Johnny go hard!

Question: Can vintage John John Florence break the spell of a decade-plus run of World Surf League championship trophies swapping back and forth between Gabriel Medina and Italo Ferreira?

We need The Match.

The Michelob Ultra PURE GOLD Haleiwa Challenger, stop one of the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing presented by Monster Energy, is on hold for the second day giving us all a chance to pause, to reflect on a seemingly rehabilitated, rejuvenated, re-inspired John John Florence in association with Florence Marine X and also Monster Energy.

A near perfect score in his heat, the highest heat total of the day.

Imagine with me now that the North Shore’s second favorite son (following Jamie O’Brien) is all the way back. Engaged. Head in the game. Will he be able to pause the inevitability of the World Surf League Championship Tour trophy swapping back and forth from Gabriel Medina’s Brazilian mansion to Italo Ferreira’s Brazilian mansion for the next decade-plus?

Or have the Stormers put enough distance between themselves and Florence to keep professional surfing green and gold forever?

As much as I enjoy watching Ferreira surf, enjoy observing his stoke-ed, the best rivalry the WSL has is Florence vs. Medina and, to be honest, I do not for the life of me understand why a separate three stop tour, say Pipeline, J-Bay, _____, isn’t instantly conjured pitting only the two of them against each other.

Best two out of three.

Do you follow golf?

I don’t but followed The Match between Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau because rivalry is interesting and rivalry is fun.

The World Surf League acting like heat formats, tour structures etc. were etched in stone tablets atop Mount Barney by Rabbit Bartholomew himself, inspired, then brought down to the masses is ridiculous.

Pit Florence against Medina.

The People™ demand.

"Twenty years in the game and you black-out in the operating theatre one… time…"

Real-life stories: I got drilled by an alcoholic ear surgeon in a Sprinter Van! “He swung open the back doors of his van and there were steel instruments laid out, a dentist-looking gas mask and, for real, some kind of operating table right down the middle!”

The people you meet surfing!

Let me tell you this up front: I only went to Sprinter Man because I was desperate. 

You might’ve done the same thing.

Don’t judge me. 

Exostosis. That’s the fancy name for surfer’s ear, I looked it up. 

If you have ear problems, which you probably do, you know a thing or two about surfer’s ear. “Bone growth from persistent cold air and water,” that’s it in a nutshell. 

You dunk your head in slush every other day, expose it to ripping winds, and soon enough your ear canal becomes a battle ground, the elements versus you, and your body’s like “Hell no, I’m shutting this shit down!”

I don’t blame my body at all. 

Survival, I get it. 

And for a while, nothing’s different. You can still hear fine, maybe a bit of water on the ears, but you’ve felt that before. Your first infection catches you off guard though. The ear stays blocked, you can’t hear, it’s annoying as hell. You cock your head and slap it to clear the water. 

When the doc at the walk-in clinic tells you your ear canal is so narrow she can barely shine light through it and that a bunch of bacteria is festering in there because the water can’t escape and then she prescribes you antibiotic drops and tells you not to surf until it clears, it dawns on you: your ears are fucked.

Mine definitely were. When I turned 45 my ears celebrated by hosting a bacteria bender. 

Out here in “Eastern Canada” as the surf world likes to call our coastline, I’m not alone. Every dude in my neighbourhood is either ear-fighting or blissfully unaware of the upcoming war. You should see it, it’s like an old folks home in the line-up, all ‘Whaaa?’ and ‘Say again?’ 

The hoods barely help, and anyone smart is wearing ear plugs. I bought a pair of the designer ones but I always forget to wear them. Any time I do it feels like I’m surfing inside a cotton ball or something. And I can’t escape the irony of taking preventative measures too late. It’s like buckling my seatbelt after I’ve run my car into the ditch.

So ya, it’s a minor epidemic of half-deaf middle-aged punters out here. My one buddy somehow scored an appointment with an Ear Nose Throat specialist who was shocked at how gnarly his ear canals were. 

I’m talking like pinhole-wide, deluxe surfer’s ear, 95% blocked. The ENT’s like “You have to get surgery for that” and my buddy’s like “Ok’”and the ENT’s like “Sounds good, only problem is the three year wait list.”

Three years! 

That’s a thousand days of dealing with sloshy, pus-prone, painful and periodically deaf ears that ring at random times. 

Not to mention what the surgery looks like, which is just gruesome. Do not Google image search that shit. You get your ear torn off from the back, they drill out your canal with a tiny jackhammer, sew your ear back on and graft some skin from your ass over the scar. 

Then it’s at least a month out of the water, barring even more infection. 

You’ll be the guy shivering on the rocks with a Van Gogh gauze wrapped around your skull, watching the young bucks take waves and scolding them for not plugging up. 

Still worth it if it worked though, right?

That’s where Sprinter Man comes in.

For some unfortunate reason, our sleepy town is all of a sudden on the surf radar and there’s never been more kooks in the water. 

Up to a couple years ago, we had a lid on it. If the surf sites ran a pic, it was “somewhere in Eastern Canada.” Fine with us. 

Nowadays, though, everyone’s become the worst kind of surf photographer: post up, snap away, drop on Instagram with the date and the spot name. The spot name! In short, our breaks have blown up. 

License plates from all over: Ontario, Quebec, Maine, Mass, all the damn places. We used to think the cold water would keep numbers down but of course we were wrong. Today, in blizzardsville February, a noob can walk into the local surf shop, buy a 6/5/4 winter suit and 8 mm boots and mitts, paddle through the freezing water and infect the line-up. 

Cue the icicle beard Insta shot. Some bullshit. 

And it’s so funny, there’s almost no localism. Polite Canadians to a fault, and I’m one of the worst. I even apologized to some dude who back-paddled me and then got tangled up with me after we dropped the same wave. 

“Sorry man,” I said. 

Pathetic. No wonder it’s getting packed.

One particular dude, an older guy, started showing up at our local point last spring. Everything about him was nondescript: black wetsuit, white log, gray hair, clean shaven, average this and that. 

Dude was quiet, too. A couple times I saw him respond to a “How ya doing” with a grunt and a head nod but never any small talk. 

He took the beta role for sure, rarely muscling the peak, picking off fun runners on the inside, usually when some douche bailed after trying a shortboard mush hack. Blending in, that seemed his MO. 

The one thing he couldn’t hide was the California plates on his black Sprinter van. Even though he parked way up the street, his plates jumped out. All of us hard-of-hearing locals have a quiet disdain for out-of-town plates, but repping California is the closest thing you can do to get a free pass. 

So we started speculating. Was he a SoCal guy? NorCal? Or some other Cal we didn’t have a Warshaw-approved name for? 

Or was he fronting? 

Like, did he just buy the van in California and drive it east? I forget who nicknamed him Sprinter Man—a nod to Cro Magnon Man for sure—but it stuck right away. 

We joked about how Sprinters have gone full cliché, with Alex Honnold in your social feed raffling off souped-up versions, Nomadland, the clogged #vanlife zeitgeist and all that. 

And did he live in it? That would complete the tableau. 

We were pretty sure he didn’t though, it looked too spare, and he never sat there with the sliding door open toking weed and strumming a ukulele like the other trust fund expats.  

He knew how to surf, too.

One day in late fall I was standing by the church watching clean ground swell ribbon down the point and cursing because, as I told you, my ears were fucked and I had just started new antibiotic drops to battle yet another bullshit infection, when a buddy climbed up the rocks from his session. 

After listening to me rant about my ears, he goes “I heard Sprinter Man is an ear doc or something. Ed told me his friend talked to Sprinter Man about his tinnitus and he hooked him up.”

“Wait, whaaa?” 

“Sorry man…gotta go…you should talk to Sprinter Man though.”

 I turned back to watch another set rake the kook-ridden line-up and rubbed my ear. It was the left one this time. The pain was sharper, a jabbed needle, and the only clear sound I picked up came through my right, which I directed like a satellite dish at the waves. 

Talk to Sprinter Man. Great advice. 

But, like I said, at that point, after three straight bouts of infection, stumbling around in my perma-muffled world, I was desperate enough to try anything.

I let a few weeks slide by as my ear healed up. Sprinter Man was around, elusive as ever. He lugged his board past me a couple times, head down, exuding brood, but I couldn’t muster the nerve to grab his attention.

 I creeped his post-surf routine and it consisted of opening the back of his van, chucking his board in, hopping up, and pulling the door shut behind him. 

Two minutes later he’d pull away. That’s quirky, I thought, dude must be mega introverted. 

But, I was curious. 

I saw him in the water on my first day back. It was the last gasp of a September storm and the clouds were completely gone, leaving a massive wall of blue and a near-flat ocean, maybe a dozen guys out. 

Sprinter Man caught one that snuck through the line-up and I watched him roll away, his cross step obscured by the back of the wave. When I came in he was way down the rocks, just sitting there and staring out. 

I stashed my board in the bush, squashed my nerves and rocked up. 

“Hey man,” I go. 

He looked at me but didn’t say anything. 

I was on the verge of speaking again when he finally threw out a “Hey.”

 I offered my name but he kept his quiet. 

“Uh, ya, so I heard something about you being an ear doc, or, I dunno, guys say you know about ears…and my ears are righteously fucked.”

He seemed to be listening so I rambled a bit more. 

“I’ve had a bunch of infections this year alone and my hearing is wrecked and, ya, ringing, the whole deal. The clinic keeps giving me drops but there’s like a multi-year wait list for surgery and, y’know, I can’t go down to the States and just pay someone to do it, it’s a madhouse down there, no offense of course…dude, I just need some help, and, y’know…could you help me?”

After I spewed that out he held eye contact for a weirdly long time and then turned back to the horizon and said nothing. My pulse was racing. The thought crossed my mind that I was insane, so I turned and started to walk away. 

Then he goes “I can help you” or at least that’s what I thought he said. His voice was low register, almost faint. 

I swung back and raised my eyebrows. “I was a board-certified otolaryngologist” he goes, “an ENT. If you’ve got surfer’s ear, which you probably do, I can help you. Come by my van on Thursday morning, I’ll be parked by the boardwalk. And don’t eat anything beforehand.” 

He looked away and I walked back to grab my board. I kept my eyes on the road as I passed his van. It seemed bigger and darker and more windowless than before.

Ok, ok, I know what you’re thinking. I thought the same thing. Sketch bag. Some rando with a dubious nickname offers you a chance to fix your ears in his van and what do you do? 

Just say  “Sure” and let him have at it? And what about the no eating thing? That’s the sketchiest part. 

Is the guy honestly going to attempt ear surgery in a van? What’s his deal? 

My head was spinning the whole night, and just before I laid down to rest my waterlogged ears, I made a quick vow to forget the conversation even happened. 

I basically put it out of mind until the Wednesday night, and I remember standing in front of the mirror plugging my nose to pop my ears, which promptly felt stuffed again, when this strange voice called up out of nowhere, whispering — and I’m not even joking — trust him, trust Sprinter Man. 

Dude, a voice! 

I spun around and scanned the bathroom, I even pulled the shower curtain back, it was mental. But nobody was there, I was officially tripping balls. 

The craziest part? 

On Thursday morning I woke up and I knew 100% that I would go, that I’d at least go and see what Sprinter Man had to say.

He was leaning on the van when I pulled up. I was on auto pilot or something, I swear I wasn’t thinking straight. I noticed some kind of instrument in his hand, like a scope or thermometer, I don’t know what, and he goes “Let me have a look at your ears.”

 I go “Right here?” and he nods. So I let him, I just let him. 

All I remember is his breath, pure spearmint. I wasn’t breathing at all. 

After he pulled the cold thing out of my ear, he goes “That’s surfer’s ear, both of them, at least 90% blocked. Did you eat this morning?” 

“Uhh, no, no I didn’t.”

“Good, that’s good.”

And here’s where I snapped out of it, the madness of the situation came clear, and I say, “Hold up man, hold up. Let’s slow this down. Obviously my ears have taken over, because my mind is gone. Tell me your story. Like, everything. You’re new in town and I don’t know you and…fuck…just tell me straight up: who the hell are you?”

And guess what? He smiled. Not a creepy, sinister smile either. A genuine, nice smile. 

Then he laid it on me.

“Like I told you last week, I was a practicing ENT for nearly 20 years. I’ve done hundreds of surfer’s ear surgeries. I lived near San Diego so that was my bread and butter. I invented a hybrid technique where I use three instruments in sequence and I go right through the ear canal, no back-of-ear incision. Most of the exostosis, the bone growth, is removed with a 2mm micro-chisel I designed myself. It leaves jagged bone spurs so I burnish them down with a low-speed diamond burr and a curette, which opens a smooth, widened ear canal. But that’s my expertise. Here’s my truth. I lost my practice last year. My wife divorced me and I started drinking harder — I’m a recovering alcoholic, eight months sober now —and one day I came in to surgery and I blacked out halfway through. My patient was fine but he sued me and that was it, I was done. It was rough for a bit, but I finally got sober and got this van and drove east as far as I could, so now I’m here.”

That’s when he looked me in the eye. 

I tried to say something but my brain was just blank and then boom, that voice again, this time saying you should trust him, you should trust him. It was uncanny. 

Before I could deal with my exploding thoughts, he swung open the back doors of his van and I shit you not, it was bathed in bright light, there were steel instruments laid out, a dentist-looking gas mask and, for real, some kind of operating table right down the middle! A mobile field hospital or something. 

I know, I know, walk away, I can hear you say it, walk away and then start running. Any sane person would just turn and go. But, I beg you, consider what it must be like to have chronic surfer’s ear, chronic, like always ALWAYS dealing with your bum ears. Every single day. No remedy in sight, dude.

So I decided to trust Sprinter Man.

If you’re still listening, thanks. No doubt you think I’m now fully deaf, that Sprinter Man got me in there, locked the doors, hit me with the gas, sawed off my ears, pickled them for his macabre collection and dumped me in a ditch. 

And I’d deserve it too, right? But here’s my truth: I let Sprinter Man do his thing… and I’m cured! For real. It was the sketchiest experience I’ve ever had — I’ll spare you the surgery details — but it worked. I can hear again, no water on the ears, no infection, no pain. It’s a miracle, is what it is. Nowadays, when I see Sprinter Man in the line-up, I say a silent prayer of thanks.  

Moral of the story? 

Plug up your damn ear holes, dudes. And if your local breaks are getting overrun with out-of-town kooks, who knows, maybe one of them will do surgery on you in his Sprinter van, and maybe, just maybe, your trust will be rewarded.

(If you loved this story, send messages of encouragement to RC Shaw, here.)

No surfing for you.
No surfing for you.

French Caribbean-adjacent surfing association grows furious over surfing ban, rues possible lost opportunity to host 2024 Olympics: “It’s a national embarrassment!”

"As islanders this has been difficult; as surfers this has felt crippling."

As yet another Coronavirus variant bubbles up on the international stage, this one called Omicron, we surfers, we sliders of waves should be thankful for what we have. Namely, the vast majority of us have been able to wave slide for the last many months. Oh certainly, we suffered early beach closures, and limited ones pop up from time to time, place to place, except for the gorgeous French Caribbean islands of Trinidad and Tobago for there surfing has been banned from the very dawn of Covid.

The Surfing Association of Trinidad and Tobago, or SATT, has finally had enough, writing a public letter to the Ministry of Health calling the closure a “national embarrassment.”

SATT president Ronald Riley declared, “Our sport is now an Olympic sport seeing great success in Tokyo, and looking forward (to the) impact and viability of surfing as an Olympic sport is clear, considering that Paris 2024 is looking at French Polynesia to host (if not the French Caribbean). We’ve just had front-row seats to the growth of French surf culture as our vice-president and technical director Jason Apparicio has been coaching French Caribbean nationals to great success this past month…and not only in France but in the Azores (islands) in Portugal as well. As islanders this has been difficult; as surfers this has felt crippling; and as a sporting association we recognise how detrimental this could be to any competitive, socio-economic and Olympic possibilities we have here and now moving forward. Globally, surfing is responsible for exponential growth in coastal economies.”

A year-plus without surfing seems punitive. A possible stealing of Olympic hosting downright rude, but did you consider the French Caribbean when you first learned that Paris had won the 2024 Games?

Would you rather watch Israeli surfers hucking into Teahupo’o or Canadian surfer ripping Mount Irvine?

Much to ponder.

Reno Abellira, right, with skate legend Tony Alva.

Breaking: Hawaiian surf icon and former world #4 Reno Abellira survives emergency brain surgery but remains in ICU after near-fatal bashing at Ala Moana Beach Park

Reno Abellira comes good.

Ten days ago, North Shore legend, former world tour shredder and wildly influential surfboard shaper, Reno Abellira was found unresponsive at Ala Moana Beach Park after an apparent attack. 

Abellira, who is homeless and living the rough outdoor life, was taken to Queen’s Hospital for emergency brain surgery. 

Earlier today, in an email to the Star-Advertiser, his nephew Kealii Aquino announced the emergency brain surgery was successful.

“Reno is still in the ICU, but thankfully he is no longer in a coma and is making slow but steady progress in recovering,” Aquino wrote, adding the family wished to thank the community “for the outpouring of prayers and support” they had received, and asked that Abellira’s privacy be respected “at this time as we focus on his recovery and rehabilitation.”

Abellira, who is seventy-one, has had what you might call a wild, wild life.

His daddy was a middleweight boxer who was shot dead in a Chinatown pool hall where he worked as a “strong arm”; he beat Jeff Hakman at thirty-foot Waimea Bay to win the 1974 Smirnoff (he’d win it again three years later) and his twin-fin design convinced Mark Richards to make a version of it and subsequently dominate the world tour for half a decade.

In 1992, he was indicted, according to a letter to BeachGrit from Abellira “for three counts for the Federal crimes of racketeering (the RICO Act) specifically Possession with Intent to distribute of four kilos of Cocaine and over 27 pounds of marijuana that had been control delivered by the U.S Postal Service and D.E.A agents to an address in suburban Honolulu.”

In a 1979 interview with Surfer, Phil Jarratt wrote, 

You hear Reno described as arrogant, aloof and intense. He’s all of that, but he’s also a warm and genuine human being with a positively wicked sense of humor and a streak of dementia deep within. He is sometimes misunderstood. There are surfers who have associated with him for years but confess they don’t really know or understand him. By his own admission he is “a complex person.” He wondered whether this interviewer knew enough about him to present the big picture. The answer is yes and no. Reno revels in his own complexity, and this much is for sure: any interview that laid him bare, that left no questions unanswered, he would regard as a misrepresentation. 

Recently, he went after Matt Warshaw and your ol pal DR in a couple of blood feuds.

Surf journalist (pictured) living best life on Black Friday.
Surf journalist (pictured) living best life on Black Friday.

Armed with bounty of insight, Surf Journalist takes on most audacious health and fitness challenge yet; heads to America’s favorite department store on America’s biggest shopping day!

Alright, alright, alright.

It all comes down to this. Heading to America’s favorite department store on America’s biggest shopping day. I should be going to the best surf shop on the west coast, Real Surf in Oceanside, but I will go there tomorrow plus it wouldn’t activate my stressors, pump my strain, test my resolve.

No, I have been training, and training hard, for moments like this. In the past, I would have road raged, gotten into a parking lot fight, displayed a very bad attitude in the aisles snapping at young daughter snapping at overwrought employees, snapping at everything but a robust expression of American capitalism.

Now, I have a personalized health and wellness coach, a WHOOP strap that allows me to know thyself, physically, monitor heart rate, respiratory function, strain thereby derailing a public bout of bad behavior.

I woke up after a Thanksgiving bacchanal and first checked yesterday’s strain…

…a whooping 14.1 due putting turkey in the oven, stressing about turkey’s doneness, pulling turkey out of the oven, general hosting etc.

But my recovery, at an impressive 80%, let me know I was ready for more.

So I agreed to head out amongst it, to Target, knowing that I could handle the load.

I parked the car, checked my heart’s beats per minute, a relatively chill 81, checked my lung’s repository rate per minute, a reasonable 14.6 meaning I was “within or near my normal range.”

I entered the madness heading first to the toy section, next to the electronics section, last to the Christmas ornament section keeping a steady eye on my vitals.

Rising but no need to panic, no need to panic, no need to panic.

And when I felt the need to panic, I re-consulted with my WHOOP and remembered there was no need to panic.

Having hard data, as opposed to untethered emotional flights of fancy, is a Black Friday gift and I exited the sliding glass doors L.O.L. OMG doll in hand, Christmas lights under arm, knowing that I was alright.

Alright, alright, alright.

I would have surfed instead of shopped but America’s economy needs me today plus it is still super flat.


Happy Black Friday.