Surfer goes to toilet
As winter slid into spring, things did get worse. It was getting me now before every surf. It came like the waves I was chasing. Deep, growling groundswells stirring up from my polar regions. Short-interval storm chop that would hit with only a moment’s notice, leaving me racing for the nearest ditch.

The terrible secret to high-performance surfing revealed

To the outside world, I looked gaunt. Jaundiced. Consumed by my own desires. My face sunk in on itself like some collapsed star.

It was deep into winter the first time it stirred, at a secret spot buried inside the national park. A lonely, isolated ledge that came to life only in the right conditions. A roaring Southern Ocean low. An isobaric efflux.

The swell had come at a bad time. Apprentice off sick. Wife pulling extra shifts. Kids needing babysitting. But it was the sort of wave you drop everything for. A violent in-and-out, the closest thing to a religious experience I know.

I’d just trekked down to the cobblestone point that overlooked the ledge when it hit me. The need to evacuate. Like a punch in the guts. I keeled over in a cramp. I tore off my booties and wetsuit and did my business right there on the rocks, the cold wind on my bare skin.

The next time was a few days later, a little closer to home. A sharp urge just as I was heading out at the local. A race to the toilet block. Board flung down on the old terracotta tiles, I jumped into the first stall I could find and ripped off my suit. Flushed out like a tidal pool on the full moon. Waves of relief danced up my spine and into the base of my skull as I finished.

I ran into one of the local crew as I came back out. Dave. We’d grown up surfing the same stretch of spots. He was a few years older, but we were cut from the same cloth. Honest toilers, sneaking in a paddle between jobs.

“Nature calls, eh?”

“Yeah,” I said. I placed my hand on my belly, signifying my discord. “For some reason it keeps hitting me just before a surf.”

“I get that with coffee,” he said. “Just the smell of it has me running for the dunny.”

Dave slid his board under the cover of his ute.

“Or a bag of blow. It’s some sort of Pavlovian response, I suppose.”

He smiled, shook his head. “Not that I’ve felt that in a while. Anyway, fella, enjoy the surf.”

And I did enjoy it. Despite the empty stomach still turning itself in knots, I felt looser. Lighter on my feet.

The next surf, it was the same problem — a code brown at town beach. At least this time I’d waited before putting on my suit. By strike four, a run for the bushes before a late-arvo session for which I’d skipped the kids’ swimming lesson, I knew something was really up.

“Haven’t seen you here for a while,” the doc said as I pulled my pants back up. Already they felt looser on my waist.

“I stay pretty well for the most part.”

“I know. Your wife keeps me updated.”

He slid off the blue plastic gloves, threw them in the bin, and motioned for me to sit down in the patient’s chair. The same chair he’d used since I was a kid. I still remember how hard I dug my fingers into that old leather for my first tetanus shot. I’d avoided the place ever since.

“Well, I can’t see anything…untowards down there.” He looked me up and down. “But you have lost weight since your last visit. Have you had any recent changes in your diet?”

“No. I mean, maybe a few more drinks here and there. But nothing major.”

“And workwise, everything is okay? Home life? You know they’re finding out a lot about how your gut is linked to your mental health.”

I pictured my wife’s face that morning, one kid hanging from her arm, the other wrapped around her legs, as I told her I was heading off for another surf.

“Nah, it’s all good.”

“Any changes to your bowel movements otherwise?”

“No, they’re still regular. It’s just when I get to the beach, I gotta…you know. Go.”

He let slip half a chuckle and straightened in his chair.

“Look, on face value everything seems okay. But you’re getting to the age now where it wouldn’t hurt to take a closer look.”

He scribbled on his piece of paper.

“Here’s a couple of tests I’d like you to have.”

Then he pulled open his drawer and handed me a pack of nondescript white pills.

“If things get worse, don’t be a stranger. And in the meantime, try these when the urge hits.”

As winter slid into spring, things did get worse. It was getting me now before every surf. It came like the waves I was chasing. Deep, growling groundswells stirring up from my polar regions. Short-interval storm chop that would hit with only a moment’s notice, leaving me racing for the nearest ditch.

I tried preempting it, would sit on the bowl at home for an hour beforehand, willing one into existence. Nothing. I’d pack my gear and jump into the truck. But as soon as I caught sight of the car park, the sand, even the slender line of ocean on the horizon, it would come. Immaculate defecation.

The pills did nothing. The weight fell off me. I hadn’t been this skinny since I was a teenager.

“You don’t look good,” said the wife as I came home from another late-afternoon surf. “You’re not you.”

I shrugged and pulled my belt across another notch.

I started packing a roll of paper in the car with my gear as a matter of course. More often than not, I’d end up squatting behind a bush off the side of a path. It became my calling card. If the other locals saw my truck parked next to the toilet block, or pulled over haphazardly on some beachside track, they’d know the waves were good.

And here’s the thing: I’d never surfed better. I was leaner. Wilier. Putting in some of my best performances in years. I’d never felt so alive.

In the car park after one particularly satisfying bowl session, I ran into an old hippie from around the way. Leon. A relic from the drug-running seventies who never escaped the trip — living out the back of his beat-up old van, joint hanging from the side of his lip, squalid smell of incense and piss in the air.

“You’re looking well,” Leon said as I walked past.

I explained the situation.

“Ah, magnificent,” he said, not missing a beat. “Did you know your gut has the second largest amount of neurons in it of all the body’s organs?”

“No, I did not.”

Leon drained his roach. Peered at me intently from his deep-brown eyes. He had spent a lifetime surfing, smoking. Wasted the rest. He was one of those guys with an opinion on everything. Some would call him a hedonist. But I’d always been jealous.

“You might think your brain is in charge,” he continued. “But actually it’s your gut running the show. It’s the base of your desire. Your gut instinct. This is your gut telling you what it wants.”

“Which is what?” I asked.

“To be cleansed,” he said, like it was a matter of the most common fact.

I didn’t say anything, but felt that tingly post-shit sensation run up my back again.

“Research it yourself. It’s a motif across many of the world’s religions. Ritualistic purging. To become pure. Each time you’re in there, you’re wiping yourself clean. Literally. Through shitting, you’re obtaining a sort of…kundalini. An awakening. A great reset. Don’t you feel it?”

I ran my hands over my waist, the smooth, taut skin stretched over protruding bone. I definitely felt something.

“Keep at it, and I dare say you’ll find enlightenment.”

“But what if you’re wrong?” I asked. “What if it’s my gut telling me not to surf anymore? Telling me I’ve had enough?”

“Well,” Leon said with a smile, “there is that. I guess you just need to decide: Which is your truth?”

As my insides flowed, so did the swell. A glut of unseasonal lows had my secret ledge firing. I surfed it like it was on a string. Escaped from situations I never thought possible.

Was I sick? Or was this a cosmic message? A sign that I was on some path to nirvana? Correlation. Causation. Intuition. Intervention. Questions swirled around my insides like a sickly stew.

I knew one thing for sure: I didn’t want the doc sticking his hand up my arse again.

So I staged an experiment.

I set up a camp in the national park, focused only on the flow between bowel and barrel. At the cobblestone point I fashioned a ringed toilet seat from smooth rocks, complete with its own canal system. When I wasn’t in the water, I was on the bowl. Whittling down my needs. Going with my gut.

I canceled all my jobs. Ignored the calls from my doctor. Didn’t even bother with the wife. Eventually, when I did return home for supplies, I found her loading the kids into the car.

“It’s not me, it’s you,” was all she said as she drove off.

I was ready for it. I welcomed it. I waved them goodbye. Looked down at my tattered pants hanging loosely from my waist. The wind swung offshore. My tummy rumbled.

I dispensed with my worldly possessions. Let surfing rule. And things were only getting better. This wasn’t an illness. Or a warning. It was the final piece in the puzzle of attainment, just like Leon said. Only it wasn’t even a piece. It was a movement: push and pull. Expansion and contraction. Pressure and release.

I’d locked myself into a perfect synchronicity. Pared down to the most basic duality.

“Where’s your gloves now, doc?” I yelled as I threw my phone into the bowl, the last vestige of my old life smashed against the shit-stained rocks.

To the outside world, I looked gaunt. Jaundiced. Consumed by my own desires. My face sunk in on itself like some collapsed star. My own friends wouldn’t have recognized me if I’d walked past them in the street.

But out in the surf, where life truly mattered, I was king. I flew between sections with a newfound grace. An economy of movement. Lithe and unburdened by the world. The other surfers would stop and sit up and watch as I sped past them.

Emaciated. Magnificent. Streaks of brown still running down my leg.

Even when I did finally collapse, and the ambulance sirens were reverberating throughout the lineup, and I was being carried away on that stretcher, the silhouette of my former self, they still paid their homage.

“There he goes,” they said in the most reverent of tones. “There goes The Shitter.”

(Editor’s note: This article, which is fiction, originally appeared in issue 31.4 of The Surfer’s Journal.)

Open Thread: Comment Live, Finals Day of the Margaret River Pro!

The curtain must fall.

“German who doesn’t paddle” Sebastian Steudtner surfs biggest wave ever!

Major XXL.

History was maybe made, hours ago, when Germany’s Sebastian Steudtner rode a Nazare beast being touted as “the biggest wave ever ridden.” Porsche, who sponsors the fine looking Hessian, claims it used drones to measure the water tower at 93.73 feet.

The number, of course, must be verified by the World Surf League which certainly has superior computers etc.

“I am very grateful to Porsche for the cooperative partnership over the past three years,” Steudtner said after the ride. “True to ‘Driven by Dreams’ and with Porsche as a partner I have been able to fulfill my dream of contributing to the further development of my sport.”

The lantern-jaw’d blonde utilized a special board made by Porsche that was capable of going 100 kph.

Very cool.

Now, those who have toiled under the heavy yolk of the surf industry for decades might recall when Steudtner won Biggest Wave, or something, at the XXL Big Wave Awards back in 2010. The still-fresh faced Taylor Paul covered for Surfing Magazine and shared:

The presentation of the awards is a mess, though. When Rory Russell announces the Monster Tube Award, the nominees for Best Performance by a Female come onscreen. Christian Fletcher introduces Sebastian Steudtner in the Biggest Wave category by saying, “And the winner is…the German who doesn’t paddle.” And when the German reaches the stage to accept the award, Fletcher mutters something about Hitler. They spend way too much time going through interviews about the biggest wave, when it’s clear that it is the dullest category (that a windsurfer won the award will reinforce to the surfing world that towing is not a game of skill). It takes a while for Occy to present his award because he is crooning, “We don’t neeeeeeeeeeeeeed…no more trouble.”

I was there too, I think, at the Anaheim Grove though it’s all very blurry except for that Fletcher bit and also Bill Sharp’s hair.

Who, in any case, do you think history will recall most favorably, Fletcher or Steudtner? Something to ponder until Margaret River opens its dumb in five-ish hours.

Medina and Florence. Titans of Surfing brought low.
Medina and Florence. Titans of Surfing brought low.

Monster John Florence versus Gabriel Medina clash marred by gross World Surf League incompetence

"Can we blame the WSL for this? Should we? On one hand, of course it’s impossible to blame anyone for weather..."

Your years at school are not equivalent to the years that will follow. School years are like dog years, they stretch out, neverending.

Then all of a sudden you leave, and they tick away like the timer on a bomb.

Think of the clarity of your school memories. Everyone remembers school, often in far greater detail than seems logical.

This is something I’m always conscious of at this time of year. Pupils are leaving, and although from my perspective their final days will merge into the final days I’ve seen of others like them for seventeen years now, it’s important to remember this isn’t their viewpoint. I’m part of their present, and my manner, mood or words might form future memories, for better or worse. It’s my responsibility to be present for young people who cannot yet understand how formative their experiences are, but no-one tells you this.

I think of this when senior girls appear smiling at my door in a swirl of glitter and fancy dress, all done up for their final days. And yet I’m still teaching, still in the middle of a class that have dog years of school still to go. But it’s important to stop and acknowledge these moments, even though your first instinct can often be to shoo them away because you’re still in the thick of your own present, the mundane stresses of day-to-day teaching.

And when you do stop, you know it’s right. These moments are what matter. They cut through the daily mundanity. Besides, no-one has timetabled them to turn up at your class. They’re here of their own volition to say goodbye. Of course that’s worth stopping for.

You have no idea what will happen to most of these pupils, not really, but you recognise the hope in the wide fires of their eyes, and you know it’s important to stoke this, to give them some kind of truth. Each needs something different, and these are not the moments for platitudes. But sometimes it’s as simple as saying thank you.

That’s what I wanted to say to the Latvian boy I pass every morning, but will no longer. He would be standing outside his art class, long before any other pupils had arrived at school, much less thought about their period one class. But he would be there, poor Marlens, on an island. Marooned by language and autism, clinging to the raft of the one subject he could understand. I only taught him for one year, a few years ago now, and he would mostly draw in English. No-one spoke to him then or since, and he did not have the faculties to overcome this.

And yet, every morning without fail he would say Good Morning to me, followed quickly by How Are You? And there was always warmth in this simple greeting, and something about his quiet presence each morning at the end of that art corridor always snapped me out of whatever greyness I might happen to be in.

And so the greeting was always reciprocated, as genuine warmth always is. Returned and redelivered, it rolled on through us like a river. And I’ll miss that. And I wanted to say thankyou to him, though never did. Because on the final morning he was already gone. He wasn’t dressed up and partying with the others. To him, school was about turning up early for that art class, and saying hello to teachers. So he had simply disappeared.

But I should have known this. Marlens would never come to my classroom. It was up to me to facilitate this moment, to give both of us a chance to communicate some kind of shared humanity that was worth acknowledging. But the moment was lost, or never seized. And although nothing terrible or tragic has happened, there’s a sense that we are both poorer for it.

This is what I was thinking of as I watched Gabriel Medina lose to John Florence, then Sammy Pupo beat older brother Miguel in the round of 16 at The Margaret River Pro.

No two heats in recent memory had more potential across the whole spectrum of what pro surfing can give us – drama, explosiveness, the evolution of precocious talent, simmering emotional fragility, sheer will to win.

But all of that was just on paper.

What we got for both heats were sub-standard conditions. Some opportunities, yes. But long lulls, and waves dressed up a little by the strong offshore wind, but lacking in any real size or wall.

In both heats, nothing happened relentlessly.

The moments were dulled by the occasion they were given, and this was unbecoming of both the men and their fates.

Can we blame the WSL for this? Should we?

On one hand, of course it’s impossible to blame anyone for weather.

But on the other, if you don’t work to facilitate the very best environment so that these moments might occur in better circumstances, then that’s dereliction of duty.

What might that involve for the WSL? Longer event windows and greater flexibility; a scaled down field; no non-elimination heats; tailoring events round peak swell times, not tourist boards or weekends.

You know, any number of things ardent fans of this shambolic sport have suggested for years now.

We deserve better. They deserve better. John Florence, Gabriel Medina, Miguel and Sammy Pupo. All deserve better.

How many more heats of Medina vs Florence, the two best talents of their generation, might we see?

How many heats of brother vs brother, man on man, with an entire career on the line, has there ever been or will there ever be again?

The poignancy of these moments was completely soused.

For the majority of their heat, both Pupo brothers sat, desolate in the emptiness of the Main Break line-up, left at sea by the WSL.

Just five waves were ridden between them, an insult to the occasion that was no fault of their own.

Medina vs Florence was scrappy. They rode more waves, but neither man was able to unleash the rare power we know they have. Neither was able to just surf, as both had wished for earlier in the event.

Gabriel Medina led for the majority of the heat, then pulled out of a good looking wave near the end to retain priority. He used that priority on the first wave of a set with less than two minutes left. It was the wrong wave. John took the next one, hacked the first section, then pumped round the next for a weak finish and a rare claim.

The claim sold it. The score came in at 6.90, which took the heat by 0.24 points. Medina’s earlier 5.83 was a significantly better wave, but such was the jarring nature of John Florence claiming mediocrity, he was always getting the score.

Consider the conditions Florence has been subjected to that have elicited this claim. He was a circus bear, balancing a ball on his snout whilst the audience laughed, when really he should be tearing their throats out.

The final moments of Sammy Pupo’s defeat of elder brother Miguel were touching, even given the flatness of their heat. Miguel consoled Sammy, the loser grinning ear to ear; the victor unable to choke back tears as they paddled shoreward.

The resulting interview might have been one of the most poignant post-heat interviews ever conducted in professional surfing. Nothing I write here could adequately communicate how many of us felt watching it. Pupo spoke mostly in his native language, addressing his family, but we didn’t need to share his language to empathise with his humanity.

It was a moment untarnishable even by the WSL.

Moments like this will echo long after they’ve passed. And if you have created them, as I do in my job, even inadvertently, or the WSL do by presiding over this sport, then you must do everything in your power to respect them.

For me, that might be as simple as taking a moment to speak to someone, even if I have my own issues at hand.

For the WSL, it’s a little more complex, but the premise and the responsibility to others remains the same.

Kolohe Andino says surf industry is fucking dead.
"Surf industry is FUCKING dead," writes Kolohe Andino.

Kolohe Andino breaks rank, protocol, declares “surf industry f*#king dead!”

“Surfing culture, big time surf brands and the ‘surf lifestyle’ are F*$KING dead."

The Californian surf star Kolohe Andino whose natural skill wasn’t allowed room to breathe on the world tour which led to his premature departure, has stunned surf fans with a profanity laden screed posted on Instagram. 

Like Luther nailing his Ninety-five Theses to the door of the All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg thereby creating the still-reverberating split in Christianity, Kolohe Andino has broken rank, and accepted protocol, to take aim at the once-mighty surf industry.

“Surfing culture, big time surf brands and the ‘surf lifestyle’ are FUCKING dead,” writes the just-turned thirty year old. “You got every FUCKING up and coming kid thinking they are one of the Paul brothers. Trying to gain cloud in any way, shape or form, with no gumption, no backbone, or no idea. These kids are not leaders, they are followers.” 

Kolohe Andino channels Martin Luther
Kolohe Andino and his 21st century equivalent of Martin Luther’s Ninety-five Theses .

It’s a pointer to his and his San Clemente pals’ clothing venture 2 Percent, which offers hats, hoodies, jackets etc in a sorta nineties homegrown style. 

Jackets are 175, hats and tees are forty and a pair of brown pants is seventy US.

Surf fans were divided on the post, all veering one of three directions.

One, “Kolohe Andino is “spitting facts”, two, “Who are the Paul brothers?” and, three, “Just comes with your age bud. Remember when the old timers said the same thing about you?  Haha Sponsored by Red Bull, Nike, and Target. Hardcore surf brands and culture!”

Apart from not reaching the stellar heights that were predicted for him as a teenager, Kolohe Andino, who is six years into marriage with the stunning Madison Brooke-Aldrich (Maddie’s account of Kolohe’s Christmas Day proposal, is proof that virility isn’t just measured at the root of the belly where the phallus rises) will be remembered for helping get the Surf Ranch Pro onto the tour. 

“After watching footage, Kolohe goes, ‘Why isn’t this on tour…well think about it!’” remembered Slater in his excellent documentary series Lost Tapes. “That’s when the conversation became real.”