Surfer Mag bot (left) slings ex-wife barbs. Photo: Lost in Space
Surfer Mag bot (left) slings ex-wife barbs. Photo: Lost in Space

Surfer Magazine bot generates hurt feelings, lashes offending surf journalist with ex-wife!

"A typical 20-something, amoral, douchebag bachelor..."

Mankind was put on warning, hours ago, when an artificially intelligent robot generating surf and surf-adjacent content for the once-proud Surfer Magazine developed hurt feelings and brutally lashed out at the source of its duress. Jake Howard, as it’s called, took to surf journalist Chas Smith’s social media in the wee hours of the night to bitterly complain about being “slandered.”

The charge revolved around Smith opining on Howard’s defense of Brazil’s Filipe Toledo for giving no effort/looking terrified during the opening round of the Lexus Pipe Pro, comparing the timid champion to Andy Irons and citing “hanging out” with both of them at different times as evidence.

Smith wrote, “At the end, and this should go without writing, Andy Irons and Filipe Toledo’s situations are so disparate that it boggles how the robot wove them together.” A charge that remains as true today as it was 24 hours ago. In case it does need to go with writing, though, Toledo has all the talent, training, equipment and then some, and yet has repeatedly shown that he doesn’t have the heart to throw himself over scary ledges, going further and excoriating his critics for daring challenge him. Mere mortals like you and me have varying degrees of limited skill, no training, middling equipment. All we have, at the end, is our guts. We, each, fail often to live up to our own ideals as it relates to being bold but still pick ourselves up and try, or else get leveled by our peers, and that is why this whole Toledo business irks.

The lack of struggle and the lack of accountability.

Howard, anyhow and as mentioned, swung into Smith’s lightly trafficked Instagram account with, “So weird how you have my phone number, and one of your minions has been texting me for the last 48 hours, and yet here we are, coping and pasting my words for clicks and to slander me. You’re quite the man.” Adding, “Ask homie’s ex wife about is literary output: ‘It was almost as if my attractive, fun, sweet and loving husband had morphed into your typical 20-something, amoral, douchebag bachelor. At least that’s how he portrayed himself in his writing, and his readers lapped it up.’”

Ex-wife a brutal and painful cudgel.

In truth, and exiting the third person, I have no beef with Howard, just as I have no beef with my calculator or AirPod Pros. I do have beef with thin-skinned, defensive access journalism, in general, and Surfer Magazine, specifically. A dug-up corpse being fed upon by Wall Street suits and no different than Hurley, Quiksilver, Billabong, RVCA, Volcom or any of the brands that used to represent something real.

But here we stand, Howard clearly piqued, and might we finally have an opportunity for a great and public debate on the point, or pointlessness, of surf journalism? What it should be and where it should go? An expansion into what surf culture should mean in the era of its Costco-ification?

I’ve been waiting a decade plus for a Gore Vidal to my William Buckley Jr.

Howard? Are you man enough?


Open Thread: Comment Live on Day Two of the Lexus Pipe Pro!

No Pip, no problem.


Vintage stab magazine covers
Vintage stab magazine covers. Lil man on the right is Owen Wright.

Warshaw: “Stab magazine was too good or maybe too strange to last”

"In print form, Stab was without precedent, an essential protein or two away from being a new surf-media lifeform."

The print version of Stab magazine, which was published out of Australia from 2004 to something near 2014 (that’s where my collection stops, anyway) was a distant cousin of a short-lived early ’90s magazine called Beach Culture, in that the graphic design jangled and jarred and did everything but reach up and grab you by the throat.

Stab was also a bit like Playboy, softcore and lad mag-y and happy to venture from its primary subject (naked girls for Playboy; surfing for Stab), and also because the tone and voice for each magazine so clearly belonged to one person—Stab cofounder Derek Rielly, I think, would be happy to be called the Hugh Hefner of surfing, and if the rest of us think that’s icky and retrograde, Derek’s wolfish white-toothed smile will only grow; kiss-my-lavender-scented-ass provocation wasn’t job #1 for either man, but it was (still is, for Derek) Top Five for sure.

Stab borrowed a little from Surfer’s Journal and Game Boy-era Surfing World by splurging on 70-pound semigloss paper stock, lux-quality inks, square-binding, and as a rule taking the most expensive option in every aspect of the printing process.

Finally, and Rielly brings this with him wherever he goes, Stab at times did a pretty decent imitation of Mad magazine—it’s there in the cover blurbs (“If you think our LAST ISSUE was bad, wait till you read this one!”), and especially in the fantastic and much-missed Stab Comics series, which pulls equally from Mad and Playboy’s Little Annie Fanny strip, and that makes sense because Annie was created by Mad founder Harvey Kurtzman. 

“Kelly Slater is an American Hero”  ran in the September 2005 issue. There’s a whole backstory there with how pissed off Kelly was with Derek Rielly and the Stab crew in general, but I don’t recall the details. In the second panel, that’s Derek and Stab cofounder Sam McIntosh cowering under the table, and you can probably figure it out from there.

Stab magazine cartoon of Kelly Slater by Derek Rielly and Ben Brown
Kelly Slater cartoon from 2005 Stab magazine.

But for all that, my take on Stab has always been that, in print form, it was by and large without precedent, almost sui generis, an essential protein or two away from being a new surf-media lifeform.

It was focused and manic at the same time. The pockets felt very, very deep (I’ll bet my two-thirds-paid-for house that Stab was page for page not just the most expensive surf magazine ever made but among the most expensive news-rack-available magazines of any kind), yet each issue looked and felt like something made, front to back, on a three-day speed binge.

I don’t mean that as a slight.

I read something once, it was either about Stax or Muscle Shoals or maybe the early Beatles records, that talked about how if a group of creative people are exceptionally talented and on the same page and on a mission, then amazing work can be accomplished with equally-amazing speed. Stab wasn’t the Beatles. Chas Smith, Fred Pawle, Matt George, Lewis Samuels and a few other contributing writers put some ballast in there, but the magazine almost comes off as a throwaway. Which for me is part of the thrill.

Stab was high-end and dispensible (The Surfer’s Journal version of high-end, by contrast, begs to be collected and preserved and archived), except if you tossed it you would never fully understand and appreciate how much Rielly and team put into every page, no detail too small to not mess with, the hundreds of color choices, the wordy captions and sub-heads, the confetti-drop of fonts, bolds, italics, underscores.

For two years straight, the Stab magazine logo changed every issue. The magazine’s trim size wasn’t quite that flexible, but close—I count six sizes between 2004 and 2009, including a 2008 hardbound Special Millennium Issue (“We know, we know, eight years late. Them deadlines are killer!”) that measured 16.5″ x 12″ weighed over three pounds. Starting with issue #11, you got halfway through the magazine and had to flip it over and upside down, and there’s a second cover and sort of but not really a second magazine, Stab Style, which I’m 98% sure was a grab for more surfwear ad contracts but never mind, the fun continued. Stab was extra, 15 years before that word came into (and fell out of) fashion.

Stab magazine was too good or maybe too strange to last, but it lasted way longer than it probably should have. Rielly and cofounder Sam McIntosh had a major and never-mended falling out; in 2014, Derek went on to cofound BeachGrit, which has all of the humor of Stab but none of the flash or fine detail; McIntosh wisely and deftly steered Stab out of print into the handsome but mainstream finger-on-pulse website you see here.

I don’t miss Stab, exactly. It was very much a creation of, and a force behind, the period in which it lived.

Like a lot of great things—Led Zeppelin, Happy Days, Elgin Baylor—the print version of Stab hung on a little too long, or at least didn’t quite go out on its own fizzy terms. I do find myself wishing that something else would come along, another bolt from the surf-media blue. Not a replacement for Stab, but something with Stab-like ambition and layers and confidence and verve. But I suspect the sport has outgrown or evolved or devolved to a point where a project like that could take root and flourish. I hope I’m wrong.

Stab is not the “Last Surf Magazine,” as my original and overwrought title for today’s Joint stated before I erased and started over. It is not even the last surf magazine I’ve enjoyed or learned from or otherwise valued.

But Stab is the last surf magazine I devoured.

(You like this? Matt Warshaw delivers a surf essay every Sunday, PST. Maybe time to subscribe to Warshaw’s Encyclopedia of Surfing, yeah? Fifty bucks a year.)


Fiji Pro 2024 at Cloudbreak
The tour might return to Cloudbreak in Fiji but not to Tavarua or Namotu.

Online sleuth reveals shock detail in upcoming Fiji Pro!

Tragedy besets upcoming Cloudbreak event!

As part of a three-year deal with the Fijian government, professional surfing returns to Cloudbreak this August for the first time in seven years.

In 2017, you’ll remember, the notoriously well-hung goofyfooter Matt Wilkinson was swinging that giant rod, which could only be found at the bottom of a grove of luxuriant curls and whorls, at a world title, although a late-season slump would drop him down to fifth as Gabriel Medina and Julian duked it out for the crown at Pipe. (Gabriel won.)

What set the Fiji contest apart from others was the division of accommodation. The Australians stayed, mostly, at Namotu Island and the Americans at Tavarua. The Brazilians, for their were no French or Italians or Japanese back then, were roughly divided between the two islands.

Although single women were rare, occasionally bored wives and mothers, staying on the mainland, patrolled the sands looking for adorable masculine tits to explore and cocks to lap with their desperate aged tongues.

I have very fond memories of being straddled here, there and everywhere, spectators demonstrating their appreciation for the show with a little more gusto than would be prudent in this new puritan age.

Dawn surfs, sunset surfs, Guitar Hero in the Namoutu bar, wrestling competitions around the pool, throwing up Skulldraggers, Namotu’s infamous ten-shot cocktail, into the jacuzzi, being lost at sea on a windless night and silently readying myself for death before a light zephyr blew me and my biz partner back to the beach. So many glorious memories.

Anyway, no similar memories will be generated among pro surfers in Fiji this year.

All competitors at this year’s Fiji Pro, y’see, will be staying on the mainland, according to the website Fiji Village.

In a statement, Namotu Island Fiji says the wave pool is out and Cloudbreak is in.

They say it’s been too long since the last winner Matt Wilkinson won in 2017 and even longer since Parko missed his heat to go fishing and got a little stranded.

They add those were good times and it wasn’t just the surfing that was an annual highlight in the series.

Namotu Island Fiji says this year the competitors will not be staying on Namotu and Tavarua as they did in years past.

They say there will be unlimited weeks scheduled for that period so the competitors will be staying on the mainland.
They add regardless, the return of the WSL is a great thing for Fiji and people are looking forward to watching it from the channel again.

Which don’t make sense. Nine day waiting period. I think two weeks in 2017.

But.

A tragedy, yes, and further indication of just how far the World Surf League has moved, I believe, from professional surfing’s proud roots.


Andy Irons (pictured) in Filipe Toledo's nightmare.
Andy Irons (pictured) in Filipe Toledo's nightmare.

Surfer Magazine bot short circuits, compares Filipe Toledo to Andy Irons in wild diatribe against “dark recesses of surf world”

Truly bizarre.

Artificial intelligence, as you certainly know, is an evolving tool. It sits there, “learning” etc. Sorting out what this “human experience” is then regurgitating its version back into the public space to be sampled by real boys and girls. Its takes are often very weird as wires get crossed or short circuit altogether in an attempt to understand the complexity and absurdity and fifty shades of grey.

And the poor beleaguered Surfer Magazine robot. It was quietly introduced to us as soon as the once-proud title was acquired by The Arena Group and rolled out Emily Morgan. Those bits and bytes were lightly charming, “penning” stories on our saltwater lifestyle from the shadows of Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains. When it tried “writing” for The Arena Group’s other title Sports Illustrated, though, all hell broke loose. The company’s stock tanked, the CEO lost his job and tears were shed.

Well, the Surfer bot limped back to this backwater and, today, unleashed a wildly misguided comparison between Filipe Toledo and his public fear with Andy Irons.

A sampling:

Filipe Toledo’s decision to withdraw from the Pipe Pro has been met by a storm of negative press around the surfing world. Seemingly before the Championship Tour season even started, the knives were out for the back-to-back world champion. Unsubstantiated claims that he was scared of Pipe have been volleyed at him without any real understanding of either the man’s physical or mental health status.

It’s unfair, but sadly, for whatever reason, dark recesses of the surf world often speak without knowing and act without empathy. It’s very reminiscent to what three-time world champion Andy Irons experienced, especially when he was at the height of his power. While today Andy is hailed as a lost legend, an icon of the sport gone too soon, that was hardly the case when he was with us.

The bot goes on to share long stories about how it “hung out” with Irons in Mexico and witnessed fans demanding impossible demands before pivoting back to its “time spent” with Toledo ending with, “Filipe finished the Championship Tour ranked first in the world, he would have been the world champion if the season had ended at Pipe or Lowers because he’s a freakishly talented surfer and a competitive animal. Filipe’s not just a pro surfer or world champ. He’s a father. He’s a husband. He’s a son. He’s a friend. He’s a surfer just like you and me. He should be given the respect he deserves for those things alone. We all should be.”

“We” all should be?

A bald-faced attempt at non-sentient inclusion in the growing identity tree. Also, patently false. Humans aren’t owed respect. Kindness, consideration, forgiveness? Yes. Respect? That is earned.

At the end, and this should go without writing, Andy Irons and Filipe Toledo’s situations are so disparate that it boggles how the robot wove them together.

Strange days.