Hamilton (pictured) in element.

Universally revered New York Times viciously snubs world’s best known surfer Laird Hamilton in its sizzling “Beginners Guide to Stand-Up Paddling!”

Save Laird.

Days ago The New York Times, which is inarguably the world’s most respected newspaper, published a sizzling introduction to stand-up paddle boarding. “Go for a float: A Beginners Guide to Stand-Up Paddling” immediately captivated readers with its helpful pointers, suggestions, personal stories and history lesson which we can read, together.

Stand-up paddleboarding (SUP, for short) has likely existed for thousands of years. Ancient cultures in South America and Africa stood on small boats with long paddles to travel, fish or go to war. Polynesians surfed waves using paddles. Most historians agree its modern form took shape thanks to Hawaiian surf instructors like Duke Kahanamoku, who in the 1940s would stand on his board to get a better view of his students.

That’s it.

Zero mention of the one man responsible for modern day SUPing, its inventor for all intents and purposes, Laird Hamilton.

“The snub,” as it is being called in polite circles, has both annalists and analysts greatly confused. Hamilton was once a media darling with adonis-like good looks, fabulously healthy wife and many, many, many famous friends. Why would the newspaper of note fail to include him? Theories range from the writer of the piece losing the family fortune after investing in Laird’s eponymous Superfood to Hamilton being too “male” though, at time of writing, nothing has been confirmed.

More, certainly, as the story develops.


Logan sent me pictures of him and Barry Switzer, proving his bonafides, which had me swooning, then made extra good on his promise, group chatting me, Switzer and Switzer’s wife Becky with a kind introduction.

Surf Journalist on epic quest to find mythical non-surfing WSL fan teased that world’s greatest football coach Barry Switzer may be him, bites hard on play action fake!

I shall prevail.

The elation hit 70 miles outside of Oklahoma City and I thought, “So here we go!” The Volkswagen, new throttle body installed, was zipping along the 40 east at a comfortable pace though terror clawed at the edges of my already frayed psyche. Semi-trucks, or tractor trailers depending on your regional preference, outnumber cars 20 – 1 on this stretch of panhandle, growling, snarling, swaying. Driving felt like kicking a boogie board into a SUP-exclusive slab, if such a thing exists, and trying to poach a few corners.

Unnerving.

But there I was, anyhow, elated for hitting Weatherford, Oklahoma I saw a sign celebrating it as “home to astronaut Thomas P. Stafford.”

Thomas P. Stafford?

Never heard of him, no not ever, and if a minor league astronaut gets so celebrated, certainly Oklahoma City’s own Erik “ELo” Logan would be thusly lauded outside his home?

Who has a better story? One of twenty-four people that has flown to the moon or the boy with Spielberg-induced fear of the ocean overcoming all odds, thanks to the help of a magic wetsuit of armor, to rule over competitive professional surfing as CEO of the World Surf League?

Erik E. Lo. Logan, it goes without writing.

Punctuating my instinct, a glorious rainbow spread across the heavens, crowning Oklahoma City like a halo as if to say, “This is where you find your pot of gold. This is where the mythical non-surfing WSL fan springs from the ground like wheat or whatever grows in Oklahoma.”

The hour-ish of white knuckle dread flew by and then I was there. Oklahoma City. Home to The Aforementioned. Except there was no sign but… maybe it is etched on the people’s hearts? I checked in to the Sheraton Oklahoma City Downtown hotel ready to pounce, phone violently buzzing in pocket.

Wait. Why was it buzzing violently?

I checked and, if you can even believe, it was a message from Logan himself.

“OKC?!”

The epic quest had clearly taken on a life of its own.

“I’m here!” I responded. “Epic quest!”

He told me that the Skirvin, Oklahoma City’s oldest hotel, is haunted and “Then go to Norman. Have to see Barry Switzer.”

But let me pause the story here. I assumed Logan knew that I was in Oklahoma City due the public interest in my epic quest, riding along, wondering too if such a myth as the non-surfing WSL fan exists. Though how did he know that Barry Switzer is one of my favorite coaches of all time?

A beacon in my younger life?

For the illiterate, Barry Layne Switzer, born October 5, 1937, coached at the University of Oklahoma for sixteen years, winning three national championships and, then, in the National Football League for the Dallas Cowboys, winning the Super Bowl. He is a legend, owning one of the highest winning percentages in college history, and also one of three coaches to win both a college national championship and a Super Bowl.

But that’s not why he is one of my favorite coaches of all time. He is one of my favorite coaches of all time because he recruited the Brian Keith Bosworth to Oklahoma and The Boz absolutely ruled.

Utterly ruled.

I cannot afford any more time here but Brian Bosworth broke the mold. He played with a mohawk, got busted for shooting steroids, stripped off his jersey to reveal a shirt reading “NCAA: National Communists Against Athletes” when he was suspended.

Read his biography, like I did in elementary school, for inspiration.

Back to the story, I sat there, staring at my phone thinking, “If I could actually meet Barry Switzer from an ELo hookup, I would not be able to fun make the WSL for at least a week.” And what a power move. What a boss flex. Logan had wiped the floor with me, once, on a podcast. This, this right here, would kill me again. I’d be mush in Switzer’s hands, spooned right down, spackling the Wall of Positive Noise eternally in service of its CEO, or at least for a week or forever.

Logan sent me pictures of him and Barry Switzer, proving his bonafides, which had me swooning, then made extra good on his promise, group chatting me, Switzer and Switzer’s wife Becky with a kind introduction.

That rainbow?

Maybe ending in Norman, Oklahoma, home to the University of Oklahoma and Barry Switzer? Home to the non-surfing World Surf League fan? Absolute end of my thoroughly eroded credibility?

Terrified.

As it was late, at this point, and didn’t expect the Switzer’s to be up at such an hour but was mortified that Erik “ELo” Logan had wiped the floor with me once again. You don’t become an American tall tale, or the CEO of the World Surf League, without skills, I suppose.

I tossed and turned all night, checking my phone as soon as I woke.

“I don’t know you. That’s my purse!!”

Then…

“I have no idea what those last two comments are about I did not write those. Barry’s at the lake I will send this request to him. Hope all is well.”

Followed by…

“Dogs can’t look up.”

“Cats are always looking down.”

“Mice never frown.”

The number belonging to Barry Switzer’s wife had, apparently, been correct. Barry Switzer’s number now, apparently, belonged to a jokester who revealed, “I’ve had this number forever and still get calls for Barry AND Becky. Did y’all share this number at one point? We’re y’all married? I need the tea.’

To which Mrs. Switzer responded…

“Totally strange. Stop all messages to me.”

I hit both Mrs. Switzer and the stranger up, begging the former for a chance to meet her husband and shake his hand in over Brian Bosworth. Begging the interloper if he, or she, knew anything about competitive professional surfing.

Neither responded and though I lightly mourn the outcome, I am equally elated that I can now continue to fun make forever or at least a week.

As an aside, I asked frat-ish boys on the street, worker bees eating late at the restaurant, hotel desk staff, man who almost hit me with a car if they had ever heard of competitive professional surfing.

The shared answer was “no.”

And Barry Switzer may be but Oklahoma dustbowl in my dream’s wind but on I forge to Memphis, Tennessee and Elvis Presley’s Graceland.

Grace Land.

I shall prevail.

Listen here for more.


“You gotta have balls, you can’t be fragile. You can’t be worried about massive drop-offs, fathoms and fathoms deep, totally black. The guys that fish there know how sharky it is. They pull up their kingfish in a rush. It’s a shit-fight to get ‘em before they’re bitten in half. They get the shortest window before the sharks move in. It’s a beautiful place, but it’s raw.” | Photo: Reef

Long Read: The secret South Pacific island where one iconic surfboard shaper plans on retiring, “It’s so extraordinary it is almost unbelievable… few islands, surely, can be so accessible, so remarkable, yet so unspoilt!”

But there's a caveat, "You gotta have balls, you can't be fragile… every trip I see sharks at least once."

There is an island in the Pacific that shivers in the shadow of black cliffs three thousand feet high, the sun only fringing the two moss and fern covered mountains a little before midday, a dim violet haze turning gold.

The ear tunes to the the whining and chattering of the sea birds, the boobies, the petrels, the littles shearwaters, the grey ternlets, to the hissing of ocean swells flowing onto thickets of undisturbed reef.

The is air cool and sweet here on this white man’s island, unknown to the Polynesian mariners subsequently sighted and claimed by a British naval vessel en route to its country’s greatest experiment, to land the detritus of its kingdom, the overflow of its prisons, on a southern continent nine thousand nautical miles distant.

But, here, four hundred miles north-east of Sydney, four hundred souls live in deliberate and splendid isolation, untouched by white guilt for there is no ruined indigenous population, many from the same families that were first to build their little farms there. The people live among three thousand acres of subtropical forests, valleys and ridges and plains and mountains with neither snakes nor stinging insects nor land animals that rear on hind legs, bare teeth and threaten.

If you were to visit this island, you’d find your mobile telephone to be a glass and aluminium paper weight. No towers. No reception.

With only a few exceptions, there are no cars.

Too hot? Open a louvred window. Air conditioners are forbidden, along with rubbish dumps and the disposal of household goods.

When a local tires of, say, a couch, by law he’s gotta ship it to the mainland for a thousand bucks.

Recycling is everything and if it don’t turn into mulch in the island’s vertical composting unit it’ll be sent back to Australia.

In little wooden shacks across the island, an honesty system works for fruit and for the hire of snorkelling equipment. Pay your two dollars for an avocado, for a bunch of organic parsley, slice off a ten for your mask, tuba and flippers.

At Government House, a flag, either pink or blue, appears whenever a local has a kid, gender issues yet to wash ashore. All profit from the liquor store is channelled back into community works.

The ocean barely swings from sixty-eight in the winter months to seventy-eight in early spring.

When the naturist prophet Davey Attenborough landed and sniffed around the island’s Providence Petrel sea birds, he called the place “so extraordinary it is almost unbelievable… few islands, surely, can be so accessible, so remarkable, yet so unspoilt.”

Yeah, in some ways, it’s a paradise, in others a brooding isle of nostalgia and bitterness haunted by the ghosts of vagrant spirits.

The surfer, riding a bicycle, surveys his options in one day.

The outer reefs hugging black-water drop-offs; the electric blue beachbreaks that remind the well-travelled of King Island; the deep-water reef pass shadowed by Gower and Lidgbird.

These aren’t world-class reefs, even if you squint hard into a January sun and try and imagine you’re in French Polynesia. Nice for pictures and, like most places, when the pressure of a specific swell direction cuts through the maze of grottoes and fissures it can lead to something the surfer can exaggerate later.

He looks around. A fin cuts the surface amid a school of fish at a four-foot left-hander three hundred yards offshore. It’s too big to be one of the curious reef sharks that’ll shoulder-hop your tubes. Either a mako, a tiger, a whaler. The fin disappears. The school shifts south.

His decision is fairly plain and straight.

He’ll be surfing alone.

***********

In the Australian spring of 1974, a thirteen-year-old surfer from Bondi Beach, Greg Webber, already three years into the shaping game, walked along the little wooden jetty at Rose Bay on Sydney Harbour to board one of the two Sandringham flying boats, Beachcomber and Islander, that serviced the island.

Thirty years in the sky these birds, converted to civilian by the Royal Air Force use after the war. Basic as hell. The cockpit looked like something out of Dambusters, all levers and wheels and a vast domed windshield.

The two Sandringhams flew, in convoy, to the island, landing in the lagoon, take-off and landing times tidal dependant.

Greg climbed through the starboard door and strapped himself into one of the forty-one vinyl covered seats in the lower cabin, alongside his brother John, fifteen, and his parents, John and Di. (His mom would design the Webber Rorschach logo Greg still uses the following year.) Both brothers had self-made surfboards, single screws, stored in the hold.

The Webbers took the trip on a whim, since it was the last time the birds would fly the island route from the terminal a ten-minute walk from the family house. An airstrip being built on a slab of flat ground near the south end of the island meant regular passengers planes would soon take over.

Greg, now sixty and whose concave heavy designs are still adored by Kelly Slater, remembers the chattering of the finned hull and the side pontoon and flames coming out of the back of one of the motors, the unburnt fuel igniting.

Taking off and landing in water, he says, “was a bizarre and beautiful experience.

The family stayed for one month, the boys doing volunteer work pumping aviation fuel out of 44-gallon drums into storage tanks to prove to the locals they weren’t just “tokenistically pretending to respect them.”

The boys surfed the beachbreaks, Neds and Blinkeys on its eastern shore, ignoring the reefs on the other side of the island.

In 1975, they got the dad of a local kid to take ‘em out to a wave they’d seen flying in, a classic righthand reef pass set up.

“A really sucky, radical sort of wave,” says Greg.

The man’s son was too young to surf so Greg and John broke the cherry on the wave’s four-to-six-foot tubes.

“Surfing those reefs in the seventies was some of the best things we ever did. No one was surfing then.”

Two decades later, big brother John would join Lance Knight, who discovered and named Lance’s Right in the Mentawais, on of his regular supply trips from Yamba to the island on the barge MV Island Trader.

Thirty hours straight listening to the drone of its diesel engines. On a flat-bottomed barge. Open ocean. Hell of a ride.

No glory days of aviation flying boat vibe here.

The island got into Greg’s head, into his brothers’, and it would get into the head of at least one of his sons, who would spend three years of his twenties there.

He likes that it ain’t easy to be a surfer there.

“You gotta have balls, you can’t be fragile,” he says. “You can’t be worried about massive drop-offs, fathoms and fathoms deep, totally black. The guys that fish there know how sharky it is. They pull up their kingfish in a rush. It’s a shit-fight to get ‘em before they’re bitten in half. They get the shortest window before the sharks move in. It’s a beautiful place, but it’s raw.”

Once, some years ago now, Greg decided he wanted to experiment with awareness inside the tube. His gut feeling was, the only thing you can think about inside the tube is the tube itself.

To prove this theory, at least to himself, he would surf nude, and if he was aware of his own nudity inside the tube, well, he was wrong. He paddled out at Middle Beach, did his tube experiment on a little shore break, couldn’t remember being aware of his nudity inside the tube, thus proving his theory.

What he could remember from the tube, however, was some sorta panicked noise. A frenetic splashing.

He looked over and an eight-foot shark is in water so shallow its tail fin was entirely exposed as well as most of his dorsal fin. Maybe two feet of water.

“Every trip there I used to see sharks at least once,” he says.

Ten trips all up, and he lived there for two years in the early two thousands with his wife Christina and boys, Hayden and Joe.

While a resident, a newly retired couple from Brisbane in Queensland arrived on this beautiful and peaceful little isle to celebrate a life without work. The man, Arthur Apelt, seventy years old. One warm autumn night he tells his wife he’s going for a walk. He never comes back.

A few weeks later, a twelve-foot tiger shark is caught, the guts are cut open and out spills Arthur’s head, still with hair.

If you want to get real tough, if your fear glands have been sufficiently cauterised and if you’ll do anything for waves, pay a skipper to take you to Middleton and Elizabeth Reefs, sandy cays sixty or so nautical miles to the north.

“The most horrifying surf trip ever,” says Greg. “Absolutely frothing with sharks. Only two or three people have ever surfed it. A ten-hour boat ride. Reefs in the middle of nowhere.”

The 2016 sleeper hit, The Shallows – surfer hit by Great White, has to get back to shore without being snatched by the jaws of death – was filmed on Lord Howe.

It ain’t all sharks, however, well, not entirely.

The best wave is a joint called Little Island, a wavepool-esque righthander with a tapering shoulder that gets snapped off by the cliffs and edge of Mount Gower. Six-foot on the takeoff that swings into a bowl that you’ll still be telling reporters about thirty-five years after a session you had with your shaper buddies Rodney Dahlberg and Murray Bourton, and nineteen-eighties surfing doc, Narrabeen’s Rod Kirsop.

A lefthander is named after the nineteenth century French warship that lays beneath, La Meurthe, abandoned and sunk in 1907.

But then there’s the stillness of life on the island. The same looks from the same faces. The same inflections at the same point in the same stories told over the same schooners of beer at the same bowling club.

It ain’t for everyone.

“You’ve gotta be able to handle certain levels of quiet,” says Greg. “I could live there for ten years but city people, they could handle one month at the most.”

The secret is to step back, he says, and feel where you are.

“The biggest thing is the fact of the two mountains at the end, Gower and Lidgbird. There’s a certain energy that even really straight, unspiritually minded people will pick up on. First, there’s the three-dimensional aspect, the mountains exist in the background of everything. People visit and are dumbfounded by those mountains, one square and blocky, very male, the other with convolutions and curves to it, female, like a mother and father protecting the islands.”

Greg says he’s going back to the island soon.

He wants to buy there, if he ever gets the chance, houses, which cost in the millions, are offered to residents first, then to approved applicants on a waiting list, wants to live there.

He was told by a local, once, that the Webbers were some of the very few non-islanders who would be welcomed to buy.

“I can’t wait to go back there, I adore the place,” he says. “Old people are very respected there and because there’s no original inhabitants that changes the feeling of being local, which we’re meant to feel guilty about in Australia. But they are… it. That’s why they’ve got this sense of connection to the island that no one can get in Australia. It’s a great place to have a base forever and ever.”

(This story first in The Surfer’s Journal, issue 31.2, with the title, Lonely in the Pacific. Subscribe to that wonderful bulwark against all the bad in the world here.)


Elastic-faced Hollywood funny man turned surf inspiration Jonah Hill rumoured to’ve added iconic “Samurai House” at big-wave spot Waimea Bay to his collection of beachfront houses, which includes his epic new $15 million Malibu Colony residence!

"I’m like damn, at 35 you can start doing shit you’ve always wanted to do.”

The Hollywood funnyman and surfer inspiration to anyone whoever thought about turning to surf late in life but were worried they’d missed the boat or thought they were too chubby, weak, afraid etc, is rumoured to’ve spent millions on Waimea Bay’s iconic Samurai House.

The joint has five bedrooms and nine bathrooms, eight of ‘em with bidets. Very clean ass!

It hangs off the rocks on the Haleiwa side of the Bay and is a short bike ride from a host of longboard friendly waves, including Chuns, Leftovers, Alligators and, if Hill is ready to step up, there’s Jocko’s and Laniakea a little further down the road.

(The rental blurb on VRBO also lists two other waves, Uppers and Samurai’s, directly out front, dunno about much about em. I think maybe not so hot, but nice for sliding on foam boards maybe.)

When the big winter swells come from the North, and suitably equipped with a surfboard of nine-feet or more, Hill might even consider leaping from the rim of his swimming pool and paddling out and over to the Bay itself.

A three-thousand dollar a night rental until the rumoured sale, the four-thousand square feet house has ocean views from every single damn room and the three master suites on the upper level have balconies that make y’feel as if you’re hovering over the ocean.

You’ll remember last week, news that Hill, whose career peaked when he shelved Russ Brand’s smack in the comedy classic Get Him to the Greek, had listed the Malibu Colony joint he’d just renovated in the gated celebrity enclave once home to Tom Hanks, Woody Harrelson, Jeff Bridges and Billy Murray, footsteps from the point made famous by anti-hero Dora, and picked up something on the sand.

Why take an electric buggy to the beach when you can roll down the stairs?

“Been terrified to surf my whole life,” Hill says, “Totally random fear and at the same time always been a secret dream of mine. Turned out to be one of the most fun experiences I’ve ever had. Not only was it so fun and challenging but more so I’m like damn, at 35 you can start doing shit you’ve always wanted to do.”


Slater (pictured) and what might have been. @sensitiveseashellcollector

Surf Journalist on epic quest to find mythical non-surfing World Surf League fan comes tantalizingly close, brushes Kelly Slater-induced glory in Amarillo, Texas!

What might have been.

Sharon, my deeply Texan Applebee’s bartender, early 50s with a drawl as thick as spun honey, straw-colored beehive piled high atop head and immaculate pink fingernails giggled when I opened my older model MacBook Air to continue documenting this most epic quest.

I have two stickers affixed to its lid. One, BeachGrit’s mascot Cryin’ Jordy surrounded by the oft-repeated phrase “I want my Beach Grit” (buy car air freshener version here). The other, a black bar that reads “I peed in Kelly’s pool” featuring Surf Ranch’s iconic brand in white.

“Do you know who Kelly is?” I asked, immediately perked, assuming Cryin’ Jordy wasn’t eliciting any laughs.

Had I finally found her, the non-surfing World Surf League fan, here, in Amarillo mixing up Electric Lemon Crushes, an invigorating vodka lemonade made with ultra-premium Grey Goose, premium lemon sour, blue curaçao and lemonade?

Was this the reason the Volkswagen went into limp mode?

To bring me to Sharon?

“No,” she drawled. “Why don’t you tell me, honey?”

Lightly defeated but hope still bubbling I responded, “Have you ever heard of Kelly Slater?”

“Nuh-uh. Who is he?” she wondered, genuinely curious.

All the way defeated I told her, “He is the world’s greatest competitive professional surfer.”

“Oh,” she said enthusiastically. “I guess I’ve peed in his pool too then,” and repeated the same giggle.

I didn’t have the heart to explain that Slater had created an inland surfing experience in a place not unlike Amarillo so just giggled back.

Still waiting for status update from the Volkswagen dealership.

More as the story develops.