Bay Area in shock as former U.S. Olympic swimmer, son of legendary surf coach, dies while surfing Santa Cruz

"Doing what he loved..."

Surfing’s 2024 has gotten off to a macabre start. Pipeline, always fierce though never so surgical, has brought five notable surfers low in the past handful of weeks. A shark attack in Maui cut down a 39-year-old surfer. Another, in Western Australia, ending the young life of a 15-year-old.

And now we have the tragic news coming out of Santa Cruz that local Bay Area swim coach, and former United States Olympic swimmer, Richard Thorton died yesterday right before paddling The Hook, a playful right hander north-ish of Capitola.

Marc Thornton, Richard’s younger brother, took to Facebook writing, “Sorry for having to share this information, but Richard Thornton passed away surfing today at The Hook in Santa Cruz. Doing what he loved. More to follow but wanted to let everyone know.”

In speaking with the local Bay Area NBC affiliate, Marc said that his brother died on the beach before paddling out.

Both are sons of Nort Thornton, an absolute legend in swimming circles who coached UC Berkley’s Golden Bears to 48 individual NCAA championships over a thirty-plus year career. Richard, following in his father’s footsteps, was a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic swim team, though didn’t get to compete due the U.S. boycott, and a legendary coach in his own right, heading up San Ramon Valley Aquatics since graduating from Berkley in 1984.

He was named Pacific Swimming Coach of the Year in 2000.

Kai Lenny (left) and Kelly Slater (right) packaged together for less than $40k.
Kai Lenny (left) and Kelly Slater (right) packaged together for less than $40k.

Bank run feared as luxury experience agency offers five-night stay with Kelly Slater and Kai Lenny in Fiji for see-to-believe price!

Golfing, wellness lunches, personal butler and you.

My only regret, and it’s deep, is that I did not provide this information before the close of the banking day on America’s west coast. Australian surf fans have a leg up, as it is daylight there, banks still open, loan officers standing by. Europe is on the verge of waking up, along with their banks and loan officers. America’s east coast is a ways off but will rise three hours before its west and… I’m sorry friends and neighbors.

Hi Chas,

With the Olympics around the corner and documentaries like 100 Foot Wave surging in popularity, surf tourism is at an all-time high. With that in mind, luxury experience agency GR8 Experience has launched an exclusive surf trip in Fiji with world-renowned pro surfers Kai Lenny and Kelly Slater.

From April 25-29, 2024, guests can learn from the pros while staying in a private bungalow at the 5-Star private island resort COMO Laucala Island—one of world’s most exclusive and expensive islands. This once-in-a-lifetime trip includes…

· Professional surf training and land fitness sessions with Kai Lenny and Kelly Slater
· Five nights of private luxury accommodation at COMO Laucala Island
· Golfing with Kelly Slater on 18-hole Championship Golf Course
· Wellness lunch with Kai Lenny to discuss optimal nutrition, health and training
· 60-min massage at globally-acclaimed COMO Shambala Spa and daily hot/cold therapy
· All-inclusive food and luxury amenities
· Photographer and personal butler (“Tau”)

The price per person ranges from $26,826 – $37,689 depending on villa type and room occupancy. To book contact [email protected]

Hurry, probably.

Koa Smith wellness program
"Through a severe head injury that left him with crippling depression, the pressure of competition and the bombardment of business demands, he realized that something needed to change. He wanted to take charge of his mental game. In turn, through extensive research and support, he developed a mental exercise routine, something that Koa Smith commits to every morning."

BeachGrit completes Ultimate Surfer Koa Smith’s $37 seven-day wellness program!

Would the course be nothing but bumper sticker wisdom or would Koa offer something more serious?

It’s madness out there. People in protest gluing themselves to things, strapping bombs to their chests, the rest of us seeking to cope.

To whom can we turn in this twisting world?

Thankfully, Koa Smith is now offering a seven-day online course to help us find our center. For less than forty dollars, Koa Smith will sherpa us around our own heads in pursuit of peak mental health.

If religion is considered to the be opiate of the masses, the cult of mindfulness is a close over the counter second. And since we are all drunk on finding ourselves right now, Koa Smith’s new course could be the New Year’s hit we need.

Unsure if his aim was to calm the chaos or capitalize on it, I wanted to know more.

The 4 advertised reviews on the website certainly piqued my interest, especially this one:
“I didn’t realize how much of a muscle my mind actually is!”

It is not.

Koa Smith, the gifted big wave surfer-model with hope-colored eyes, alabaster teeth and mahogany-glazed skin promises that after only a few days, “You won’t even recognize yourself in the mirror.”

A heavy claim.

The challenge is presented by

Here’s how they describe their expert:

“Koa Smith is a professional surfer, thirty-second famed barrel rider, entrepreneur and true showman. While his life looks idyllic from the outside; sunshine, nature, travel & nonstop adventure, he struggles to balance it all just like the rest of us.

“Through a severe head injury that left him with crippling depression, the pressure of competition and the bombardment of business demands, he realized that something needed to change. He wanted to take charge of his mental game. In turn, through extensive research and support, he developed a mental exercise routine, something that he commits to every morning.

“A routine that puts him in the driver seat before the chaos of the world even has a chance to make an impression. His mental game changed everything and now he wants to share his morning routine with you. Are you ready to transform your mental game? $37.”

I was to connect with entrepreneur Koa Smith on the financial, if not spiritual, plane. In truth, I was spiritually less ambitious and more interested in having a good laugh but promised myself to give it an honest go.

Meditation, from the Latin meditatum meaning “to ponder,” is lauded by some and brushed aside by others, determined to be little more than a guise for idleness; Its roots date to 1500 BC and can be traced through the Hindu’s Vedic texts to the Bible to Joe Dispenza.

I’m comforted in the direct line of influence from Christ to Koa Smith.

But would the brilliant surfer from Kauai be out of his depth here?

Would the course be nothing but bumper sticker wisdom and silk-screened t-shirt platitudes?

Or would Koa offer something more serious? Either way, his expertise in health and wellness would be on display in front of trusting individuals like me who have nothing better to do with their mornings, pre-surf.

Day 1: We are tasked to draft a list of 100 things we are grateful for. Number 1 on my list? Derek throwing 37 extra bones in my Paypal. Koa says that he will provide me tools that will tap into my deepest power. “This isn’t just a seven-day challenge: It’s a gateway to a whole new lifestyle,” he says. I anticipate a gracious timeshare offer in Boca.

Day 2: No sales pitch. Instead, we gaze at ourselves in the mirror for a round of positive self-talk. “I can be whoever I want to be!” My mind wanders to Sartre then back as Koa Smith relays the story of his own self-determinist talk every morning during his Ultimate Surfer run. “I’m the best surfer here” was his daily mantra and was he really?

He tells me that my mirror talk will be awkward at first but in time I will “break through.”

It’s a crack in the alabaster; Koa’s faith in this kind of messaging is rivaled only by Nathan Fletcher’s belief in numerology. He doesn’t reveal any sturdy foundation for this claim.

He says, “Just do it and it might just happen.”

Day 3: The cold shower. Koa throws up his hands in prayer: “I’m doing this because it’s good for me. I’m going to have a better day. BOOM! You get in the cold shower and you do not regret it. The effects are setting yourself up for big wins the rest of the day. That discipline, putting in the work.”

I just do it. Boom! I’m freezing.

And irony hits considering that in a half-hour, I’d be iced over wrapped in my Hyperflex bobbing in 46 degrees.

Day 4: After the gratitude, the mirror talk, and the cold shower, we run through four series of movements to loosen our bodies. As we roll our hips and shoulders, Koa tells us to continue the peptalk, this time speaking specifically to each of our joints and muscles, but I feel silly telling my quads how gorgeous they are. My wife squishes her face in disgust, and I tell her it’s science?

Overall, I appreciate the warmup. It’s the only time in the course when Mr. Smith mentions surfing, too. He says when he goes out for a surf, he doesn’t need to get ready: He is ready. Good point.

Day 5: Things go crooked fast. I listen to Koa talk through a 12-minute “recentering” meditation. There’s a sustain placed on Koa’s vocals intended to fool us that Koa has somehow breeched our heads. It’s accompanied by the most angelic, beautiful Buddhist-like music I’ve ever heard. Like in a Thai takeout with massage in the back.

His words glide into the mind:

“Picture a tub of warm honey getting poured on top of your head slowly dripping down your head your eyes your nose everywhere, it’s touching it’s relaxing that space, slowly dripping down your chin your neck, relaxing your throat your shoulders your chest your upper back relaxing your heart…

“Picturing that honey dripping past your quads…”

Oh, you’re a little sickie, Koa, aren’t cha?

As I reenter the shower I wonder if Koa Smith shouldn’t be paying me the 37 smacks.

Day 6: Nail the gratitude, the shower, the stretching, skip the sex talk. Today we journal. Identifying our daily “intention” is critical, whatever that intention may be. I grow tired of the whole course and paddle out without any intentions yet somehow snag a few snappy lefts.

Day 7: The final step: “Grab a jug of high-quality water, get into nature and the sun in your eyes. You don’t need to stare directly into the sun.”

And with that counsel, it was over. A week of Koa Smith.

I appreciated a few aspects of the challenge: the stretching and cold showers are smart for the bod. And I’m anticipating some positive downstream effects assuming I keep it up. But the rest— the gratitude, the mirror talk, the honey drip, etc.— are soft on the hard science.

Just because Koa Smith earned a certificate of completion from Joe Dispenza and read a couple of wellness books, does it give him the chops to act as a paid cognitive behavioral therapist/physiologist? I just finished David McCullough’s book about the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. It didn’t make me a civil engineer.

Koa Smith seems to suffer from what’s called the “illusion of explanatory depth” where we think we know something but in fact do not; we only know about it. There’s a big difference.

Hubris, baby.

The online hosting outfit, PortalEXP out of Carlsbad, provides support links for those wanting to kick habits or throw themselves off bridges and this is fantastic. They also sell 88-dollar hoodies.

To boot, they advertise that 10% of proceeds go to something called H347P. It’s unclear what the charity is, however; H347P is Portal’s podcast is led by “The Misfits of Consciousness.” Along with Koa Smith, Portal promotes a half-dozen other D-list twenty-somethings with expensive haircuts and tattooed knuckles.

Koa Smith is a genuinely likeable character who is passionate about helping people get right in the head. Maybe a grain of salt is needed to digest Koa’s program, all in good fun, etc.

I truly hope his course helps people in need (or who think they are in need). But to charge money for ideas that are already spread free and wide across the internet? Couldn’t he just post his advice on his celebrated Insta account— gratis?

Watching the daily videos, one can’t help but wonder who we are viewing: Koa Smith the beneficent or Koa Smith the entrepreneur.

Would you take non-surfing advice from Koa?

Or are you more likely to get your life coaching from DLS and Chas on The Grit?

Open Thread: Comment live on day one of the “clean and mean” Da Hui Backdoor Shootout!

Da Banzai Pipeline.

Surf fans introduced to whimsical new game “Is it Mike Pence or is it Mick Fanning?”

Play amazing games, win amazing prizes!

We are now, officially, in the year 2024 and the beginning of the World Surf League’s new Championship Tour Season is… still a whole month away. While billing itself the “global home of surfing,” the League has done… poorly in providing wall-to-wall entertainment for starving surf fans. No Barefoot Wine pre-game mixers. Zero “scenes from behind the Bailey’s Ladder.”


Thankfully, we have Rip Curl.

Even though the Torquay-based wetsuit snd soft-goods maker sold to Kathmandu five-ish years ago, it very much maintains its core roots and, seeing depressed surf fans staring mournfully at the air, released the funnest, most whimsical new game “Is it Mike Pence or is it Mick Fanning?”

Mike or Mick?
Mike or Mick?

Large blowup dolls are being strategically placed in surf fan-rich locations wearing a wetsuit, holding a board. A table is set up outside with two stacks of notecards. One reads, “This is former Vice President of the United States Mike Pence.”

Mike Pence
Mike Pence

The other reads, “This is three-time surf champion Mick Fanning.”

Surf fans are allowed to study the effigy from all angles, though not allowed to touch, pick one of the cards then drop it into a Dominion Voting System.

The winner, selected by the State of Michigan’s election team, will receive a pair of Klly Turtle Moons.

Good luck.