Quixotic-lit: California surfer braves “bomb” swell and becomes reborn!

"Even a blind kook finds a nut every once in a while."

I have ridden (a little) bigger waves, warmer waves, prettier waves, longer waves and more so-called perfect waves, but I don’t think any wave as satisfying as the one this late afternoon.

The shorebreak was in tumult, so had to add a half mile to the paddle out from distant cove to avoid a premature, energy-suck and thrash; rewarded with a dry-hair entry to the outside. Finally, a mile and half later, alone on an outer shelf at low tide, the shore disconcertingly far. A place decades in familiarity, now feeling strange and discordant amid the scale.

The uber-hyped “bomb” swell revealing honor to its hype, the waves moving with unnatural speed and torquing roughly over the rock reef. The almost flat, still air a paradox as the residue of storm winds sending choppy teeth of ugly short-period energy on the surface of an unsettled sea. Eerily alone, and while unable to quiet of the doubts of “where is everyone” i still knew I could see, could feel, a gem was percolating amid the maelstrom. Confidence from hard-won experience (read: career filled with kooky wipeouts) created a confidence which drowned out – if by no means overwhelmed — by doubts, or a least pretending to do so – and listening to he louder voice that hungered for one which was good enough to keep me seeking.

Years of scrapping on the edges for waves amid the usual hungry horde at this “mysto-serious” semi-scret spot gave me a plan. The pushy sweep of the heavy 270-angle west energy threatened to shake me from the invisible, yet dependable, lineup entry point I had honed during the decades. For over an hour I had knew the “where” amid the “why,” via a triangulation of a particular outcropping of rock, an errant runoff hose from a decrepit manse on a hill, with a rocky promontory to the north completing the puzzle.

Temptation for a find wave was a duplicitous siren call to go inside – a fool’s mission, I knew — still calling even though i knew it was folly. And i had to ignore the luring, rouge section-y bombs just to the north, taunting me with seemingly perfect, firing walls. But I knew the eyes can lie, an illusion that was at once convincingly real, yet obvious in its dishonesty.

The stalking was not in movement of hunting down a prey, but in the never-stop energy to remain planted in the one place as the dance of the hunt.

An hour, alone, then a little more. No chit chat, except for the ca-caw of an errant sea bird. Then, in the far distance , a hump showed itself, but only a hint offering more questions than answers and I had been deceived and disappointed before. Would it hit down to the slot ofmy position, would it unfold elegantly or be beguiled by chunks of lips dropping on itself? Would it warble swing wide, or be just too small on this bottomed-out negative tide and pass underneath me. Then I saw it was mine and it was time.

A roping hook with a luscious edge of an entry point. As the wave felt the bottom causing it rise up and go convex, it was exactly where it should be, doing exactly what it should be doing, but to fulfill it’s destiny it needed a partner. I turned and of course, rearing its voice, an instinct demanded I flee. But this wave the final piece of a jig saw puzzle and a game I had been playing and staying a servant to what I cerebrally knew versus the reptilian part of the brain attempting to convince me to run – I stayed.

And like in a tango, I stepped into my particular role, humble role in the dance. A shot of of doubt laced with fear tried to cut in – but I stroked down the face of the behemoth, more fearsome in its speed and power than pure size. And then I was surfing. .A photo would be an injustice as it would imply that the end was more important than the journey to be there now (thank you Baba Ram Dass) and I dropped from the lip line and down the face, and then a single turn projecting me outwards along the face. Nothing fancy, nothing dramatic — those days are largely gone — but there was glide.

The wave — my wave — being where it was supposed to be and doing what it was supposed to do, and my playing my part in the pas de duex. And then it was over and I, well, have to admit, hooted at myself and to myself (except maybe for the seals – is it a claim if no one was there to hear or see it?) and Then like is there nature, it dissipated back into the sea. Cowabunga, boys and girls. Get yours, as mine will linger and accompany me for a long while.

I had a bowl of ice cream and a fat tumbler of Jack.

Even a blind kook finds a nut every once in a while.

Long-suffering surf fans break into sobs as The Eddie gets cancelled after being called on for first time in eight years!


Yesterday, long-suffering surf fans could not believe their eyes when they learned that the most prestigious surf contest on earth, The Eddie, had been called ON. Last run eight years ago, and won by Greg Long, the invitation only big wave extravaganza is something to behold and with giant surf rolling toward Waimea Bay, there on Oahu’s North Shore, everything was lining up just gloriously.

Just gloriously, that is, save the dastardly wind.

Eddie Aikau’s brother Clyde took to the microphone and delivered the devastating news.

The wind has turned it OFF.

“Due to the wind conditions that are going to be prevalent in the early morning and due to the size of the swell in the early morning, we are going to cancel the Eddie for Wednesday,” he told the gathered press.

While hardened surf fans tried to stifle sobs, Clyde attempted to provide hope, declaring that Jan. 22 might be a favorable date.

Little consolation, I suppose, for those brave invited few already on planes. Per sources close to the competitors, most were inbound and some from far flung locations.

Will they stay and enjoy a North Shore winter or hightail home?

Much sad.

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?