Is surfing really the hardest sport in the world?

Chas Smith hates surfing. And you can too!

Recently, Kelly Slater responded to an online poll asking which sport was harder, soccer or surfing, with a bombshell…neither. 

“I wouldn’t rate soccer but I don’t play,” Kelly wrote. “I would say skating, free soloing, F1, MMA, gymnastics etc are all at the cutting edge of ability for humans.”

Kelly Slater’s comment came just after ESPN had released their definitive list of “sports ranked by degree of difficulty” with surfing filling the lowly twenty-third position barely beating badminton and well behind tennis, volleyball and squash.

According to ESPN, the results were compiled by “our panel of experts, a group made up of sports scientists from the United States Olympic Committee, of academicians who study the science of muscles and movement, of a star two-sport athlete, and of journalists who spend their professional lives watching athletes succeed and fail.

In today’s episode of Chas Smith Hates Surfing, the noted author of the North Shore epic Welcome to Paradise, Now Go to Hell, as well as the best-selling Blessed Are the Bank Robbers, “a rollicking true story of Bibles and bank robberies in Southern California” examines the difficulty of surfing, or not, and the surprise coming out of retirement of current world surfing champ Filipe Toledo and his subsequent appearance at the ISA World Surfing Games in Puerto Rico.

“Filipe Toledo has joined a long line of Gen Z-era millennials where those aged in their upper twenties are calling in sick, four time the rate of their elders,” says Smith. “Kelly Slater, when was the last time he called in sick for work…foot injuries aside… Kelly Slater at fifty-eight-and-one-eighth years of age is still crushing it.”

Chinese police attempting to understand surf.
Chinese police attempting to understand surf.

Hawaii surfers on high alert after neighboring Kiribati invites Chinese police to patrol islands

Geopolitical tension.

The Hawaiian archipelago is magic. Rising up out of the Pacific in an almost identical match to the very popular car window sticker*, the chain is unique for too many reasons to list. Considered the birthplace of surfing, Hawaii is home to legends like Jon Pyzel, Mom John Florence, Foodland and the first two stops on the World Surf League’s Championship Tour. It is also the most isolated island cluster in the world, its nearest neighbor being the Republic of Kiribati some 1340 miles south of Honolulu.

And, herein, lies much trouble.

The island nation’s acting police commissioner, Eeri Aritera, has just invited Chinese police to come over and root around. They are to working with local law enforcement on “community policing and a crime database program.”

The move is infuriating United States officials as it is seen as a provocative raising of temperatures in the Pacific. A spokesperson for the U.S. State Department declaring to Reuters that, “We do not believe importing security forces from the PRC will help any Pacific Island country.  Instead, doing so risks fueling regional and international tensions. We are concerned about the potential implications security agreements and security-related cyber cooperation with the PRC may have for any Pacific Island nation’s autonomy.”

While Kiribati has many fine waves, the Chinese appear interested in a foothold due its proximity to Hawaii but also because it is one of the world’s largest exclusive economic zones and hosts a Japanese satellite tracking station.

China, for its part, is admitting that uniformed officers are indeed patrolling the streets like old-timey coppers, poking nightsticks into the ribs of truants etc., though is denying that a police station is in the works.

Hawaii’s surfer, you can imagine, not happy with this development.

Fuzz to the left of me, heat to the right. Here I am, stuck in the middle with Barron Mamiya.

Toledo (pictured) trailblazing.
Toledo (pictured) trailblazing.

Surf champion Filipe Toledo part of troubling Gen Z “calling in sick for work” crisis

But is our hero the solution?

Two-time, and current, World Surf League champion Filipe Toledo’s shock announcement that he would take the year off after an embarrassing show at the 2024 season opener Lexus Pipe Pro is still reverberating through the surfing world. The 28-year-old had just come off a phenomenal season marred only by a refusal to paddle into larger surf. The San Clemente resident, by way of Brazil, demolished his competition during Final’s Day at his home break of Lower Trestles and would have done the same this year, all but assuring himself a third consecutive title.

Alas, after his Pipe performance, Toledo called in sick with food poisoning before throwing in the towel entirely citing mental health. A trend, unfortunately, all too common amongst his generation according to a new study published in Fortune.

Per the piece, Gen Zers, those born between 1997 and 2012, are much more likely to call in sick for work than those twice their age.

Research from the RF (in England) finds that more than a third of young people aged 18 to 24 suffer from what is described as a “common mental disorder,” (CMD) like depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder. The figure is well above the 24% of young people in 2000 who lived with a CMD.

That jump has been “turbocharged” by a mental health crisis among women. Two out of five women in the U.K. are likely to report a CMD, compared with a quarter of men.

While there are theories about the causes of this surge, from the loss of vital public services to the falling stigma around talking about mental health, what can’t be debated is the real-world impacts of increasing instances of poor mental well-being.

Opinion on how to fix the crisis is very mixed. Grumpy locals insist that drinking a cup of concrete, alongside the morning coffee, is the way to go. The emotionally intelligent counter with statistics that these are, in fact, unprecedented times with stress levels through the very roof.

Toledo, for his part, is back to work, participating in the World Surfing Games with an eye on crafting the greatest sport story ever, slaying his demons and winning Olympic gold at the fearsome “Cave of Skulls.”

Maybe his journey will create the blueprint for others to follow?

Toledo a bold trailblazer hacking a way back into the light for his entire generation?

The greatest sport story ever just, maybe, got greater.

KaI Lenny, brain injury
Kai Lenny, busted helmet and brain examination.

Shock as Kai Lenny reveals extent of brain injury following helmet-smashing Pipeline wipeout

“Without a doubt this head injury was the worst injury I’ve ever had.”

Two months ago, the big-wave surfer Kai Lenny was hospitalised after a wipeout that destroyed his helmet during the Backdoor Shootout, Pipeline’s sixth scalp for the winter. 

Addressing his myriad fans, which include legendary MMA cornerman Mark Zuckerberg, from his hospital bed at the Pali Momi medical centre near Pearl Harbour, Kai Lenny wrote:

First time wearing a helmet at Pipeline and it may have saved my life. I  don’t remember much except that it was during my heat in the #DaHuiBackdoorShootout and the lifeguards sat me down in a chair at the Beach Park. I have a solid concussion and some bleeding out of my left ear.”

The world’s best surfers were quick to acknowledge how his life might’ve drastically zigged if Kai Lenny didn’t have the polycarbonate shell on his head.

“The helmet,” wrote Jack Robinson, punctuating the profundity with two sets of prayer hands.

“Glad you are okay Kai Lenny. TEAM HELMET,” wrote Jamie O’Brien.

Now, an injured brain ain’t something to take lightly.

Who can forget when Owen Wright, a one-time world title contender suffered a delayed brain injury after a wipeout at Pipeline in 2015 that was so bad docs told him he’d never surf, maybe never even walk again? Or current world champ Filipe Toledo, a man for whom even the spectre of brain injury gave his neat little belly cartwheels and forced him off tour?

Earlier this morning, Kai Lenny posted a photograph of his brain being examined by the noted medico Dr Jason Keifer at Brain Health Hawaii.

“Since my head injury at PIPELINE on January 4th, I’ve been doing everything I can to get back on the horse and become better than I was.

“Without a doubt this head injury was the worst injury I’ve ever had. However, it has been a blessing in disguise because it led me to working with Dr. Keifer at @brainhealthhawaii. I’ve had concussions throughout my life and I was able to get answers to questions I didn’t know I had. Truly life changing.

“If you’ve had a concussion / head injury or even if you haven’t I highly recommend getting an EEG Brain Scan. The tools that are available nowadays are absolutely incredible.”

I’ve had a few brushes with brain trauma, hell beaten out of me outside a Surfers Paradise nightclub after my drunk chick picked a fight, concussed, scrambled thoughts, slurred speech, had same girl suggested I be admitted to a psych ward. And, at ten, wrongly fed psychedelics by doctor that led to a wild few weeks tripping in and out of a Hunger Games scenario where participants competed to see who could behead themselves with the best style.

Real vivid memory, sitting up in my bed, weeping, thinking I’m cradling my own head.


How about you?


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Kelly Slater (pictured) in the spotlight where he is most comfortable.
Kelly Slater (pictured) in the spotlight where he is most comfortable.

Sizzling rumor: Living legend Kelly Slater vying to become U.S. Olympic surf coach despite team concerns over his famed spotlight hogging!

Would you rather have Slater in your corner and a medal around your neck or a few thousand extra dollars in your pocket?

Surfing’s official inclusion into the Olympic Games has been, frankly, glorious for so many reasons. Not only does the entire globe get to appreciate our favorite pastime once every four years, not only does the World Surfing Games and its endless repechage take on actual value but the myriad storylines leading up to the international spectacle are… pure titillation.

Will, for example, the brave coward Filipe Toledo face his demons and waltz into the Cave of Skulls or hand his already-secured slot to Gabriel Medina?

Can Sky Brown become the first in history to compete in both the skateboarding and surfing portions, flying halfway around the planet in order to do?

Is Kelly Slater going to be the U.S. team coach despite in house concerns that the spotlight-loving champion might suck all air out of the room?

The sizzling rumor, coming from a well-placed source is “99% sure” the 11x World Champion is actively petitioning for the role after having failed to make the squad as a competitor. Now, you would think John John Florence, Griffin Colapinto, Caroline Marks and Carissa Moore would be thrilled having Slater providing helpful hints from the channel, but, as this rumor goes, there is a real worry the greatest surfer ever will take up the entire stage, international media flocking to his tanned turtle’d 56-year-old feet and failing to recognize anyone else.

A genuine misgiving.

The Olympics, as you know, provides financial opportunities for professional surfers not available during the other three years. Brands loving the fact that millions upon millions of the elusive “non-endemic fan” will, for two weeks, become enamored enough to buy toothpaste, cereal, even pharmaceuticals adorned with shiny professional surf faces.

Slater, as you also know, has a penchant for grabbing the spotlight any time it dares stray. Who could forget when Joel Parkinson dared announce his retirement? Or Adriano de Souza won an inspirational championship? The list of the oldest ever professional surfer “entering the chat,” as it were, well-documented.

The question, I suppose. Is it worth the dimmed attention to have a five-time Teahupo’o winner sharing tube secrets?

Would you rather have Slater in your corner and a medal around your neck or a few thousand extra dollars in your pocket?

Something to think about.