Jamie O'Brien (left) pinching his enemy Ben Gravy.
Jamie O'Brien (left) pinching his enemy Ben Gravy.

Jamie O’Brien attacks Ben Gravy’s exposed flank in surfing’s increasingly violent “Battle for Beginners!”

A new Waikiki surf school has Jamie O'Brien choking Ben Gravy's supply lines.

As any surf watcher knows, the explosion in participation during, and since, the Great Coronavirus Pandemic (2019 – ) is… historically significant. Vulnerable adults flocked to the “Sport of Kings” for many reasons including, but not limited to, its naturally occurring social distancing, good vibes and provides that perfect dash of Zoom meeting clout.

Now, it might have been imagined that this new VAL would have been a boon to the flagging surf industry, an infusion of hard currency, but no and no. The late adopter cares not for “core” t-shirts and trunks and feels no shame purchasing surfboards from Costco. She is, frankly, is an economic mystery as it relates to the old ways. He an island of odd.

Though two surfers have cracked their code. Ones James Duncan O’Brien and Benjamin Franklin Graeff.

Yes, the two have, through prescience and skill, cracked the VAL market and now war over supremacy. Benjamin Graeff, more properly known as Ben Gravy, seemed to be running away with a clean victory. His YouTube channel speaks directly to the new surf enthusiast who cares nothing for history, hierarchical structures or bad vibes. Capitalizing upon, Gravy released an extremely popular line of product featuring his iconic pineapple-wearing-sunglasses.

O’Brien’s own YouTube, which pivoted later toward the VAL, was better than Gravy’s though not quite as user-friendly.

The aforementioned surf watcher was stunned, then, when seemingly overnight the Pipe Master swung on Gravy’s exposed flank and began opening surf schools, not only attracting but creating VALs. The Jamie O’Brien Experience started quietly on Oahu’s North Shore and then San Diego’s Coronado Island though just opened a front in Waikiki.

Per Hawaii Magazine:

Located in the heart of Waikīkī, the School of Surf is the latest venture of North Shore native and professional surfer Jamie O’Brien.

The School of Surf represents a new concept for O’Brien, following his Surf Experiences at Turtle Bay on the North Shore of Oʻahu and Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego. Unlike the Surf Experiences at Turtle Bay and Coronado, the School of Surf is tailored to provide a fun and affordable experience. What better way to achieve this than at the birthplace of surfing?

While many local surf schools focus on advancing skills, the School of Surf emphasizes providing a fun vibe for first-time surfers through retail, photos, and video.

From seeing O’Brien’s boards on the walls to getting signed posters and even surprise surf lessons, both Jamie’s Surf Experience and School of Surf offer a unique experience that differs from numerous schools in Hawaiʻi and is infused with his personal touches. O’Brien remarks that surfing is the only thing he’s ever known, so sharing that with others is the greatest gift.

“My goal is to be the one-stop surf school when people go to Hawaiʻi,” O’Brien says.

Meanwhile in Camp Gravy, advisors are likely being flogged for failing to establish a beachhead amongst the extremely valuable pre-VAL community. The question being asked by most: Will O’Brien press his advantage and open a school in Gravy’s New Jersey and squash his competition or will he commit the classic blunder and try to invade Russia during winter?

More as the story develops.

Cult surf horror film that had test audiences retching released on YouTube

"I must confess that there were times where I had to force myself to look at the screen."

You’ll remember, of course, Jen See’s review of the surf horror film Motel Hell in an earlier instalment of BeachGrit, a film so graphic test audiences fainted and retched.

“I must confess that there were times where I had to force myself to look at the screen,” said one.

Let’s recall.

The night’s feature is Motel Hell, a surf horror film, from Harry Bryant and filmer Dave Fox. They spent three years collecting footage for the project in Australia and around the world. The title comes from a 1970s cult horror film, which is an unexpected choice. There’s a crew of talent in Motel Hell including Shaun Manners, Craig Anderson, Eithan Osbourne, and Holly Wawn among others. I’m intrigued by the theme and the promise of barrels. I like barrelsThe film opens with Bryant lost in the desert. He finds a dilapidated bar set alone on a sand dune. It’s appropriately creepy and peopled with weirdos.

The scene sets up the surf horror film’s recurring gag, where a glass of milk sends Bryant spiraling from one adventure to the next. In an interview with Reynolds before the film, Bryant explained that he’s lactose intolerant.

The obvious challenge of making a surf film is that each wave doesn’t last long at all. Film makers have to rely on some sort of device to glue the thing together, whether it’s interviews, skits, or nature channel B-roll. Motel Hell is weird and creative and the joke at the center of it mostly works. Somehow, Fox and Bryant also managed to make a film in Australia without a single kangaroo. I did not think this was actually possible.

The surfing. You want to know about the surfing. Certainly, the waves fit the horror theme. This is not a surf film filled with cute turns and twirly things. Playful, fun-sized waves are also in short supply in Motel Hell. I was not sad about this at all. Instead, Bryant packs some monster barrels and mutant-freak peaks.

There’s some dreamy Moroccan right point break magic at the outset. And also, a camel. But the majority of the footage comes from places like unruly Ireland and remote Australia. There are a lot of waves with evil intentions. The sequence of non-makes gives a hint of the payment they’re out to extract from Bryant and his friends. I’m sure you’ll recognize some of these waves, but to his credit Bryant wanders beyond the usual destinations.

Watch below!

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.