Surfight. Photo: Apocalypse Now
Surfight. Photo: Apocalypse Now

Intrepid New Yorker reporter brazenly defies colleague William Finnegan’s advice, attempts to learn the art of surfing at an advanced age whilst covering Korean War games!

"You either surf or fight!"

Now, if there is one thing I appreciate, more than many, it is the combination of surfing and conflict. I got my start stitching the two together, heading to Yemen directly after 9/11 because that’s where Osama Bin Laden was from and the country’s mainland had never been surfed, continuing on to Somalia, bringing boards to warring Lebanon, etc.

The seriousness of conflict and the silliness of surfing juxtaposing so poetically.

A tableau of absurd.

It is why Francis Ford Coppola included the iconic “surf or fight” scene in his masterpiece Apocalypse Now, I think. And what could be better than that?

Thus, I was very pleased to stumble across the genre being re-explored in a most recent The New Yorker. E. Tammy Kim, a correspondent for the august publication, had traveled to South Korea ahead of the joint military exercises that would be conducted between that country and the United States in preparation for a Chinese and/or North Korea attack.

She described the press conference aboard a U.S. naval vessel, the tour she took in the belly of a war beast, the way that soldiers from the two nations handled life on the base and the bit of protest against provocation by locals outside the gates.

Before, though, she had attempted to surf.

An excerpt:

Earlier that week, I had stayed on Busan’s Songjeong Beach and taken beginner surfing lessons at a school styled like a beach shop in Malibu. Despite William Finnegan’s counsel, in “Barbarian Days,” that it’s impossible to become a proficient surfer “at an advanced age, meaning over fourteen,” I felt compelled to try. A more relevant memoir was Diane Cardwell’s “Rockaway,” about learning to surf in New York City during a midlife crisis. I wiggled into a warm-weather wetsuit and sat with a few other, much younger, newbies for a brief orientation on Day One. I had worried that pelagic jargon in Korean, my second language, would elude me, but surfing speak is all borrowed English: paddle, leash, nose, tail.

The teacher was a young, floppy-haired man shaped like an upside-down trapezoid. (I later learned that he was primarily a bodybuilder.) He showed us how to tie a leash and carry a giant foam board in the wind. We practiced the universal motions of pop-up and takeoff on the sand, knowing how much harder it would be on the water. We waded in past the impact zone, where waves crashed white. We lay stomach down on our boards as the instructor pushed us, one by one, onto the crests of incoming waves. I stood up a few times and felt an unnatural, physics-defying joy. I also learned to sit up on my board, straddling the tail and looking out at the sea. The waves appeared newly mysterious: Which ones would be good enough to ride? Where did they come from? What other bodies and vessels had they touched?

The piece moves on, adeptly, to the roots of the Korean Peninsula troubles, public opinion on matters, a “one Korea” bit and more war games but oh boy.


Finnegan, as you must know, also writes for The New Yorker and I am very happy that Kim recalled his counsel. The impossibility of becoming proficient, or even lower-intermediate, adult learning. Now, I am really all the way tired of adult learning, especially in the wake of Covid, but as a writer, and an appreciator of conflict + surfing in the service of Kafka, adult learning might be the very best.

Absurd piled upon absurd.

While Korea is safe, this whole business made me wonder where the best place to adult learn would be today.



John John Florence, real deep, winner in 2015-16. Photo: WSL
John John Florence, real deep, winner in 2015-16. Photo: WSL

Hardened surf fans break into tears as The Eddie, most prestigious surf contest on earth, set to run for first time in eight years!

The Eddie is back!

Social media has exploded, hours ago, with the revelation that the most prestigious surf contest in the world, The Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational, is set to run in one day and one half, on Wednesday, January 11, 2023. Oh The Eddie. Wow The Eddie.

Last held in 2015/16 and won by John John Florence, The Eddie is nearly perfect in every way. Waimea Bay, itself, terrifying as it is awe inspiring. The surrounding cliffs forming a thunderous amphitheater. The surfers, hand selected. The history and prestige unparalleled.

This year we shall see…

Aaron Gold, Andrea Moller, Billy Kemper, Eli Olson, Emily Erickson, Ezekiel Lau, Grant Baker, Greg Long, Ian Walsh, Jake Maki, Jamie O’Brien, Jamie Mitchell, John John Florence, Josh Moniz, Justine Dupont, Kai Lenny, Keala Kennelly, Keali’i Mamala, Kelly Slater, Koa Rothman, Kohl Christensen, Landon McNamara, Lucas Chianca, Luke Shepardson, Makani Adric, Makuakai Rothman, Mark Healey, Mason Ho, Michael Ho, Nathan Florence, Nathan Fletcher, Nic von Rupp, Paige Alms, Peter Mel, Ramon Navarro, Ross Clarke-Jones, Shane Dorian, Taio Shipman, Tikanui Smith, Tyler Larronde

…and see you must (here).

I was there in 2009/10 to see Greg Long take out all comers, writing in the award-nominated Welcome to Paradise, Now Go To Hell:

Waimea is host to one of the most fabled events in all of surfing. The Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau. The Eddie only runs when Waimea exceeds twenty feet of open ocean swell, which translates to forty foot waves in the bay. It has only run eight times since its inauguration in 1984 (which happened to be at Sunset Beach three miles up the Kamehameha. It moved the next year to Waimea) which is not to say that Waimea has only exceeded forty feet from December to February eight times but simply that perfect conditions, giant and smooth, are not a given.

Unlike any other surf competition, the twenty-eight participants and twenty-four alternates in the Eddie are chosen among their peers by their peers, the best big wave surfers in the world. Once selected, they wait through the winter and if ocean forecasters see a window where the waves will be big enough and good enough the participants have twelve hours in which to get to the North Shore. The competition takes place in one day and the surfer who rides the four biggest waves wins.

Its namesake, Eddie Aikau, was a North Shore legend. He was born on Maui but moved, with his family, to Oahu when he was thirteen. At sixteen he dropped out of school, went to work for the Dole Pineapple Plantation, used his paycheck to buy his first surfboard and began surfing Waimea. Twenty years earlier the thought of riding Waimea was not even a glimmer in the eye. It was seen as too big. Deadly. Impossible. But a few brave souls paddled out in the fifties and a few more followed them in the sixties. And then Eddie followed them. Beyond just surviving, he surfed Waimea uniquely and beautifully. He was never afraid. When he was not surfing he saved lives, working as a lifeguard between Hale’iwa and Sunset Beach.

In 1978 the Polynesian Voyaging Society attempted a thirty-day 2,500 mile journey following the ancient path of Polynesian migration between the Hawaiian islands and Tahiti. The path of migration that brought human sacrifice and the art of choking out. Eddie Aikau was a crew member. The Society had made an original style double-hulled canoe and set sail in March and almost instantly sprung a leak. Eddie, in an attempt to get help, jumped into the water to paddle a surfboard to the island of Lanai. The crew was eventually rescued by the Coast Guard but Eddie Aikau was never seen again. Lost at sea.

His legend burns brightly in the contest and on ubiquitous bumper stickers and t-shirts that read, “Eddie Would Go,” referring back to his lack of fear. It is a battle cry for other surfers trying to emulate his brazen panache.

I was standing on the rocks above Waimea when the Eddie contest ran last in 2009. It was a massive day and watching the competitors paddle out to face monsters was, damn all, it was humbling. The sounds, the smells, the pounding hearts…all of it. Spectators stand and trade information about who they think is going, which surfer just dropped down the monster, and if they think his monster was bigger or more critical than the previous surfer’s. Everyone shouts and screams and throws hands in the air. Everyone from the most hardened cynic to the freshest wide-eyed daisy. There are bigger and deadlier waves in the world and even on the North Shore than Waimea but there is something about the natural stadium of the bay and there is something about the history, something about the smell, and I will say, without fear of contradiction, that the Eddie is the best sporting event to witness live in the entire world. Better than the Super Bowl. Better than the World Cup Finals. Better than the bullfights in Spain. Better than anything.

During the big days, and especially if the Eddie is running, the Kamehameha rounding the bay will be come to a standstill as people stop their cars, drop their jaws and watch what James Joyce called, “The Scrotumtightening sea.”

And the tourist family will very much enjoy the spectacle for the afternoon and nothing particularly violent or menacing will happen to them, aside from an ocean beating, because they are unaffiliated. They are not involved in the surf world. They are aliens from Muncie, which might as well be outer space, and they are looked right through by the likes of Kala, Dustin or Fast Eddie Rothman. Maybe their car will be broken into. Maybe the father’s wallet will be stolen from the beach but that is all. No violence. No knocks or cracks or slaps. They will simply wander around the sand and look at the waves and look at the tranquil river that flows from the middle of the bay up the Waimea valley. The valley, very fertile and tropical with two fern shrouded cliffs cascading down to the river, is protected by the state because of its diverse flora and fauna. A few North Shore residents grow marijuana up its somnolent green folds too, adding to its diversity.

It ain’t Quiksilver anymore (RIP) but we shall chat live, together, like it was 2010.


Pip and his daddy Ricky following the title win last September at Lowers. | Photo: WSL

Sweeping changes proposed for world surfing tour in desperate bid to mitigate Filipe-at-Lowers problem, “A legitimate world champion can’t be crowned in waves of zero consequences!”

"I was just like, ‘Filipe have a dig, you’re so talented and so good in these waves’ and he just decided ‘no I’m not going to do it.’”

The 2023 tour is a few weeks from kicking into gear, starting at Pipe, Jan 29, for the Billabong Pipeline Pro, not to be confused with the Vans Pipe Masters.

And, wetting his little feet will be the new world champion, Filipe Toledo, a small-wave specialist from Brazil who cemented his formidable rep in waves of no consequence by winning the world title at Lower Trestles, a soft wave near the Californian town of San Clemente.

Toledo, a married daddy of two who turns twenty-eight in April, shocked sports fans shortly before Finals Day when he didn’t paddle for a wave in a heat at the Outerknown Tahiti Pro against two middle-aged surfers, the wildcard Nathan Hedge and the fifty-something Kelly Slater.

As Chas Smith wrote at the time,

And that first morning heat? An exciting draw featuring an iconic relic in Nathan Hedge, the world’s greatest surfer Kelly Slater and the current number one surfer in the world Filipe Toledo.

Toledo, with reputation for not enjoying the Teahupo’o battle, would certainly spear naysayers in the throat by dropping in to infamy, no?

Apparently no.

Slater and Hedge traded waves, big and perfect, one after the other after the other with Toledo holding priority well out the back, refusing to paddle, one after the other after the other.

Slater, barreled, unable to contain smile.

Hedge, barreled, unable to contain smile or beat, smartly, boss.

Toledo, un-barreled, holding priority for fifteen-odd minutes while Slater and Hedge swapped beneath him.

In the dying seconds, the King of Saquarema swung on a baby tube then punched board in channel.

Filipe punches board after embarrassing heat against Slater and Hedge.

Super coach Mike Parsons later told the WSL’s media guy Dave Prodan, 

“I really expected Filipe to just kind of go Rambo mode and just show everyone ‘hey I’m gonna charge no matter what, I’m gonna give it a solid dig’ and I was (here Snips pauses for emphasis) bummed that he didn’t do that in his first round heat. It was eight foot, pumping, there were some really good waves coming to him and he opted not to take off on them. And I was just like, ‘Filipe have a dig, you’re so talented and so good in these waves’ and he just decided ‘no I’m not going to do it.’”

In 2015, Toledo, a surfer seemingly incapable of a fiercely honest self-appraisal, famously sat through an entire heat with Italo Ferriera at Teahupoo without catching a wave, the world’s largest surf news site describing it as “a brave act of cowardice.”

BeachGrit’s tour correspondent JP Currie wrote last September,

“Call me old-fashioned, but I feel that our world champion should be a surfer we believe has the capacity to win at any stop on Tour. Filipe Toledo is not that surfer, and yet here we are.

Now, in sweeping changes proposed by a real nice real estate agent pal of mine down at the beach just then, both of us waiting for the onshore to kick in a little and the tide to run out and maybe the crowd to back off as its summer prettiness diminishes, tour events would be weighted according to their heaviness. 

A win at Pipeline or Teahupoo, therefore, would deliver 15,000 points to the winner compared to 10,000 at Rio or Bells. 

One event at Jaws offering a whopping 20,000 points.

Finals Day stays, but moves to Cloudbreak, and runs only when the swell is six-feet or bigger, a one-month waiting period takes care of any sort of worry about getting it done, as does the cut-off period. 

Sorry rookies. 

And happy days for Jack Robinson and John John Florence, for whom two-foot Lowers dooms both to never winning a world title within the current format. 

You think, yes? 

President Biden (insert) angry.
President Biden (insert) angry.

President Biden casts furious scowl at Surfline after bomb swell explodes in California, declares “State of Emergency” as coastline crumbles into the Pacific!

A Golden State of emergency.

Surfline doesn’t always get it right, but when it does ooooeeeeee! Oh, even if you are not from California, you have certainly soaked in the images, the videos, the pandemonium of this just-passed “bomb” swell that had been telegraphed gorgeously by the official forecasting partner of the World Surf League.

Yes, the Golden State was abashed with giant waves from up near Santa Cruz all the way down to the border with dear Mexico.

Ultra-sized breakers wreaking havoc, causing fun, creating a large frown across United States’ President Joe Biden’s waxy face.

Yes, local news is reporting that Biden has just declared a state of emergency in California due to Surfline’s forecast that has caused extensive damage, flooding, destroyed piers and multiple closeout barrel attempts.


Biden ordered Federal assistance to help state, tribal and local response efforts to deal with the conditions brought on by the storms in the counties of El Dorado, Los Angeles, Mariposa, Mendocino, Merced, Monterey, Napa, Placer, Riverside, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Sonoma, Stanislaus and Ventura.

The National Weather Service warned of a “relentless parade of atmospheric rivers” — storms that are long plumes of moisture stretching out into the Pacific and are capable of dropping staggering amounts of rain and snow. Two major storms are expected to drop heavy rainfall on the coast and snow in the mountains over the next couple of days.

For days, California has been walloped by Pacific storms that last week knocked out power to thousands, flooded streets, and battered the coastline with high surf.

I missed this first helping, as I was in Utah, but that did not make me sad. Foots of fresh powder fell on the mountain where I was wintering, the roads were closed due avalanche forcing an inter-lodge situation and I have never had more fun.

Viva the storm.

Gabriel Medina (insert) and the new Brazilian Storm. Photo: WSL
Gabriel Medina (insert) and the new Brazilian Storm. Photo: WSL

“Brazilian Storm” takes on fresh meaning after supporters of surf champ Gabriel Medina’s pal Jair Bolsonaro sack government offices!

Wild times.

Surfing’s history is littered with monikers describing groupings of paradigm shifters. From Bronzed Aussies to the Wolf Pak, Momentum Generation to the Irukandjis, some are better than others but we must all agree that “Brazilian Storm” is very near the top.

First coined in 2012 (give or take), the conjoined words captured a sea change with literary panache. Young Brazilian surfers, who had long toiled under the heavy shadow of Australian and American counterparts, were suddenly the most exciting on earth. Adriano de Souza, Gabriel Medina, Filipe Toledo, Italo Ferreira, various Pupos hucked, spun, stomped, battled, frothed and began winning championship after championship with no end in sight.

Much passion.

And “Brazilian Storm,” portraying gorgeously, became part of our shared vocabulary.

A shorthand for professional surfing dominance.

Well, as things happen in linguistics, the phrase has been coopted overnight by supporters of the country’s ex-President Jair Bolsonaro.

According to the once culturally important Time:

Supporters of former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro who refuse to accept his election defeat stormed Congress, the Supreme Court and presidential palace Sunday, a week after the inauguration of his leftist rival, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Thousands of demonstrators bypassed security barricades, climbed on roofs, smashed windows and invaded all three buildings, which were believed to be largely vacant on the weekend. Some of the demonstrators called for a military intervention to either restore the far-right Bolsonaro to power or oust Lula from the presidency.

Hours went by before control of the buildings on Brasilia’s vast Three Powers Square was reestablished, with hundreds of the participants arrested.

As you certainly remember, the aforementioned Gabriel Medina, a three time World Surf League champion, is wonderful friends with Bolsonaro, trading video messages with him and soccer stud Neymar Jr. and penning a song to buoy his spirits after his shock loss to Lula just months ago.

Though Medina’s opinion on the office sackings has not been made public, what is clear is that “Brazilian Storm” no longer belongs to surfers. A cursory google search of the appellation reveals link after link after link to Reuters, the BBC, Associated Press, New York Times and riots etc. save one brave little story wondering “Did gorgeous Brazilian models break up the Brazilian Storm before the surf supergroup reached its vast multiplatinum potential?

Can you guess the source?

Though while you’re here, if Joe Turpel had happened to be in the booth calling the popular uprising, what might he have said?

Something to think about.