In stark contrast to Damien Hardman (pictured) is the small-wave wizard and wildly popular with fans Filipe Toledo, seen here, on boat, in Tahiti, during this year's run to the world title.

Milquetoast world surfing champ slammed as “rigid with media unlovability, broody, uncute and super ambitious… (he is) coldly serious and impossible for teenage girls to get a crush on!”

But likes to fight! "Raging drunk, (he) staggered over to Sam George intending to beat the shit out of him, and had to be pulled away."

Last week I mentioned Damien Hardman, two-time WCT champ (1987, 1991) from Narrabeen, and Filipe Toledo as the two male title-holders most lacking in big-wave credibility. 

At the time I was thinking Hardman and Toledo had been treated more or less equally in terms of attention paid to their deficits.

If anything, I felt we’d been crueler to Toledo.

Boy, was I wrong. Hardman got it so much worse.

The opening of Damien’s first SURFER profile, in 1988, written by Phil Jarratt just after Hardman won his first title, reads as follows:

Never having met Damien Hardman—the man who would soon become world champion—I asked around about him. “He’s kinda like Simon Anderson in his approach to life,” said one person. “It’s that Narrabeen thing, I suppose. But I wouldn’t put Damien in Simon’s class. He hasn’t got the brawn or the brains.” I asked someone else whose opinion I respected if he thought Damien would take the title. He said: “Damien just hasn’t got the balls to go all the way.”

After making the obvious point that Hardman had defied expectations to win the title, and then highlighting the new champ’s grit and tenacity, Jarratt seems to lose interest, with vague praise about Damien’s recent championship death-match heat against Gary Elkerton at Manly Beach, and an exit line in which Hardman promises to be a “good ambassador” for surfing. Jarratt, by nature a playful and engaged writer, was clearly bored.

Ten years later, with Hardman still a world title contender at age 33, pop culture diva Cintra Wilson, in her coverage of the French leg of the 1999 WCT, called him pro surfing’s “Evil Stepdad.”

A two-time former world champion and Occy’s biggest threat to this year’s championship, [Hardman] is monstrously capable but strangely cursed to be the Richard Nixon of the surfing world. He’s rigid with media unlovability, broody, uncute and super ambitious. He also colors inside the lines and racks up the points by being a ruthless and precise techno-surgeon. The Iceman is coldly serious and basically impossible for teenage girls to get a crush on.

Hardman had zero interest in being a surf media personality. Which makes sense, given the way he was treated. It’s a chicken-or-egg question. None of the surf writers of the period looked much past the fact that Damien was from Narrabeen, that he didn’t perform in big surf, and that he was a grim, methodical, merciless competitor. Rarely mentioned was the fact that, on his best days, Hardman was as frictionless in the water as George Gervin was on the hardwood. Maybe we iced him, in other words, not the other way around.

In 2001, the just-retired Damien Hardman was a judge Op Pro Mentawai Islands specialty event, which I covered, and which ended up being my one and only Indo boat trip.

There was a short bus ride at some early point in the gathering, while we were still on Sumantra, and when I was reintroduced to Hardman—we’d met a few times in the 1980s—he just nodded and looked away.

We loaded into a trio of boats, one for the six male competitors, another for the four women competitors, and another for media and judges. Damien, not surprisingly, bailed off our boat and stayed with the surfers. 

It was an amazing time. 

We floated and lounged and surfed, ate well, ran the event, and stayed out there for a week or so before returning to port. My two most distinct memories of Damien both come from that trip.

First, near the end of an all-hands party one evening on our boat (which was biggest), Damien, raging drunk, staggered over to Sam George intending to beat the shit out of him, and had to be pulled away. 

Sam had done nothing to provoke Damien. I don’t think Damien even knew who he was talking to at the moment; Sam was a ranking surf media figure, a stand-in for all of us, and that was enough.

Second, Op had secured some kind of Indonesian governmental permit that allowed us to clear the water at any break we chose. Which sounds incredible, but was in fact weird and wrong and depressing. 

A pair of surfers out alone at Bank Vaults when our flotilla pulled up, the first day of our trip, and dropped anchor. They were called in. Twenty years later I remember the looks on their faces—confusion fermenting into anger—and feel ashamed.

But of course it didn’t stop us, we did the same thing day after day, and eventually that was how Damien Hardman and I ended up out alone in perfect overheard surf at Macaronis.

It was the second-to-last day of the trip. The contest had just finished (Mark Occhilupo and Keala Kennelly won), at which point Damien and I, at the exact same moment but from different boats, darted into the lineup.

A decision had already been made to motor north to catch Hollow Trees before dark, and the other surfers from our group were already aboard the boats, which were now idling in the channel. 

My thought was to grab a wave or two before we left. I did, but then sneak-paddled back into the lineup because if it wasn’t the absolute best surf I’d ever seen, it was without question the best uncrowded surf I’d ever seen. 

Damien was sitting there when I returned. 

We looked at each other, and he wasn’t the Iceman or the two-time champ or a media-hating drunk—he was the person who could extend this perfect moment. 

Some version of the same thought ran through Damien’s head, “I will if you will,” he said, or some variation thereof, and over the next 20 semi-illicit minutes I caught another three waves, and maybe I am a cheap date but that is how Damien Hardman warmed my heart.

(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.)

Controversy builds in wake of surf prodigy Kalani David’s tragic death as GoFundMe account set up to bring body home called into question by friends and loved ones.

Tragedy atop tragedy.

As emotions around the tragic and untimely death of Kalani David continue to percolate, many close to the surf/skate prodigy are vociferously questioning the GoFundMe account, sponsored by his father, to bring the young man’s body home from Costa Rica.

The twenty-four year old suffered a seizure in the surf, days ago, and was pronounced dead at the hospital. His father, David David, declared that his son never wanted to be cremated and, thus, created a charity in order to repatriate the remains in order to be buried next to his grandfather.

Others, though, are claiming the aim is not altogether altruistic.

Zoë McDougall, North Shore surfer and friend, posted that the GoFundMe was a “scam” and that a private fundraiser would be held.

Anthony Sherman of Ant Boards declared, “It’s a scam by his dad. Do not donate.”

The North Shore surf standout turned MMA fighter Eli Olson also posted,

And, this from Natali Kealii.

Other North Shore locals have reached out directly, explaining a difficult relationship between Kalani and his father, asking for the public to be made aware but also not wanting to heap coals upon a difficult time.

There is no suggestion by BeachGrit that the GoFundMe sponsored by Kalani’s Dad is anything but legit.

Tragedy atop tragedy.

Gabriel Medina (pictured) in the stink.
Gabriel Medina (pictured) in the stink.

Professional surfers fight back tears, surf fans vomit as Kelly Slater’s deeply unpopular Surf Ranch is reintroduced to World Surf League Championship Tour!

"Like a dog to its barf..."

Professional surfers woke this morning and rubbed their eyes once then twice, first to remove sleep, next to stop  as tears from flowing as ducts began to sting. Surf fans gripped stomachs as bile began to churn, threatening to make its way up from belly and out of mouths. Both groups reading the same breathless press release from the World Surf League.

“Following the incredible momentum and milestones we’ve hit in 2022, we will continue to build our global platform to progress and elevate professional surfing,” said Erik Logan, WSL CEO. “We experienced the redesign in its entirety for the first time this year, and we will further strengthen the sport through next year’s fully-combined Championship Tour, which will also qualify the first 18 athletes for the 2024 Olympic Games.”

The 2023 CT will include 10 regular-season events in seven countries, starting in January for the Billabong Pro Pipeline. The Mid-season Cut will come into action following the Margaret River Pro, Stop. No. 5. The WSL CT will return to the Surf Ranch, the world’s largest high performance, human-made wave 100 miles from the ocean in Lemoore, Calif., as the sixth stop on the calendar. The 2023 Rip Curl WSL Finals will be held in Lower Trestles in San Clemente, Calif., where the men’s and women’s Top 5 surfers will face off for the World Titles.

Lower Trestles back, again, to decide that Brazil’s Filipe Toledo is the 2023 World Champion but, worse, that Kelly Slater’s Surf Ranch will, again, host an event at the top level.

The “world’s largest high performance, human-made wave 100 miles from the ocean in Lemoore.”

The Surf Ranch Pro, as it is called, is extremely unpopular. Professional surfers, generally taciturn, have let their ire leak, claiming that only safety surfing is rewarded and that it is dumb. Fans, less conservative, have publicly hated for years with the late great Longtom summing up, “When you strip out the ocean and the possibility of anything that adds unexpected drama to pro surfing, a Medina brain explosion, lulls, a heat-winning ride in the final seconds, sharks, coral etc etc, it boils down to a bland formula. For the viewer, a dull ache of unrealised desire at the deathless sight of that impossibly perfect wave that fades with each wave to be replaced with niggling boredom and a jarring resentment.”

i.e. barf.

The Surf Ranch Pro was mercifully disappeared last year but is back again and what does this sort of face slap say about the World Surf League, its “robust growth” and “extreme health?”

Or have I read the tea leaves wrong?

Do you adore the stink?

Kunis (in Aqua Lung) with husband and dog.
Kunis (in Aqua Lung) with husband and dog.

Hollywood starlet Mila Kunis puts throwback Malibu, Byron longboarders to absolute shame; goes “full retro” by riding a paipo board in a scuba diving wetsuit!

Bold and brave.

Rétrospectif has been part of surfing’s various offerings since Joel Tudor sprang on the scene riding old longboards the way Miki Dora intended for them to be ridden. Before then, high-performance longboarding was a thing, with thick-thigh’d men bottom turning, bashing the lip, floating 9 foot fluorescent slabs of foam. Tudor, though, nimbly danced to the nose, twirled, drop-knee turned and, thus, a movement was born.

Now we have leashless longboards crowding lineups from Malibu to Byron, non-fluorescent, captained by shaggy hair’d boys in trim Birdwell trunks. Thick flat fishes, fins glassed on, piloted by sun-kissed girls wearing short-johns, gliders, single-fins, etc.

It could be argued that retro is more common than à la dernière mode but up to a certain point. Surfers are pack animals, preferring to operate within defined spaces. Tudor and his ilk established a certain era as ok of imitating but no surfer has yet gone “full retro” until now.

Mila Kunis, very famous actress and wife of Ashton Kutcher was recently spotted on a Santa Barbara beach wearing a scuba diving wetsuit, riding a paipo board. For those unaware, the paipo was ridden by ancient Hawaiians as a sort of proto-bodyboard. One has not been seen in public since and scuba wetsuits were worn by cold water surfers before Jack O’Neill fixed the wrong bits in the early 1950s.

Someone going “full retro” has been whispered about for years, though most throwback surfers are extremely scared and wondered if a return is ever possible? If he or she would be forever trapped in archaic times with no way back, stuck in the deep past even if the deep past becomes uncool with everyone back to thrusters etc.

Kunis, though, a bold pioneer. Shaking it off and not caring.

The new Joel Tudor.

Bring Kalani David home.

Surfing community rallies for repatriation of body of Hawaiian surf-skate superstar Kalani David from Costa Rica, “I don’t want my son in a jar or spread on the water…I want to give him a place you can go see him and know he is listening when you share your feelings with him”

"The idea of giving Kalani an eternal resting place befitting of the beautiful human he was is more heartbreaking than these words could ever express."

Ain’t anything in the world like outliving a child. And, for the parents of the surf-skate superstar Kalani David, dead of a seizure while surfing in Costa Rica three days ago, it’s a nightmare they’ve gotta live with for the rest of their lives. 

I’ve been back and forthing a little with Kalani’s daddy David the past few days, and the depth of sorrow, the immensity of his suffering, is obvious in his missives. 

Right now, his kid is in Costa Rica, and he wants to get him to Florida so he can be buried next to his beloved grandfather. When he was little, David says, Kalani had nightmares of his body being burned into ashes. David promised him that’d never happen. 

And, so, a gofundme has been set up to repatriate Kalani, with thirty-four k needed.

After only three hours and with six days until the funeral service, seven gees has been raised.

A race against the clock, as you can imagine. 

Kalani’s stepmom Andrea writes, 

“Our son is laying in wait at a morgue in San Jose, Costa Rica. He died of a massive seizure while surfing a remote area on Saturday, September 17. I’m already here and didn’t think twice about whatever I had to do, to make this happen. I am not prepared and the idea of giving Kalani an eternal resting place befitting of the beautiful human he was is more heartbreaking than these words could ever express.

“The list is beyond my ability to take in right now. Preparation, international flight, repatriation process, casket, service and eternal resting place, is something I find myself just broken in tears over. We wish to bury Kalani next to his grandfather, where his immediate family and relatives will follow at Florida Memorial Gardens. Where he can be visited and talked to. Guided if possible, by immediate family.

“I honestly believe Kalani would prefer Hawaii but that seems an impossibility right now. How much can I cover or ask from the people Kalani loved around the world? It just doesn’t seem fair either way. I wish it was me and it didn’t even matter? It’s my son and I want to see him on the weekends, sit by him and listen for his spirit. Which sounds tragically sad but it’s the least I can try for. He deserved more than I could ever give him and I don’t even feel right for asking but I will for Kalani. I don’t want my son in a jar or spread on the water, as I would see fit for myself. I want to give him a place you can go see him and know he is listening when you share your feelings with him.”

Donate here.