Australian brothers Callum and Jake Robinson and American friend Jack Carter Rhoad (pictured) in Mexico.
Australian brothers Callum and Jake Robinson and American friend Jack Carter Rhoad (pictured) in Mexico.

Australian brothers vanish on Baja Mexico surf trip

"When we do send our young men and women overseas to enjoy that adventure holiday, they invite an element of risk."

The parents of Callum and Jake Robinson are pleading with the public, today, for any information on their two sons’ whereabouts after they vanished on a Baja surf trip. The two, who are both in their 30s and from Perth, had traveled to California, driving into Mexico, at the end of April. They were last seen surfing and camping near Ensenada and did not arrive at their planned rental in Rosarito, just north.

Mother, Debra Robinson, took to social media in order to find any details. “They have not contacted us since April 27 … they are travelling with another friend; an American citizen,” she wrote, adding, “Callum is a Type 1 diabetic so there is also a medical concern. We sincerely appreciate everyone’s concern and thoughts at this time. We continue to have hope that our two beautiful boys are found.”

It has been reported that a woman, 25, was found with one of the missing men’s cellphones and also carrying drugs. She was subsequently arrested and turned over to the state prosecutor.

The Western Australia premier Roger Cook said he was monitoring the situation and very distressed. “This must be very worrying for the families involved,” he shared. “When we do send our young men and women overseas to enjoy that adventure holiday, they invite an element of risk. I understand one of the individuals has a medical condition that would need ongoing care. I share [the] concerns of all Western Australians in terms of their welfare.”

Mexico, of course, has its share of security concerns with the ongoing cartel wars. Baja California Sur and Baja California are, unfortunately, among the states with the highest homicide rates.

Kelly Slater. Great.
Kelly Slater. Great.

Petition circulates demanding “saint” Kelly Slater be allowed to surf the Olympics

"I encourage you to find other things you care about within once you’ve signed this."

Kelly Slater’s twenty-seventh annual retirement tour is only just getting underway and it has already been one of the greatest in recent memory. From the outpouring of affection for the 11 x surf champion to the wildcards he has been gifted which will allow him to retire next year again, the mise-en-scene has been nothing short of spectacular.

Well, when it rains it pours and things are getting better. Overnight, a petition began circulating demanding that the greatest to ever wear a professional surfing singlet be allowed to compete in this summer’s Olympiad. Righting a wrong.

New Zealander Paul Whitaker, taking to, writes:

Kia ora/hi

First up, this isn’t about addressing injustice or anything like and death. This is about making this year’s Olympics as interesting and enjoyable as possible from a surfer’s perspective and about giving something back to the G.O.A.T. I encourage you to find other things you care about within once you’ve signed this.

Kelly Slater is the greatest competitive surfer of all time. You can find a brief bio about him on the Olympics website. The vast majority of surfers and surfing fans would love to see Kelly Slater surfing @ Teahupoo in this year’s Olympic games. This includes other competitors – they’d either love to compete against him because doing so, in Tahiti is likely to be the highlight of their competitive surfing career…or, if they don’t want to surf against him it’s probably because they know he could beat them.

Kelly hasn’t qualified via standard processes but it might not be too late for the International Olympics Committee to adjust entry criteria to accommodate him. Some may feel this wouldn’t be fair to others. On the flipside – if the Olympics exist in order to showcase the best talent in any given arena I feel allowing Slater to surf in this year’s games would allow the committee to show they know how to achieve their goal. Please sign if you agree.

Well, do you?

Please sign anyhow.

WSL judges at work.
Is this really how it works? Have the internet commentators been right all along? That the process of judging surfing contests is just a debauched ritual controlled by Men of Power? | Photo: Derek Rielly

Confessions of a pro surfing judge!

Sex for scores! Cash for priority! Men of power and their cockmongers!

It should be just another bright summer morning in Huntington Beach, California. Golden parcels of light parachute through the roofs and there is no air pollution to clutter the molecules. It is perfect, if you believe in perfection.

But the scene that greets the reporter inside the judging tower resembles Fascist Italy circa 1944. Hello Republic of Salo! 

I have been instructed, if I wish to see the judging process, to appear at the bottom of the stairs leading to the great beachfront structure at seven am. No one is there to meet me. I hear laughing (older men), weeping (very young) and some kind of barking, but by humans. I climb the stairs

As I enter what I will later learn is called the “Circle of Overscore”, pro surfers wander naked serving food. Two of the four “studs” or “cockmongers” (a young pro chosen for his large penis) fondle each other in front of the judges, which arouses them greatly.

“I give each of these boys one nine-point-five for two turns and a shorebreak tap per heat,” shouts a judge to much approval.

During a search for the “cockmonger” with the firmest buttocks, the Brazilian Filipe Toledo is chosen and is gifted a win in the US Open, which will conclude the following afternoon.

Could it be true? Is this really how it works? Have the internet commentators been right all along? That the process of judging surfing contests is just a debauched ritual controlled by Men of Power?

Oh how I wish!

What I do find are the loveliest and keenest surf fans you could assemble anywhere. A collection of ultimate surf geeks, although all can surf very well, some at pro level, but ready and skilled enough to compute the difference between rides that may vary by 1/100th of a point. Hair splitting as a profession! It is a relentless job that gives no respite and, to the larger surf world, may seem entirely joyless. But these men love it!

There is Richie Porta, the ASP head judge (although he has two associate head judges, Pritamo Ahrendt and Dave Shipley, that rotate through the Head Judge position at World Tour events). He’s at the US Open more as an overseer and occasional judge than in any super serious role. That’ll come at the contest in Tahiti in a couple of weeks. Of the difference between the US Open qualifier and the World Tour event, he says, “It’s like going from club football to the AFL grand final. The pressure and the nuances at the very top is remarkable. It’s that much more intense it’s not even palpable… Like, last year at Pipe. You’ve gotta have nerves of steel when it’s a game of nines. All the boys are ripping and it’s you deciding, is that nine-two better than that nine-three. At the level of the World Tour it’s that crucial.”

Next is Jeff Klugel the silver-haired former pro surfer who is head judge of the men’s heats here. He roams up and down the panel of five judges, asking the video operator to cue up various rides and says things like, “I like it, I like it. But let’s watch yellow again for a reference, the sections aren’t as critical; blue’s attack looked a little more critical in my mind!”

Rich says, “The coolest thing is, we’re all dyed-in-the-wool surf fans. I love these comparisons.”

Jeff looks at me, bouncing on his feet, and says, “At the highest level, it’s gold! Pure gold!”

The surf is two feet and will shrink toward the shore as the tide comes in. I want to find out how hard, or easy, it is to judge at an ASP event. It ain’t World Tour, I know, but it’s close. And at home my scores reflect, generally, what the judges punch in.

First heat. Mitch Crews versus Charlie Martin. A split peak. Mitch does two little tags, but with style; Maxime Huscenot, three, but with slightly less zing. I give Max a four and Mitch a three-point-eight.

I’m horrified to see the scores come in at seven and five-point-one-seven. Ah, but then I learn. You judge according to the conditions. If you score too low, says Rich Porta, “You’ll compress everything under five. We talk about opening up the scale in bad surf. Say, the surf is good in the morning and the tide comes in and wrecks it in the afternoon, like in France, Portugal or here at HB. We still have to score it out of 10, no matter what. But what would’ve been a four in the morning is now a six.”

Anyway, it’s a game of comparisons, Rich explains, and that it doesn’t matter if your scores are different to the other judges so long as you’re consistent within the heat. The highest score and lowest score is always removed thereby creating a consistent result.

Mitch swings an air. It’s not necessarily that much more difficult than the two safe backhand taps Max has just completed but there is a greater margin for error. I give it a six. It’s a three-point-six-seven.

“Eight years ago that would’ve been an eight-five, now he gets a 3.67,” says Rich. “He didn’t rotate hard, there wasn’t the trajectory in the air. The tour surfers came to us and said judge us on technicality, height and landing. Before it was ‘jump’ and get a score.”

As we get deeper into the first heat, it becomes even more of a game of comparisons. We compare Mitch’s three-six-seven air to his first wave, the five-one-seven (two turns) and three-point left that consisted of one turn.

“It’s crucial to have those smaller waves in the right spaces,” says Rich. “The surfer will come in and say, ‘My air was better than my turn at the pier…were you watching? Surely you guys know that was harder to do!’ So we don’t get flippant with our scores.”

Jeff, meanwhile, is like a conductor, spinning past the judges mounted on their pedestal chairs and punching scores into their electronic boxes that may or may not be replaced by computer tablets soon.

“Let’s go to the replays!”

The replays on a smallish television controlled by a full-time video guy are brutal. What looked rad in the water is compressed on the screen. It explains a lot about why so many people lose it at home. Rich says that most judges have their scores already in their heads and they generally don’t tweak it too much after any replays on the small television screen.

The heat finishes. “Alright!” hollers Jeff. “One done!

“You’re always comparing it to that first score,” says Dylan Feindt, an American judge.

I’m sweating. It’s tough, even one heat, so much concentration my brain aches. As the day move on my scores close in to the paid judges, but occasionally I’ll be blown away by equal scores being given to three re-entries (Brett Simpson) and Felipe Toledo (two airs, including a genuine how-the-hell-did-he-do-that-rote in the shore break).

“When we started everyone surfed the same, you were comparing apples with apples,” says Rich. “Now you’re comparing  apples to oranges to bananas and watermelons. If the surfers were to say, all we want you to score is airs, then that’s what we’d score. But it’s all kinds of surfing and the scores reflect it. If you’re not across the concept it doesn’t make sense.”

As for corruption and being blinded by a personal fav, Rich says: “I don’t care who is out there. My focus is on whether or not it’s a six or a seven or whatever and if the surf is good enough to compete.”

(Editor’s note: This story first appeared on the opening day of BeachGrit in 2014. Given the heat surrounding judges, more noise than a football coach, I figured it deserved a little re-run.)


WSL judges issue mea culpa.
WSL judges censured over poor judging performance.

Racism furore engulfs World Surf League after body issues mea culpa following judging controversy

"Brazilian surfers when we complain we get letters with threats of punishment. The others get public apologies."

Yesterday, the WSL issued a rare mea culpa over what was deemed a poor judging decision at the surf major at Snapper Rocks, begging forgiveness from the sporting body’s dozens of fans. 

“The Head Judge and Nat met for a heat review and watched all of the waves from Nat, Mikey and Charly. It was recognized and acknowledged that Nat’s 4.03 was in fact underscored and the wave should have been in the 5 or 6-point-range,” wrote the WSL. “Even though it was not the 7.21 that Nat needed to get into an advancing position, we still wanted to acknowledge the error.”

The sport’s judging has long been an issue, as it always will, although the noise made by Brazilian world champs Gabriel Medina, Filipe Toledo and Italo Ferreira, and various death threats from Brazilian surf fans, has brought the issue into relief. 

After a controversial loss at Bells in May Gabriel Medina described it as “the worst judging I’ve ever seen.” 

His outburst followed a long proud line of Brazilians complaining about losing, notably in El Salvador and at Surf Ranch.

Still, despite the apparent bias, Filipe Toledo’s two world titles were gifted in two-foot waves tailor-made for his small-wave hijinks and Brazilians have won every world title since 2018.

What is interesting is why the WSL has now made a point of examining a largely pointless moment in a reasonably pointless heat, at least in comparison to a CT event, instead of, say, reviewing Bells, El Salvador and Surf Ranch. 

Which is, for the Brazilian surf fan, further proof the WSL exists only to advance the cause of the two-percenters, white Californians etc. 


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Cue cries of an anti-Brazil bias.

“Amazing how WSL chatted to the surfer and posed publicly, in a CS battery. And with the countless controversial batteries with Medina, Italy, Toledo, among other Brazilians? Does Nat Young’s being from the United States weigh any weight? Will it be????”

“I’m sorry but it’s not a mistake it’s bad influence and @wsl only did it because the athlete is American. This kind os “mistakes“ have been happening over the years with the Brazilian athletes in a large scale and @wsl never review a heat or came up with apologies. This institution don’t have my respect and clearly don’t have respect from the athletes neither. @wsl needs to be reformed with better professionalism.”

“Brazillians Surfers when we complain we get letters with threats of punishment. The others get public apologies.”

And, then, Gabriel Medina swings into the spotlight.

“I’m here for the comments,” he writes, prompting 2000 likes and 100 replies.

The highlight of the latest imbroglio, howevs, has been memes from @pauly_matt_war_shore.

Heady days.

Michael Dunphy making art.
Michael Dunphy making art.

Surf journeyman Michael Dunphy topples longboarder in what is being called “best leash pull ever”

"He's a savage. Classy, bougie, ratchet."

Now, there are many ways to savage kooks including, but not limited to, lowering double barrels on a podcast and firing grosse pointe blank. Then, of course, there are more traditional ways such as slapping the water, barking like a dog, mumbling under breath, staring, thinking bad thoughts or, the greatest, pulling a leash.

World Qualifying Series journeyman, and Floridian, Michael Dunphy put on an absolute clinic with regards to the latter. The perpetually young fellow happens to be on Australia’s Gold Coast with the Deivid Silva etc. when the masterwork occurred. Dunphy can be seen speeding up in order to grab the leash of a lightly overweight longboarder, tugging hard and sending the portly man tumbling.

Praise was near universal.

Scion of positivity Chris Cote declared, “Hey Burkhart, wanna buy some photos?”

Surf photography legend Jimmy “Cane” Wilson added, “This might be my favorite clip ever on instagram.”

Style master Devon Howard found the tow technique “on point.”

And Joel Tudor brought it all home with, “That’s what ya get for wearing a dork strap on longboard / 2 ft wave.”