Kelly, 50 years old and 15 pounds above fighting weight, precision-dropped into his first wave of the contest, at Backdoor, pulled in, spelunked his way to daylight and finished with a rainmaking forehand carve, earning an 8.57 score from the judges and a pathetic flip-flopping cheer from yours truly.

Warshaw: “Kelly Slater continues to be a gnat-sized existential crisis flying inside my head. It started with the wavepool, but the buzzing gets louder with each of his new anti-vax vaporings!”

"Slater, in middle age, is anti-factual, irresponsible, and flagrantly narcissistic."

I fired this piece up last Saturday, mid-afternoon, during John Florence’s Round One heat at Pipeline, and while my feelings for the WSL remain as Pushme-Pullyu as ever, my God it feels great to again be CT live-streaming.

Professional surfing is radically, stupidly untrue to the surfing experience I’ve been living for the past three-plus decades. But along with Mason Ho clips, CT events have long been the only form of surf media I dependably enjoy—and Mason is a distant second, because the stream is both real-time and communal, and logging onto the BeachGrit comments thread this morning felt like walking into Cheers.

That said, and while the Round One surf is incredible, this is not 100% entertainment and uplift and femur-splitting tubes. WSL commentary is mealier and more corpo-speak than ever, hours pass before any surfers are actually eliminated, and I’m never more than a few minutes away from being irritated anew that Pipe is the 2022 season opener, rather than the closer, as God and logic intended.

Kelly Slater, meanwhile, continues to be a gnat-sized existential crisis flying inside my head. It started with the wavepool, but the buzzing gets louder with each of his new anti-vax vaporings, especially during the recent Novak Djokovic episode (“The Left hates logic,” Slater said in the comments section of a covid-related NYT Instagram post, adding, “It’s very clear vaccinations will not fix this situation.”), at which point I had no choice but to Neil Young my entire catalog of affection and respect for Slater.

Or that’s what I thought, anyway.

Kelly, 50 years old and 15 pounds above fighting weight, precision-dropped into his first wave of the contest, at Backdoor, pulled in, spelunked his way to daylight and finished with a rainmaking forehand carve, earning an 8.57 score from the judges and a pathetic flip-flopping cheer from yours truly.

Slater, in middle age, is anti-factual, irresponsible, and flagrantly narcissistic. But in those stretched-out moments at Backdoor, live and during the many replays to follow, watching this aging surf Jedi weave through the shadows, calm and utterly in control, I am tractor-beamed into wanting his score to go higher, and hoping that he stays on track this week all the way to the winner’s podium. This feeling leaps right over the thought process.

Then regret follows, and for a while (as in right now) the two overlap and I am as ungrounded as Buster Keaton doing the splits between two moving cars.

Reigning world champion Gabe Medina pulled out of the Masters, saying he is “not well” and has “emotional issues to deal with.” As with Slater, I have at times struggled to get past the Gabe’s politics (this video hookup with Bolsonaro and Bibi being the low point), but I have an appreciation that borders on awe for his no-fucks-given hitman approach to competition, and his polite but staunch refusal to play the happy back-slapping world champ.

What all WCT-level surfers do while competing not surfing as we commoners know it, and to repeat what I said at the top of the page, it is in many respects a perversion of the sport. I just want to get wet, raise the heart rate, and if possible snuggle up to a little piece of Zen; championship Tour surfers are doing parkour while sidearming ninja throwing-stars. Fun is not completely off the menu for a title-contending pro, but it is secondary to winning, and Medina understands this better than any pro surfer I’ve ever seen.

He is a bullshit-free competitor, and whatever his underlying reasons are for taking time off—working through issues with his family, dropping all that heavy world-tour armor, not traveling, removing himself from everybody’s expectations (his own included), checking in to see if he still loves surfing for its own sake (my guess is all of these things)—it speaks well of Medina, the most private of athletes, to enter this key juncture of his life and career with what appears to be a bullshit-free attitude.

If Medina never comes back to the CT, that’s fine. He is the best all-around competitor of his generation by a wide margin, and a fourth world title would only underline this fact, not establish it.

I expect Medina will return, though, and there are plenty of examples from surfing’s past to suggest he’ll in fact come back stronger. Tom Curren had his most dominant year as a competitor after a one-year layoff. Joey Cabell more or less quit surfing twice (once to work on cars, once to open the Chart House), and returned stronger both times, both as a free-surfer and a competitor. Margo Oberg won a world title, failed to defend, dropped out for five years, and came back to win another three titles. And Mark Occhilupo’s mental health break may have saved his life, and the return that followed is surfing’s greatest comeback story.

The thing you don’t want to do, as Andy Irons proved, is come back before the work is done.

(You like this? Matt Warshaw delivers a surf essay every Sunday, PST. All of ’em a pleasure to read. Maybe time to subscribe to Warshaw’s Encyclopedia of Surfing, yeah? Three bucks a month.)

Thanks for the laughs.

Online troll vows to boycott historic finals day at Billabong Pro Pipeline over commentators’ “lame analogies” and “bootlicking for the sake of complete kooks!”

A lonely protest!

I am writing this wrap up well before finals day because, face it, none of the little details matter anyway.

I was a little hesitant to submit this cause I am giving up any anonymity, but I am okay with my kook status, and I am pretty sure these guys have it figured out by now.

I rode my first wave around 45 years ago and have run the gambit from solid to full kook, sometimes in one session.

But one thing is for sure, like all of you reading this, I have been hooked ever since that first wave.

Surfing, and the ocean in general, gets me through the hard times and makes the good ones all that much sweeter. It has given me trials and triumph, humiliation and enlightenment. 

I owe my life to it.

I could spend the rest of my life looking at the ocean and never get bored and even if I am miles away and haven’t surfed for a while I am still always going to be dreaming of surfing good waves in good form.

Having said that, it pains me to say that I have no interest in any of this contest.

I used to be a contest junkie, and I still am, but like a shitty drug, it just gets old after awhile.

The only reason we put up with the WSL’s bullshit is that we just want to see good surfing, at spots we aspire to surf or are in awe of. 

And watching through a contest not only gives us that it also gives us a look at spots in their true light. No cropped, edited-to-death footage that totally masks the true nature of a surf spot.

That alone would usually keep me coming.

The competitive end of it is cool and there has been plenty over the years to remember and learn from.

But the WSL, in its never ending quest to market our way of life to people who don’t care, have managed to fuck all of that up.

I tuned in for five minutes of this event and that was more than I could take.

It was the tail end of the Pupo/Italo heat and they were surfing well, but listening to qualified surfers who don’t understand their base bootlicking for the sake of complete kooks, with the same lame analogies, while the production team gave the same beat-down angles and timing miscues, brought me to a realization: None of it really matters. The names, the dramas, the titles and who won them.

They all turn into a blur, like most of the waves I have ridden in my lifetime. It doesn’t matter if I tune in, I will always be able to see the footage later and comment accordingly like the troll that I am.

In the end, the current structure and format is incompatible to functional viewing for anyone but us and with clowns who don’t surf at the top calling the shots it is never going to get better. 

There will be epic moments and waves ridden, but at what cost to our collective sanity?

The WSL is better off going the way of the G-Land glory days, where there was plenty of time to put out a legendary documentary that had people eagerly waiting to see well before it came out, especially after hearing about it through the grapevine. 

It might not have shown all the nuances of competition and of the spot itself, but it spared us the gaffes we continually bash ourselves over the head with now.

I know we can’t go backwards, but we sure as hell ain’t going forward like this.

To whoever wins, congratulations, you earned it, maybe, provided the judges didn’t fuck it up.

But I for one have shit to get done, and if I am gonna waste a few days glued to a screen, I at least want to feel like it wasn’t all for naught. 

At this point I am more into finding waves on Google Maps that most people haven’t thought to look for.

I hope those who watch are rewarded with inspirational surfing.

Peace out to you all.

I know I said I was going to keep it short, but like the rest of my life, it didn’t work out as planned.

Slater (right) shows John John how his legs will move when he's walking out the door. Photo: Steve Sherman @tsherms.

Question: Will the world’s greatest surfer Kelly Slater retire in jaw-dropping fashion if he beats John John Florence to become Billabong’s Pipeline Pro 2022?

One more for the road!

I full well thought that the World Surf League was going to run some Billabong Pipeline Pro today and was happy that they did not for I was indisposed but did anyone steal down to Ehukai’s sand and peek at the lineup? Was it any worse than, say, historic day two when the women were trotted out to equality?

Well, happy, nonetheless and happy, also, that yesterday was a lay because it found me first in San Clemente, chatting with David Lee Scales, and second in Studio City at a famed old western recording facility speaking my next book onto tape (buy here).

But back to Lee Scales. He is convinced that if Kelly Slater becomes 2022’s Billabong Pipeline Pro in pumping surf, beating John John Florence in the final, as they are on opposite sides of the draw, he will retire.

Slater (left) waving goodbye to Florence.
Slater (left) waving goodbye to Florence.

As his reasoning goes, Slater has been vocal about Sunset, the next wave up, not being his favorite. Then, if things hold, he won’t be able to travel to Australia. With the mid-year cut looming and no throw-aways allowed, will the world’s greatest surfer let himself fade into oblivion or will he take this glorious moment to see himself out?

The tour seems as much a part of Slater’s DNA as chia pudding so I think he’ll slink around for another decade plus but what do you think?

Is this it for the BOAT?

We discuss this and whether or not a man should shake hands before entering a room. I think yes, always. David Lee is all about shedding antiquated custom.

Listen here.

Surfing officially included in the Los Angeles 2028 Summer Olympic Games; San Clemente, Huntington Beach, Malibu ready for war!

Youthful energy.

It is official. After making its 2020 Olympic debut at Tokyo, surfing (along with skateboarding and rock climbing), will be part of the 2028 Los Angeles Games and has been approved on Paris 2024’s “additional” list.

With Brisbane set to host the 2032 sporting festival, it is likely that professional surfers will be winning gold, silver and bronze for the decade to come.


Regarding Los Angeles, Casey Wasserman, chairman of the L.A. organizing committee, said, “The LA28 Games have always been about bringing more freshness, youthful energy and creativity into the Olympic and Paralympic movement.”

Fernando Aguerre, president of the surfing’s international federation, added, “We have always known that surfing was a natural fit for LA28. As the official sport of California, surfing is action, youth and energy combined.”


Now, where do you think the surfing will be staged?

Lower Trestles in beautiful San Clemente?

Iconic Malibu a pleasant drive north?

Surf City, USA Huntington Beach?

I’d imagine knives are being sharpened in the various city halls.

I’d imagine civil war is nigh.

I’m about to go walkabout for a couple of days and so won’t be here to share in the deep reverie of the live comment section, nor watch the action conclude. I’ll be hiking into a remote Scottish glen in a storm, with friends, some firewood and a bottle of  whisky each to keep us warm. A fifteen-year-old Dalmore for me. 

Prize surf journalist sensationally heads off for two-day spirit walk on eve of “the greatest surf competition ever!”

"I’ll be hiking into a remote Scottish glen in a storm, with friends, some firewood and a bottle of  whisky each to keep us warm."

On the eve of the conclusion to the Greatest Surf Competition Ever, or whatever name the WSL hype train will surely throw at it, I must apologise.

I’m about to go walkabout for a couple of days and so won’t be here to share in the deep reverie of the live comment section, nor watch the action conclude.

I’ll be hiking into a remote Scottish glen in a storm, with friends, some firewood and a bottle of whisky each to keep us warm. A fifteen-year-old Dalmore for me.

So, apologies.

This has been planned for a while and in recent days I did consider the possibility of abandoning the certain cold of two days in the wilderness in favour of the warmth of your wit and joie de vivre. I am enjoying finding my way in this, and I appreciate you as an audience.

I even made a spreadsheet to work out the time differences, should I continue.

And on a spreadsheet tip, friends and gamblers, here’s a handy bracket you can use now and going forward to work out how to lose your money best. If you go to “File” then “Make a copy” you’ll have one of your own.

Thoughts at this juncture…has Pipe been an unequivocal success?

How much of that is thanks to the WSL, and how much is simply chance and nature? Is every surf contest guaranteed to be superb when the waves march in?

The WSL spin and general self-congratulatory back-slapping is surely going to be unbearable in the wake of this competition. They might appear vindicated in shifting the comp forward and holding it first instead of last. We’re certainly off to a roaring start.

But what we’ve enjoyed has been the sheer, raw bravery of man (and woman) vs nature.

Most of us, if we’re honest, can picture those brutally perfect sets approaching the Pipe line up like a charge of valkyries and thank fuck we’re not sitting in their path.

How many of us wouldn’t like to tippity toe over Trestles’ cobblestones and waft some warm, crumbly liplines?

It’s a different ball game entirely.

And imagine: 2022 World Champion, Filipe Toledo.

How does that sit with you?

Anyway, once my spirit walk is over this weekend I’ll be catching up in full and parsing the salient points of what will surely be an epic conclusion. I’m looking forward to it.

Wish me luck.

The forecast is for snow, 50-60 mph north-westerlies and -16C.

Perhaps I’ll meet Macbeth’s witches, and perhaps they’ll tell me that one day my words will be king, and that I might write like I’m on Swellnet.

A man might dream.

“Art not without ambition”, and perhaps I’ll return with the illness to attend it.