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.)
Tale of former world number eight Todd Holland’s harrowing escape from enraged Brazilian surf fans resurfaces ahead of Oi Rio Pro: “Armed police, with guns drawn, did their best to clear a path on the beach before escorting him to a jail cell for his protection.”
Any true surf fan will immediately recognize the name Todd Holland. Cocoa Beach’s other favorite son was a mainstay on the professional surfing circuit in the 1980s through the 1990s. Described as “baby faced” by surf historian Matt Warshaw (subscribe here) and “a scrappy pug” by surf journalist Steve Barilotti, Holland was the only east coast American top 16 pro for a solid handful of years, P.K. (pre-Kelly).
Pure red, white and blue though Holland also had the most eventful, exciting escape from the green and gold in professional surfing’s grand history, thus far, and the story has resurfaced ahead of the hours-away Oi Rio Pro where enraged Brazilian surf fans have promised to let their displeasure in recent judging decisions be felt.
But let us jump in our time machine and revisit the scene, told wonderfully by Hillard Grossman in Florida Today.
In the fall of 1993, just outside of Sao Paulo, Brazil, Holland was looking for one good finish in a World Qualifying Series event. That would have enabled him to rejoin the world tour the following year — and also would have allowed him to return to Cocoa Beach to see the birth of his son.
Instead, things got wild — and scary.
Holland was called for a paddling interference against Victor Ribas, one of the top Brazilian surfers.
“When you get a paddling-interference call against you,” Holland explained, “the only way to win is to get one called on the other guy. So I just sat on him, trying to grab any wave in front of him.”
Then, the contest announcer began inciting the crowd to turn against Holland. Suddenly, people were chasing Holland in the water.
“A guy jumped on my back and another hit me in the head,” Holland said. “I got hit on the beach a couple of times. The whole crowd tried to get me.”
Armed police, with guns drawn, did their best to clear a path on the beach for Holland, and they escorted him in a van to a jail cell, where he spent a few hours — but only for his protection.
“They told me to shave my beard off right away,” he said. “Then, later that night, another surfer came by and sneaked me onto his floorboard and then onto a plane. Basically, they sneaked me out of the country.”
If he had made it through that heat with Ribas (both were eliminated), Holland would have seen his son born. Instead, it was on to Hawaii, where he requalified with ease.
But the memories still haunt him.
“It’s something that should have never happened,” he said. “If I went back there, I know it would not have been safe. But I really never had any desire to go back.”
By 1995, his pro career was virtually over. Because he was forced to skip the big-points events in Brazil, it was nearly impossible to qualify for the world tour.
Surfing great Kelly Slater quietly left out of Oi Rio Pro draw continuing brutal legacy of thumbing nose at proud nation of Brazil!
The Oi Rio Pro gets underway in fourteen hours, at time of writing, with a thrilling wave forecast that matches promised drama on the sand. We know certain standout surfers will, unfortunately, not be present. John John Florence publicly announced that his knee surgery would render him inactive and Tyler Wright came clean on a certain “transit visa” issue that would keep him away. The World Surf League has published accounts of both withdrawals and, as a rule, reports which surfers shall not be reporting to duty and why.
Except, of course, when it comes to surfing great, and fifty-plus year-old, Kelly Slater.
The 11x world champion was listed as “injured” ahead of El Salvador, though spent a seemingly wonderful time surfing much on Bali. Throwing tail high air reverses etc. like a man less than half his age.
Ahead of Brazil? Slater’s name is nowhere on the heat draw and there has also been lack of official mention detailing if/why he will be absent.
No “injury,” no “illness,” no “lousy travel agent.”
The many-time Pipeline Master has made his disdain for Brazil well-known throughout history, generally opting not to surf the country’s waters, using the event as a “throw away.” His legacy of nose thumbing legendary.
The odd thing, I suppose, is how the World Surf League supports his animosity. It would be thought that Brazil is very important to the WSL’s future of CEO Erik Logan’s promised 300% – 650% year-over-year growth and that he would ensure the country felt respected but apparently the League offices do not care.
Is it because the WSL imagines that Brazil should feel lucky to have an event at all? A classic, though very out of fashion, sort of paternalism?
A white man’s burden?
World Surf League’s official forecast partner delivers blistering report ahead of the upcoming Rio Pro creating potential for fireworks in water as compliment to promised riotous mob on sand!
The Oi Rio Pro gets underway tomorrow minus Tyler Wright and Kelly Slater but plus the most exciting potential guest of any World Surf League event since the US Open of Surfing 2015. A riotous mob! As you know well, by now, Brazilian surf fans feeling robbed after the recently wrapped Surf City El Salvador Pro have promised to deliver vengeance upon the League by staging vigorous protests on the sand.
It will be thrilling to see what sort of forces Brazilian Instagram warriors will be able to muster. Thousands? Hundreds of thousands? It will also be interesting to see what sort of banners are flying above the assemblage. “World Shame League?” “Yanqui Give Us Scores?”
Well, while most eyes will be on the beach, some should maybe turn toward the ocean waves as the World Surf League’s official forecasting partner, Surfline, has just delivered a blistering report for the start of the window.
Thursday, Surfline declares, will see 6ft – 8ft faces with just a puff of offshore winds. Friday will back off, lightly, to the 5ft – 7ft range before Saturday explodes to a whopping 6ft – 10ft.
Now, a question for you. What if Saturday sees a reprise of the El Salvador Pro final, Griffin Colapinto vs. Felipe Toledo in the promised “1ft to 2ft overhead” monsters? Will the energy from the mob allow Toledo to put his head down and paddle into the great scary or will he be richly rewarded for brave shoulder hops?
And what of Colapinto? If he can steel his nerve, face down a potential stoning and win in Brazil should he just be gifted the 2022 crown?