“The lip of the wave hit me in the back and I fell forward. I must have been going really fast and on the wrong angle as my neck went back, then to the side. I instantly couldn’t feel my right arm."

Australian surfer snaps neck in horror wipeout at wildly dangerous Central American wave

“I have been so anxious. I have bouts of depression and days I can’t get out of bed."

A Sydney surfer had a horror experience recently in Bocas del Toro, a little archipelago off the Carribean coast of Panama there.

You know the spot?

I’ve had a couple of trips there myself. Bocas  is one of those wonderful fusions of Latina and Carribean culture. Plantains and gallo pinto. Fried chicken and fried fish. Steel drums, rum, weed on every corner. Explosions of primary colours in the architecture. Boats your primary mode of transport. A modern day swashbuckler’s paradise.

In Panama, if you invite a friend over for a beer, they’ll bring along a jar of jalapenos as a snack. No potato chips. No nuts. Just delicious jalapenos to munch on in the deep humidity. I’ve seen it happen.

There’s plenty of fun to be had in Bocas. Waves, too. Fabulous short interval swells that pop up off the back of Atlantic depressions, with year-round light winds. Sometimes a lil crumbly. Sometimes whistle clean.

You’d recognise Bocas for its most famous wave, Silverbacks. A lurching right hand slab that’s as quick as it is nasty. But it’s not the only spot.

There’s plenty of nooks and crannies. All marked by their shallowness. Joint seems like it’s on permanent low tide. The main break, Caranero, is a poor man’s Macaronis, bending down the inside of an island pass over an urchin-infested shelf that grows ever closer to your fins.

Other spots like the Paunch, the Curve. The Curve’s one of those surf spots that almost isn’t. A wedge that sits about six feet off the edge of a rock platform. One turn on a primo section before an immediate starfish dismount.

Easy place to break your neck.

The best session I ever had there was at a break called Red Frog. Most pristine beachy you could imagine. Landscape like something out of Avatar. Water that was blue on blue. You got there taking a jungle trek across the island if you couldn’t afford a boat, which on this trip we could not. We found a right bank doing a good impersonation of four-foot Soup Bowls. Not another soul in sight, save for my travelling party of three. Memory-making sessions.

There’s an underbelly in Bocas, too.

That same trek a few weeks after we were there  an American tourist was raped and killed. Body left out for whoever to find it. Assailants never caught.

Many Americans go there to escape the law. On my second trip I spent a bit of time surfing with one guy who owned a joint there, a Texan (Texans, in my humble opinion, matched only by Italians for their unexpected competency in the water). He was friendly, if not quiet. An excellent surfer with a Chris Ward-esque glint in his eye.

He’d take my mate and I out in his boat looking for waves every day. Would ask for nothing more than to split the petrol money. He had this fabulous trick of rubbing his hands together and patting the water’s surface to summon sets. It didn’t work but was entertaining none the less.

On the surface a super nice guy. We later googled his name and found he was a convicted felon back home in the States, still wanted for a string of charges longer than Manut Bol.

He was one of the nice ones. As you can imagine, it’s not the sort of place you want to find yourself in need of First World medical care.

Which takes us back to our original story.

An Aussie tradie was surfing on an island in Panama when he got smashed by a wave so hard, he broke his neck.

Steve Bewley, from the Northern beaches in Sydney, was visiting his brother in Bocas del Toro, off the Caribbean coast in July last year when things took an unexpected turn.

The 40-year-old carpenter, who has been surfing his entire life, decided to cap off his trip by enjoying one last surf on a reef break up the road from where he was staying.

But to his horror, he ended up in hospital where scans would later reveal Steve broke his neck so bad he ruptured the disc between C6 and C7 resulting in a 12-hour operation to insert rods.

“The lip of the wave hit me in the back and I fell forward. I must have been going really fast and on the wrong angle as my neck went back, then to the side,” Steve, who has since returned home told news.com.au.

“I instantly couldn’t feel my right arm.

“I was like ‘sh*t, I think I’ve dislocated my shoulder, this is super uncomfortable’.”

The story doesn’t end there, however.

You can read more here, including the obligatory GoFundMe. 

The things we do.

What’s the shittiest surf situation you’ve found yourself in, far from home?

I’ve generally been pretty lucky in my travels, however last Ments trip one of our guys fell on a coral head at two-foot Thunders. Came in complaining of something funny feeling up his arse.

One spread of his cheek and a river of blood ran down his leg. A near perforated bowel.

Luckily, a boatload of Brazillians next to us included a trauma surgeon from Sao Paulo. She stitched him up. We chugged overnight to Siberut  to get him on the high speed ferry. An uncomfortable eighteen-hour trip home sitting on a cushion followed by emergency ass surgery once he was back in Oz.

The things we do.

Hero surfers drag bleeding man to beach following suspected Great White attack at Jeffreys Bay, “(We) commend the swift action of the public and the good Samaritan fellow surfers!”

Bystanders applied trauma pads to staunch the bleeding before the man was rushed to hospital…

It’s the age old question, ain’t it. Another surfer gets hit by a shark, usually a White a species of fish that’ll swing back for a  second or third strike, what do you do? 

Flee to the beach? Help your wounded comrade? 

I suspect I’m in the former camp, born a coward die a coward, although anecodotetally, it appears most surfers have the right stuff, as they say. 

And, so, when a fifty-year-old man was attacked by a suspected Great White shark on dusk at Supertubes last night, surfers who were already on the beach paddled back out to grab the man and drag him to shore. 

“An eye-witness reported that fellow surfers, who had initially retreated out of the water after being alerted that there had been an incident involving a shark, had returned into the surf to fetch the casualty out of the water,” the National Sea Rescue Institute’s J-Bay commander Paul van Jaarsveld said. “A bystander was provided the access code to the NSRI shark bite kit stationed at that beach.NSRI commend the swift action of the public and the good Samaritan fellow surfers.”


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Bystanders applied trauma pads to staunch the bleeding before the man could be rushed to hospital, where he is reportedly stable and in good enough spirits.

The three-time world champ Mick Fanning, who was famously wrestled by a Great White during a contest at Supertubes in 2015, says he is still tormented by his pals pulling his leash and yelling “Shark!”

“It still took me about a year or so to get through my PTSD,” says Mick. “Even still, I’m very wary of what’s in the ocean. People splash behind me, I freak out. My mates do it to me all the time.”

Glamour returns to pro surfing! | Photo: @sashajaneloweson/TikTok

Pro surfing history to be made tomorrow as transgender woman competes in finals of World Surf League’s Manly Classic! “Trans-girls aren’t going to take over the world, we just want to be included, we’re humans too”

“I’ve been hiding in this male shell up… for 42 years. To still be made to be that guy that I’m not, it’s shattering,”

The T-Girl community is cock-a-hoop following the release of the heat draw for the WSL’s Manly Classic, a one-day longboard event that runs at the famous Australian beach tomorrow. 

In quarter final number four, numbers I guess are so low for the event competitors are gifted a guaranteed spot in the quarters just by turning up, we find the inspirational transgender surfer Sasha Jane Lowerson.

You’ll remember Lowerson, of course, the svelte forty five year old with terrific arms who transitioned into womanhood in 2020 shortly after winning the men’s longboard div as Ryan Egan. 

“Trans-girls aren’t going to take over the world, we just want to be included, we’re humans too,” Lowerson, who is the reigning Western Australian women’s longboard champ, said.“I’ve been hiding in this male shell up… for 42 years. To still be made to be that guy that I’m not, it’s shattering.”

@sashajanelowerson The journey of #genderaffirmingsurgery ♬ original sound – Sasha Jane Lowerson

The triumph was a sweet return for Lowerson who says she was close to killing herself and had even had a few swings at it.

Depressed as hell, Lowerson gave up surfing, shaping, but once she decided to transition and the female hormones kicked in, woke up one day in February, felt a little better, called up Surfing Australia and said,

“Umm, this is me, the last time I competed in your Australian titles I was third, what are you going to do? I was pretty frank about it. We can do this two ways. We can do it together and make it amazing or we can do it terribly and it’s a circus and you guys are the only ones who are going to  come out looking silly… I’d prefer to not go through that.” 

A feel-good story for the times.

Surfing’s reactionary core was laid bare, however, when Momentum Generation funnyman and Kelly Slater bandmate Peter King waded into the trans-athlete imbroglio saying,

“Stay out of women’s sports where you miraculously win after being an average performing man. Women’s sports is not a backup plan where you can’t win a trophy (And $) in the men’s division. Leagues like WSL and sponsors like Red Bull will you now stand up to this now instead of harming women’s sports?”

Kelly Slater added, “Make a trans division and we don’t have this confusion.”

The appearance of Lowerson is a thumb in the eye of one-armed surfer Bethany Hamilton who threatened to boycott WSL events so long as T-Girls were gifted the keys to competing among the bio-gals. 

And, you’ll remember, only one week ago Hamilton, the world’s most inspirational surfer it’s said, issued a chilling prophecy warning of Third World men “suppressing hormones” so they could get rich smashing girls in competition. 

Responding online to the question, “How many transgender athletes are joining the League?” Hamilton wrote,

“I don’t think that’s a fair place to start because you have to think long term and what things could look like in 20-50 years. For example, a young male from a poverty stricken country may decide to suppress his hormones in hopes to make money and get out of poverty.  When he may not succeed in the mens division but he may thrive with the women. Kinda an extreme example. But I find it strange seeing in others ports men who did not find the success they wanted and switch to the women’s and then did succeed.” 

Also in the quarterfinals is Lucy Small, who rocketed to fame a couple of years back when she gave organisers of a longboard contest hell from the stage for paying the women half as much as the men. The effect was seismic and mainstream media went into overdrive, for who, after all, doesn’t love a little patriarchy busting? Is there no crime greater or more deserving than a little public vengeance?

Lucy also appeared on BeachGrit’s now-defunct Dirty Water podcast where we all agreed that white men are the worst (I’m of a brown-ish hue, Charlie is yellowed from the booze) and talked admiringly about the wonderful Valerie Solanas and her Society for Cutting Up Men (SCUM)

Tune in tomoz!

"Aside from a shocker in Portugal, Tyler hasn’t placed below the semifinals all year. Yes, she drives you all up the wall with her interviews and advocacy, and I’ll confess I enjoy watching you get riled up by her. Her surfing at Margaret River was a cut above and showed more variety than the usual layback that we’ve all seen too many times." | Photo: WSL

World Surf League accused of “shrinking and pinking” women’s tour, “It’s not a great look for an organization that likes to talk about its commitment to equity”

"In the outdoor industry, brands used to take a mediocre men’s product, make it smaller and paint it pink. Shrink it, and pink it."

Welcome back to the extremely occasional Beachgrit coverage of the women’s Championship Tour. We have made it, at last, to the mid-season cut.

Did you cry?

Were you so very sad for the women we left behind? Honestly, I’m having a hard time remembering them at all. Now there are 10. Plus, two wildcards.

In the outdoor industry, brands used to take a mediocre men’s product — never anything high end — make it smaller, because women are so very small, and paint it pink. Shrink it, and pink it. Much the same could be said to the current approach of the World Surf League toward the women’s CT.

It is certainly much smaller than the men’s version. Post-cut, the men’s draw includes 24 surfers. Women, well, they get 12. It’s not a great look for an organization that likes to talk about its commitment to equity. Next time, maybe they’ll paint it teal instead.

Let’s take a look at who’s left, where they’ve been, and where they’re headed. Well, we do know where they’re headed. That’s right, they’re all headed straight for Lemoore. I guess I’m going there, too, unless I can think of a super good excuse.

In fact, if you have a good excuse you can lend me, feel free to share it! I need all the help I can get over here.


Let’s start with the wildcards. On the women’s side, there are two new wildcards — one for the remainder of this season and 2024 and one for 2024. There were minimal shenanigans here.

Johanne Defay spent much of the season out with a foot injury, and has the surgery scar to prove it. Johanne is super, super stoked that Steph made the cut or she might have been left out in the cold. Johanne finished last year third in the world, which gave her the edge over injured rookie Sophie McCulloch. Johanne’s currently last in the rankings, so she’s unlikely to challenge for the top five again this time around.

Arguably Brisa is a less obvious choice for the 2024 season wildcard. After all, Soph is right there and had a giant brace on her ankle. Soph missed two events, making the cutline a steep climb. That should be why the wildcards exist. But Brisa was the top-ranked woman to miss the cut, has been on Tour since 2016, and won Sunset in 2022. She’s also qualified for the Olympics. I suspect it’s that last detail that gave her a second chance.

To the rankings!

10. Steph Gilmore. She made the cut. For a six-time world champion, there should not have been any question on this front. Steph currently sits sixth just 1800 points behind Caity Simmers. Steph’s typically done well at Surf Ranch, and the right point at J-Bay awaits her. Steph can readily make a run up the rankings, if she brings her best surfing and the conditions aren’t total dogshit. Expect her in the top five before long, but she gets last here due to there even being any suspense at all over her ability to make the cut.

9. Tati West. She’s always just right there. Currently tied on points with Steph, Tati also sits just outside the top five. She hasn’t done anything exciting this year, but sometimes, exciting isn’t necessary. Tati’s consistent with two quarters, a semi, and a ninth. Add another semi — or even an event win, and she’ll be right back in the top five again. Tati already has her Olympic qualification sealed, so she could be forgiven for relaxing into the second half of the season. She’s ranked low on my list due to my inability to get excited about her surfing. Maybe that’s my fault. I’ll try harder for next time.

8. Lakey Peterson. Thanks to her quarterfinal finish at Margaret River, Lakey squeaked over the cut line. Mostly though, it’s been a forgettable season for her with a string of early round exits. When Lakey can do her signature wrap, she gets the scores. When she can’t, it often comes apart for her. Lakey’s freesurfing is dynamic and creative, and it would be cool to see her bring more that vibe to her heats. What’s not always evident on video is just how fast she surfs. At Margaret River, Lakey made Steph look like the she was surfing in slow motion. Lakey has won Surf Ranch in the past and she’s fiercely competitive. A run up the rankings is not at all out of the question. She’s sitting down here based on her performances so far this year. The future is wide open.

7. Gabriela Bryan. Gabriela was the only rookie to make the cut last year, and here she is, making it again. She got off to a solid start in Hawaii where she made the quarters at Pipe and the semi at Sunset. Then she made a speedy slide down the rankings. Small waves don’t suit her powerful style and Hawaiian upbringing. It’s a skill she’ll need to cultivate. The back half of the year should suit her better, though first timers often struggle with sheer strangeness of the Surf Ranch. Gabriela is currently tied on points with Bettylou and Lakey, and they all sit eighth. The top five looks close, but looks deceive.

6. Bettylou Sakura Johnson. Earlier this week, Bettylou posted a few solid clips from Snapper where she is preparing to do the Challenger Series event. After missing the cut last year, Bettylou is set for her first attempt at the second half of the year. At times, there’s still some grom arms in her surfing, and she looked underpowered next to Molly in their quarterfinal at Bells. But freesurfing in good waves, Bettylou shines. She’s well-rounded — she got shacked at the Box — and at her best, stylish. Like Gabriela, she’s got game, and hassled hard in her heat against Carissa at Pipe. Bettylou’s next challenge is to bring it all together consistently in her heat surfing. She’s still only 18, and a full year on Tour should help.

5. Caroline Marks. Now 21, Caroline Marks came on Tour in 2018 as the next big thing. That is a hell of a burden to carry. In 2019, she beat Steph Gilmore at Duranbah to win the first of two events, and she finished the year second overall. But after her fourth place at Tokyo in 2021, things seemed to unravel. Caroline missed most of 2022 for mental health reasons, and she hasn’t had a win since her return. But it’s only when set against the absurd expectations of her first years on Tour that her current fourth place in the rankings looks like an underperformance. Over the past year, Caroline has smoothed out her style — the windmill arms are mostly gone — and she’s posted some legit clips from Teahupo’o. The U.S. women will bring three surfers to the 2024 Olympics, and it would be a crime if Caroline were not one of them.

4. Caity Simmers. Like Caroline before her, Caity is the next big thing. From the outside, she looks to be carrying those expectations lightly. She’s a quirky human, and I’m hoping that doesn’t get lost in the pro athlete machine. Caity beat Courtney to win her first event in Portugal. She’s also lost two close heats to Caroline. The judges have preferred Caroline’s more polished if repetitive surfing to Caity’s jazzy creativity. How does Caity keep the creative, unpredictable style that makes her surfing so compelling, while giving the judges what they want? That’s the challenge for her now. A few trips to the gym in the next off-season might also help put more power behind her turns. Caity’s currently fifth in the rankings, and it’ll be a battle to stay there.

3. Carissa Moore. It’s a sign of just how much Carissa has accomplished in her career that a pair of event wins and a pair of quarterfinal finishes don’t sound like a huge season for her. And yet, Carissa’s second in the rankings behind Tyler, and it would not take much for her to take the top spot. She’s made backside barrel surfing her project for the past few seasons, and I’d love to see her have the chance to test those lessons in solid Teahupo’o later this year. Her ability to evolve is Carissa’s greatest strength as a surfer. She falters when she overthinks it and gets too much in her head. If she reaches Trestles at the top of the rankings, it would not at all surprise me. How well she can put last year’s disappointment behind her will test her more than the waves at Trestles.

2. Molly Picklum. Molly knows all about letting go and moving on. She missed the cut last year, and came back to lead the rankings all the way through to Margaret River. That’s an impressive run. I’ll admit that it’s a quirky choice to put Molly ahead of Carissa, but she deserves her moment in the sun. The second half of the season is unknown terrain for her. At times, Molly’s style gets ragged around the edges, as though she wants it a little too badly. I can’t hate her for wanting it, by any means, but the judges might — especially if she encounters Steph at a right point. Never let them see you try. Make it look inevitable and effortless. That’s Steph’s gift, and one Molly could add to her already deep arsenal.

1. Tyler Wright. Aside from a shocker in Portugal, Tyler hasn’t placed below the semifinals all year. Yes, she drives you all up the wall with her interviews and advocacy, and I’ll confess I enjoy watching you get riled up by her. Her surfing at Margaret River was a cut above and showed more variety than the usual layback that we’ve all seen too many times. I’d like to ban that turn forever, but the judges keep rewarding it, so it lives on. The rights in the back half of the season should suit her fine, but solid Teahupo’o could slam on the brakes. Still, I’d expect Tyler to reach Trestles in the top five without too much difficulty. Then it’s anyone’s game.

Thiel, Slater and Cloudbreak.
Thiel, Slater and Cloudbreak.

Vanity Fair epic on bold surfers versus evil developers in Fiji replete with Kelly Slater and Peter Thiel cameos set to become must-see documentary!

A multi-layered eco-thriller!

Hours ago, the notable American magazine Vanity Fair published an epic tale sure to excite surfers the world over. Oh you must read but, in a word or two, it features two Australian surfers who fell in love with Fiji’s Cloudbreak, bought some property on a nearby island in order to build small eco huts only to run smack dab into the middle of a nasty development that did not heed sound environmental practices, a scientist with dreams of shaving reefs in order to create Surf Ranches in the ocean, a frustratingly unconcerned Fijian government, China’s Belt and Road initiative with cameo appearances by the world’s greatest surfer Kelly Slater and Gawker destroyer Peter Thiel.


Making things even better, the business is set to become a must-see documentary.

Per Deadline:

Helen Estabrook, Global Head of Film & Television, Condé Nast Entertainment, said, “On its surface, this is a thrilling David vs. Goliath tale centered on a five-acre patch of coastline in Fiji. Thanks to (writer) David Kushner’s cinematic storytelling, we’re introduced to those whose livelihoods depend on that slice of shoreline and suddenly the stakes become much higher. It’s a classic Vanity Fair examination of power, and what’s possible when people have the courage to challenge it.”

Ethan Goldman, Founder and CEO, Anchor Entertainment, added, “Kushner’s investigative reporting presents a pressing urgency as it pertains to the complicated nature of global tourism. With this complex story we aim to present a multi-layered eco-thriller, all set within the visually stunning backdrop of Fiji’s pristine yet fragile natural beauty.”

Multi-layered eco-thrillers seem like a new genre ripe for further development and I am excited for my phone to ring, Hollywood studio on other end, about a story I wrote last year following professional surfer Kanoa Igarashi as he plants a bush in Western Australia in order to help the World Surf League save the earth from collapse.

Cannes here I come.