The MEO Rip Curl Pro Portugal will open its curtains in exactly seven days which also just so happens to coincide with International Women’s Day. The March 8th extravaganza is celebrated the world over in various and sundry ways. Marches, rallies, powerful speeches etc. and is celebrated by the World Surf League with the men wearing a jersey imprinted with the name of an inspirational woman.
And, last year, the most inspirational Bethany Hamilton was chosen by Owen Wright, Conner Coffin and Griffin Colapinto.
You certainly recall, last month, when the World Surf League quietly announced a change allowing for transgender athletes to compete at the highest level of the sport. Bethany Hamilton joined a chorus of frustrated voices and in a to-camera piece, declared that she would be boycotting the WSL until the policy was undone.
The World Surf League, as a body, remained mum on the outcry, which received mainstream coverage. Chief of Executives Erik Logan even declared that he “respected her views” in a recent interview telegraphing “seismic changes.”
Rumor has it, from a well-placed source, that Hamilton’s name has been outlawed even though a fair number of surfers requested it.
If true, it seems lightly wild that the World Surf League would be so… passive aggressively vindictive and small.
Oh wait. It doesn’t. But which name would you select if you were surfing the MEO Rip Curl Portugal Pro?
Torah! Torah! Torah! Jewish historian debunks documentary’s claim surfing is rife with anti-semitism and Nazi symbolism, “Surf history is ugly and shameful in places… but concurrent to all that surfing is a sport of refuge”
"I have had my car windows waxed for being a non-local, I've been blasted as a surfing feminist. But any Jew Boy stuff? Fifty-plus years in surfing and nothing. I mean, zero."
I am three-quarters Jewish and 100% non-practicing. I act the Jew now and then by mentioning my brother played volleyball in the Maccabi Games, and that Irv Zeiger, our family’s beloved showboating uncle, cofounded the Mulholland Tennis Club because Jews were barred from other Los Angeles-area clubs.
But I never attended synagogue or fasted for Yom Kippur or celebrated Hannukah. No bar mitzvah. My loss there, I think. The bar mitzvahs I’ve attended were all an absolute joy, spiritual and earthy, solemn and playful, with a vice-free raging good time at the party afterward.
A short trailer for the new documentary Waves Apart shows filmmaker Josh Greene, ten years ago, having what looks like an absolute banger of a bar mitzvah party. Josh was still new to surfing at the time, but crazy for it, in that obsessive memory-stamping 13-year-old way, and his parents made a fledging dream come true by booking the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center for the party. And there’s Josh, mid-hora, happily chair-raised above friends and family and spinning around the SHACC museum floor with beatified surfboards made by Quigg, Hobie, Lopez, and Anderson propped against the walls in the background.
The trailer then takes a dark turn—literally, the music drops to minor key and the video shifts from color to ominous black and white—and you surf history buffs know what’s coming, because next thing we get is a tight zoom on a SHACC-owned Depression era redwood board with a swastika engraved on the deck, then a black-and-white photo of grinning Aryan-looking kids tearing down Pacific Coast Highway in their surf-wagon doing Hitler salutes, then a color clip of ’50s surfers on the beach in La Jolla holding a Nazi flag.
“I thought surfing would let me get away from this kind of hate,” Greene says in a voice-over, and the trailer ends.
I have not seen Waves Apart which is still playing exclusively at festivals. It is possible Greene has a thematic surprise up his sleeve and the movie will surprise by going in a different direction from the trailer. I hope that’s the case, and if so I’ll report back.
But my guess is the film does exactly what the trailer promises—and that’s hardly a guess at all because Greene himself claims Waves Apart will “confront a dark untold history” of surfing. A Jewish Telegraphic Agency article reports that Greene “discovered the sport’s history is full of Nazi imagery: Particularly in the 1960s, seeing surfboards with swastikas or surfers giving ‘Sieg heil’ salutes was commonplace. Serious surfers called themselves ‘surf Nazis’ as a way to signal their intense dedication to the sport.”
So here I am again playing the Jew card, because my reading of surf history is very different than that of Greene’s, and if you think we’ve been down this road before, you’re right, but the past is never dead etc, so let’s get into it.
There are antisemites in surfing. They are everywhere, always have been, and antisemitism in general is on the move so add that sprig of nightshade to the enviro-political-cultural bouquet of woe we’re holding here in 2023.
But as sure as I am about antisemites in the sport, I’m equally sure surf-based antisemitism in general is below that of the culture at large. Well below, in fact, although I can only argue the point anecdotally.
As in—I’ve never heard of a Jewish surfer being refused service or turned away from a surf shop, or barred from a surf club or organization. I’ve never heard of a Jewish-owned surf company being graffitied, bricked, hacked, or otherwise damaged. I’ve never heard of a Jewish surfer being asked to leave the water for being Jewish. There was never a point in surf history, contrary to what the JTA reports, and I can’t believe we have to clear this up, when surfers greeted each other with Hitler salutes.
Similarly, I have had my car windows waxed for being a non-local, I’ve been blasted as a surfing feminist (a “feminazi” no less; it was the ’90s), and grilled by the BeachGrit commentariat for leaning hard left then grilled again for not surfing as much as I used to. I was nicknamed “Wimpy” as a kid by my Zephyr teammates because I was small and thin and scared of big waves. Because “Warshaw” is close to “Warsaw” I drew fire on the schoolyard for being Polish—which I’m not.
But any Jew Boy stuff? No. None. Fifty-plus years in surfing and nothing. I mean, zero.
Again, though, my Jewishness is turned way down, so maybe my experience doesn’t count for much.
Surfers I know who identify more strongly as Jewish, however, all report more or less the same thing. In a batch of emails sent out last week on the topic, the most interesting reply I got was from Emmy-winning documentary filmmaker Paul Taublieb:
“In terms of antisemitism, nothing blatant or discriminatory, but over the years it’s been pointed out at times as an oddity in that there’s not a lot of us in the sport. So it’s more of an undercurrent of being just a tad different—and a sense that others are very much aware of it.”
That makes sense.
But could you make a documentary about it? Not a chance.
Surf history is ugly and shameful in places, beginning with the sport’s treatment of women and moving out to surfing newcomers, and a knee-jerk dislike of those who ride different equipment or aren’t part of the local crew. Predating and concurrent to all of that, however, and very much present to this day, surfing is a sport of refuge.
Disease, coup, and blue-eyed repression of every kind knocked Hawaiians down to second-or third-class citizens everywhere except in the lineup, where they continued to reign. Tom Blake, Bob Simmons, George Greenough, Henry Lum, Dorian Paskowitz—surfing has always taken in damaged people, oddballs, outliers. You could argue, in fact, that in terms of surfing’s contribution to society, this is our greatest redeeming quality—maybe our only redeeming quality. When we change the focus slightly, from antisemitism to racism, we get to photographer Aaron Chang and his summary on how riding waves, contrary to actual playing fields, leveled the playing field.
“Going to school here in San Diego, I encountered huge amounts of racism. It was a big part of my life growing up. Really destabilizing. Vicious taunting from white kids about the shape of my eyes, that kind of thing. Surfing was the saving grace for me during that period. In surfing, it was pretty much just ability.”
Before signing off, let’s quickly run through the hot-button Waves Apart visuals.
The Swastika Hawaiian Surf-Board model, as seen in the trailer, was made by the Los Angeles-based Pacific System Homes, makers of build-it-yourself kit homes. The board was introduced in 1930, and the swastika logo, chosen because it represented “health and good fortune,” according to the grandson of Pacific System founder William Butte, was dropped in 1937 or 1938, around the time Germany rolled into Austria. You could argue that Pacific System marketers should have ditched the swastika a year or two earlier, but I’ve not picked up even the faintest hint of Nazi from Pacific System Homes or the Butte family. Unlike, say, Henry Ford, JD Rockefeller, Coca-Cola, IBM, and Kodak, who were not 100% full-frontal red-and-black Nazi but were very much not anti-Nazi, either.
Grouping this with the PCH shot and let’s acknowledge that we’re in a tricky place here in terms of making distinctions between antisemitic dress-up and the real deal. The line between the two, as I learned four years ago when we last had this conversation, changes from person to person. Something I would dismiss as boneheaded Nazi cosplay, you might read as a genuine Nazi-adjacent cause for worry, and I will not argue the point. Especially not in 2023. (I didn’t much argue the point back in 2017, either, although I was fine with Ed “Big Daddy” Roth and his Nazi-inspired “Surfer’s Cross” pendant.) Click here for an excellent but already slightly out-of-date look at the history and perils and fungibility of Nazi humor, which in a roundabout way gets us to Miki Dora, and where we position him on an antisemite scale ranging from pretender to dabbler to villain. At the moment I’ll go with villain but it depends on what day you ask me, and I’ve got Jewish surf friends who give him a pass—and what we have there, folks, is a documentary waiting to be made.
PS: Doc Paskowitz died in 2014, age 93, but the Paskowitz clan he headed is still referred to as the First Family of Surfing, and since we’re talking about Jewish-based surfing documentaries, let me once again recommend in the strongest terms possible 2007’s Surfwise. And before stepping down off this soapbox, I’ll point out that while Judaism comes up here and there throughout Surfwise (“We were born,” #9 Paskowitz offspring Abraham says to the camera, “because Doc wanted to repopulate the world with Jews”), and apparently, no subject is off limits in the film (war, social status, mental and physical abuse, and sex, way too much sex; “Fucking, to me,” Doc says, “is the word of God”), there is no mention, not a word, all through it’s rampaging 90 minutes, of surfing-related antisemitism.
PPS: Ditto “Why Jews Don’t Surf,” a 1980 H2O magazine article, likely written by Santa Monica surfer and one-time Jewish scholar Marty Sugarman, which is a hot mess start to finish but pointedly leaves antisemitism off the table.
PPPS: Thanks to Greene’s film, “surf nazis” Google search now gets us a dozen or more new hits, so for the record: “surf nazi” was used among surfers briefly in the late ’70s and early ’80s to describe somebody who surfed a lot. It was no more a direct adaption of Nazism than the Soup Nazi on Seinfield Soup. It was long out of circulation by the time Surf Nazis Must Die had ’em laughing and cringing at Cannes in 1987.
(You like? Matt Warshaw delivers a sassy 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.)
Illicit lovers TJ Holmes and Amy Robach reemerge from surf-rich Mexico after much bum bum touching threatening to expose secret spots!
What happens in Salina Cruz apparently doesn't stay in Salina Cruz.
I tried to warn them, I really did, but fear the advice is not being taken. That it is being tossed aside in a wild gust of lusty irresponsibility.
And you have certainly been hanging on every twist, every turn in the onetime Good Morning, America (third hour) co-hosts TJ Holmes and Amy Robach. The two burst on to the news scene after being paparazzi’d touching each other’s bum bums while being married to different people.
Much stress as they were suspended while the network ABC tried to sort out what to do with an extremely rare workplace affair. Eventually it was decided that the two would be severance’d but how did they celebrate? Like any unhinged surfer would. A trip to the “Mexican Pipeline” aka Puerto Escondido.
Surf enthusiasts assumed Salina Cruz. The right-rich region, at the very southern end of Mexico, is known for its wave quality and also its secrecy. Properly aggressive locals intent on protecting privacy.
The perfect place for obscure naughty.
Holmes and Robach should have been content with the quiet reprise, and likely barrel (assuming both are regular), but new rumors are percolating that Robach, in particular, leveraged spilling the beans in order to receive a hefty buy-out from ABC.
Telling exactly how to get to Punta Conejo?
Providing coordinates to other points further north?
All the way to Barra de la Cruz?
MSN declared it was going to be the “ultimate revenge,” this tell-all, but who will it hurt?
I’d argue Holmes and Robach.
Banned from the greatest stretch of coast in North America.
Salina Cruz sucks.
Surfing’s cruellest and most bitter rivalry revealed in breakthrough TV series, “Kanoa Igarashi and Griffin Colapinto are ostensibly friends who just want to beat each other in the water but this episode will put a bullet in that friendship!”
"In Griffin's half-cut, vitriolic desire for Kanoa to lose, you might even recognise something of yourself."
Episode Six of Make Or Break, Season 2 deals with the rivalry between Kanoa Igarashi and Griffin Colapinto.
And what a delicious little meta-narrative that is. One that has not been properly excavated in the sugary-sweet confines of the WSL, trapped behind the Wall Of Positive Noise.
Thankfully, the more honest people at Box to Box Films have done it for us.
The episode left me yearning for future match-ups between the two surfers, and in my mind that makes it a roaring success.
It reveals an intense and genuine rivalry between Kanoa and Griff, based on the fact they’ve competed against one another since their earliest days, come from rival surf towns, and share the same coach in Tom Whitaker.
It’s a little like gamboling kittens, but the bitterness of this rivalry doesn’t come across as manufactured. Griffin and Kanoa are ostensibly friends who just want to beat each other in the water, but I was left feeling this episode might put a bullet in that friendship.
I recently shared a wave or two with Kanoa. A sunset session on a building swell at a little surfed beachie in west Portugal. There were only four or five of us in the water. And when I say “shared a wave” I do mean took off on some closeouts while Kanoa boosted the sections.
I did, however, manage one smooth bottom turn to hack just in front of Mr Igarashi as he was walking up the beach in the golden dusky light. In my mind it was both stylish and highly atmospheric. I wouldn’t be so presumptuous as to speak for Kanoa, but I’m certain he felt the same.
As we changed at our cars I debated going over to introduce myself, but it’s never a good look to approach a stranger in a state of undress, and even less so when the word “BeachGrit” might well be a poisoned dart in your mouth. Little better, perhaps, than going over and saying “Hi Kanoa, we haven’t met, but I’m Jamie from the Hitler Youth.”
All this is to say, we’re oft cruel about Kanoa in this little corner of the internet, and I both do and don’t understand why.
Oh, I know he’s a bit of a poseur. The gold chains, white shirts and even whiter rap tastes don’t do it for me either.
Huntington Beach is a place I’ve never been, but hardly need to.
But it’s not Kanoa’s fault that his parents realised a vicarious dream through him.
Defection to Japan over the USA might be viewed as shrewd, affected, disingenuous, or any number of other things, but his Japanese heritage is undeniable. Christ, there are more than a few of you who’d claim Scottish or Irish roots purely on the strength of a McSomebodyOrOther coloniser or criminal down the line.
And then there’s his attitude and general demeanour. Yes, Kanoa is confident. Yes, Kanoa believes he has the ability to be world champion. Nay, he deserves it!
So what’s wrong with that?
The man’s a pro surfer, he knows little else. If you can’t admire his dedication to this cause then more fool you. Give me thirty-two Kanoas on Tour. Watch them eat each other like a human centipede.
Kanoa’s exuberant claims make great viewing. They’re a gift for TV producers highlighting meaningful moments in dreary heats.
Another takeaway from this episode was how dreamy Teahupo’o looks, a fact often alluded to by the WSL but rarely conveyed beyond an establishing shot of the deliciously green mountains. However, when you see it from the perspective of Griffin and Kanoa’s accommodation, homes on stilts with their own docks and boats to zip you out to a tropical reef pass, it’ll make you question many life choices.
This episode will also make you wonder how on earth Griffin Colapinto won two events and didn’t finish in the top five? I don’t think I processed this properly at the time. That’s got to be a first in pro surfing history, right?
And if none of this is convincing so far, don your best BeachGrit regalia and watch for Griffin getting on the beers at Teahupo’o after he’s knocked out to watch Kanoa vs Jadson Andre.
In his half-cut, vitriolic desire for Kanoa to lose, you might even recognise something of yourself.
Essential, as the gaffer might say.
Brave chevalier dives headlong into seedy world of online surf coaching programs (part two)!
Two days ago, one Com Curren wondered allowed, “Should life-long mediocre surfers who strive to improve upon said mediocrity for the first time as an adult be relegated to the same surf caste as the VALs?” and proceeded to dive headlong into the seedy world of online surf coaching. Part one featured OMBE.
Today we Wave Ki.
In the previous segment, we discussed a phenomenon that you might have been familiar with—the Mediocre Adult Developing (“MAD”) surfer. We also discussed my unsuccessful foray into the Jurassic-era surfing method of OMBE.
Having failed at becoming a surf dinosaur, I was not done trying to foolishly throw money at the mediocrity problem. Indeed, there was another, much different iSarf Program that seemed to offer a proven track record of both success and failure developed by a much more acclaimed former pro.
The iSurf Program: Wave Ki The Pro Surfer Owner: Brad Gerlach Website: waveki.com
Resigned to the fact that T-Rex surfing just did not comport with my body type and determined that I would still find the one true magical remedy for my mediocrity, I looked elsewhere and found a program with an entirely different approach—Wave Ki.
Wave Ki is the brainchild of Brad Gerlach. For those unfamiliar with him, Gerr was a force to be reckoned with on the tour in the 90s before bowing out for personal reasons (which I’m guessing was little more than his recognition that no one was ever going to beat Kelly). He also appended a nice little coda onto his professional career by making a name for himself as a big wave tow-in surfer in the early to-mid-00s. And like Greg Noll, who surfed an impossibly giant wave at Makaha and seemingly disappeared for the next decade, Gerr won the XXL awards in 2006 for a monster 70ish footer he rode at Todos Santos in 2005, but then quit surfing altogether to join a clandestine monastery of warrior monks in Tibet known as the League of Shadows.
Ok…that last part was referring to Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins and not Gerr, but I have no idea what he was actually doing for the next decade after winning the XXL, so I’m sticking with the Batman explanation, particularly given the martial-arts approach to Gerr’s Wave Ki system (more on that below).
It is beyond dispute that Wave Ki has proof of concept. To this point, Gerr has worked with Conner Coffin for years, meaning that Wave Ki is capable of skyrocketing a pro surfer to #4 in the world in one year, yet resulting in that same surfer being axed in the midyear cut and failing to requalify via the QS in the following year. It is undeniably a system of surf instruction equally capable of producing excellence as it is capable of producing bitterly disappointing shortcomings.
Wave Ki’s approach involves no surf skates, bosu balls, blow up dolls, or any of the other accessories required for OMBE. All you need is a space to practice Gerr’s forms on land, which are much like the katas that I learned in karate as a kid. These are slow, repetitive movements designed to be ingrained into your muscle memory over time to apply on the wave. Think Mr. Miyagi’s muscle memory chores in the Karate Kid, but actually explaining the techniques for which you are waxing cars and painting fences to train.
The thing is, the martial arts katas I learned at the YMCA karate classes as a kid never really worked for me. I had my ass absolutely beat down by the bigger kids doing anything resembling kata movements and until I grew to be big enough to stomp them via less elegant means. In that sense, Wave Ki might not prepare you for taking an 8-foot set on the head.
In furtherance of its martial arts-like approach, Wave Ki starts you at the beginning at the pop up, but any further progression is not “unlocked” until weeks thereafter. Is it a methodical approach designed to make sure that you master each movement before moving on to the next, or just a clever business tactic to keep you paying money every month to unlock the next level not unlike the Church of Scientology? I never quite figured out the answer to that.
Given that Gerr was someone I had at least heard of and who had achieved success both in the competitive and coaching arenas, I stuck with Wave Ki for the better part of two years. At the end of the day though, Wave Ki proved to be less of the 2021 Conner Coffin and more of the 2022 Conner Coffin for me. I was still just as mediocre as I was when I started.
I will admit though, I still do Wave Ki on a regular basis along with Gerr’s instructional videos, and namely because that voice of his is just that preternaturally soothing. The guy really could have a second gig as a DJ for late night jazz radio or recording stuff for the Calm App.
I am still not any better of a surfer, but Gerr’s silky-smooth intonations within Wave Ki’s practice modules are practically hypnotic and seem to melt away my anxieties, fears, and insecurities, if only for a moment.
In the next segment, we’ll have a BeachGrit exclusive, and all I can say about it right now is that this is going to be very, very big.