It ain’t the 1940s anymore, Bub, in case you’ve been hiding under a rock. We live in a brave new world where passive racism, sexism, paternalism are no longer “hip” or “cool” and those who practice such thinkings get deservedly shamed. Very un-chill to believe, for example, that there is one standard for beauty and all people should strive to fit into that cramped box.
To bash this truth over somehow still un-evolved heads, body-positive activist Elizabeth Sneed waltzed into New York’s very crowded Times Square, days ago, wearing only a hot pink bikini and carrying a triple stinger’d longboard to use as weapon of truth and justice. A cudgel of enlightenment, as it were.
Sneed, who creates content under the moniker Curvy Surfer Girl on social media, says, “I want the world to know women with curves are surfers & athletes. What better place than New York City to show the world.”
I am not a massive New York City fan so can think of better places to be but that un-evolved thinking misses the point entirely. Her fans, on Instagram, thrilled at the move, one writing, “My inner little girl is so grateful to you.” And another declaring, “Loving this and what it’s doing for our surf culture.”
It thrilled my inner girl, too, as variety is the spice of life. Lineups choked with middle-aged men, hair medium length, of medium build, wearing black neoprene, riding pointy thrusters so dull.
Gag me with a spoon.
In move that sends shockwaves through sporting community, World Surf League poaches top-level National Basketball Assoc. executive as new Chief Financial Officer!
Days ago, World Surf League Chief Executive Officer Erik Logan delivered a stunning interview in which he shed light on the crazy robust growth the aforementioned WSL is currently experiencing. Percentages up by double to triple digits across all categories from “consumption of the product” to “brand relationships” to “viewership.”
Wild wins that must have other professional sport leagues turning their corporate heads and looking. Especially turning their corporate heads and looking with the recent poaching of top-tier executive talent from the booming National Basketball Association.
Per the press release, “The World Surf League announced today that Jason Eckert has joined the league as its new Chief Financial Officer, reporting to WSL CEO Erik Logan. Eckert joins the WSL after nearly 15 years at the National Basketball Association, most recently serving as Vice President, Head of Finance and Strategy EMEA. During his NBA tenure, Eckert held progressive leadership positions within the NBA’s Finance department in both New York and London.”
Eckert’s wins at the NBA included “the formation and capital raise of NBA China” and the “formation and capital raise of NBA Africa.”
Logan said, “I’m thrilled to welcome Jason to the WSL team. His rich professional experience, as well as his personal investment in our sport, will be invaluable as we continue to grow a global business and make professional surfing one of the premier sports in the world. The WSL is in the midst of a truly breakout 2022 season, with growth in nearly every area of our business. Jason is going to help us invest our resources strategically and efficiently to build on that momentum and capitalise on this moment.”
Eckert responded, “As a member of the global surf community, I couldn’t be more excited to step into this role during a transformational time for the WSL. Having watched from afar as Erik and the WSL team have built a business truly capable of transforming the world of professional surfing, I can’t wait to leverage my experience to contribute to our collective success.”
I’m going to start calling myself a “member of the global surf community” instead of a “surfer” from now on.
Comment live, opening round, Oi Rio Pro, Brazil, “Contest to go ahead despite Latin surf fans warning of mass protests and issuing gruesome death threats to world #3!”
Newcastle folk hero and famed sex pot “Mullet Lord” saved from certain death during catastrophic wipeout by twenty-year-old surf helmet, “I’ve had this Gath since I was eleven and a mate left it at my house! My chin was folded into my neck!”
"I'm a thrillseeker but I've kids, a wife and a bunch of businesses so I need my head.”
The air becomes naturally electric around Mullet Lord aka Daniel Brown, cafe owner, espresso martini mix wholesaler, sex pot and wild slab hunter.
Brown self-describes as“a thrillseeker. And my wife knows what happens when I get in the surf when the surf’s up. If I’m going when it’s big I have to wear a helmet. I’ve got kids, a wife and a bunch of businesses so I need my head.”
In the wave wave pictured below, a secret below-sea level bone-crusher on the NSW South Coast, Brown was “launched out in front of it. I thought I’d be exploded back up with the whitewash, but I was drawn down so fast I hit the back of my Gath on the reef. It bent my head down and folded my chin into my neck. It hit my upper spine as well.”
The helmet was a leftover from when he was a kid and his pal forget to take it home one day. Brown moved from the neighbourhood, never saw the kid again, and kept the Gath.
“The Gath actually took the impact so well. My head was fine. It was just my neck getting pressed into the chin and the pressure of my neck bending so much. But, my actual head, no bruise whatsoever. It’s an old Gath but it’s served me well.”
The day before he’d had worn one of his Billabong impact vests. He figured it was a little smaller the following morn so didn’t put it on. What he didn’t take into account was the long-period swell as masking the eight-to-ten-foot bombs that were hitting the reef.
“Wish I’d worn it, especially when I hit my spine. I deadset thought I’d broken my back and when I came up. I had hair sticking out through the cracks in my helmet, I got a mad mullet cranking, and everyone was laughing. I said, ‘Yeah, I just cracked my head on the reef.’ Their smiles turned to frowns. I got someone to touch my spine, to see if there were any broken vertebrae.”
A few minute later, an even bigger set loomed.
“There’s eight-foot slabs and you could get the wave of your life,” he says. “There was no way I was going in. It was a proper bomb and I was in the right spot. But that wave was so big it went mutant.”
“I used to work in hospitality where you have to have collar-length hair. I started my own thing and now I don’t have to shave, I can have a mo, a mullet and no one’s telling me I can’t. It’s a good reminder of not taking anything too seriously. If I’m depressed, I look in the mirror at my head and have a good laugh, like, what are you taking so seriously? We’re here for fun and games! In my head, I’m just an Aussie bogan and this is the haircut that chose me.”
The “hard ugliness” behind mythical Santa Barbara surf Valhalla The Ranch, “(It was) a sales pitch wearing a Gestapo jacket pretending to be a conservation statement!”
"We have a security force. These men are all deputized by the County of Santa Barbara, and we strictly enforce the trespass laws."
Most surfers, for different reasons, think of the still-private (for the moment) Hollister Ranch as either half-mythical or past tense or both.
“What is paradoxical about the Ranch,” as Paul Gross put it a few years back, “is the place it occupies in our minds.”
When it became world-renowned, there were thousands of surfers dreaming about a location that, A) they had never been to and, B) was nowhere near as consistent or uncrowded as they imagined. The existence of the Ranch satisfied a spiritual need in surfers. It became a Valhalla of sorts.
The actual experience of surfing the Ranch today is a balloon of high expectations constantly being punctured by reality. Access is limited to those who either boat in or own a parcel of land there. The result is boaters with the zeal of buccaneers sharing the lineup with property owners who are expecting a country club experience. Further discord festers within the parcel owners themselves because they are a mix of well-off surfers [who bought in later], and the original old guard Santa Barbara Surf Club members. The politics are brutal and persistent. Like a depleted gold mine that yields just enough treasure to keep prospectors hooked, the Ranch will always lure surfers. But the place in time that made it truly special has passed.
I held the Ranch fantasy near and dear. Everybody did. Between those heavenly 1966 Ron Stoner photos, a set of gorgeous Jeff Divine shotsa few years later, and that eye-popping Cosmic Children footage of J Riddle at Razor Blades—how could you not? And, most incredible of all, this Edenic state-of-nature preserve is just a short drive north of the crowd-infested lineups at Malibu and Topanga. Fantasizing about the Ranch was the one thing our fractured California surfing community agreed on during the late 1960s and ’70s.
The beauty of the place was not overrated. Neither, on the best days, was the level of wave perfection.
But there has always been, even during the “truly special” times Gross mentions, a hard ugliness just below the surface at the Ranch. Justin Housman called it “legal localism,” and it runs through the entire 60-plus years of Hollister surf history, and let’s pull out just one example and see what it looks like up close.
In 1972, not long after Ranch ownership was transferred to a Wisconsin-based development company who in turn divided the property into 135 100-acre parcels, the sales and marketing job was given to a former Texas cattleman named Dick LaRue, who took the title of “Ranch Manager.”
It is unclear whether LaRue reached out to SURFER or the other way around, but that same year a magazine-organized series of Ranch trips was dispatched. Jeff Divine and Brad Barrett got the photos, LaRue himself wrote the copy, and the resulting 12-page feature, “The Ranch Reality,” was published in the July 1972 issue.
Visually, of course, it is a triumph. Undeveloped hills and valleys, perfect surf, empty lineups. But LaRue’s article is something else entirely—a sales pitch wearing a Gestapo jacket pretending to be a conservation statement.
Sometimes this is low key: “What we’re doing with the land will preserve it in its natural state for many, many years. The good Lord made it this way, and we’re not gonna change it.”
Sometimes it is not: “What we’re doing is creating a controlled atmosphere at the Ranch.”
And halfway through the article LaRue opens his jacket and shows us the Luger.
We have a security force. These men are all deputized by the County of Santa Barbara, and we strictly enforce the trespass laws. The Ranch is only for owners and their guests, period! There just isn’t anyone else that will be allowed. I might stay on that for a minute because, in the past, due to articles in your magazine and because of previous lack of security on the Ranch, a lot of surfers have come in to surf the beach, and I’d like to get the message across that the Ranch is closed. There just isn’t going to be a way to get in here. We’re not here to hassle the kids or give them a bad time, but we are going to protect our rights and keep everyone off the Ranch, except owners and guests. [Those who are caught], we do have them arrested and will prosecute to the limit of the law. The judge they go before is in the local area, and is also a [Ranch] property owner.
Incredibly, and you have to respect it as a marketing pirouette for the ages, LaRue then flipped the SURFER article into a Ranch print ad.
“There are only a few such places in the world,” reads the header. “SURFER magazine said it. And you know it’s true.” To SURFER readers, in other words, LaRue’s message was “KEEP OUT.” To prospective buyers—rich people—the message was “As seen in SURFER Magazine!” Most of the ads were printed in Central California newspapers, but one actually ran in SURFER itself.
Each Ranch parcel cost between $100,000 and $400,000, roughly $720,000 to $2,887,000 in 2022 dollars, and as one 1975 newspaper article noted: “There is no doubt in anybody’s mind that the Hollister Ranch is only for the wealthy. Ranch owners are high-salaried individuals or people with inherited wealth.” The article then quotes none other than Dick LaRue, who plays up the raw beauty angle. “This place isn’t for everybody. Many people in this income bracket would be more comfortable with golf courses and yacht basins.”
There is a lot of shit to shovel through here.
SURFER cut off a piece of its soul for a two-day Ranch pass, to begin with, but that’s small potatoes. The big issue is that private beaches exist at all in a state that, decades ago, mandated “maximum public access” to California’s entire 840-mile coastline. Not helping things are all the fence-sitting surfers, like me, who have forever both-sided the public-private debate when it comes to the Ranch—everybody doing the same mental gymnastics, which is basically a version of how do I get in there while everybody else is locked out and not feel like an asshole. Which of course is where the “conservation” part comes into play—the Ranch is the last piece of undeveloped Southern California coast and must preserved at all costs—and I won’t change anybody’s mind here by saying it, but I myself am giving up on this line of nonsense.
Open up the Ranch. Limit access, charge a fee, patrol the beaches—whatever has to happen in order to limit or mitigate the environmental wear and tear that comes with allowing people in.
There will be more mess, and possibly some environmental damage.
But that’s us, that’s our low-budget democracy, and even if trashcans overflow at the end of the weekend or if some big-truck assholes go offroading now and then, that is so much better than fantasizing about Vahalla over the hill and behind the gate, and there you are stuck on the wrong side without a key.
(You like this? Matt Warshaw delivers a surf essay every Sunday, PST. All of ’em a pleasure to absorb. Maybe time to subscribe to Warshaw’s Encyclopedia of Surfing, yeah? Three bucks a month.)