Movie freak wave and Durban tragedy.

Surfers slam US news giant CNN after clumsy reporting of “freak wave” that killed three and injured seventeen in gruesome mass drowning!

A wilful ignorance.

Earlier today an email, written in a breathless did-you-hear-this style and cc’d to a broad cross-section of surfers and media, arrived from the former Surfer staffer, Ben Marcus. 

Marcus, whom you may know from his wild below-the-line harangues and one-man blood feuds here at BeachGrit, sent a CNN report of a “freak wave” that had caused a mass drowning in Durban, that surf-soaked city on South Africa’s Indian Ocean coast.

When I worked at SURFER there was a story about a freak wave that came from out of nowhere on a calm night in Daytona Beach,” Marcus wrote. “Swept the beach and shoved some Mopars around but no one killed. No seismic activity and they figured out later it was a downdraft far out at sea. What was this?”

The story, headlined, ‘Freak’ wave kills 3 beachgoers and injures 17 in South Africa, is classic mainstream press. 

You know the drill.

The ocean is a malevolent, sleeping beast, awakening here and there to drag swimmers to their doom.

Killer Rips. Freak Waves. 

Enter the brine at your peril and so on.

Per the report,

CNN  — Three beachgoers were killed by a “freak” wave in South Africa’s coastal city of Durban on Saturday, according to local emergency medical services (EMS).

“EMS responded to reports of a freak wave that swept a group of beachgoers against the pier causing multiple injuries,” spokesman Njabulo Dlungele said in a statement published on Twitter on Sunday.

He added that a teenager was among the three people declared dead at the scene at North Beach, which was closed off after the incident.

Another 17 people were injured, according to the KwaZulu-Natal provincial government, which said in a statement posted on Facebook on Sunday: “The details of the incidents are still sketchy at this point, however, it is believed that a freak wave put many people into distress while swimming and they tragically drowned.”

The EThekwini Municipality said on on Facebook on Sunday that a team of 35 lifeguards undertook a mass rescue effort and paramedics attended to more than 100 people involved in the incident. It said those who died were swept out to sea by rip currents.

The head of the provincial government, Nomusa Dube-Ncube, has called for a full investigation into the “terrible tragedy” and urged “all authorities and operators manning the beaches and sea areas to ensure adequate and preventive safety measure are in place to avoid any further loss of life.”

Terrible, terrible, yeah, but as the South African big-wave icon Grant “Twiggy” Baker responded, 

“It wasn’t a single wave, it was the result of too many bathers coming down on a public holiday and a pushing tide onto a shallow bank. At one stage the tide got too high and a set washed all the bathers off the bank at once (200 odd) and into the rip next to the piers. The lifeguards couldn’t save everyone in time.”

These grey oatmealy realities don’t have quite the same ring as “freak waves”, and I often wonder how many swimmers have panicked to their ultimate doom, gulping water the moment their feet leave a bank or a long-period set wave hits ’em, ’cause of this sorta reporting.

That said, BeachGrit readers may experience a similar panic if buzzed by a Great White.

Toledo (pictured) number 1. Photo: WSL
Toledo (pictured) number 1. Photo: WSL

The five most explosive surf controversies of 2022!

Jaw dropping!

And here we are at the tail end of 2022. But how did the year treat you? Full of surprises? Wonderful little gifts? Or was it one nasty blow after another? I certainly hope for the former but if the latter was your bag then don’t fret. 2023 will certainly be better but also you can etch your name alongside those who suffered through the most explosive controversies in surf.

Oh but what were they? In order from least to most incendiary.

5) In early October, or thereabouts, the World Surf League released its next year Championship Tour schedule. Gone were Padang Padang and quality. Re-introduced, Kelly Slater’s Surf Ranch. The most unpopular surf contest on earth. Surf fans, and professionals surfers, growing furious with its continued malingering. Wondering what sort of nefariousness is being made in the World Surf League’s Santa Monica offices.

4) One month earlier, sitting longboard champion became spanked on the buttocks at his home break of Cardiff Reef, California by a SUP pilot. A very public spanking.

3) Respected surf voice JP Currie declared that Kelly Slater is not, in fact, the greatest athlete of all-time, writing,”At the highest level of sport, the kind of level reserved for people dubbed GOATs, sport influences culture, brings people hope, and instigates change. Kelly Slater isn’t even close to being the GOAT, and I’d bet, in the cold light of day or the throes of an ayahuasca-led vision quest in Costa Rica, he might just admit that, too.”

2) Rip Curl, home to brave Tyler Wright, sponsored a butt n boobs sexy contest in Jacksonville, Florida. Girls only but no surfing. Just butts n boobs.

1) Eventual World Champion Filipe Toledo reprised his brave act of cowardice and refused to paddle for a wave during a heat with Kelly Slater and Nathan Hedge, preferring to bob out the back and let two elderly gentlemen swap perfection.

And there we have it. All in all a fairly tame 350-something days.

Unless I totally forgot something.

Enslaved dolphins (pictured). Photo: YouTube.
Enslaved dolphins (pictured). Photo: YouTube.

Director James Cameron excoriated over having enslaved dolphins perform stunts at premier of surf blockbuster “Avatar: The Way of Water!”

No no.

Now that the Pipe Masters is, officially, over and the Pipeline Pro still over a month away, we surf fans, we liquid prancers, can turn our attention to matters of great import. Will American Meghan Markle topple the British crown? Does the tripledemic matter? Should we go watch James Cameron’s surf-inspired follow up to Avatar, titled Avatar: The Way or Water, or should we boycott after he used enslaved dolphins to entertain ahead of the film’s Japan opening?

Oh, many people, of all stripes, are furious at the stunt. As you know, Kelly Slater and a host of other surfers have campaigned for our captive sea friends for years upon years. Those, for example, locked into amusement park tubs etc. and also those dolphins slaughtered in Taiji, Japan each and every year.

Cameron seemed unfazed by the outrage even though he is a vegan, joking, “I’m sure everybody asked their permission to be in the show. I love these animals, I love their intelligence.”

PETA let him, and the film’s stars, have it in a scathing rebuke.

“To see James Cameron, Sigourney Weaver and Sam Worthington sitting there applauding was shocking. The trainers were treating those dolphins like circus clowns. They were riding on the noses of the dolphins, I mean, that’s as bad as it gets.”

Is that as bad as it gets, though?

Like, what if the trainers made Tiny Taiji in the tank, whipped out samurai swords and chopped the creatures into sashimi?

Worse, I’d argue.

Even with the controversy, Avatar: The Way of Water has had one of the largest opening in cinema history. At time of writing, Kelly Slater has not signaled if he will take it in or boycott.


Oh, I’m looking forward to hate watching. Avatar was one of my least favorite movies of all time.

Even less favorite than Sex and the City II.


Stack (pictured) on shoulders. Photo: Pipe Masters
Stack (pictured) on shoulders. Photo: Pipe Masters

New York’s Balaram Stack wins “world’s most prestigious surf contest,” etches name alongside Kelly Slater, Andy Irons, Gerry Lopez as Pipe Master!

Molly Pinklum too!

The 2022 Pipe Masters is, officially, in the books as two new names are etched into the histories of “the world’s most prestigious surf contest” alongside Gerry Lopez, Derek Ho, Kelly Slater, Rob Machado etc. New York’s Balaram Stack and Australia’s Molly Pinklum. Insta-legends. Forever Pipe Masters.

Stack dispatched Griffin Colapinto, Kaulana Apo and Joao Chianca in stormy, rain-whipped Backdoor to hoist the title high above his handsome head. “I’m shocked,” he said afterward. “I don’t really know what to think. I need a minute to settle in. I’m stoked my mother is here. I’ll be thankful and shocked for a while.”

Pinklum took out Bellylou Johnson, Caitlin Simmers and darling Carissa Moore and declared, “Although I was holding the trophy, I feel like we won by pushing women’s surfing. I’m honored to have done this alongside such a strong, inspirational, cool class of women!”

You can, and should, catch all the highlights above but there are a few questions we must ponder, together, before you go. The Pipe Masters was radically reimagined this year, scoring barrels, airs and turns with the same weight, removing priority, multiple no-loser rounds etc. While the swell forecast made for some trouble, delaying the proceedings for a week, how did you feel about the overall business?

Like it was all more reflective of “the world’s most prestigious surf contest” or that the Pipe Masters has been degraded to a fun, but pointless, novelty show?

Nothing at stake, save many thousands of thousands of dollars and the title itself, did seem to take some of the oomph out of it. The World Surf League, for all its problems, does create a narrative that becomes compelling and truly does claim the world’s best surfers. Medina, Florence, Slater each sitting out the Pipe Masters throwing that truth into starker relief.

The real proof of the Pipe Master’s health will be, I suppose, if late January’s Pipeline Pro becomes surfing’s crown jewel instead.

What are your thoughts there?

Also, imagine if Sal Masekela’s self-satisfaction could be turned into an energy source. Enough gigawatts to light Stack’s New York City.


Lifelong surfer kook gets jacked at Ulus. Insets include ritual humiliation, colonisers and moto crooks!

Lifelong “kook” surfer discovers ritual humiliation, “entitled rich colonisers” and “rabid little boys” during first-ever trip to Indonesia!

Riding underwater ponies and examining spectacular latissimus dorsi on other surfers!

Ok, haoles. Well, I think the thing I’ve learned, is I’m the haole.  

Mid-40s, surfing for 30+ years off and on and none of it translates to Indonesia. A steady diet of east coast USA beachbreaks that gets above thigh high maybe 25 days a year do not in any way prepare one for surfing Indian Ocean ground swell breaking over shallow and sharp rock reef.  

But I digress.

If any of the 20 of you who actually read BG and engage in the comments have been seeing my Hurluley sticker placement pics, then you’ll know I’ve relocated away from the east coast to the other side of the world.  

And it’s a one-and-a-half-hour flight to Indo, of which I’ve gladly taken advantage of.  The mythical, fabled Indo of my 30+ years of obsessively imbibing surf films, mags, websites, contests, and more recently, YouTube and Instagram fodder.  

Yeah, that Indo, of always double overhead, crystal barrels populated by pros and bros featured in omnipresent surf porn propaganda: a playground for shredding.  

Luckily, my gig pays enough and has enough structured downtime to allow for some quick post-COVID entries. 

In the few months I’ve been living in a radically different time zone, I’ve been on a  three-day run to Bali’s Bukit and an eight-day hit to Krui on Sumatra.  

Here is what I’ve learned over those two brave missions.

1. Indonesia’s government is going to get their money from you one way or the other. Have that cash ready for the Visa upklon entry.

2. Find a driver you can trust to get you around, and tip them well.

3. Directly related: Don’t learn to ride a scooter in Indo.

a. Wear that helmet.

b. Don’t wear slaps.

c. That accelerator and brake being on the same handle?  Yeah, that will fuck with your brain.

d. When you inevitably wreck (see 3c), hope that it is on a rural road without cars, trucks, cows, other scooters, and dogs coming at you, and that there is a ditch to land in.

e. When you land in ditch, hope there’s a local willing to help get your scooter out of the ditch, while they and all the 50 people along the street are laughing. 

f. See 3b.  And probably 3a.

4. Don’t assume the locks on the seats on scooters are safe from rabid 12-year-old boys traveling in packs. In fact, that’s a very bad assumption.

a. See 2, above, as they’ll watch your shit in the car and keep it safe.

b. Bring back up glasses,as rabid 12-year-old boys will grab those out of your scooter and now you’re too blind to drive back to the surf camp (see 3 a, b, c, d, e, and f, above).

5. Quiver. If you’ve got boards you trust, pay the excess and bring ‘em. Nothing like wasting your first five waves trying to figure out a beat up rental board.

6. Reef shoes are your friends. Bring an extra pair to gift.  

7. Waist-high Padang Padang will be full of 100 people learning to surf from all over the world. At least one of those people will be an entitled, rich as shit colonizer, probably a woman from Britain, who will yell at everyone in the lineup to get out of their way, especially since they’re paying top bill for a private instructor to help them navigate the 100 other people also learning to surf in inconsistent waist-high Padang Padang.  

8. Inconsistent waist-high Padang Padang at  one pm with the sun out will dry you the fuck out so not only will you be annoyed as shit at the woman yelling at everyone (see 8, above), you’ll also be lightheaded and somehow, sweating while in the water. In short, electrolytes are your friend, and therefore:

a. Fresh coconuts after a session – heaven.

b. Fresh Bintangs after a session – heaven squared.

9. Jenny’s Right at three-to-five feet is heaven cubed. With a six-foot sleeper set, be ready to duck dive deeper than you’ve ever duck dived and it’s still not going to be deep enough.

a. Hope the velcro on your leash is strong.

b. After you realize the velcro on the leash on the rental board is shit, especially compared to the power of six feet of Indian Ocean breaking right in front of you, be ready to walk over sharp ass rocks to get your board after it washes away (see 6, above).

c. Be ready to get dehydrated walking over the reef as you get your board (see 9a, above).

10. Be prepared to see skill levels that have you dumbfounded – how did so many people, and almost all from Australia, get so used to surfing solid waves over sharp reefs like it’s nothing?  You’ve been to Bali 20 times?!? And G-Land, 10?!?  Well, I’ve been to Spanish House, once, so fuck you. 

a. If you see a sticker for a surf company on a board, that person will shred.

b. If you don’t see a sticker for a surf company on a board, that person will still probably shred, especially if they’re in their 20s and speak with an Australian accent.  Or are in their teens and speak with an Australian accent. Or are in their 30s, or 40s, or 50s, and speak with an Australian accent. Israeli, Brazilian, New Zealand, Japanese, French, Portuguese, and US accents (except mine) also correlate strongly to shredding.

c. If you see a sticker for a surf company on a board of a female-presenting surfer and she sits six foot deeper than everyone else at Uluwatu and falls out of the sky on a four-foot wave (see 12, below), that person will have made the craziest and latest drop you’ve ever seen anyone make in your life.  

Seeing that drop will also make you wonder what videos she’s been in and how many top-class waves she’s surfed over her short (compared to you) life already, to be at that skill level, with all that travel to tropical reefs footed by her sponsors, with each dollar deserved (how the fuck did you make that drop?!?!).  

You’ll be blown away by that drop and want to tell her that but the in-shape guy she’s paddling with, the guy with biceps in his triceps and lats like slabs of beef, looks like he’d take it the wrong way, and, well, it’s a long paddle/walk across sharp reef (see 6, above) over a misunderstanding. Best to just realize you’re not in Kansas anymore and keep your mouth shut (or maybe not – see 15 and 16, below).

11. Everyone else in the world uses the backs of waves instead of faces of waves to discuss wave/swell size and no one uses body size.  A two-foot day for the USA’s east coast is also waist high, called by looking at the wave. That’s considered flat in Indo, and would be maybe called one foot, even though at my home break there’d be 500+ people on it.  

For Indo, two foot is actually chest high. Most people in Indo it seems don’t give a shit about the waves until they hit six foot or bigger, because most people in Indo are from Australia, and according to the Aussie blokes I met Australia also has more surf than it knows what to do with (lucky fucks).

a. As a lifelong east coaster used to one-foot/thigh-high dribbles breaking on sand, seeing a a set of eight waves clocking in at a solid six feet clear out an entire lineup, puts you right at the edge of some surfing soul searching: do I paddle out, knowing I’ll be undergunned on a rental (see 5 above), will probably have to swim for my board (see 10a and b above), and will just get in other people’s way as the sharp ass rocks visible right there, directly below where the 12 foot (East Coast USA wave height from the front) wave is breaking, where those sharp ass rocks will keep me paralyzed in fear to even want to turn and paddle, since I’ve only surfed weak as shit dribbles over sand my whole life and with being in my mid-40s and past peak testosterone and past peak-paddle fitness then all the sudden it seems that taking pics from land is a good idea as I watch people get washed through the lineup as I’m checking the waves that jumped two foot (rest of world measurement) overnight, brainsurfing myself wrecking on all eight waves…and how the fuck do these people surf six-foot waves (rest of world measurement) like it’s a two-foot day at my beachie?!?!  

And how is it still small for them, when this is the biggest surf I’ve seen in 30+ years of surfing, and it’s not even peak season when the 12-footers (rest of world measurement) come rolling in out of the Indian Ocean!?!? Yeah, definitely not in Kansas anymore.

12. Australian surf blokes are fucking classic. Until they’re drunk and loud and blasting AC/DC and booting up the karaoke machine at 3am.   

13. Humble yourself before the ocean.

14. Get used to telling everyone else in the water after you hoot your head off over a three-foot wave (rest of world measurement), and they’re staring at you like you’re a haole, that that wave was bigger and better than anything you’ve seen in 30+ years and multiple thousands of hours spent in the water at your home break.

a. Get used to hooting more and more, because fuck it, you’re in paradise, even if the roads are crazy and the reef sharp as shit.

b. Unfortunately, no one else is hooting, or seems to be stoked, despite being in paradise, sitting in waves that are better than anything I’ve seen in 30+ years of surfing and multiple thousands of hours in the water.  

c. Which makes me wonder, when did surfing become so dour, insular, and entitled?  At what point for surfers, does the ocean become boring?

15. Given 14c, hoot anyway, from 2 foot (any measurement) on up. Why?  Because we’re only alive now (RIP, Offrocker). I may be the biggest haole in all of Indo, but damn if I can’t hoot better than anyone with a sticker on their board.  

Tell that person as they paddle by you because they’re going to sit deeper than you (see whole list, above) that their wave was fucking great and the session is fucking great and there are volcanoes in the distance, a few tigers roaming around those hills and palm trees on the beach and probably kids stealing shit out of the scooters, those same scooters that want to kill me, but that this is 1,000,000,000,000x better than watching TV or sitting in an office and no one I know has any fucking idea where I am right now, and no one from my beach has ever probably surfed these waves, and yeah, I can’t wait to see you catch the next one and I’ll be hooting at you then, too, and maybe you want to grab a fresh coconut after the session and share story?  

17. Spread stoke like it’s an unlimited gift, because it is. The only corporate propaganda I’ve ever seen to be true is this one, and it applies to any body of water in the world: “Only a surfer knows the feeling.”

So yeah, I’m hoping to get back a few more times while I can, with more lessons to learn.  

I know quite a few of you here on BG get to Indo, so If you see some middle-aged guy with a US accent on a yellowed rental who is wearing reef boots, looking too scared to drop in over the ledge, but smiling his face off, that’s probably me.  

Feel free to paddle over and call me a kook.