That you, pro surfing?

World Surf League’s biggest fan asks, “Is the WSL turning a unique sport into a generic, compliant, corporate glory hole?”

Take Pipeline out of the world title equation and what have you got?

I’ll start with this: I am an avid WSL fan.

I can’t get enough competitive surfing. I’m a groupie of the highest order. The old adage goes: the cursed punter would bet on two flies crawling up a wall.

I’m even worse. I’d spend half my Sunday watching four-person heats in Portuguese at a Brazilian two star if it’s all there is on offer.

Despite the bin-fire served up over the Covid period I still support the League.

I even run a fantasy comp with some mates. On the WSL platform (sorry Surfvival). It’s accompanied by a Whatsapp group chat. All the participants as one-eyed and easy-pleased as me.

I’ve come dead-last three years running. But that’s not the point.

The very fact micro-communities like this exist, dependent on the WSL ecosystem, is a sign that they’re still doing something right.

Usually at this time of year, coming into December, the chat would be running hot. A world title race on offer. Requalification dramas. The thrill of the finals.

As much as we’d consume any comp the WSL feeds us, there’s nothing like the excitement of the big league. And the Hawaii leg is the cherry on top.

But now, the chat is eerily quiet.

Only the odd clip being shared here and there. Why? Because there’s a Pipe-sized hole this Christmas.

Yes we still have Haleiwa.

But the egg nog-dipped crescendo of the Banzai Pipeline and the associated world title / Triple Crown drama is as much a part of my Yuletide routine as frenzied last minute shopping and annually-defrosted familial trauma.

I miss it.

Sure, I’m just one fan. The WSL has a bigger plan at play.

But I’m still allowed to feel robbed. In fact there’s no World Championship events at all between September 2021 and February ‘22 (give or take a day: Pipe waiting period starts on the 29th Jan)

That’s five months off air. Talk about a momentum killer.

I realise other sports run on similar seasons but if anything the year-round nature of the WSL season was it’s selling point. Now, instead of my pals discussing WSL-led narratives – Gabby’s dogged determination, Felipe’s recalcitrance, Wade’s litreage, Morgan’s hair – we’re left to fill the void. Do our own research. Ruminate as to why the WSL is like it is.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. It’s a common feature in history.

When the proles aren’t busy they tend to turn on their masters. Give us this type of downtime and conspiracy theories thrive. Conjecture and opinion rule.

Erosion of trust in institutions is the natural result.

We hold the WSL up to the light. Tilt and rotate so that it is illuminated from every angle. Like a cheap Christmas decoration, we find some sparkle on the surface. But apply any real pressure, any real scrutiny, and it crumbles in our hand.

I get that a lot of the changes to the Tour have been positive.

But Pipe. December. World Title. Why you gotta go mess with that?

To quote Gabby himself on the changes to the format. “I don’t know about business. I don’t know how it works. They tried to do something different.”

But is different always better?

It’s a common theme among C Suite execs like Erik Logan. Move into a new organisation. Create change for change’s sake. September, according to the WSL, is a good month for waves at a variety of global surf spots.

But it effectively rules out the competition ever again finishing at Pipe.


Is it because in his time running the show Erik Logan has positioned the WSL as a media house where the audience themselves, not the surfers or the comps, have become the product?

Where all decisions are no longer based around the mantra of “World’s best surfers in the world’s best waves” but instead “How can we best market ourselves to potential advertisers?”

Is it because the WSL is being slowly hollowed out and commodified so that it is a more attractive, “safer” option for big spending corporates to waste their money on?

Turning a deadshit, dumbcunt but still unique sports outfit into a generic, compliant, corporate glory hole?

While at the same time forgetting about the tradition, the culture, the fans, that created it in the first place?

Or am I being too harsh?

Reading into it too much?


Most of what I’ve just said is, I’m sure, a load of shit.

But idle minds beget impure faults.

We wouldn’t be having this conversation if Pipe was about to start!

Surf journalist primed for strain.
Surf journalist primed for strain.

Surf Journalist pushes to never-before-seen fitness achievement, paddles further than he ever has by carefully gauging body’s recovery!

Pump it up.

It is flat in Southern California and has been for quite some time now. No waves, not a ripple, nothing even the world’s most popular surfer Ben Gravy could milk.

Like a pancake but these are the days that greatness-bound surfers train, push, prepare. But how hard should a great-adjacent surfer train, push, prepare? Would be quite the shame to injure oneself kettlebelling and have to sit out the next swell event.

Thankfully, my WHOOP strap constantly measures how my vessel is handling itself, when I should go big, when I should go light.

The general category is called “recovery” and reflects how well prepared a body is to take on strain, and is a measure of a body’s “return to baseline” after a stressor.

“The size of these stressors,” according to WHOOP, “which can range from illness, exercise, psychological stress or sleep deprivation – determines how much a body needs to recover.”

In other words, when “recovery” is high, a body is primed to take on strain. When “recovery” is low,  greater risk for injury, or overtraining (during intense workouts), might be nigh.

Well, I bent my ear and listened carefully to my personalized digital fitness and health coach and, last Monday had very high recovery so took my 5’11 Album surfboard into the lake-like sea and paddle and paddle and paddle and paddle some more. Body primed, shoulders well-oiled, and I paddled all the way from the dangerous Cardiff Reef to very near San Elijo State Beach.

For those who don’t know the area, nearly a mile of paddling with man-eating Great Whites circling.


A never-before-seen fitness achievement.

Yesterday, though, I witnessed that my recovery was very low. Instead of pushing through and hurting myself and making myself not great, I allowed a day of rest wherein the only workout I participated in was yelling at impolite pre-teen hordes on electric bikes.

Those things, man.

Movie-star handsome Gravy.
Movie-star handsome Gravy.

World’s most popular surfer Ben Gravy should make it a holiday tradition to go and sponsor Clay Marzo, Laurie Towner and other under-appreciated talents!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Well it is Thanksgiving, in America, and there is much to be thankful for including, but not limited to, Kelly Slater, Jonah Hill, Great White Sharks and you. How will you spend the day? With friends and loved ones? Watching football? Drinking natural wines?

I spent Thanksgiving-eve chatting with David Lee about the fine traditions surrounding the holiday, like stuffing, and also the not so fine ones, like eating at the very strange time of 2:00 in the afternoon.

We also discussed how Ben Gravy has officially become the world’s most popular surfer. Did you see that one coming? I sure didn’t but apparently it is true as evidenced by South Carolina surf shops that play his vlogs on loop, sell his soft-tops by the pallet-load and also many of his trademark chill pineapple logo’d tee shirts.

Very cool but I had an even cooler idea. Gravy should take some of his riches, go out and sponsor the likes of Clay Marzo, Laurie Towner and other such under-appreciated talents.

Surfer on surfer sponsorship.

A good idea, no?

There are more good ideas in the show but I can’t remember what they are right now.

Listen here.

It's really human of you to listen to all my bullshit. Lemme get real and let's talk surf. I'm a three-season vet. Ask me anything you want.

BeachGrit reader posits shocking three-part theory for exponential growth of the VAL, a phenomenon outpacing even Bitcoin!

Life-long surfer explains the three reasons for the coming of the vulnerable adult learner surfer… 

With the number of middle-aged men swapping lycra stockings and four-thousand dollar bikes for rubber and fifteen-hundred dollar resin-tint logs reaching plague-like proportions, there must be some scientific reasons to explain the rise of the VAL.

I have three.

No Fear of Rejection

When I was a grom growing up in Sydney’s south, I’d get off the train at Cronulla station and dread the walk along the beachfront past the patch of grass out front of Joe’s Milk Bar where all The Alley Boys would hang.

I’d pray they weren’t there as I passed with all the other train kids, but if they were I’d try to hide myself behind my board, scurry as fast as I could up to The Wall without drawing attention, and pray they didn’t throw shit at me, laugh at me, or tell me to beat it and go home.

Alternatively, I’d get off one station earlier at Woolooware and walk the back streets up to Wanda to surf alone, hoping I didn’t go past any local’s house or get seen by a local driving their car down the beach.

I’d do whatever I could to go unseen.

As teenage tenderlings we pretend not to care too much about the world around us and throw out sardonic, pimpled scoffs at those who passionately do. But, underneath the false facade we all crave acceptance and inclusion. And nothing rips the guts out of a timid teenager’s self-esteem more than humiliation and heckles from his peers, especially the ones he looks up to most.

We might look at that now through the mocking, unsympathetic eyes of salty, old sea-dogs, but acceptance and approval for a kid of thirteen is everything.

As the NY Times best-selling author Harvey Mackay says,

“Most fears of rejection rest on the desire for approval from other people.”

All I craved was inclusion in that gang of surfers on the little patch of grass at The Alley. To that end, I didn’t paddle out The Alley for years.

Not until I was comfortable with my surfing and I knew all the rules. Even then it took a good few years after that, surfing the same place day in day out, to cop a murmured hello or a muted nod from the locals that mattered, and a good few years beyond that to get a breadcrumb of acceptance.

But once you did finally get that acceptance, it was well fucking earned.

And well fucking cherished.

You felt like you belonged.

The modern-day VAL?

The VAL doesn’t give a shit about any of that. He doesn’t give a shit about acceptance or approval from a bunch of insufferable surfers. The “A” in VAL stands for adult, which means they’ve (mostly) already got the wife, kids, house, car, and portfolio. They’ve also got their well-established group of wanker banker white-collar worker mates.

VALs don’t have any need or desire to be part of the local lineup or to get the nod from the boys when they pull in to the carpark and slide into the best spots overlooking the point.

They’ve got no contextual awareness of local history or the cultural conventions of a given spot.

They couldn’t care less about hierarchy, or respect or drinking with the boys up the pub on a Sunday arvo.

They don’t give two shits about being excluded from the idle chit-chat out the back or not getting the invite to the post-boardriders contest sausage sizzle with Deano, Fanga and the lads. Even if you did invite them they’d chuckle to themselves and think the ten-buck buy-in for bread and bangers would barely cover their first craft beer up the bistro.

They’ve got the surfing bug coz it’s cool and the next door neighbour’s doing it. They’ve got their new board. And by fuck they’re going out there for some waves and fun in the glorious sun before they have to take Bella to ballet and Ozzie to Aussie Rules.

Fear of exclusion?

“Who the fuck needs inclusion from you blokes?” That’s what the VAL thinks. We think they’re ignorant to the ways of surfing and pests in the water who need to learn the rules.

They think we’re ignoramus dinosaurs living in a kiddy bubble they don’t need no part of.

No Fear of Violence

The modern era means the VAL doesn’t have to worry too much about physical confrontation or intimidation.

In the water or out.

For better or worse, nothing got the message through when I was a kid like an unexpected backhander across the chops.

I didn’t surf The Alley til my mid-teens coz: 1) I was shit and embarrassed to be seen and 2) I’d heard too many stories of guys getting knuckle sandwiches for being dickheads for all of ‘em to be tall tales devoid of truth.

Even up-and-coming local grommets got their fair share of roughing up from the older guys and no-one ever said a word. Toughening ‘em up and showing ‘em the laws of the land.

That fear factor helped me learn real fast what I should and shouldn’t do out in the surf. Drop-ins, snaking, paddling for the shoulder, swinging for the same wave as a local, bailing without your board…I watched as beginners or blow-ins copped verbal barrages and physical reprisals for such antics.

Nothing like a fist to the face to put in place some cashed-up middle-aged fuckwit being a nuisance. They soon got the message loud and clear and never repeated it or they slinked off with their humiliated heads between their tails and surfed elsewhere forevermore.

Either way, job done.

Now? Law, litigation, and ubiquitous fucking cameras mean that VALs barely have to deal with any of that shit. Put one on the button of a VAL for throwing his board in front of you? Assault charges and an AVO.

Backhander across the melon for dropping in straight down the face as you were fanging down the line? Criminal record and community service.

Slash the tyres in the carpark for paddling to the inside every fucking time? VAL’s new Jeep has a dashcam. Shit outta luck.

The days of violence and settling matters short and sharp are pretty much done. And the VALs can park their Porsches front and centre without a single fuck given about localism.

Nothing to fear here, dear.

It’s Healthy, Baby!

Finally, we live in the age of the internet. The information age. Everything we need to know is at the push of a button or the tap of an app.

Especially when it comes to health matters.

Nothing matters like health for the VAL. Biking in lycra on Mondays. Beach Yoga on Tuesdays. Jog and gym with the PT on Wednesdays. Protein shake to shake shake shake every fucking day.

And nothing screams health and fitness more to the VAL than surfing.

The call of the wild.

The spiritual engagement of riding Mother Nature.



Who needs Wim fucking Hof when you’ve got a five am duckdive on a crisp, winter morning? The wife’s got her Fitbit and the VAL’s got his funboard. He’s also got his smartwatch to track his paddling, count his calories, and spit out soft top speed stats to share on socials.

You don’t need chinups when you can work on popups. In the fucking ocean.

Are you kidding me? How good is surfing? This is living.

The fact that there are rules to surfing and basic norms of etiquette that have existed for decades is lost on the VAL.

Don’t sit in certain places in the lineup. What?

Don’t paddle for certain waves. Huh?

Always acquiesce to the perpetually grumpy, frowning old blokes. What the actual fuck, dude? It’s the ocean. It belongs to everyone. It’s for all of us to enjoy.

Whatever it is about VALs that irritates longtime surfers, the VAL doesn’t get it and he doesn’t care to get it. For the VAL, it’s all about getting his reps in out there in nature. To feel the water washing over his 9-5 skin. To thrive and feel alive and populate his Insta feed with health and positivity.

Fuck the grumpy old fools and their archaic, stupid rules. The VAL is living his best life and he doesn’t give a shit about bitter, old barnacles from yesteryear complaining.

They’re bad for his wellness.

The VAL just wants to be fit and happy.

Don't mess with the bull or you'll get the horn. Number one, jiujitsu, number one, BeachGrit, number one, Surf Splendour and a couple of waves shy of king of surf.

Surf Journalist discovers “antipatico” towards fellow surfers key to improved performance!

WHOOP leverages peer pressure to squeeze previously unheard of gains out of average shredders… 

I’m no winner, which is obvious.

The level of intensity and antipatico needed to triumph over another man, woman, non-binary fellow, business competitor, is beyond anything I’m willing to conjure. 

(Antipatico, of course, is how you feel when you see someone you dislike drowning in a river and you refuse to help even if it is a very hot day in summer and you are dreaming of having a nice swim.) 

At the beginning of the year, I began to order my life around my WHOOP strap, a digital fitness tracker that gathers multiple health metrics, monitoring heart rate variability (HRV), resting heart rate and sleep, to create a daily recovery score. WHOOP lets y’know when’s a good time to hit the water for a four-hour marathon session and when you might want to tan under an umbrella on the beach. 

All very helpful, frank advice that doesn’t care for the user’s precious feelings.

A less discussed part of WHOOP and I would suggest it’s most powerful tool is its community. You join a club –  surfing, jiujitsu, BeachGrit, Surf Splendour, running, whatevs – and you’re constantly being monitored against your peers. 

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.

Feeling like the sexiest boy in the world!

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.


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