Here, I must win, even if only for an hour, for various time zones mean while I surf, others sleep, and therefore an average man, with a little effort, can triumph over thousand of other surfers or stranglers or joggers.
BeachGrit and Surf Splendour, very easy to win, Charlie and David Lee Scales have an obstinacy to move that verges on the masochistic, Whoop on the Waves, 1500 members, Jiu Jitsu, 2500, not so much.
So you get up a little earlier, go for a run, catch a dozen extra waves, put extra heat behind that strangle.
All to beat people I’ll never meet, never surf or roll with, but for whom I will kill myself to destroy.
Blacks, there in the shadow of Torrey Pines just north of San Diego, is one of southern California’s most famous bigger wave spots. It lurches out of the deep water canyons running off that part of the coast and throws a meaty barrel being able to hold more size than neighboring reefs and sandbars.
All very fine but its beach is also clothing optional with many older hippies sunning their bits and bobs.
And even more unique now that an ultra-rare deep water ghoul washed up and mingled with the nudes.
Jay Beiler was out walking the strand beneath the Glider Port in Torrey Pines last Saturday. It was almost sunset, he said, sometime around 4:40 p.m., when he stumbled upon … it.”
“I have never seen anything quite like this before,” Beiler said. “You know, I go to the beach fairly often, so I’m familiar with the territory, but I’ve never seen an organism that looked quite as fearsome as this.”
What was it?
“At first I thought it was a — like a jellyfish or something, and then I went and looked at it a little more carefully, and some other people were gathered around it too, and then I saw that it was this very unusual fish,” Beiler said.
What was so unusual about it?
“It’s the stuff of nightmares — mouth almost looked bloody!” Beiler said. “I’d say it was nearly a foot long.”
But what was it?
One of the seven horseman of the VALpocalypse?
A naked Jonah Hill as Jerry Garcia?
Oh no. Ben Frable of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, says it was simply, “one of the larger species of anglerfish, and it’s only been seen a few times here in California, but it’s found throughout the Pacific Ocean. How you have something from that deep in the ocean … it washing up on the beach here in San Diego has partially to do with the underwater topography of the coastline here on the coast, all the way off of La Jolla here — this was obviously found on Black’s. Up the beach a bit, you have what are called submarine canyons, where water and sediments are running off and it can get really deep, really quickly very close to shore.”
Specifically, it was a female Pacific footballfish, the very same that appeared in the heart-warming film Finding Nemo.
Perfect for the season.
Wildly influential surfboard shaper and Jonah Hill lookalike Matt Biolos challenges big-wave legend Greg Long’s environmental bona fides, “I hope you back it up by not wearing the Chinese-made, oil tanker-inported clothing co that you work for!”
'We, the human race, still need a lot of oil, or millions will starve and go unclothed," says master shaper Matt Biolos.
Three days ago, Greg Long, surfing’s most decorated big-wave surfer and a man who was dragged unconscious onto the deck of a boat after nearly drowning at Cortes Bank, posted a passionate screed against Dutch company Shell hunting oil off the South African coast.
The fossil fuel industry is destroying our oceans and future! Despite being just days after the COP26 climate conference where global leaders agreed on the urgent need for climate action and ecological preservation, on Dec. 1 Shell Oil will begin catastrophic seismic surveying off the coast of South Africa in search of oil or gas deposits.
The vessel operated by Shell Exploration will, for five months, drag up to 48 air guns methodically through 6,011km² of ocean surface, from Morgan Bay to Port St Johns, (The Transkei Coast) firing extremely loud shock wave emissions that penetrate through 3km of water and 40km into the Earth’s crust below the seabed. The ship will work around the clock, firing the air guns every 10 seconds. In the process, marine life on the sensitive Wild Coast will be panicked and damaged.
It is time we hold government and industry accountable. We need systemic change that protects our natural world, rather than exploiting it.
Greg asked followers if they might join in a protest if they happened to be in South Africa and, or, sign a petition.
All very nice, hard to argue with and so on, at least from the cocoons of our six-cylinder SUVs and with houses warmed and cooled by, mostly, coal-powered electricity.
Matt Biolos, shaper to the stars and anything but a wallflower, was quick to point out the hypocrisy in the post.
“I believe you’re doing good and passionate work, Greg. It’s a difficult situation,” Biolos began diplomatically before administering the fatal coup de grâce.
“I hope you back it up by driving electric cars, eating only locally sourced food, no longer traveling by air, not wearing the the Chinese made ( oil tanker imported) clothing Co that you work for and other radical personally sacrificing changes to make a true example of what’s needed to live with out developing more oil resources. (Personally, We now have have two E-cars in our household, as a small start) but the facts are, every product is moved around the world on fossil fuel burning ships and planes. We need 1000 Elon Musk types , ballzy enough to re-create the industrialized world…which will take 50+ years, at least. In transition, we (human race) still needs a lot of oil, or millions will starve and go unclothed.”
Subsequent replies and back and forthing centred on whether or not electric cars were much of an improvement, what with their damn batteries and the need to charge those batteries with electricity sourced from fossil-fuel powered electricity.
A circular firing squad!
In metaphorically rich moment, bald eagle swoops down from the sky and steals man-eating shark from proud Florida fishermen thereby reinstating its, and America’s, position atop the surf food chain!
While most sixteen year olds in Scotland are swilling Buckie and tanning windows, or sitting in their bedrooms crying, Ben Larg is taking Nazaré bombs on the head and getting amongst it.
And all with zero fanfare.
To understand what Ben’s doing requires a little context.
He’s already ridden giant Mullaghmore in Ireland when he was just fourteen, as well as several other legit European heavy water spots.
Yet he comes from a tiny island off the west coast of Scotland with no notable surf scene.
The island of Tiree is a pancake flat dot in the Inner Hebrides. It has a population of only 650 people and is roughly ten miles long and five miles wide.
There’s a beachbreak for almost every swell and wind direction, but the latter is so consistent and strong (with no trees or hills to interrupt it) that the island has traditionally been a haven for windsurfers and kitesurfers.
These days it’s a bit of a winter graveyard of holiday rentals, populated in the summer by bankers from Glasgow who took up surfing during lockdown. When I was there recently it was overrun by fifty-somethings in Teslas with mini-mals strapped to the roof.
SUPs and paunches were also popular.
But from the unlikely sands of (middling beachbreak) Balevullin, where his family’s shack on the beach provides surf lessons to the progeny of Scotland’s suburban go-getters on summer staycations, Ben Larg is rising.
(To be fair, it’s not all pishing rain and gales for days. Ben follows the swallows south towards Africa around November, spending the last few winters in Lanzarote.)
He tackled Nazare a few days ago on boards borrowed from Nick Von Rupp, his unofficial chaperone into the line-up. The two met when Von Rupp was in Scotland recently (YouTubing it to death) and enlisted Ben and his ski to whip him into a heavy slab up North.
They kept in touch and it wasn’t long before Ben got a call to see if he fancied tackling arguably the most famous big wave spot in the world.
Or at least the one that has captured most mainstream attention for the cartoon-ish images of waves against the context of the lighthouse and viewing area on the cliff.
“It was like a football stadium or something,”Ben says. “You can hear everybody cheering when you’re getting waves, and when you’re getting worked!”
I ask him if he took any heavy ones. “I took the biggest set of the day on the head when I was paddling,” he says. “It’s a really heavy wave, you’re under the water for a long time. But I’ve got a good mindset, I stay quite calm.”
Ben wears a float vest and I wondered how many times he’d pulled it, expecting at least once or twice, but I’m surprised by his answer.
“I’ve never ever pulled it, I like to save up the canisters,” he laughs. “It’s kind of a goal of mine. I’ve not done it yet, so I said to myself I wasn’t going to do it at Nazaré and I didn’t.”
I’m struck by the composure of a sixteen year old taking on some of the world’s most iconic big waves. Early in our conversation it’s clear that Ben Larg is cut from a different cloth.
There’s no bravado, no bullshit.
He seems naturally self-effacing.
“I don’t know if I’m a big wave surfer yet,” he says at one point when I’ve referred to him as such.
He spent a lot of the sessions at Nazaré doing safety on the ski for Von Rupp and others, as well as paddling and towing several waves of his own.
It seems a heavy load for someone so young, not just dealing with your own waves, but looking out for other, more experienced surfers you’ve only just met.
“It’s a super sketchy place to drive the ski on the inside there,” Ben told me. “Hardest place I’ve ever driven.”
But this seems all part of the experience for him, and working with the skis is part of it.
“I just love surfing big waves. I love driving the skis and stuff, I’ve always been a massive motorhead. I’ve ridden motorbikes my whole life.”
He was surprised by how busy it was with skis buzzing around and roughly twelve tow teams.
“My paddle waves were good waves, but I never got the proper set waves I wanted. Natxo Gonzalez was on the bombs. I want to paddle it bigger,” he says.
Ben has aspirations of being a big-wave surfer, but doesn’t seem comfortable with the self-promotion that’s arguably necessary to make it.
His Instagram account is quiet.There’s roughly one post a month and sometimes months on end of nothing.
“I hate to talk myself up,” he says. “I’m super inactive on social media, but after staying with Nick (Von Rupp) he says I have to do it.”
It’s an admirable approach, and a pretty remarkable outlier as far as teenagers go, nevermind teenagers pushing limits in heavy surf.
He’ll probably be forced to amp up his online game if he wants to get noticed and keep sponsors happy, but I would hope some brands might recognise the long term value in authenticity and simply being out there rather than talking yourself up online.
Walk softly and carry a big stick, as they say.
Stories are always more powerful if you let others tell them for you.
I ask Ben if he realises that he’s ridden the biggest waves ever by a Scottish surfer.
He laughs and says he hasn’t thought about it like that.
“I was stoked just to be the only Scottish guy in the water.”
And his plans for the future?
“Maybe post more than once a year on Instagram…or I could go onto TikTok and flick my hair about a bit.”