“I saw the shark circle this guy. The brother was on his way out to catch a wave, and his brother called out to him. We just saw blood all over. The brother wanted to go in and help, but he couldn’t because the shark still had his brother. The second time the shark took him, it took the boy down with him. A few minutes later the bodyboard surfaced. And then the body was washed on to the rocks. It was terrible to witness. I’m still shaking (six hours later). I felt so helpless – I can still hear him shouting for help…”
“I saw this big dorsal fin and after that I saw him getting attacked. He was off his board and in the water. Then the shark turned around and attacked him again. Just before it attacked him, he tried to put his board between him and the shark. He was pushing the shark’s head with his board. But within two seconds the water turned from turquoise to red.”
Now, in a chillingly similar scenario, footage shared to Twitter shows a twleve-ish footer patrolling the waters near surfers and swimmers.
Steve Burling’s Ha’atafu Beach Resort in Tonga no longer exists.
A long time ago, in a decade far far away, during a time called “The Nineties” SURFER Magazine did a boat trip to Tonga with Tom Carroll, Kelly Slater and your humble narrator.
At the time, Kelly Slater and Tom Carroll were two of the best surfers in the world, if not the two best surfers in the world. Incredibly, phenomenally Tiger Woods-skilled and athletic.
The crew enjoyed the hospitality of a local surf resort owner, Australian Steve Burling and his family. If memory serves he had a Tongan wife and at least three tall, lean daughters who looked destined to grow up into super models.
So it was a little shocking when that volcano went off somewhere in the Tongan archipelago and it was identified as the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano.
The Ha’apai part caught the eye and sure enough that volcano went off about 40 miles southwest of where TVC and Kelly went off, way back in the 1990s.
A massive volcano. Visible from space. The air disruption was measured in Miami Fricking Florida: More than 7000 miles away.
When Krakatoa went off way back in 1883 it released an estimated 200 megatonnes of energy – that’s 2000 pounds x 1,000,000 x 200 = 400,000,000,000 pounds of TNT.
The Hunga-Tonga Ha’apai volcano was possibly even bigger than Krakatoa.
And it shook up the world.
A displaced Californian named Tony Stincelli who lives on Vanua Levu island in Fiji “on the south side 10 kilometers west of Savusavu town, which is in the bay,” heard the rumbling from 500 miles away.
On Facebook, Stincelli said:
I’ll tell you ….. we’re 500 miles away and you wouldn’t believe the hour long explosions and shaking from it here. It was roaring thunderous ground shaking explosions for over an hour …. lots of small tsunami waves breaking across the lagoon out in front.
Displaced California surfer/coastal engineering PhD Jose Borrero was in Gisborne with his family when he thought he heard a distant thunder:
I didn’t hear the booms, but people around here did. I am in Gisborne on the east coast at the moment.
When the booms were happening I was trying to get my kids to stop talking and eat their dinner. Also, we were in a beach front house at the time and there was a lot of wind and a pretty big swell running, so there was a lot of white noise around. The people I know that heard it were a few km inland in a quiet forest area and they heard it over top of polite dinner conversation. They thought it was fireworks from a nearby speedway that does them on Saturday nights, but it was still daylight, so it didn’t make sense.
The next day we had a cyclone (Cody) spin by the coast about 200 km off shore and the swell got real big for a while (still too big now for the beaches out back). Maybe this afternoon or tomorrow morning the swell will clean up back to surfably fun levels.
But in all of that, the few people who have actually been to Tonga or know Tonga were concerned about the effect a 200 megatonne explosion 40 miles from the main island would have on the life and ecosystems of that distant archipelago.
A few days after the explosion, photos and news leaked out, showing the main island of Nuku’alofa covered in smoke and ash, and reports that the main communications cable linking Tonga to Fiji had been damaged or severed.
Your Humble Narrator was under the impression that Steve Burling’s Ha’atafu Resort was on thesouthwest end of the main island and so protected from the tsunami that washed ashore after the explosion.
I was wrong. Ha’atafu is/was located on the northwest peninsula of the main island, absolutely exposed to anything and everything thrown up by air and sea from Hunga Tonga.
An email to the Burling camp went out soon after, not expecting an answer because of the wrecked communications cable, but on Tuesday, January 18, an email showed up late in the PM:
Ha’atafu Beach Resort
Tue, Jan 18, 9:21 PM (13 hours ago)
Yes, I remember the Ha’apai trip with the crew from Surfer Magazine. Seems like yesterday.
Unfortunately our resort no longer exists. Totally wiped out by the tsunami. My daughter Moana and her family have been managing the resort in recent years and only barely escaped with their lives …. only got out with the clothes on their backs after risking their lives ensuring all guests were alerted to the impending danger and ushering them out of the resort. They didn’t even have time to jump in one of the 3 resort vehicles to drive to safety as the first waves hit the resort only 5 minutes after they heard the first explosion.
The volcano is located just 20 nautical miles (40km) off the Ha’atafu coast. All resorts and homes along the western coastline have been completely obliterated …. Only some foundations remain. The waves washed right across the peninsula and also wiped out two nearby villages. The western district of Tongatapu has been declared a disaster area.
All international telephone and internet communications are down due to the submarine cable between Fiji and Tonga being severed in two places by the eruption. Repairs are expected to take another 2 weeks (at the earliest).
I’ll include you in all future email updates.
So another tragedy from the explosion. After close to three decades and a lot of hard work and sweat equity and memories and good times, the Ha’atafu Beach Resort is no more.
All reduced to smoke and ash.
Steve Burling described the evolution and trials and tribulation and slings and arrows of Ha’atafu in an email:
Malo e lelei Ben,
The resort was established in 1979. We had a total of 12 accommodation fales. Category 5 tropical cyclones (hurricanes) seriously damaged our resort on 3 occasions … March 1982, January 1993 and the most recent was April 2020 …. but we always managed to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and rebuild.
All our family and friends are supportive of any effort we make to rebuild (again). However there are many hurdles we currently face …. the biggest being Tonga’s border closure due to covid. No international travel in or out of Tonga has been permitted for almost 2 years. Only Tongan seasonal workers in Australia and New Zealand have been allowed to travel on chartered flights. This makes any short-medium term planning very difficult as Moana and Hola will be overwhelmed at facing the challenge of rebuilding the resort by themselves …. especially after the traumatic experience they’ve just been through.
Another major issue is the state of Tonga’s tourism sector as there has been no international tourism for the past 2 years. Moana and Hola have done an amazing job of diversifying our resort operation to cater 100% to the Tongan domestic market. This has meant that we have been able to keep all 20 of our staff employed through this covid b/s …. we haven’t had to put any staff off which, for me, is the most important thing.
Our staff are the backbone of our business. They’re all dedicated hard workers and I’m absolutely gutted that they’re now facing unemployment because of this disaster.
We managed to speak by phone to Moana for the first time last night and she said that she had spoken to most of the other resort owners and people who had homes along the western coast. Like us, they too lost absolutely everything. Moana said that none of them are planning to rebuild. Given that volcanic activity at Hunga has been increasing in the past 15 years, it’s little wonder that people are reluctant to reinvest.
Tonga’s recovery?The seriousness of the disaster means Tonga will require a major foreign relief effort … this is already underway with both Australia and New Zealand sending military aircraft and naval vessels with emergency supplies of temporary shelter, fresh water, medical supplies and heavy equipment. This will be followed by aid programs to provide more permanent housing …. similar to aid that has been forthcoming in the past following damages from serious tropical cyclones.
All gone in 60 minutes. Mother Nature can’t be sued for damages.
News of the World Surf League returning to Lower Trestles in order to crown its 2022 champion was met with much excitement by its Global Chief Revenue Officer and Advisor but there was little fanfare elsewhere. Typical reactions ranged from sighs to guffaws, all completely benign of course, toothless, but it does make me wonder how this epoch of surfing will be marked one hundred, one thousand, years on.
Will it be a belle époque? A gorgeously progressive era when surfing had a true and generous benefactor, co-Waterperson of the Year Dirk Ziff, who showered this Sport of Kings with such riches as to mark it forever?
Will it be a dark age? A time when feudal lord, co-Waterperson of the Year Dirk Ziff, ignorantly and arrogantly subjected serfs to dismal lives of toil, actively retarding opportunity and vision?
To be honest, I don’t know. I ain’t no rose glassed Ben Marcus. I’m also not a global chief revenue officer nor advisor.
David Lee Scales, in any case, feels things are rotten in the state of surfing because there should only be one focus. Woman/Man vs. Nature. Do you agree? We discuss and also provide wonderful advice to dog owners.
World’s largest surf park, mind-melting $539-million Wavegarden, sets to break ground on Florida’s otherwise uninspiring central east coast!
At the end of the day, you’ve just got to hand it to Florida. Home of Pitbull, Ricky Martin, CJ and Damien Hobgood the Sunshine State never fails to delight, though its central portion is somewhat not very cool. Sure CJ and Damien lived there but Damien moved away and it’s true that the world’s greatest surfer Kelly Slater was born there but he isn’t allowed into Australia anymore.
Yes, Florida’s north has wild hootin’ and hollerin’ rednecks. Its south dancin’ and prancin’ Cubans. Its central merely the memory of Damien Hobgood, the specter of Slater’s vaccination record though all that is set to change as the world’s largest surf park, featuring a Texas-sized Wavegarden swell creating machine, has cleared one of the last remaining hurdles and is set to break ground in Fort Pierce any month now.
The City Commission Tuesday gave unanimous first approval for the first phase of the Wavegarden, part of the 200-acre Willow Lakes Resort Village community, 10050 W. Midway Road.
A final vote is expected next month, according to city officials.
“This is just a pivotal project in the city of Fort Pierce,” said Commissioner Jeremiah Johnson. “… There’s going to be a tourism component that’s going to be an immediate, positive impact within the entire Treasure Coast.”
The wave pool could make Fort Pierce a surfing destination in Florida
Phase 1A of the $595 million project would include:
A simulated surfing park 28 vacation rentals A 9,882-square-foot maintenance building 160-190 parking spaces A 51,835-sqaure-foot entertainment-and-retail hub, designed to look like a wave, may have space for surf and watersport shops, changing rooms, surf school, food and beverage outlets, a brewery, an outdoor terrace with a bar and an amphitheater, according to city documents.
Construction is expected to take 18 months though the project has been dreamed about for the past 18 years. The TC Palm cited the “Great Depression” as to why things to so long.
Damned Herbert Hoover.
In any case, happy days may be here again.
More as the story develops.
World’s oldest and most venerated surf journalist releases long-awaited volume of essays, “(Surfing) is now so oversubscribed, TikTok atomized, and mass media that any claim surfing once had as a pursuit for outsiders… is more or less a canard!”
Read the stunning foreword to the hottest new book in surf!
My fondest memories as an editor lay in the years 2000 to 2013. The pleasures of the internet were extant, but not yet all-consuming.
Social media was largely the province of teenagers. Physical surf checks led to shit-talking, issue brainstorming, and talking story.The time passed quickly at TSJ, and we greeted each workday with the anticipation of Christmas morning.
What new submissions might arrive?
What fresh stack of transparencies from some far-flung locale or undiscovered archive might be unearthed?
Which page from the bedside notebook would take flight, hammered into shape as a feature by the print-world alchemy of writer and shooter and designer?
The rush of seeing the work in print, the preferred form for surfers everywhere. The joy of pacing out a year with the assumption that the issues would be cataloged on private surf shelves and tables for years, perhaps decades.
It wasn’t high art or Austrian economics. But it was, and remains, fun stuff.
There was a fetching magnetism at play, and visiting surfers, writers, and photographers couldn’t help but feel it. We jokingly called it the ivory tower effect. The Journal was taken seriously out in the world, but to us—the makers— we never wore like that.
The high-end feel of the physical product allowed us the chance to stay loose and broad-minded, thereby reflecting the topic. We were free to pursue the things that drew us in in the first place.
Adventure, both attainable and more aspirational. The vibrant, balls-out history of the pioneering players. Travel. Waterman lore. Individual expression. Commercially unfettered, we simply steered away from the parts of surfing we didn’t care about (scant little, to be fair) — mostly organized-surfing stuff like pro contests and pop-idol BS.
Turns out that it struck a chord.
We clocked 110 percent growth during those years — unheard of for a “mid-career” title at millennium’s dawn — moving from quarterly to “five-erly” to bimonthly.
That angle served us well. We’re here. Everyone else is gone.
It started from the top. Management-wise, one of Steve Pezman’s koan-like mantras was typical of his laissez-faire personal belief system: “It’s not a problem until it’s a problem.”
And when you had Pezman’s dead-to-rights eye for talent who might go the distance — ten or 15 or 20 years — it was hard to argue. We’d commit seppuku before letting our life’s work go tango uniform.
Potentially losing the readers ran a razor-thin second. Our sponsoring advertisers? They appeared to trust us explicitly, with nary a veiled checkbook threat.
There was an easy jocularity at the dojo, with a light crew floating ideas in a free-minded spirit. Like today, the players were there for exactly the right reasons.
And a couple of times a week, we’d come together at a local hike-in surf spot. It was a study in easy efficiency: a ten-minute drive, an hour surf, and 30 minutes for lunch. If I roll my eyes back and summon the days, I can remember each one:
It’s 2 p.m. on a Wednesday, 2013. That calm, sun- stroked, after-surf feeling prevails on the back patio of La Tiendita Market in San Clemente. Nothing fancy-boy. No nouveau, middlebrow affectation. A taco joint. Utterly surf.
Chomping on a shard of adobada tostada, Pezman mentally lines up his shot. Errant bits of iceberg lettuce festoon his Metzger Plumbing T-shirt. Everything on his plate has been mixed together and doused from a palette of sauces.
Now he pours from a ramekin of chile de modesto he had asked the taqueria to produce. (Note: Pezman makes ad hoc collages from any offering: an onion-pancake platter from the Chinese-Muslim joint; the preciously plated assemblages of St. Helena; a backyard Fourth of July picnic. No LA Times– approved chef of the season is beyond such wood-chipper treatment. Pezman unashamedly identifies as a “foodie,” that normally cringeworthy semi-portmanteau of “gourmand” and “yuppie.” It’s a misnomer. He’s a surf trencherman through and through. Banquet bosses fear his advent, perhaps knowing of the record 17 ice cream sundaes he once slayed at Haleiwa’s Jerry’s Sweet Shop.)
The next bite of adobada can wait.
“I think I learned how some writers fluff a novel up to 400 pages,” he says.
He references a Harry Hole crime book. He’s a sucker for the genre and always knows the loftier offerings.
“Turns out you can coax a thousand words out of a simple description. An overripe tomato, a handbag. Anything, really.”
This revelation will be shop-tested later the same afternoon as he’s writing the intro to an interview. Indeed, he’s as excited to get back to the office as he was to surf.
We all are. Round pegs in round holes.
Pezman is always curious about craft, and he takes the hows and whys of magazine-making seriously. But then he’s always had a keen and youthful enthusiasm for his many pursuits: surfing, painting, tennis, dining, reading.
When it comes down to practice, like all masters, he makes it look easy.
No time for pinched-up angst.
“We surf-mag makers happily toil in the toy department of world affairs,” he says.
Magaziners are born into the game, not by birth, but by lifetime of habit.
In this game, it comes down to story.
And it’s a rare editor/writer/publisher who is not a ravenous reader of fiction, a student of fine art, of street and portrait photography, of golden-era-to-now book design.
And Steve Pezman — as the son of a playwright who lost his job after the Hollywood Ten blacklist fallout — is no exception. He reads greedily and was something of an art phenom as a boy.
During his days at Surfer magazine, his battlefield promotion from editor to publisher happened fast, forcing him to exploit his innate —and, as it turned out, estimable — business sense.
This implies a pivot from art to commerce, but Pezman, having come from the edit side, maintained Surfer’s focus on sharp writing for his 20 years there. Though marked by a facility with numbers, it was the story, in words and with pictures, that thrilled him.
During the heyday of print, all of the surf monthlies had fine photography. The separation points were often the word furnishings: concepts, titles, captions, and, of course, the written pieces themselves. Pezman immediately surrounded himself with complementary lifelong lovers of magazines.
For better or worse, surf mags – as minted by patriarchal surf figure John Severson — rarely embraced straight, source-based journalism.
Like his contemporary Drew Kampion, Pezman captured the times as he saw them. Voice, afición, nuance…
The American surf magazine (and thereby every one of the international versions that drafted behind the originators) never trusted journalism’s ability to capture our act’s ineffably layered experiences.
Surf publishing’s tradition of idiosyncratic, esoteric, cosmic-tinged reportage was at high whine during the early 1970s. Pezman embraced all of that, then moved forward into each new surfing micro-epoch. Always keeping in mind the purist appeal of the blue wall, he deftly transited the decades.
And whether or not you’ve had the pleasure of working with him, you nonetheless know Pezman from his half-century of writing and surf publishing. He has guided surfing’s media representation from his Surfer and The Surfer’s Journal pulpits for over 100,000 pages.
While you might not have shared the lineup with him, you’ll know his voice — that baritone, senatorial brogue — from his dozen or so appearances in those popular pre-streaming surf documentaries circa 2004: the head-and-shoulders framing; the bright, 90s-hangover lighting; a chyron name-plate centered lower frame.
Pez, as everyone calls him, would thereby wax eloquent, dropping gift-wrapped musings defining his impressions of the act.
“Dancers on a liquid stage” and the like.
But don’t let the Zen Kabuki fool you. To anyone who really knows him, he’s more Shakespeare’s Hal than Bodhisattva-manqué: quick witted, off the cuff, generous with a pour (and when receiving same), and endlessly flexible.
That’s not to say he doesn’t reach for the cosmos.
His inclination and gift for the metaphorical space has always had twin effects. It separates surfing from terrestrial sporting life, playing into our belief that riding storm-born bands of invisible energy, leaving nothing behind, separates surfing from, say, stock-car racing.
Next, it gives surfers license to feel slightly superior, like we’re allowed access to some pirate radio channel scrambled for all but the experienced.
This stance undoubtedly has its roots in Pezman’s come-up in the 50s. Surfing then was viewed as a teenage dance craze, its cherry-Coke-addled, hormonal participants doing the Frug to the reverb-tanked twerp pop of Jan and Dean.
At this early juncture, meager shrift was given to the ride itself. That would have irked Pezman, and any other surfer of the time. Parents, bosses, judges, and juries would not sit still to hear of surfing’s incalculable natural gifts. The tee-vee showed them all they needed to see.
And so, surfing could have gone hopelessly pop. Contests, gossip, hullabaloo. (No offence, almost every online surf mag in 2021.)
Pezman chose a different route, one marked by literature, art, and custodially aware language. Advocating for vastly skilled watermen living on the fringes. Pacing in a solid dose of pure, empty wave energy. The odd hit of underground-broadsheet hippie rap.
This last bit of lingua franca was a product of the times and to modern ears can sound almost quaint. Even that indulgence tended to smoke his competition. Imagine where it could have gone if it had landed in other, more booster-ish, stewardship.
As ever, tone-deaf, clout-hungry forces with more spreadsheet chops than taste attempt to stamp surfing with their mercantile prerogatives.
The barn door has been blown off its hinges.
“The Secret Thrill” is now so oversubscribed, TikTok atomized, and mass media that any claim surfing once had as a pursuit for outsiders, an outpost of post-Beat hip- ness — whether or not such a claim truly held water — is more or less a canard.
This volume of Pezman miscellany serves to show the author’s steady hand, his self-knowledge as well as his molecular — say it! — cosmic understanding of everything surf.
Once we remove all of the crêpe we hang on surfing — that’s another “Pez Says” — all that’s left is the ride.