Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, happy moment together.
Mon and Bill, happy together, briefly.

The Last Time a U.S. President Got in Legal Trouble Over a Secret Tryst, I was There, Sort Of

President Bill Clinton, Monica Lewinsky the Intern and, somewhere real close, the surfer.

Saturday. January 24, 1998. 8:30-ish a.m., EST. The phone rings. It being the Nineties, the phone is a landline. It is answered, sleepily, sluggishly. 

The voice at the other end of the line asks to speak with a young guy not long out of college who in the not so recent past cared mainly about scoring empty barrels in Central America and targeting strikes at that certain left bending off a groin out front of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse — but not a wit for the grand conspiracies that are American presidential politics.

The guy who answered, only slightly less groggy now, responds. “I’m him, who is this?” 

“My name is Mike Isikoff,” says the voice. “I’m a reporter for Newsweek. I’m working on a story about the White House intern Monica Lewinsky that is going to press later today, so calling under a tight deadline. Wanted to ask you a few questions.”

The grogginess evaporates. The surfer guy sits up and swings his legs out of bed. 

Thirty minutes later the conversation wraps. 

In January of 1998, Newsweek, as the name suggests, was a weekly print magazine and one of the most widely-read news publications in the United States. Often at the tip of the spear on breaking national stories, Isikoff was one of the magazine’s star investigative reporters, a relentless gumshoe with wire rim glasses and floppy hair in the ink-stained mold of Woodward and Bernstein. 

But when it came to the Lewinsky story, on that sleepy January morning Newsweek was scrambling, having been scooped by a fedora-wearing rumor monger (not yet cum internet media power broker) named Matt Drudge. 

Not that Newsweek didn’t have the story first. But as the weekly was going to print the previous Saturday, its lead editors chickened out and refused to run Isikoff’s story on the President of the United States’ sexual relationship with a 22-year-old intern. 

In a matter of hours, news of the chickening out leaked to Drudge. He didn’t hesitate — the Drudge Report, a site that now boasts over 100 million page views per month, can trace its true origins to that fateful moment on January 17, 1998 when Drudge hit the go live button on his story alerting the universe that Newsweek was sitting on the sordid true tale of POTUS’s affair with the intern.

When Drudge went live, it was too late for Newsweek to do anything, at least until the next weekend. As a weekly print publication, it had to let an agonizing seven days go by as the national news dailies chewed on the story it had sourced.  

Back to the phone call. Isikoff had questions for the surfer guy, questions that dug into the how and why of the Lewinsky information, questions the answers to which would help flesh out his Newsweek cover story, the magazine’s first opportunity to go on record after it was scooped by Drudge on its own news.

The young surfer guy had some answers. After all, he was working on media relations with Paula Jones’ legal team, the group that had ferreted out the Lewinsky information to begin with during their investigation of the sexual harassment claims being brought by Jones against the President. 

But there was a problem – being young, and much more adept at duck diving tropical storm beach break mayhem than navigating the turbid waters of US national media, he was extremely concerned about saying the wrong thing, or even saying the right thing that could later be published out of context. 

The Paula Jones lawsuit further complicated the situation. While not a lawyer himself, and not an employee of the lead law firm of record for Jones, surfer guy nonetheless was in a unique position and privy to information that someone might claim was privileged. (All of which helped explain why Isikoff had tracked him down in the first place.) 

The uncertainty was vexing, like trying to decide whether to paddle out at the local in sub-optimum conditions or drive up the coast in the hopes that things would be bigger and cleaner at that other spot. 

Borrowing from his surf spot choice experience, the surfer took the simple path. He couldn’t — or more precisely wouldn’t — provide answers on the record. So he agreed to talk, at length, to answer all the questions — but only if everything he said was off the record. 

Isikoff agreed. To this day, it isn’t clear why. He was under a tight deadline so time was precious. Surely there were names of other more important sources on his list. This was a huge story, in terms of pure media coverage volume it would be the most monumental of Isikoff’s career. But he stayed on the phone, asked his questions, and listened to the answers, all off the record.

Among the topics of interest — exactly how had Jones’ lawyers learned about the Lewinsky affair? The off-the-record answer surf guy provided was that the team received an anonymous phone call from a person who identified themselves as someone working inside the White House who had overheard Lewinsky talking about it. The identity of the caller, then and to this day, is still unknown. 

(A very brief aside: Isikoff in his later reporting has contended that the anonymous call claims are dubious and that Jones’ lawyers actually learned of Lewinsky via the not anonymous Linda Tripp. This is not the case, or at least not the full story of the case. In fact, the person who took the anonymous call (not surfer guy, but someone well known to him with whom he worked closely on a daily basis) put the phone on which he received it in a specially-purchased plexiglass box and mounted it on a miniature Corinthian column to keep for posterity as a Smithsonian-level artifact.)

The call ended. The adrenaline subsided, and the anxiety kicked in.

Did the surfer guy say too much? Would Isikoff keep his off the record promise? Was the surfer about to become notorious, perhaps even fired from his job?

The answers to these questions wouldn’t materialize until Newsweek rolled out to newsstands in the next day or two. It would be an agonizing wait. 

But it wasn’t. Early the next morning, The Washington Post ran a Lewinsky story on the front page of its Sunday edition. It contained many of the same details the surfer had shared with Isikoff. What was off the record had suddenly become very much part of the record. 

Unbeknownst to the surfer (and presumably to Isikoff too), a Post reporter named Peter Baker (who today is the Chief White House correspondent for The New York Times) had gotten to a higher-ranking source than just the surfer guy, and that source — being both significantly more experienced and less scared than the surfer — had shared the details with Baker on the record.

To this day, the surfer guy wonders if Isikoff thinks he was played. For the record, he wasn’t. He just called the wrong source. And to his credit he did keep up his end of the bargain, never expressly revealing the contents of the conversation with the surfer.

In the larger world, the news went nuclear. 60 Minutes came to town, Ed Bradley resplendent in his sparkling golden hoop earring and possibly the most suave person surfer guy had ever stood beside. Steven Kotler, nine years before publishing West of Jesus: Surfing, Science and the Origins of Belief, spent a week wandering around asking questions while researching and penning a profile that ran in GQ.* 

Kotler and the surfer guy spent some time hanging out, Kotler the much cooler hipster who had made it to GQ levels, surfer guy the young wannabe who wished he could reach that pinnacle. Instead, the surfer settled for a one-line quote in Kotler’s piece, a pithy aside referencing shared free speech values with the ACLU that, truth be told, has held up pretty well over the years. 

As with any long form piece, the ACLU quote was the tip of the iceberg, the one nugget mined out of multiple conversations where the surfer guy tried to convince Kotler that he wasn’t a right wing maniac, that the Jones suit was about bigger human rights and not just right vs left, while Kotler in turn foreshadowed his future surf adjacent writings by positing existential queries like, “how did you end up here if all you ever really wanted to do was surf?” (A question without answer to this day).

The media frenzy peaked with the public reveal of the deposition of the President from the Jones’ suit, where he denied any sexual relationship with Lewinsky. It was the lie that led to impeachment, the first such reprimand of a US president since Andrew Johnson post-Civil War. 

Surfer guy was there too, hauling the first publicly-released copies of the deposition transcript into a secret press conference in the basement of a D.C. hotel stuffed with a few dozen of the most famous names and faces in American media, including Isikoff. The conference was completely off the record, cameras and microphones banned inside the room. After a couple of short remarks by the lawyers explaining what could be found in the transcripts, the reporters all dashed for tables at the back of the room, where copies of the transcripts were passed out (one per news organization) by surfer guy and a couple of his colleagues. 

As he waited his turn, Isikoff joked that surfer guy was handing out transcripts to the women reporters before the men, so maybe the whole Washington Post scoop didn’t sting that bad. 

Incidentally, Sam Donaldson (who was seated in the front row of the secret conference) immediately stole ABC News’ only copy of the transcript for his own purposes and refused to share it with the rest of the ABC crew. So surfer guy sprinted through the streets of D.C. with an ABC news producer and one spare copy of the transcript to make copies at ABC headquarters in time to be read on air that evening. 

All those years of hard paddling and duck diving paid off – surfer guy was still breathing easy as they raced into the ABC News building and pulled up hot to the copier, the producer screaming at some poor hapless intern running xeroxes of take-out menus to “get the fuck out of the way.”

Like any memorable swell, the Lewinsky media frenzy peaked and faded. The federal district judge handling the Jones’ lawsuit granted summary judgment to the President, concluding (among other things) that even if the one sexually-charged incident Jones alleged actually did happen, it didn’t suffice to meet what the judge believed was the required standard of severity (a conclusion that is less persuasive in today’s legal environment).

The Lewinsky allegations then morphed into a national crisis far beyond the Jones suit, fodder for independent counsels and GOP legislatures. Isikoff wrote a best seller about the whole saga, Uncovering Clinton: A Reporter’s Story, which the Associated Press described, with a completely straight face, as “[a] penetrating look at the most explosive presidential scandal since Watergate.” 

The book filtered events through Isikoff’s perspective (which is likely more or less accurate), and even included a veiled reference to the Saturday morning surfer guy call, referring to it obliquely as one of the “many cover stories put out by all sides in the Lewinsky affair” during the early months of 1998.  

For his part, as the swell of media attention faded, surfer guy paddled off into the sunset, moving on to other endeavors. He never spoke with the likes of Isikoff or Kotler again. He never shared the details of these experiences publicly, until today. 

But he stuffed those “you should have been here yesterday” stories deep into his wax pocket. Like the mythic winter of ’83, they’re a memory against which all future swells will be measured. 

*Steven Kotler, GQ, Sept. 1998, “The President’s Nemesis”

Photo: Instagram
Photo: Instagram

Surf hero Kelly Slater and girlfriend lovingly reprise iconic Ace Ventura moment for Vogue Living photoshoot

Einhorn is Finkle.

Kelly Slater, 11x world champion, multi-time Pipe Master, 58-years-young and a father to be (again), put on a show for competitive professional surfing connoisseurs, worldwide, last week with a vintage performance at Teahupo’o. The greatest to ever do it, in the water, certainly does know how to keep the spotlight right where it belongs.

Ever the talk of our public square.

And he will certainly be the talk of New Zealand’s public squares once his, and girlfriend Kalani Miller’s, issue of Vogue Living NZ hits newsagents.

Minnow Eleven Productions gave a sneak peek to the unfortunates who do not call New Zealand home.

Surf fans immediately rejoiced that the couple had decided to reprise the iconic Ace Ventura photoshoot, harkening back to simpler, less divisive times.

The Jim Carrey vehicle, released in 1994, followed the adventures of a pet detective seeking to find the Miami Dolphins dolphin mascot Snowflake. The plot centers around a trans antagonist (Lt. Lois Einhorn/Ray Finkle) making it culturally revolutionary in hindsight.

In any case, the film went on to gross $107 million world wide and was lovingly described by The Los Angeles Times as, “Not many critics have been charmed by Ace Ventura’s exploits, and several have charged that the film’s humor is mean-spirited, needlessly raunchy and homophobic.”

Proto BeachGrit.

The World Surf League’s Championship Tour is headed to El Salvador and will swing its waiting period open in but two short days. John John Florence is now atop the men’s leaderboard while Brisa Hennessy is the number one woman. It is uncertain if Slater will make an appearance.

Baby on the way etc.

Disaster for Quiksilver as arch-rival Rip Curl wins sponsor rights for iconic Eddie Aikau big-wave event

Following disastrous trans pivot, Rip Curl's masterful PR campaign continues with pie in the face of old enemy Quiksilver!

It’s been a helluva ordinary six months for the once-iconic wetsuit company Rip Curl.

Its hard-core surf bona fides were rapidly whittled away following its sale to a discount camping company, the disappearing of its high profile Chief Brand and Marketing Officer and former Tracks editor Neil Ridgway and a decision to pivot to the trans and queer market backfired spectacularly.

Of course you remember when Rip Curl made a post celebrating the trans-surfer Sasha Jane Lowerson (neé Western Australian longboard champ Ryan Egan) not long after splitting with Bethany Hamilton over her anti-trans women in sports views. 

The post was subsequently deleted making enemies of both sides of the cultural divide.

Surf Equity described the “so-called” apology as “divisive, anti-trans, and discriminatory. The LGBTQIA+ community is appalled. Aligning with bigots harms your brand identity and fails to support your LGBTQIA+ employees.”

That pivot, which almost cost new Rip Curl CEO Brooke Farris her job, was soon forgotten with a series of masterful plays that quickly cemented Farris as a master of the game.

The first, getting the world’s most popular surfer, eight-time champ Stephanie Gilmore to sign for eight years at a relatively paltry, given her wild profile, three-hundred gees a year.

The second, announced today, is their headline sponsorship of The Eddie Aikau Invitational, which used to be called The Quiksilver: in memory of Eddie Aikau and which ran, sponsorless last year, as The Eddie Aikau Big-Wave Invitational.

(Last year’s event was epic, blue collar local Luke Shepardson won in twenty-five-foot surf, the North Shore came to a standstill and its live broadcast went through the roof.)

A little background on The Eddie.

The first event was held in six-to-eight-foot waves at Sunset Beach back in 1984, and only went big wave when Quiksilver execs along with Fast Eddie Rothman turned it into the speciality event we all know, love etc, at Waimea Bay. 

When the fifty-k prize money was announced, it also became the richest surf contest in the world. 

In 2016, it felt like the event couldn’t get any better when John John Florence, the just-crowned world surfing champion, cemented his claim to best in biz when he won the still-sponsored-by-Quiksilver, although barely, Eddie in wild 25-foot conditions. 

So how did such a fruitful relationship, which included the lucrative sale of Eddie Aikau-Quiksilver merchandise, wind up in the gravel?

Here’s how that went down: the previous ten-year contract was expiring in the spring of 2016 and Quiksilver and the Aikau family began negotiating a new deal. 

The Aikau family were advised that a potentially better deal might be out there if they shopped it around a little. Red Bull was in the mix, initially, but apparently, Red Bull and the WSL couldn’t couldn’t find a way to play nice so they pulled out at the last minute, leaving the Aikaus with no deal.

A source told BeachGrit multiple offers were submitted to the Aikaus by Quiksilver, all with increased revenue sharing opportunities but all were rejected. 

But here was the rub, as they say.

Quiksilver owned the permits for the 2015-16 contest and even canvassed the idea of calling it a different name to circumvent the need to involve the famous Hawaiian family. 

Quiksilver played around with The Quiksilver: In Memory of Jose Angel, The Quiksilver: In Memory of Todd Chesser, The Quiksilver: In Memory of Brock Little.

Anyway, it worked out for 2016 but was terminated shortly after.

Did Quiksilver decide that the chances of The Eddie ever being as good as 2016 were so slim any subsequent money poured into it would be wasted?

The question I asked at the time was, would you, if gifted the keys to the clothing giant that was once famously six hundred million dollars in debt, continue to run with The Eddie?

Or would you pour the surplus money into your number one team rider Matt Banting?

Quiksilver chose Banting.

Congrats Rip Curl.

Flow Violento by Scott Hulet
Scott Hulet's handsome 248-page, linen-covered volume Flow Violento.

New book Flow Violento “a lavish account of surfing by a hot silver daddy that soars above mere realism”

Pick at the bones of long-time Surfers Journal editor Scott Hulet’s dazzling collection of south-of-the-border stories…

The former editor of The Surfers Journal, Scott Hulet, whom you’d swear with his high brilliantined hair, husky voice and sucky mouth was hot silver daddy Gianluca Vacchi, has just released a compendium of south-of-the-border stories accumulated over a thirty-year career called Flow Violento.

Flow Violento is a handsome, expensively produced volume with a linen cover that only costs thirty-five dollars or twenty-eight if you subscribe to the Journal and you could, and should, buy it. 

To get you warm, here’s a story contained within called Two Dog Circus, “surrealism in central Baja.”


San Quintín sprawls along the highway, debauched and sour, merging with the neighboring colonias in a megastrip of roadside sprawl. Migrants pour in from Central America and the mainland with high hopes but nowhere to go but down. A lot of glue gets huffed here, and when travelers are robbed or gang-stomped, the area between Camalú and Punta Baja is where it happens. 

In the past, the region was a laid-back zone of year-round overcast, empty reefs, and rich brant hunting and yellowtail fish- ing. Today, San Q can seem a desperate place. 

Three years ago, hundreds of laborers and their fami- lies were denied payment by their patrónes, and the looting commenced. When the military regained control they found the rabble in local markets and restaurants, gorging on raw meat and fish offal, clicking in their mountain dialects. The town has had a dark vibration ever since. 

Jorge and I blow through the city with the windows up against a nimbus of insecticide and farmed-out dust. I can’t help but think of the town as some dreadful indicator of Alta California’s two-class future. 

The situation improves as we drop into the Valle El Rosario, seeing the sphinx-like mountain formation that marks the central plateau. The first boojum and cardon are spotted, and suddenly we’re in the true desert. Past the buried-tire corral of Tres Enriques, we drive across the spring-fed vado fringed with blue palms at Cataviña and down still farther to the winter hunting grounds. 

My companion has been weathering a teeth-gnashing divorce, and his monologue chews through nine hours of driving. If his tales weren’t salted with humor and ribald speculation on his bachelor future, they would be intolerable in their lack of topical range. Regardless, we’re both ready for some peace as he turns off the motor, perched on the dune overlooking the small bay. The engine diesels, choking up the stepped-on gas bought out of a drum at Santa Ynez. 

The view into the cove is a letdown. Swimming Pool Point is pretty much gone. The sand hasn’t recovered from the hurri- cane that came aground several years ago. Fat waves drag their way to shore, shapeless and slow. An osprey spirals up an invisible thermal stalking corvina, looking vigilant and bored all at once. 

Inshore, the evening glow marquees the shanties of the shark fishermen’s camp with halogen spot beams of sun, highlight- ing a white shrine on the hill above. A group of young men walk toward us, finally close enough for one to gesture and hiss, “Relax. 

We toss them a greeting. It’s a much younger crew than I remember, streetwise and urban looking. A cold-eyed young man in a bandana scratches invisible insect bites. He’s muscled and lean. “No,” I answer to the tall one, “we don’t want to buy any abalone or weed. Enjoy the evening.” 

While fishermen would normally show a healthy curiosity where rig and gear are concerned, this lot makes an obvious effort to avert their eyes. They stride back to their camp. 

As we erect our tent, we hear a vehicle coming over the rise. Headlamps sweep the dunes, and the truck rumbles to halt 10 yards away. Jorge stares at the dusty Land Cruiser with its stack of boards, aghast. His cursing echoes across the landscape. Livid, he mumbles to himself as he assembles the fold-out kitchen. “Forty miles of coast without a soul. Forty miles. Give me a goddamn break.” After a tequila, his outrage cools to amusement. 

The fellow surfers keep to themselves, busily off-loading their truck. The next morning’s quiet is broken by the two-stroke whine of the shark pangas, off to the Cedros channel. Our new neighbors, having changed the flat they hobbled in with, are loading a day kit for an assault on the next point up. They drive off, leaving their tents and camp stove. 

We while away the day with sessions in the limp surf inter- spersed with reading and investigations of the dunes. A coyote trots by with a crab in her teeth, a string of drool yoyo-ing from her chin.

A few hours later, Jorge treads back to our tent after a hike. “You’re going to want to see this.” We walk to the north side of the headland. I take the binoculars and glass the beach until I find them. The Land Cruiser is buried to the pumpkin in a drift of talcum sand up at the next point. Their stick figures work silently with shovels. A half hour later, the truck rolls free. To return they must traverse a mile of wet beach with a rapidly encroaching tide. They seem to know they’re in trouble, accelerating toward us across the flats. A small point of rocks blocks their approach. Through the twin circles of the binos I see the truck fall into a hole, its snout buried under an explosion of saltwater, loose gear and parts blowing into the sky. We hoot and dance in the dunes. 

The driver crawls the rig up the sand, the vehicle coming to a rest. The rocks have blown out the sidewalls of the two left tires. The engine is swamped. Bands of whitewater move incrementally closer with each set. Not wishing to stack stupidity on stupidity by risking our truck, we watch. Un milagro. A small army of fishermen walks toward them from the shark camp. They push the truck to safety en masse, and the beast sputters to life. 

That evening we offer them a sundown drink, playing dumb, regaling in their version before letting on that we’d watched the whole thing. 

We make time to explore the shark camp the following morning. I notice graffiti sprayed on the plywood walls of one shack. “Punta Mu.” The name is unknown to me, and I’ve been coming here for 25 years. I ask the first fisherman I see about the name. He lifts his chin to the point out front and to the adjacent points as well. “Punta Mu, Punta Mu…todos Mu.” 

In the space between two shacks, Jorge sees a cross and asks the fisherman of its significance. He explains that a drunken man fell asleep with a space heater on. It ignited, burning him alive before anyone could help. 

We climb the hill to the shrine and peer inside. For the most part it’s standard issue. A framed print of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Some candles. Mounted on the block wall, though, is something extraordinary: a borrego with an extra set of horns sprouting from its forehead. No obvious forensic clues as to whether it is assemblage or aberration. We chalk it up to genetics and head back to pack our gear and clean the site. 

On the road out we investigate False Point. The sand is perfect and west lines spin off, their lips Saran-thin and speckled with darting baitfish. As we continue the drive, it’s apparent that every spot save the accursed Mu is rifling. 

Dropping into the lee of the next point, we see it. Stark against the hardpan, flags snapping in the afternoon wind, a dusty bluebigtopissilhouettedagainsttheglare.“CircoAndreau,”the truck reads. The tent is staked to the ground with car axles, their hubs still attached. It out-Fellini’s Federico himself. Driving through the adjacent fish camp we slow to interview a passing man about the circus. “It tours the camps,” he tells us. “No matter how small. One man and his wife. He erects the tent and serves as ringmaster. She vends the tickets and is the clown.” 

He asks where we have come from. I mention the mapped name of the point. “Oh,” he says. “Muy malo. Mucha chiva. Muchos adictos. They are sharkers. They trade the fish for heroin to their ice truck driver from Ensenada. They fish all day and do chiva all night. Muy malo. Did you see the cross? That is where they boarded in one of their own and burnt him alive. Muy peligroso, ese lugar. 

I ask him of the word itself. 

Mu? Es Mu y nada más. Mu.” He forks his fingers behind his head and bugs his eyes. “Contrario a los dios. Mu. Against the gods, my friend.” 

The man’s little boy is standing on our running board, smiling and sucking on the candy I bring as baksheesh for such occasions. As his father walks away, he stays on the truck as we troll toward the main road. I ask if he has seen the circus. 

“Three times,” he says, grinning. 

“What do they have at the circo?” I ask. “Tigres? Leones? What class of animals?” 

No tigres. No leones. Two dogs only.” He jumps from the running board. I see him in the rearview mirror, chasing after us. Jorge slows down. 

“Solo dos perros,” he screams in our dust. “Dos perros sola- mente.” He’s laughing as he turns on his heel, marching back to the camp. 

Jock Sutherland for the New Yorker.
Jock Sutherland, giving it hell at Pipe and, right, giving his precious temple the ride of its life via the magic of drugs.

Pulitzer Prize-winning Surf journalist Bill Finnegan introduces New Yorker readers to “world’s best surfer” Jock Sutherland

"We used to call him the Extraterrestrial because he…he could smoke more hash than anyone, take more acid, and still go out there and surf better than anyone.”

Do you remember when you couldn’t walk outside without tripping over another fawning review of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Bill Finnegan book Barbarian Days? 

The Wall Street Journal called it “gorgeously written and intensely felt… dare I say that we all need Mr Finnegan… as a role model for a life, thrillingly, lived.”

The LA Times said,

“It’s also about a writer’s life and, even more generally, a quester’s life, more carefully observed and precisely rendered than any I’ve read in a long time.”

The Pulitzer Prize committee praised it as, “A finely crafted memoir of a youthful obsession that has propelled the author through a distinguished writing career.”

The Pulitzer Prize, of course, is America’s most prestigious award in journalism. It also includes ten thousand dollars in prize money to each category winner.

It threw me under the bus of a two-day obsessive read. Photos scattered through the pages showed the author to have visible obliques, was long-haired and tanned. Finnegan could surf, write and was a stud.

It’s a been while since ol Billy has touched surf, but this oversight has been rectified with a long piece on switchfoot maestro and king of Pipe before ol Gez Lopez swung onto the scene, Jock Sutherland, in the latest issue of The New Yorker. 

You can read it all here, and I beg that you do, but here’s a few lil bites on the neck to get you in the mood. 

Jock built a different sort of life on his home coast. He’s seemingly everybody’s favorite roofer, a part-time farmer, a revered elder with garrulous tendencies. I’ve heard him called “the mayor of the North Shore.” My old starstruck view of him was pure projection. In truth, he was, from an early age, leading a strange, half-wild, quite complicated existence.

When Jock was twelve, his mother sent him to stay with a man known as the Hermit of Kalalau, on the island of Kauai. The hermit lived in a cave on the Nāpali Coast—a roadless wilderness where sea cliffs rise as high as four thousand feet. “That was actually his summer cave, down by the beach,” Jock told me. “He had a winter cave up the valley.”

The hermit’s name was Dr. Bernard Wheatley. “I was the object of his displeasure,” Jock recalled. “Being a kid, I was unaware of the imperatives of his existence. There was a good little bodysurfing wave out front, but he didn’t want me to swim out there. He was responsible for me. I started whining, and I ended up bodysurfing it.”

Audrey Sutherland was a one-off. She grew up in California, went to U.C.L.A. at sixteen for international relations, worked as a riveter in the Second World War. She became a long-distance swimmer, married a sailor, worked in commercial fishing, and moved to Oahu in 1952. There she did substitute teaching, taught swimming, got her Army job. Her kids, growing up in the decommissioned barracks at the ocean’s edge, were all water babies. After their father left, they scrounged. “When you’re poor,” Jock told me, “you learn how to find food on the reefs, hunt, pick wild fruit, trade with your neighbors. We set out lobster traps. Spearfishing, night diving. Got a lot of fruit from the hills.”

Audrey drew up a list of things that every child should be able to do by age sixteen and stuck it on the wall. It read, in part:

—Clean a fish and dress a chicken

—Write a business letter

—Splice or put a fixture on an electric cord

—Operate a sewing machine and mend your own clothes

—Handle a boat safely and competently

—Save someone drowning using available equipment

—Read at a tenth grade level

—Listen to an adult talk with interest and empathy

—Dance with any age

This list changed with the times, adding computers and contraception, and nobody really kept score, but everybody got the idea.

But it was not in contests that he made his name. It was at Pipeline, which sits roughly halfway between Waimea and Sunset Beach. A few surfers rode Pipeline well, notably Butch Van Artsdalen, a hellion from La Jolla. But most people were afraid of it. When Pipe is working, it breaks with stupendous force in shallow water, producing one of the world’s most beautiful, deadly tubes. Jock and his buddies started riding it on small days. “I made one or two out of ten,” he said.

He kept at it, refining his approach. He started making the takeoffs, and seeing how to avoid the heavy lip, by quickly finding a ridable line and “pulling in”—crouching close to the face and letting the barrel envelop him. Then, with perfect positioning and a bit of luck, he would be thrown into the clear by the explosive force of the lip’s impact. Jock seemed to have more time as he rode than anybody else did. Dropping in to the heaviest waves, he would fade and stall, casually timing his bottom turn to set up the deepest possible barrel. He would disappear into the roaring darkness, then reappear, usually, going very fast, with that little grin.

The wave of recreational drugs that flooded American youth culture in the late sixties was a tsunami among surfers. Cannabis and psychedelics—LSD, mescaline—seemed designed to make you surf better. Jock took this inspiration to the limit. “I was pretty wild,” he says today. “I worried that I set a bad example.”

Outlandish stories swirled around Jock, who was sometimes called the Sunshine Superman, for a popular variety of LSD known as Orange Sunshine. On the North Shore, he and his pals liked to start their acid trips in the mountains of the Ko‘olau Range, which runs down the east side of Oahu. They knew the mountain streams, and where to find the old work camps from the sugarcane plantations, which had been abandoned as Hawaii’s sugar industry shrank. The workers had kept fabulous gardens, which were now full of wild fruit and vegetables. At some point, Jock’s troupe would head for the coast, to rinse off the day’s psychic grime in the surf.

Psychedelics weren’t harmless—we all came to know many acid casualties. But they had, as many contemporary researchers know, the power of revelation, the potential to expand self-awareness. Jeff Hakman, the other young haole phenom of the period, told an interviewer that the best surfing experience of his life had been enhanced by LSD, and shared with Sutherland. “We used to call him the Extraterrestrial because he was so good at everything,” Hakman said. “He could beat anyone at chess or Scrabble; he could smoke more hash than anyone, take more acid, and still go out there and surf better than anyone.” You never knew what Jock would do on a wave, except that it was likely to be something you had never seen before, like side-slipping in the barrel at Sunset or switching stance at big Waimea. It was no surprise to anyone that he took the top spot in the 1969 Surfer Reader Poll.

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