The surf world was stunned, yesterday, after typically only accidentally controversial Stab Magazine lobbed purposeful wild accusations at some of history’s most beloved surfers. Co-founder Sam McIntosh, taking to email, informed his slack-jawed premium members that “Jordy Smith Sued For $500k As A Teenager For Trying To Change Sponsor” and “Why John Florence Didn’t Sign A $5m Rip Curl Deal And How He Turned Down The Volcom Pipe House As A Signing Bonus” plus “How Red Bull Dropped Andy Irons Because Of Cocaine Use.”
The Australian handsome McIntosh had kept those salacious nuggets hidden and quiet, according to his message, to nab prime talent for much-loved video projects like How Surfers Get Paid and Stab in the Dark. The biggest fish in his pond? New Jersey’s Ben Gravy.
The universally adored New Jersey novelty wave enthusiast is wonderfully interesting, McIntosh very much correct in chasing even after Gravy told him, “You won’t get me, dude.” Well, after enough inoffensive headlines, McIntosh revealed, “Spoiler: We got him.”
In any case, do you think Gravy being sullied makes Sam McIntosh very sad? Bitterly crying into his crisp pillow? One that previously cradled what he thought to be Gravy’s unsullied movie star handsome curls?
I’d argue it most certainly does.
Sad days wherever Stab calls home now.
World’s best-ever female surfer Stephanie Gilmore steps away from pro tour
"I have goals and dreams that I am still chasing – I’m excited for something fresh this year," says Stephanie Gilmore.
It ain’t a surprise to anyone who breezes through BeachGrit because, as predicted three days ago, eight-time world champ Stephanie Gilmore has stepped away from the pro tour, ostensibly for one year, likely forever.
Stephanie Gilmore made the announcement on Instagram, telling her seven-hundred thousand followers.
“I am planning to take this tour season off as a refresh for myself physically, mentally, and to enjoy following swells and free surfing in new places,” Gilmore writes.”I have some projects and trips I want to do, which haven’t been possible while traveling for the tour season. I am still passionate and dedicated to competing, and I have goals and dreams that I am still chasing – I’m excited for something fresh this year and I look forward to returning to competition in 2025.”
The zenith for Stephanie Gilmore’s career came in 2022 when she dominated Finals Day, starting in fifth place, mowing through all-comers before beating Carissa Moore in the winner-take-all surf-off.
A win for the ages, although Stephanie Gilmore was conflicted by the result, even as it gave her the record for most female world surf titles.
“I’d only ever won titles in the other fashion where you accumulate points through the season and the winner at the end is who has the most points,” Stephanie Gilmore said. “In this fashion you just try and make the top five and on the very final day the world’s best battle it out and that moment crowns a world champion. You could have a bad day and Carissa just wasn’t on that day. A big part of me still thinks the world champion should be crowned over all the different conditions, surfing is about being able to compete in all different kinds of waves and being successful all through the year.”
"I think if you continue to do what you’re doing, you’re gonna die. So I highly suggest you stop."
But were you, too, caught up in all the drama, the storylines and sub-storylines of the just-wrapped Nazaré Big Wave Challenge? You could/should have been following along with the action, live, and chatting with online surf friends but in case you slept in, Lucas Chianca won on the men’s side with Maya Gabeira taking the Rolex-lite for the women.
It was the striking Brazilian charger’s second in a row.
Afterward, Gabeira said of her strategy, “We realized that the judges were rewarding turns because the size is not that big, so we have to look for those smoother walls in our second session.” Then added, “I’ve been injured for what seems like forever now so it was great to compete again and to get the win is a great way to come back. Teaming up with Tony (Laureano from Portugal), the youngest one, was special. Even after getting injured he continued to drive me and stayed focused and drove me into the waves I needed. Today was a very difficult day to surf and especially to perform rail surfing. And to do that under a time pressure is tough, normally in the free surf when you’re tired you rest, here you have to go and you tend to take more risk than you probably should. It’s very difficult but so very rewarding in the end.”
Powerful and poignant. Surf great Kelly Slater, at home, watching the action while shoveling forkfuls of medium-rare crow into his mouth.
But you will recall when the 11x world champion felt Gabeira was out of place at super-sized Teahupo’o and took to social media to let her know, penning, “You are unprepared. You are endangering people around you when they have to go in and rescue in such scenarios. I think if you continue to do what you’re doing, you’re gonna die. So I highly suggest you stop.”
Thankfully, though, Gabeira did not take heed and now Slater is begging for a little hot sauce.
Matt Warshaw on surfing’s confused relationship with “mythical Hawaiian superman” Eddie Aikau
By shaping and promoting the Eddie Aikau myth, others—Quiksilver, mostly—stood to profit greatly…
Halfway through writing about Eddie Aikau last week, I noted that his Waimea Bay memorial service, despite being announced beforehand and held on a Saturday, drew less than 1,000 people, which seems like an impossibly low turnout but the photos don’t lie. Encyclopedia of Surfing contributor John Callahan emailed back the next morning:
A memorial service held today for Eddie Aikau, if he were to pass in the same circumstances, would draw tens of thousands of people, not the small crowd that was there in 1978. I was in high school in Hawaii at the time and the difference is, in ’78 Eddie Aikau was still a human being. It was only later, thanks to Quiksilver and the Eddie big-wave contest and the marketing around him in general, that Aikau became larger than life, a mythical Hawaiian Superman, instead of a real person with flaws and faults as well as strengths.
That sounds right. That, plus the sport in general, even in Hawaii, hadn’t yet moved too deeply into the culture at large. Not deep enough to draw tens of thousands to a 9:00 AM service, anyway.
The marketing bit, as far as transforming Aikau from respected and admired big-wave surfer to a globally recognized Hawaiian icon nearly on equal footing with Duke Kahanamoku, is worth a look.
I’m not at all saying Aikau doesn’t deserve to be so elevated. He does.
But it’s also clear that by shaping and promoting the Eddie myth, others—Quiksilver, mostly—stood to profit greatly, and that’s just what happened.
(Read the back half of this article, about how the spectacular 1974 Smirnoff has echoed down through the years, to get a sense of how the Aikau of legend has played out. SURFER Magazine bit so hard on the sell job that it credited Eddie himself, in 1974, for not just inspiring but more or less inventing the famous “Eddie Would Go” slogan for the Quiksilver big-wave contest. Hogwash. I’m 98% sure the slogan originated, fully formed and print-ready, at this exact momen in 1986.)
I’ve gone way off-topic here. Just trying to underline what Callahan said, above, that at a certain point in a marketing campaign’s growth index, the actual thing at the center of the campaign becomes flatter, smaller, less detailed.
“The slogan outgrew the contest,” I wrote in 2005, “and probably even Eddie himself. It’s definitely outgrown history.”
What I really wanted to get into here today is the last year or so of Eddie’s life, when he was still very much a real person, albeit a real person getting pulled, hard, in several directions at once.
In 1973, Gerald Aikau, Eddie’s handsome and popular younger brother, almost certainly suffering from PTSD following a difficult but decorated two-year tour in Vietnam, died in a single-car accident while driving home from a party at the Aikau house.
As late as 1976, Eddie was still feeling undone from the loss.
Meanwhile, and probably related to Gerald’s death, Eddie’s marriage to Seattle-raised Linda Crosswhite was quietly falling apart. Eddie drank more than he used to, sometimes didn’t come home, and would on occasion spend the night at Gerald’s grave.
As Clyde Aikau later put it, brother Eddie was going through “some heavy personal trips.”
Jumping ahead a bit on the timeline, Eddie was also said to have become convinced, right before setting out on the fateful Hokule’a voyage, that he would die at sea. At one point he had his sister-in-law cut his hair in the graveyard near the family compound, where he told her he had a feeling he would not be coming back.
Clyde later pushed back on the idea that Eddie had a death wish or some kind of premonition.
The pre-journey nerves, he continued, were the result of Eddie’s cautious nature—which sounds odd, considering we’re talking about a man who was and is synonymous with extreme big-wave surfing, but maybe not.
“My brother didn’t take chances,” said Clyde.
He studied conditions and absolutely knew what he was capable of, and when to draw the line. But Eddie had no say in the timing or execution of the Hokule’a trip, and the whole thing was absolutely a chance-taking venture, and this may have been what had him so on edge.
But let’s turn this around.
Start looking for evidence that Eddie was not fully embedded on the dark side in the years after Gerald’s death, and things pop up all over the place.
Aikau stepped in to smooth things out following the infamous “Bustin’ Down the Door” beat-downs on the North Shore in late 1976, for starters.
Aikau noticeably upped his game on the North Shore in 1977—at the time, an unheard-of thing for a surfer in his 30s to do—and at the end of the year, in big premium-grade waves at Sunset Beach, he won the Duke Classic, beating Mark Richards, Dane Kealoha, and Wayne Bartholomew in the finals.
Six weeks later, Eddie was on the front page of the Honolulu Advertiser, above the fold, dropping into a huge one, with a headline reading “Waimea Roars Again.”
He would have been feeling great, too, about Kimo Hollinger’s recent full-length SURFER Magazine feature titled, “Pop: the Family Aikau,” which centered not on Eddie or Clyde—the famous Aikaus—but the tough bandy-legged patriarch, Soloman, who everybody called Pop. The Steve Wilkings shot that opened the article is a Hawaiian family portrait for the ages.
Finally, there was Eddie’s interest, which bordered on obsession, in being involved with with the Hokule’a, and crewing on the ship’s upcoming 1978 voyage to Tahiti.
The boat was rebuilt on the cheap, and its first voyage to Tahiti, in 1977, while successful, saw more infighting.
But even through all of that, you could see how important and worthwhile and cherished the Hokule’a was to Hawaiians, and to anybody with an interest in Polynesian history, or seafaring in general.
Eddie certainly felt it.
Moreover, and I’m going out on a limb here a bit, the Hokule’a likely offered him a way forward, something new, something apart from and in addition to surfing, something that connected to ideas and people and culture in a way that didn’t just keep him busy at the dock and on training runs but also made his own life bigger.
On March 14, 1978, two days before the Hokule’s departed from Honolulu, Eddie did an early morning drive-time AM radio interview. The whole eight-minute segment is heartbreaking, knowing what we know. It is uncomfortable as well—the first few minutes anyway—because Aikau is so clearly nervous, almost frozen in places, as he talks about his upbringing, his career as a lifeguard, and the upcoming voyage.
Then after a break the DJ says, “We’re going to share with you folks out there a special song written by Eddie, and it’s for the Hokule’a,” and Eddie strums his guitar for the first time, does a halting but heartfelt spoken intro, then slides into “Hawaii’s Pride,” and for three minutes we’re in a different world.
Eddie becomes another person altogether—his voice is fluid, strong, relaxed; his guitar playing is flawless, delicate, with a background mid-range drone that seems plugged into a wavelength not of this world.
How Eddie performs this feat this, with no warm-up, at 7:50 in the morning, is unfathomable to me. The song ends. “From the crew of Hokule’a,” Eddie says, “we love you, Hawaii. Aloha.”
Some of my reaction here, maybe, is just me seeing what I want or need to see in Eddie. The “heavy personal trips” that he went through in the years after Gerald’s death—an experience like that can hang off you like chains, can in fact drag you to a full stop. But it can also temper you into a steadier, more fully-realized version of yourself.
Not bulletproof. Not impervious. But better than before. This is what I think happened to Eddie during the final year of his life.
You don’t surf as well as Eddie did in the Duke, or come up with a song like “Hawaii’s Pride” and sing it with the kind of feeling he brought to the end of that radio interview, unless you’re moving forward and up.
Now, those who subscribe to the premium web log Stab are, of course, treated to much beloved exclusive content behind the paywall. They are also, though, gifted periodic emails from the desk of co-founder Sam McIntosh. This week, in peek into the gilded remote office, patrons learned that Bethany Hamilton thought that the title had been purchased by the World Surf League. The reasoning behind her thinking? That Stab was so milquetoast as to belong, squarely, behind the Wall of Positive Noise.
McIntosh blushed with what he considered a compliment and bequeathed Hamilton a special code into the site to “see what they were all about.”
He then proceeded to explain:
Here however, after three years of Stab Premium, you guys understand what we’re trying to do and why we hide these easter eggs within.
Imagine the virality – and the ensuing meltdown – from any of the following headlines on IG.
Jordy Smith Sued For $500k As A Teenager For Trying To Change Sponsor
Why John Florence Didn’t Sign A $5m Rip Curl Deal And How He Turned Down The Volcom Pipe House As A Signing Bonus
How Red Bull Dropped Andy Irons Because Of Cocaine Use
We Convinced Surfboard Sadist Schroff To Shape A Board With Arch-Nemesis Hayden Cox
The list goes on and on and on. Instead, as you know, we release these stories with the most benign of headlines: How Surfers Get Paid, episode one; Electric Acid Surfboard Test episode two etc. Because of this, the people who give us their time are not crucified on social media when their quotes are taken out of context from an entire storyline.
By keeping the salacious headlines off social, our talent can be transparent and unguarded with us. The past 8-10 weeks proved that with us finishing about 30 more interviews for How Surfers Get Paid, shot between California and Hawaii. We’ve landed some hammers there, too — industry heavyweight Evan Slater is back, Rosy Hodge talked about the formative years of her surf career, Jamie O steps up again with some mind blowing deals, Ben Gravy said “you won’t get me, dude” (spoiler: we got him), and Laura Enever and Shane Dorian might be battling for this season’s MVP title.
Sam McIntosh nearing sainthood by protecting the delicate feelings of “his talent” and, thereby, “getting” Ben Gravy.
I suppose I will have to comfort myself in the embrace of “my talent.” Namely, the Hobgood who didn’t win a world title.