Howard cutting (pictured). Photo: Grant Ellis.
Howard cutting (pictured). Photo: Grant Ellis.

In shock move, World Surf League longboard commissioner Devon Howard resigns post; speculation runs wild amidst heartbroken community and hawk-eyed pundits as to true reason!

Howard's End.

It is being reported in Log Rap that Devon Howard, the debonaire longer board surfer and commissioner of the all the way longboard World Surf League tour, has shocked the world by resigning his post forthwith, the ostensible reason being that the tour “is in a great place right now” and “the job has been completed.”

Now, anyone who is remotely aware of Howard knows that he is an old-school sort beyond the way he rides a surfboard. He prizes hard work, has a solid overall ethic, speaks when necessary, keeps quiet otherwise. It would be unbecoming for him to slander his former employer but also seems odd that he would resign as the new year, with just announced stops at Manly (just days away), Huntington and Malibu, gets underway.

So why?

It is incumbent upon us to wildly speculate.

You will recall, months ago, when the rumor floated that the WSL was going to slash the longboard tour from three events to one. Sitting champion Joel Tudor caught wind and went on a wild tear which ended with the announcement that there would be three events, Manly, Huntington, Malibu and that Tudor would be indefinitely suspended.

Now, if the WSL really had wanted to shred the longboard tour and were embarrassed by it, as evidenced by CEO Erik Logan’s dismissive eye-rolling when discussing amongst partners, why didn’t it while telling all the longboarders to go kick rocks? Forcing them to surf Manly and Huntington seems far worse punishment.

Might that decision have been made in a strange Santa Monica vacuum featuring the aforementioned Logan and the increasingly dominant Jessi Miley-Dyer then shoved down Howard’s throat while he was ordered to spin it as “brilliant” to the longboarding community?

Could more “truths” have been poured down that same throat in order to spew upon his charges?


Howard’s resignation becomes even weightier when remembering that World Surf League shortboard commissioner Pat O’Connell took the same route last year, rendering his abdication and quietly taking the lead at the John John Florence fronted Florence x Marine.

The two are, without a shadow of a doubt, surfers’ surfers having come up in the old ways. They have been around the game since birth, know all the facets and love beyond what is healthy. For both to ask out of their World Surf League postings is…. suspect.

David Lee Scales and I, in any case, wildly speculate further about Howard’s end as well as the to the reasons Kelly Slater is a longtime boyfriend. Listen now.

Pandemonium in Torquay as surf fans turn on WSL CEO Erik Logan and three-time world champ Mick Fanning squares off with former boss during taping of Ain’t That Swell, “Shirts off and into the octagon, boys!”

Elo on the offensive against hard-core surf fans and world champ!

It isn’t a stretch to describe Ain’t That Swell and its hardcore Swellian followers in the same way historians talk of the brave Apache, Aboriginal or Inca; the last remnants of a brave and brutal culture subsumed by something barren and unlovely and feeble and bland. 

Colonialists, VALS, ain’t no difference. 

During the taping of a recent episode at Torquay during the Bells Beach event, part of Ain’t That Swell’s epic Children of the Corn tour of Australia, Swellians welcomed WSL CEO Erik Logan with a volley of boos.

Show principal, Vaughan Blakey, a dignified and sincere man who don’t like hate, tried to hose down the rogue Swellians, “Who’s booing? Who was that? Fuck mate! Free contest free tour, fuck!, wake up!” 

Following suit, even Mick turned on his former boss, telling Logan he isn’t into the mid-tour cut, scissoring the SUP aficionado with “Personally, I wouldn’t do it”.

The smiling face of Logan, broadly benignant, was in no mood to back down, hosing away Mick’s claim that “rookies can’t establish themselves” with a stunning retort, “I think Barron (Mamiya) would disagree with that, he seems to be doing fine.” 

A wildly effective coup de grâce.

Mick, wounded, retreated into a series of “Look, look” etc. 

Logan, again, very good on the offensive, “I always come back to the fact, we get to a place where we’re focussing on crowning a world champion,” he said. 

Vaughan hoots, “Shirts off and into the octagon boys!” 

Good times! 

Slater, Doz and breakout trans athlete Lia Thomas. | Photo: @sensitiveseashellcollector (Kelly Slater)

Living surf legend Kelly Slater rallies to defense of big wave pal Shane Dorian after he is accused of transphobia on hot-button abortion thread!

A friend in need...

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you are well aware that the long-simmering issue of abortion has exploded to the forefront of American polemics. A leak out of the Supreme Court earlier in the week, confirmed to be accurate, has suggested that the justices will abandon Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 ruling that protected abortion as a national right.

Passions have run hot for days with all-comers taking to social media, sharing their important opinions including celebrities and extreme sport announcer Sal Masekela.

The latter posted a simple black square with repeating white words reading “men should not be making laws about women’s bodies” adding “It’s pretty simple” as his caption.

Support was near universal with public figures and professional surfers weighing in with an assortment of “raise the roof” emojis, 100 emojis and heart emojis.

Big wave surfer and one-time movie star Shane Dorian also lent his backing though with a slight addendum and shaka emoji.

“Agreed! And they shouldn’t be allowed to compete against them in sports,” referencing the almost equally hot button issue of trans individuals playing games as their chosen gender as opposed whatever nonsense was listed upon a birth certificate.

Uh oh.

Condemnation was swift with @evo_robbie_oh telling Dorian it was “cool sliding in your transphobia” and Masekela, himself, declaring “seems a strange comment on an abortion convo brother.”

Dorian was quick to attempt clarification, replying, “Yeah I can see that. I wasn’t trying to change the subject at all. Women’s rights is the topic and what I said is on that topic. My apologies. Also, what I said isn’t transphobic at all, what someone chooses to hear when they read it is their trip, and that is totally fine.”

Cue living surf legend Kelly Slater. The 11x world champion and current number 13 spared no appeal to comment sense when rallying to his wonderful friend’s defense.

“Explain what part of his comment says anything about him being scared of trans people.”

Slater, who also happens to be godfather to Dorian’s son, continued to have his back, fending off weak jabs here, small parries there, proving himself to be the best sort of pal there is. One who rushes headlong into danger without regard for personal safety.

Bravo and if Dorian and Slater ever choose to revive their acting careers, I would love to see them in a World War II film, together in a fox hole, handsome and brave.

Academy Award material.

Owen Wright (pictured) sad.
Owen Wright (pictured) sad.

Mainstream media continues to decry the World Surf League’s “cruel” and “depressing” mid-year cull: “Have grace and mercy completely vanished from this swathe of humanity? If you have tears prepared, shed them now.”

"Hey WSL, what is wrong with you guys?"

We surf fans, we watchers of webcasts and listeners to Joe Turpel, have now had a month plus to really sink our teeth into the World Surf League’s “mid-year cut.” Theoretically, I suppose, we knew it was on the boil some time ago, or at least before Covid, but was shelved until this year though still, I didn’t think about it until Bells where the professional surfers, themselves, tried to stage a coup.

It was quashed by Erik Logan’s rusty cudgel and on to Margaret River everyone marched, we surf fans, we students in shades of Rabbit Bartholomew, wondered which of our gladiators would live and which would die gruesome public deaths.

And yet, a funny thing happened on the way to the forum.

Mainstream media, for reasons either unknown or related to the new Apple television series “Make or Break,” have taken a precious moment to turn eyes away from war in Ukraine, Johnny Depp, Amber Heard to focus on the plight of those professional surfers who died those deaths and/or were sent back to the salt mines of Snapper.

De-leagured as it were.

The Guardian’s headline screams, No one really likes it’: brutal rule change breaks hearts in World Surf League with Kolohe Andino quoted as saying, “It’s just kind of hard the whole cut thing. No one really likes it. We’re all friends on tour and we all love each other, so you don’t want to knock the guy off tour. It just seems like it’s a TV show a little bit, like drama all the time. Watching the women’s the other day it was just heartbreaking with the girls that were losing. They were crying all day.”

Yahoo! Sports ups the ante by declaring, ‘Devastated’: Surfing world shattered over ‘heartbreaking’ scenes with legendary surf photographer Jimmy “Cane” Wilson adding, “Watching Owen Wright’s interview and he has a day and a half to make a decision on his career. Is this mid-year cut supposed to be fun and exciting, cause all I feel is sadness?”

Others weigh in too, begging the WSL to stop the cruelty and asking WSL leadership “What’s wrong with you guys?”


But who could have guessed the plight of guillotined professional surfers would rank amidst the sufferings of the world and/or Johnny Depp + Amber Heard?

Did the World Surf League overplay its hand here? Will public perception turn sharply against?

Wild times.

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.)