Filipe Toledo, ep five, Conquering Demons. | Photo: Apple TV/Make or Break

Apple TV’s Make or Break docuseries a “near-absolute triumph” says surfing’s foremost authority Matt Warshaw, “You may not like the show, and that’s fine. But don’t be the two-star troll who comments without understanding the assignment.”

Make or Break is "bliss compared to the smiley brain-dead presentation we get from the WSL itself."

Ten years ago somebody posted a two-star Amazon review for the book version of Encyclopedia of Surfing, noting that “it is an encyclopedia!” and because of that they “haven’t bothered reading it.”

And folks, this is why EOS has a 4.4 star Amazon rating instead of the perfect 5 to which all encyclopedists aspire.

The point being: a thing should be judged—whatever the thing is, book, movie, TV show, etc—based primarily on what that thing set out to do. If you go online to buy an encyclopedia and three days later take delivery on an encyclopedia, your lead criticism should not be that it is an encyclopedia.

Keep this in mind because I am here to report that the new Apple TV+ reality show Make or Break, which debuted on Friday and is co-produced by WSL, is a near-absolute triumph. 

You may not like the show, and that’s fine. But don’t be the two-star troll who comments without understanding the assignment. Remember what Make or Break set out to do. 

It is not a documentary. It is not even about riding waves, exactly. Make or Break is a reality show set within the grind and turmoil of the WCT, and as a viewer, to my eyes anyway, that grind and turmoil is bliss compared to the smiley brain-dead presentation we get from the WSL itself, and hold that thought, we’ll circle back in a moment. 

So judge Make or Break on those terms. And if you still don’t think the show has come out of the gate scoring a low-to-mid-range 9, then you haven’t watched enough reality TV, and shame on you for even taking part in this conversation—but also congratulations on avoiding what is by and large a basement-level zone of entertainment.

Reality TV has been off my radar for 30 years.

I watched Season One of MTV’s The Real World in 1992—back when teenaged Kelly Slater was eyeballing his first world title while the rest of us scandal-hopped between the Menendez Brothers and Joey Buttafuoco—but decided after two or three episodes that reality TV was not for me, and apart from sniff-testing our sport’s own dependably cringey offerings (see here and here and especially here), I haven’t watched since.

Not until I read JP Currie’s BeachGrit article on Make or Break, anyway, which includes an enthusiastic riff on Drive to Survive, the Netflix smash hit set in the gilded snakepit that is Formula One racing. 

The same production team is behind both shows, and Drive to Survive, Currie writes, has proven to be so incredibly watchable—even among us geeks for whom the world “formula” conjures algebraic Xs and Ys instead of car racing—that a knockoff based on our very own World Championship Tour was practically three-quarters of the way to an Emmy before it debuted.

And thus much of my recent Covid convalescence was spent watching Season One of Drive to Survive—which is every bit as good as Currie says.

Even so, I did not share Currie’s belief that a WCT spinoff was a near-sure thing. Two reasons. Formula One racing, batshit crazy as it is on so many levels, is understandable to anybody who has sat behind the wheel of a car and thought about crashing, which means anybody who has sat behind the wheel of a car. Riding waves, viewer-relatability-wise, is the very opposite.

Second, the Rockefellerian levels of money involved with Formula One (a championship-contending team will blow through something close to a half-billion per year) means that the people involved—owners, managers, drivers, everybody—must perform under levels of pressure that people in our little sand-flecked world cannot even comprehend. 

Mullet-flaunting playboy billionaire Vijay Mallya, for example, former Member of Parliament and owner of the Force India FI team, up to his neck in debt and alleged financial crimes after bankrupting his once-successful commercial airline, fled India just ahead of the law during the filming of Drive to Survive.

Interested as I am with Kelly Slater’s vaccine-related U-turn, nothing the 11-time champ could ever do on terra firma will glue my ass to the couch like watching a bejeweled business titan implode onscreen.

Formula One and pro surfing, in other words and despite what JP Currie thinks, is not an apples-to-apples proposition.

But I’ve just watched the first two episodes of Make or Break, and guess what? It doesn’t matter.

Pro surfing cannot compete with Formula One for the reasons I’ve described above, yes. But we have attributes of our own, things that I often do not see because the subject is so near and dear, and the Make or Break’s producers have zeroed in on those people, places, and characteristics. 

Zero chance the show will match Drive to Survive for viewer share. But with Make or Break we nonetheless have something that feels true to the sport (the tiny sliver of the sport that is competitive surfing, anyway), while also having the potential to be a modest hit in the general marketplace.

We have Tyler Wright and Gabe Medina, both of whom, to my admittedly biased eye, are more compelling personalities than any of the Drive to Survive gasoline alley hotshots.

We have women in general. Survive is a high-bred sausage party.

We have sharks, and while I appreciate the drama an apex predator brings to the table, I was both grateful and impressed that the producers chose not to overplay the shark fatality just prior to finals day at the 2020 Honolua Bay Maui Pro. The death was instead presented, correctly, as a trigger for the WSL’s quick and bold decision to move the event to Pipeline, where the women competed for the first time.

We have this quote from the lovably manic defending world champ Ítalo Ferreira: “The more waves I catch, the more waves I break.”

And pro surfing still, 35 years after the WCT’s kitchen table beginnings, retains a DIY element, which it turns out can be played to an advantage. There is a scene in second episode of Make or Break where Gabe Medina admits that he did not want to travel to Australia last year (“people close to me, they made me go”), and because the trip is last-minute, and because these are pro surfers and not Formula One drivers, two-time world champ Medina picks up the phone and calls three-time world champ Mick Fanning to ask if Mick will coach him through the Aussie leg. Mick says no but kicks the job over his pal Andy King. 

And just like that Medina and King are a unit. 

An agreement must have been signed at some point, but otherwise, as far as I can tell, there were no managers, agents, or corpos of any kind involved. Just a few phone calls and text messages between Gabe, Mick, and Andy. 

Did it work? Gabe got two wins and a runner-up in Australia, moved into the ratings’ lead and never looked back. (World-title-wise, that is. The personal and professional hurricane Gabe walked into shortly thereafter will be, along with Kelly Slater’s 2022 Pipe win, the main storyline of Make or Break’s Season Two.)

Oddly, surfing itself—the editing and pacing, not the wave-riding itself—is the weakest part of Make or Break. It’s an easy fix (show full rides), and I’m guessing the producers will figure it out as the show progresses. 

If they don’t, I’ll watch every episode anyway.

I cannot sign off without gently putting the boot to the WSL. There is a real absurdity in the fact that the show within the show (Make or Break) is 100-times better than the actual show itself (WSL’s presentation of competitive surfing).

More than an absurdity, in fact, this may be a fatal deficit on WSL’s part. But it just occurred to me that the WSL cratering midyear in 2023 would guarantee a fantastic third season for Make or Break.

(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.)

Teenage surfer killed in horror river-wave accident after being trapped under water for six minutes, “Other surfers flung themselves into the water in an attempt to free him from the underwater panels that make the wave”

“There was nothing we could do and it was a helpless situation. It was terrifying.”

In the Deschute River in Bend, Oregon, is a pretty wild construct, twenty-six air bladders stuck on the river bed that can be manipulated in real-time to create a rideable wave.

The Bend Whitewater Park was created in 2015 following “tenacious dedication, community support through a 2012 bond measure, general fund tax revenues, grants and private contributions.”

Idea was real simple: Add a little tech to nature and you get a cheap wavepool for landlocked shredders, paddlers, kids on rafts and so on.

Gerry Lopez, who lives nearby, digs it.

Now, the joint is closed following the death of seventeen-year-old local surfer Ben Murphy on Saturday.

Murphy was held underwater for six minutes, trapped by the underwater panels that make the wave, and only removed from the water when he was washed downstream after the wave was shut off.

Despite CPR on the scene and cardiac shock treatment at the hozzy, Murphy was pronounced dead. Howevs, a faint heartbeat was detected shortly after and the kid was moved to the ICU for treatment.

“The St. Charles staff was more than amazing and worked to keep Ben comfortable and his vitals slowly improved for the first eight hours,” Ben’s dad Patrick Murphy wrote on Facebook. “He was on oxygen, tons of medication and was sedated to keep him comfortable.”

A TV news report told viewers the teen had survived, although Ben’s organs gradually began to fail and he was pronounced dead, hours later, by hospital staff.

The Oregonian reports witnesses saying they saw Murphy fall and get his foot stuck in one of the underwater gates. After a minute Murphy came to the surface, took a breath, before disappearing.

Surfers jumped into the river in attempt to pull Murphy out.

Another local surfer, Stetson Talley, who’d previously worked as a lifeguard and who was one of a group of surfers who tried to free Murphy said, “There was nothing we could do and it was a helpless situation,” he said. “It was terrifying.”

Talley, who’s been surfing the wave or the past three years, said it wasn’t unheard of for surfers to get their feet caught in the cracks between the grates and that all of ‘em had been able to get their feet out before being sucked under.

According to The Oregonian, “At least six fatalities have been reported at standing wave features on other rivers in the U.S. and Canada in recent years.”

Three years ago, Dylan Graves surfed the place with Gerry Lopez as part of his Weird Waves project with Vans, the short explaining the mechanics behind the wave.

Jackie Robinson hauls up ten spots in the ratings, from thirteen to three. | Photo: WSL

“Tantric discipline” by WSL at Margaret River Pro ensures epic finals day, “If the top five surfers today were those heading to Trestles to contend for the title, would you argue with it?

Toledo, Florence, Robinson, Ewing, Ferreira. Tell me that a match-up between any two of these men, at any wave on Tour, would not be a spectacle worth watching?

I’ve got a loose approach to gardening. I keep the grass short, tend to some modest veg, and leave the rest be. There are young trees I’m protective of. Some are of uncertain origin and species, and my mind was to let them grow and see where we ended up.

Leave them alone, they’ll figure it out.

My dear mum has a very different approach. She relentlessly prunes and burns and weeds. She cuts to encourage growth.

Where my garden is charmingly unkempt and wild, hers is manicured within an inch of its life. She removes the weaker plants so that others might thrive and shine.

Lately, she turned her hand to my garden, nicking and snipping with her pruning shears. She pulled out some of my young trees by the roots. I complained. I argued. I told her not to cut that one, and just to leave that other. But she didn’t listen.

In the end she was right. It’s better for being cut back.

It was a lesson in growth.

You must consider diversity as well as beauty. Space used as well as space created. Nourish but don’t smother. Prune but don’t hack. Get rid of some things to stimulate others.

Watch them flourish.

If the top five surfers in the world today were those heading to Trestles to contend for the title, would you argue with it?

Filipe Toledo, John Florence, Jack Robinson, Ethan Ewing, Italo Ferreira.

Tell me that a match-up between any two of these men, at any wave on Tour, would not be a spectacle worth watching?

Within this group there is diversity of culture, approach, strength and character. There is no weakness.

There’s a long way to go, of course, and the return of one Gabriel Medina to consider, but this is a top five to tickle any tastes.

What began as a story about the losers became something very different. Margaret River had its own tale to tell.

It would not be a story of people hanging on by their fingernails, but instead of those showing their claws.

From dawn to dusk the entirety of the men’s competition was completed. A tantric discipline assured the best conditions of the window and we finished in the dying light of the final hours of the waiting period.

It wasn’t a particularly tricky call, given the forecast, but mark it down as a slippage of the hangman’s noose for Jessi Miley-Dyer nonetheless.

Let’s just cut to the business end and the flowers that bloomed amidst the West Australian dunescapes.

Filipe Toledo still holds a slender lead in the rankings despite losing a tight heat to Nat Young in the round of 16. The latter has buds burgeoning with as much promise as any point in the earlier iterations of his career.

However, a production disaster meant much of their heat went unseen in favour of a phone in with Medina. It was the best heat of the comp so far, with the man in the yellow jersey, no less, and we missed it.

Italo looked sparky at times, short of a little pizzazz at others. He was more like his old self, muted and relaxed in post heat pressers in a very deliberate way. He spoke about good energy with Jadson, with whom he was staying. But he’ll need to find the tipping point between vigour and rage going forward.

Barron Mamiya is a surfer I continue to admire. He has a tigerish power and poise that makes you believe he might attack a section with blinding ferocity at any given moment. He lost to Jack Robinson in one of two heats the eventual victor might have lost today. Robinson’s opening 8.93 was highly questionable, especially in context of Barron’s waves.

Just 0.13 pts separated the two at the end, and in this you might surmise that it was close enough to have gone either way, but this in itself is a problem. Several heats at Bells Beach were decided by fractions of a point. There were fewer at Margaret River, but there were incidents where the scoring range between the judges was an entire point or more.

This should be mitigated by dropping the high and low scores and taking the average, but on several occasions there were two judges with identical highest scores and two with identical lowest, therefore in the three counting scores there was still a point differential.

This isn’t just a major problem, it was decisive in the outcome of the event.

Jack Robinson had a scoring wave in his quarter, semi and final where there was a full point of difference between the judges.

In other words, for three of the six waves that won him the event, the judges couldn’t agree if the surfing was in the good or excellent range. In the case of his final with John where the differential between their heat totals was only 0.64 points, this judging discrepancy altered the outcome of the event.

See for yourself.

8.0 in the Quarter final vs Jordy – 8.5, 7.5, 8.0, 7.5, 8.5

8.10 in the semi against Ethan – 7.5, 7.5, 8.5, 8.5, 8.3

8.07 in the final against John – 7.3, 8.5, 8.5, 7.5, 8.2

To say this is simply not good enough would be a gross understatement.

How can heats be justifiably decided by fractions of points with this spread between judges?

It seems pedantic to constantly harp onto the judges, but this is a failure in basic competence.

We won’t get transparency or explanation, and I find it odd that surfers don’t demand it when careers and livelihoods are on the line. The rise of sports betting in America has led to stat corrections and in-depth referee reports. Could we see the same here?

Perhaps that way madness lies.

I’m beginning to think we should just throw the baby out with the bathwater and recalibrate how we think about professional surfing entirely.

Perhaps embracing the concept of entertainment is the way to make our peace with it. When we try to package it like sport it wriggles and squirms. So why bother? Let’s take it for what it is: a frivolous, watery dance predicated on rhythm, luck and mystical energies that none of us understand.

It’s entirely subjective. It’s simply entertainment.

And all said and done, the most entertaining surfers in the world are more or less the ones we ended up with in the finals at Margaret River.

A sagely nod to Matt McGillivray, the only surfer to step up to the plate and forge a lonely redemption arc.

Florence and Ewing were the standout surfers of the event, and it wasn’t particularly close.

I’ve fully fallen under Ethan Ewing’s spell. I’m almost compelled to go back and watch his previous stints on Tour to try and discern the differences between then and now. How did he conceal such power and talent?

He slices under the lip so precisely that his board might be an obsidian blade. His head, shoulders and arms are in perfect synchronicity. They do everything yet nothing. Watching him from a distance is like looking at clockwork. You can see that it works, but to appreciate it you need to examine it very, very closely. Even then you’ll still be baffled.

John Florence looked unbeatable even when he was eventually beaten. He seemed a victim of his own success at Margaret River. There was lots of chatter in the booth about his connection and his winning percentage of 85%. The speed he carried through transitions was unmatched. His carves buried the entire rail to within an inch of the nose.

The problem, however, was that we’d seen it before. It was still unique, but it felt familiar. Even the extraordinary can become mundane.

Perhaps John was conscious of this when he threw a hip-dislocatingly beautiful tail slide in the final. It was the most radical turn of the competition and although he was rewarded with the highest score of the match-up with an 8.5, really it should’ve been higher. Any other surfer attempting this successfully on their opening turn would surely have been given a high nine. If only anyone else could do it.

Regardless of the loss, Florence is now second in the rankings and that’s great for us and him.

But we’ll see Gabriel Medina in Indonesia.

“I see opportunity,” he said when asked how he felt about coming back. “It’s makeable. They are waves I like, they suit my surfing.”

I’d burn my whole garden to the ground just for him.

Maui hotel sued after tourist asks employee for beach recommendation, follows advice, breaks neck due being slammed into sand by wave and is permanently paralyzed!

No good deed.

We live in litigious times. There is no slight too benign, too non-existent for which to drag a friend, a foe, a service industry worker to court and attempt a financial bloodletting. A Maui hotel the latest in a long string, this particular story beginning all the way back in 2012 when a visitor to the Valley Isle approached an employee and asked for a pleasant beach he could enjoy with his family.

Though not hotel-adjacent, the employee suggested Big Beach south of Kihei and part of the Makena State Park and provided driving instructions.

Following them to a tee, the man, and his family, soon parked and found themselves gazing over the turquoise waters and natural beauty. The family went for a swim, the man did not but later changed his mind and joined them.

According to court documents, he bobbed for ten or such minutes then “as he began a half-walk, half-breaststroke towards the shore, a breaking wave struck him from behind, causing his head to strike the sandy bottom of the ocean.”

The incident led to permanent paralysis, a sad state of affairs to be sure, and if anyone, here, has ever been to Big Beach, he or she would know that it is favored by hell-seeking bodyboarders and bodysurfers. I, myself, had had enjoyable swims there with the gorgeousness of the water combining with its ferocity in creating a very fine time.

Many signs are posted on the beach, in fact, warning of this ferocity but the visitor does not remember seeing them and is pinning his troubles on the hotel itself, via lawsuit, declaring that the employee should have warned him of the dangers.

Is his case ironclad?

Windfall soon?

A golden wheelchair in the future?

More as the story develops.

"Enjoy it! Soak it up! John John Florence is your champ!" Winner Jackie Robinson and in-water interview KP laugh at faux pas.

London fashion icon Jack Robinson presses home-court advantage to slay “king of Margaret River” John John Florence in wild see-sawing final at Margaret River Pro!

A new king of Margaret River is crowned!

“If John John Florence is the king of Margaret River, Jack Robinson is its prince,” said WSL commentator Rich Lovett as John John and Jackie sat in the late afternoon Margaret River lineup, man against man, king against prince. 

Jackie, who is twenty-three, would account for the two-time world champ and two-time winner of the Margaret River Pro, using airs and a three-turn combo to cook John John like a hamburger on a griddle in the dying light.

Earlier in the day, Jackie mowed through the other two in-form surfers of the event, Jordy Smith and Ethan Ewing, before twisting John John’s nipples in the final.

Where John John used rail to build an early lead, Jackie was an artist at his peak, kicking into gear mid-final, licking his stank fingers after each near-perfect ride, including a wild end section 540.

Final score, Jackie, 16.24, John John, 15.60.

“So many hours, so much time,” Jackie, now rated third in the world, said to the water-based interview Kaipo Guerrero, the pair bathed in golden west coast light.

“Enjoy it! Soak it up! John John Florence is your champ!” hooted Kaipo before interviewer and winner exploded into laughter at faux pas.

Good times.

Full report to come.