Our beacon of literary chops in a roiling, putrid sea of shark stories. Our unanimous sage. Our lynchpin. Gone.
It is with deep sadness, friends, that I must report our friend, Longtom (née Steven Shearer) has left the building.
Our clear-eyed purveyor of pro surfing, who watched so we didn’t have to.
Our beacon of literary chops in a roiling, putrid sea of shark stories.
Our unanimous sage.
Some may wonder what took him so long. Some may wonder what pleasure he derived from watching Ian Gouveia long into the wee small hours, just to sling a few pearls before swine.
But, as Chekhov teaches us through the lunatic hallucinations of Andrei Korvin, it is indeed a fine and dainty dance between madness and genius.
Before the birth of BeachGrit and his renaissance period, Steve Shearer spent an undetermined number of years traipsing the outer reaches of surf media like Denzel Washington’s Eli, clutching old surf mags and spit-flecked fury ignited by Nick Carroll and Sean Doherty articles.
His BG arrival was announced with “5 RULES FOR THE GOLDEN AGE OF SURF WRITING!” which decried traditional surf media and hoisted the likes of Rory Parker and Chas Smith onto a pedestal. In hindsight, perhaps a claim that has aged less well than his rules for surf writing, including numbers three on his list: “Don’t be a comment coward”.
Is there anything lamer than someone who can punch in the co-ordinates but can’t deliver the ordnance in the comments section?
Answer: Nein, non, nyet.
Surf writer, you ain’t Moses strolling down from Mount Sinai delivering the Ten Commandments on stone tablets. So wipe that smug grin off your face. Everything you say is contestable and maybe completely wrong. The article is just the entrée, foreplay and nothing else.
Like Orwell’s stubborn refusal to prolong his life and put down the pen under doctor’s orders and in the death throes of tuberculosis, ol’ Longtom’s commitment never waned. He has always walked his talk and weighed in below the line.
It’s still worth reading.
It finished with a somewhat controversial list of the 10 greatest surf writers of all time. Upon publication of the seminal piece, surf history gatekeeper Matt Warshaw was aroused to Tweet: “I don’t know who Longtom is, but I think he’s just made his own list.”
And with that, the floodgates opened.
Steve “Longtom” Shearer found his groove in contest reporting. A grim, thankless task from which he somehow elicited high art.
Like an inky Spartan he relentlessly deconstructed the WSL with a two-pronged Grecian attack. With one hand, a pathos that would make Emily Dickinson weep; and with the other a bathetic rendering that left us unsure whether to laugh cry or cry wank.
Whilst not ashamed to scythe through the performance of the athletes with plain, beautifully brutal truths in the tradition of Derek Hynd or Lewis Samuels before him, Longtom saved his most choice lures and lethal barbs for the power brokers of professional surfing. Notably, those who came from the outside with designs and delusions of transforming the game he loved so deeply.
Sophie Goldschmidt fell. Backwards Fin Beth fell. Elo remains free falling.
All not so much gaslit by Longtom as flung on a roaring pyre as we danced around and squealed with glee.
Kept in check and on time by DR’s silken-gloved fisting, it’s fair to say he over-achieved and undersold at BeachGrit.
Imagine him now, if you will, cash-strapped and cold-shouldered by Charon, doomed to wander the shores, muttering something about the Oi Rio Pro and Nick Carroll.
Flirtations with serious journalism never quite sang with the same sweet symphonies of Lennox lore, big fish tales or his unique brand of pro surf prose, but far be it from this necrologist to judge.
One suspects that his afterlife might not be quite as much fun as here.
The adulation will be the same, I’m sure.
The money unquestionably better.
But it will be constricted. The liberty to coil up those words and sling the noose will not be the same.
He’ll be here, I’m sure. Hopefully not just lurking like the many ghosts of surf industry past, but opaque and present.
I would have liked to revisit some of my favourite Longtom work, to roll in it like a happy dog in autumn leaves, but I’m not scrolling through a few thousand Chas Smith articles to find it.
Can we have a searchable Longtom archive by way of memorial? A shrine, if you will.
We can only hope that manuscripts for the promised but unfinished memoir Big Tits, Blue Water are coherent and forthcoming from his estate.
Longtom leaves us having published zero books to Chas Smith’s three, and with a legacy of surf contest reporting that will never be surpassed let alone attempted at that hourly rate.
If we’re honest with ourselves we knew it was only a matter of time.
To paraphrase Ellis Boyd Redding, some birds aren’t meant to be caged. Their feathers are too bright, their songs too sweet and wild. So you let them go. And the part of you that knows it was wrong to imprison them in the first place rejoices, but still, the place where you live is that much more drab and empty for their departure.
Favourite memories, donations, thoughts and prayers below.