym.

And there’s another dimension to surfing in the actual ocean, one that specifically relates to competition, the relationships we know certain surfers have with certain waves, and how that affects the way we see them.

You watch footage of Andy or Bruce or any Hawaiian out Pipe or Backdoor and you get this kinda macho rush, not only are they the best out there but it’s their spot and they dominate it, and we all love that narrative, whether we admit it or not.

Or you see Steph Gilmore out Snapper and you have a similar feeling. It’s not necessarily the mastering of a wave but a situation in which a person has invested so much time and intention into a certain patch of ocean that they seem to be rewarded for it, and it’s a joy to witness.

Great surfing involves a level of earned intuition that is developed, knowingly or not, over years of reacting to the unpredictability of the ocean. Maybe that unpredictability is the very essence of our excitement, and not only the thing that fosters great surfing but ultimately defines it.

I can’t help but think of Andy. I’m thinking about any session he had out Cloudbreak, or even the year he won Bells out at that sketchy Johanna rip bowl doing airs where others were doing floaters and cutbacks, where others were hitting the lip or his backhand when he surfed that left shorey at Pine Trees in the Lost vids.

Andy’s unpredictability was not limited to what he did on a wave, it showed in how he caught them. Remember that Teahupoo one where he turned around late with Bruce calling him in and he free-fell into it? Or remember Bruce getting his leggy stuck on a rock when paddling out for that heat at Pipe to requalify?

Couldn’t happen at The Ranch.

Is there sand there?

Do they paddle out?

Those are moments that, try as they desperately may, the WSL could never dream of writing into the behind-the-scenes drama that they mistakenly think the tour needs. The anti-logic is incredible. The ocean itself has always provided us a limitless and unknowable script, one that is immune to human contrivance, and The Ranch just chucked it out for an exercise spectacle, and now it’s warming up for a sex sells reality TV show.

Think back to when pro surfing was still exciting, the 2003 Kelly and Andy showdown.

Kelly has just given Andy that weird pat on the back. They’ve paddled out.

It’s all over the place onshore six-foot Pipe.

You’re scanning the ocean, watching where each of them is, wondering when a waves gonna pop up and who’s gonna get it.

Andy gets the first wave. He’s late, catches an edge after the drop and falls.

A few minutes later, Kelly gets a wobbly cover up: three points.

Behind him, Andy drops into a hollow Backdoor one and comes out and whacks it then gets that novelty cover up: 8.33.

Later in the heat, Kelly gets an under-the-lip Pipe one then holds Andy off a lumpy Backdoor wave.

Andy still hasn’t found a back-up. The ocean is a wind-swept foamy mess. Parko gets a throaty Pipe barrel out of nowhere.

Phil Macca holds Andy off a Backdoor bomb.

Andy is left floating around with dying time and no way of knowing what exactly to do where exactly to be.

He paddles between peaks.

Finally, he finds one, but it closes out before he can do anything.

Behind him, Kelly rolls in at to a bowly Backdoor set, gets one solid turn then it races off and shuts down.

With minutes to go, Andy paddles into one that doesn’t look like much from the take off, but it grows, the first turn is solid, then he pulls up into a foamy cover up then comes out and get that last little floater.

In the dying minutes, Kelly snakes Andy for the best Backdoor set of the final. He pulls in, standing straight up, but it clamps.

The hooter blows and Andy wins his third world title.

Now, imagine if that Final was held at The Ranch.

Great surfing is about finding a line through chaos and watching great moments in surf comps is bearing witness to that pursuit.

Just because Kelly is going a little crazy from forty years of over-obsessing over the micro-details of his performance and has forgotten that there is a bigger story to surfing than the physics of each individual turn, doesn’t mean we should be subjected to watching great surfers master one man’s practice machine.


The only solution I can see is if winners of the Ranch come out and publicly reject its rise to prominence and petition for its removal.

Filipe? Gabriel?

(Editor’s note: Sam Rhodes is the editor of Acetone, “a magazine dedicated to keeping alive alternatives to the internet and computers.”

John Severson's iconic image of Greg Noll at Pipe in his pretty striped trunks, taken in 1964. Noll said it took an hour to paddle out. | Photo: John Severson

Big-wave icon, Greg “Da Bull” Noll, dead at 84. “Noll was a loveable blowhard, hustler, raconteur, and bullshitter. His big-wave cred extends from here to Valhalla.”

"I was overwhelmed by a feeling that there wasn't a wave that God could produce that I couldn't ride."

The Californian big-wave icon, Greg Noll, one of the first surfers to charge Waimea Bay in the nineteen fifties and who famously quit surfing in 1969 after riding a thirty-five footer, then the biggest wave ever ridden, has died, aged eighty-four. 

His fam announced Da Bull’s passing on Facebook. 

It is with a heavy heart the Noll family announces the death of our patriarch, Greg Noll. Greg died of natural causes on Monday June 28th, at the age of 84. We invite all of our friends and family to celebrate his life by sharing this post and your stories, pictures and experiences through your preferred platform.

Aloha, The Noll Family

The great surfing historian Matt Warshaw describes Noll as “Boorish but charismatic … A loveable blowhard, hustler, raconteur, and bullshitter. But not an outright fabricator. His big-wave cred, furthermore, extends from here to Valhalla. He led the opening charge at Waimea in 1957, and for the next 12 years rode anything that came his way, fearlessly. ‘I was overwhelmed by a feeling that there wasn’t a wave that God could produce that I couldn’t ride,’ he said. ‘It was sort of a blind, stupid feeling, but I had all the goddamn confidence of a rhinoceros.”‘

Of the wave at Makaha on December 4, 1969, “Greg Noll’s monster drop-to-annihilation wave” Warshaw says it was the “the defining wave of surfing’s defining big-wave swell. World champ Fred Hemmings watched from the beach and said it was the biggest wave ever ridden. Noll himself said it was five or ten feet over his previous best, and not long afterward he tapped out of the game, moved to Crescent City, and became a fisherman.”

Two men sunbaking naked on Sydney beach get spooked by deer, run into forest and become hopelessly lost: “I think they should be embarrassed!”


Sydney entered a two-week lockdown, over the weekend, in order to control spread of the new Coronavirus Delta variant but that did not stop two men, aged 30 and 49 respectively, from stripping naked and heading to a pristine beach just south of the city.

There they lay on the warm-ish sand, soaking up important vitamin D, maybe thinking about the Bra Boys just around the bend, enjoying a forbidden slice of freedom when out of nowhere popped a deer.

Now, anyone who has spent much time around deer or seen the Chris Farley classic Tommy Boy, knows that the animals can be extremely scary.

The naked men, rightfully panicked, ran into the nearby Royal National Park and became hopelessly lost, eventually calling for help in the evening.

Their rescue involved police aircraft, ambulances and many officers.

Resources etc.

Mercifully, the two were found, the younger of the two still completely naked but with backpack, the older “partially clothed” according to sources.

Police Commissioner Mick Fuller described them as “idiots” in his press conference also saying, “Clearly putting people at risk by leaving home without a proper reason… then getting lost in the national park and diverting important resources away from the health operation, I think they should be embarrassed.”

They were subsequently fined $1000 each but gave birth to the greatest sign language performance in history.

I think they should be proud.

Surf Ranch Pro goes down real poorly at News Corp.

Conservative mainstream press slams Surf Ranch Pro: “It’s been fake news all along, and now the giant concrete basin is hosting the most boring surfing event in the world!”

“It’d be like a golf major where every hole is a pitching wedge to a par three. The same par three.”

In Aussie media circles, right-leaning masthead The Australian plays a role not unlike the drunken great uncle at an extended family barbeque.

Obstinate. Incorrigible. Loud-mouthed. Untucked shirt smeared with chicken grease and sherry. Hopelessly out of touch with social norms and trends. A true dinosaur.

Yet still equipped with the uncanny ability, every now and then, for hitting the nail squarely on the head when it comes to topics of taboo.

“And they wonder why you never amounted to anything…”

Read fervently by politicians and powerbrokers, The Oz is an agenda setter whether you agree with its politics or not. A sometime home to former Stab journo Fred Pawle. But not the sort of place usually concerned with the trivialities of surfing.

“The waves resemble the dream little tubes that run across Rainbow Bay on a good day and yet time has revealed them to be lacking the million oceanic miracles that fire the imagination, get the blood pumping and stir the soul. It’s been fake news all along, and now the giant concrete basin is hosting the most boring surfing event in the world.”

Until last week.

In a withering critique titled “The Most Boring Surf Contest in the World” award-winning sports journalist Will Swanton unequivocally eviscerates the offering put to us by the World Surf League.

All behind a paywall unfortunately.

But jeez there was some verified zingers, reproduced lovingly here:

“The waves resemble the dream little tubes that run across Rainbow Bay on a good day and yet time has revealed them to be lacking the million oceanic miracles that fire the imagination, get the blood pumping and stir the soul. It’s been fake news all along, and now the giant concrete basin is hosting the most boring surfing event in the world.”

On Stephanie Gilmore:

“She looked down, which real surfing never entails. There was no point in casting an eagle eye out and about. Gilmore knew when the wave was coming, and she knew exactly what it would look like, and she knew exactly what it would do. She exhaled, looking bored, and then tapped her board impatiently.”

He concludes:

“It’d be like a golf major where every hole is a pitching wedge to a par three. The same par three.”


Any publicity is good publicity, as they say, except when it isn’t.

I don’t need to expend any more words on how the competition format is boring. Disjointed. Stifling performance and innovation.

It’s been done to death in the surfing world already.

But having a journalist the calibre of Swanton taking a swing at the Surf Ranch in a mainstream rag like the Oz ain’t a good look for anybody concerned.

How many more stinging barbs will it take for the WSL to take Lemoore off the tour?

Or at least fundamentally re-jig the format so that it offers up something more than the mind-numbing repetition we’ve been so sadistically subjected to?

Or will they continue unfazed, munching contently on their green leaf salad, not realising the BBQ is over and only the drunken great uncles remain?

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.”)