Great White shark Florida.
Calling these waters shark infested isn’t just tinhorn hyperbole. Sharks are so ubiquitous in the area they even have names, like the Canova Runner, a mystical 16-foot Tiger that was hooked by local fishermen several times in the 80s only to escape each time and continue patrolling. Big Whites are regular visitors too, routinely spotted by anglers and even tracked in real time by ocearch and others.

Is Florida’s Monster Hole the world’s sharkiest surf spot?

"Calling Monster Hole a wave is like calling Genghis Khan a general."

There is that vast, dusty attic far down in the depths of all our minds where the images are sepia-toned and the memories click by in hazy 8mm relief, the reels clacking in the background. We wouldn’t be surprised if Chaplin or Keaton suddenly tottered into the frame.

That is where this story originates, buried underneath decades of moments, slid into the corner behind a clutter of yellowing and cracked remembrances, unnoticed but for the garish title scrawled in blood-red marker on the outside of the tin:

Monster Hole.

A name crafted, successfully, to strike fear into grommets and grizzled wave sliders alike.

A name that haunted my teenage dreams, living as it did at the outer fringes of my high school surfing existence, equal parts terrifying and alluring.

For those unfamiliar with the intricacies of the central Florida surf map, the Hole is a wave.

But calling Monster Hole a wave is like calling Genghis Khan a general.

This isn’t your typical pull up to the beach break and paddle straight into the lineup like essentially every other wave in Florida.

Au contraire, mon frere.

The Hole is an open water spot that breaks 1/3 of a mile outside Sebastian Inlet, spilling its energy over underwater rocks and a sandbar formed by the tidal flow in and out of the inlet, then dissipating into deep water like an Olympic sprinter collapsing at the end of a frenetic dash toward immortality.

Accessing the break requires parking on the south side of the inlet — opposite the northside jetty and its iconic First Peak — jumping in the swirling whitewater flowing out of its mouth, and battling the currents during the 20 minute paddle through murky, shark-infested waters.

Calling these waters shark infested isn’t just tinhorn hyperbole. Sharks are so ubiquitous in the area they even have names, like the Canova Runner, a mystical 16-foot Tiger that was hooked by local fishermen several times in the 80s only to escape each time and continue patrolling the stretch between Canova Beach and Sebastian.

Big Whites are regular visitors too, routinely spotted by anglers and even tracked in real time by ocearch and others.

Yet while Tigers and Whites grab the headlines, they aren’t even the most dangerous selachimorpha stalking the inlet. That title belongs to the shockingly, aggressively, evil Bull shark, a demon that is responsible for some of the most horrific attacks on record, an osmoregulating freak that can survive in freshwater, haunts rivers as well as oceans, and is armed like an oceanic Freddie Krueger.

A recent academic journal piece put some flesh on this nightmare bone: “[W]hereas other species might have five or seven layers of replacements waiting to move into position, bull sharks have up to 50 rows of teeth. Their narrow, sharply pointed lower teeth clamp onto their prey while broad, heavily serrated uppers rip and grind and sever, delivering a bite force as strong as 5,914 newtons—pound for pound, the strongest of all sharks.”*

But wait, kind reader, that’s not all — to add quantity on top of quality, the Bull shark is the fourth most abundant shark species in U.S. Atlantic waters (trailing only the relatively domesticated Nurse, Lemon and Blacktip). Which means not only is this cross between a pelagic tiger and a gill-bearing wolverine the most likely thing to eat you, it’s also the most likely thing to be lurking beneath you.

Swirling ocean currents, terrifying deepwater paddles, and a gauntlet of man-eating ocean beasts be damned though. Because when wind and tide and swell are just right, the Hole is a reeling lefthander that is arguably the best Atlantic-side wave south of Hatteras.**

As the Florida Surf Museum site describes it, “Monster Hole is where reality and hype come together.”

Which is why one overcast morning in around 1989 my crew decided to roll the dice. We were standing on the beach by the jetty, looking over firing First and Second Peak, wondering whether to face a crowded pack of the hottest surfers on the entire east coast or ditch both peaks and wander north to Spanish House.

That’s when a big set rolled through, and tips of feathering swell far outside the jetty surf zone caught our collective eye. There was no one out there, so we had no idea how big, or small, it was. But the waves reeled off like aquatic razor blades with machine-like repetition.

As best we could tell, we were looking at the finest lefthander any of us had ever witnessed in person. This being the 80s, we didn’t know much about the wave itself. All of our information came through word of mouth, whispers of a spot only a few had dared surf, warnings of the giant sharks fishermen had hooked off the jetty or spotted while trolling for sailfish outside the inlet.

We also had no idea why it was empty at that particular moment. For all we knew, notwithstanding what our eyes seemed to tell us, the wave may have actually been shit, or there may have been a run of bait fish taking their spastic flight straight through the lineup and attracting even more sharks than usual. (Or, more likely, the photographers on site had their lenses trained on the peaks near the jetty and wouldn’t be in position to document even the most savage of snaps out at the Hole.)

But we were young, and we lived in a geographic zone reviled by surfers around the globe as less than. That reality had put a chip on our collective shoulders, an eagerness to push the limits where we could find them, a kind of quiet desperation to test ourselves against more than two-to-three-foot beachbreak windswell.

It was the same chip that in some measure invigorated the spirit of all native Floridian surfers, the one that led other (light years more accomplished) Floridians like Kelly and the Lopez’s and Hobgoods to throw themselves over ledges at Pipe and Teahupoo, and led lesser knowns like the Kuhn crew to paddle maxing Puerto.

At that precise moment in time, we had neither the resources nor the skill to take on legendary international barrel zones. But we were standing on a beach staring at what appeared to be a properly cooking Monster Hole. So we looked at each other, shrugged, and sprinted back to the cars for the short trip south over the inlet.

Waxed up and leashed, we stood together on the beach, scanning the whirlpools and boat channel, watching the lefts reel off in the distance, trying to scope out the best line to follow on the more than quarter mile paddle to the break.

My best friend Chard*** was there. A goofyfooter and apprentice carpenter who shaped and glassed his own boards (yes, even in high school), he was meticulous almost to a fault. But once a plan was set, he would charge anything that broke.

A couple years after this day at the Hole, we paddled a mysto reef together breaking a couple of hundred yards outside Roca Loca in CR. He dropped into the wave of the day (maybe the year in those parts), a giant shadowy beast that made his seven-foot step-up look like a skimboard.

Tuffed was also with us. Six foot four and a lean, muscular 220 lbs, he was the biggest and best looking in our crew, by far — he had seven inches and probably 100 lbs on me. Truth be told, he could be a complete asshole at times – he once slugged me without warning for deigning to borrow his bible at church camp without asking first.

The fact that his sucker roundhouse didn’t make me so much as flinch was probably the only reason we became friends in the first place, his being the kind that only seemed to value the ability to inflict or, equally important, endure violence. But he did have the stones to match his macho facade and paddling a sharky open water spot was just the kind of thing that would put another notch on his psychic belt.

Of course Steve was there too. You’ve heard about Steve before, my crew’s late partner in multiple crimes whose up for anything approach to surfing and life exceeded his actual skill in the water by more than a few degrees. His love for skim boarding had just about ruined his surfing style — on a wave he always looked like he was skimming across flat water at high velocity with the same “keep your balance at all costs” kind of stance.

But he was the son of an auto mechanic fisherman who had inherited his dad’s love for engines, fondness for heavy test fishing line, and blue collar grit. He had grease perpetually embedded in the lines of his hands and fingernails, had landed his fair share of big game fish, and his constant glass half full approach never diminished the truth that he was tougher than steel wool. For all I knew, he may have been on a first name basis with a few of the sharks already. He definitely seemed giddy at the prospect of our open water paddle.

After a few minutes observing the scene it became clear that any plan would be nuked the second we hit the swirling whitewater. So Chard said “fuck it,” and took off running for the surfline. The rest of us charged behind, leaping into the water with as much momentum as we could muster, paddling like banshees as we skimmed across the foam.

We spent what seemed like hours wrestling with the frenetic currents and crashing waves in the near-shore surf zone. Eventually, though, we each made it through, coming out the other side into relatively clean deep water.

That’s precisely the moment when our thoughts returned to what was swimming beneath, silently stalking us from below. I lifted my feet behind me, doing my damnedest to keep any flesh out of the water, no small effort when paddling an 18” wide toothpick.

None of us breathed a word, terrified that any sound would alert otherwise drowsy predators. We looked at each other wide-eyed, silently slipping our hands and arms in and out of the water, paddling like Iroquois stealthily sneaking their canoes past the river camp of a blood enemy.

As we grew closer to the break, the waves seemed to grow. What appeared to be head high-ish from the beach was clearly close to double that, more on certain sets.

Impatient after a long paddle, I swung and went on one of the first lumps that we reached. It was a quick drop and short ride, the wave petering out in deep water almost immediately. I turned back toward the lineup just as the rest of the set reeled through, my buddies punching through the pitching faces of solid double overhead walls.

They scrambled for the horizon while I sprint paddled back out to meet them, all thoughts of big fish and razor-sharp teeth eclipsed by the adrenaline of making it all the way out the back to be in position for the next set.

It didn’t take long. We saw the lines advancing and paddled into position. Chard and Steve took the first two, Tuffed dropped in the third.

As I paddled up and over the face of Tuffed’s wave, I caught my first glimpse of what was behind it. A ruler-edged line, feathering off to the north, bending around the Hole’s bathymetry to peak right in front of me.

I swung and took three hard strokes, glancing down the line as I did. I felt the familiar surge under my board, only this time with more urgency, more juice, like our typical Florida beach break had done steroids and emerged thick-necked and roped up.

I sprang to my feet, pushing down the surge of endorphins, tucked my back knee just a little, and drew a backhand line down the face. As I approached the trough, I dug my heels into a bottom turn and headed back up, shifting my weight as I reached the lip, pulling my head and torso back around, and unloading all of the compressed speed into as critical a top turn as I had ever managed to complete.

The wind blew spray back into my eyes as I headed back down the face of the wave. I shook my head once to clear my vision and spotted Chard and Steve starting to paddle back out in the deep water at the edge of the break zone. They were grinning like toddlers on Christmas morning, all memories of the hectic paddle out wiped away.

“Monster Hole is one bad ass motherfucker,” I thought as I listened to them hooting from the channel.

Then I banked off the bending wall, leaned into another bottom turn, and headed back up toward the feathering lip, any thoughts of the return paddle to the beach stowed away, a terror for another time.




*John Gifford, The Redoubtable Bull Shark, The American Scholar (May 2, 2024).

**With apologies to Reef Road, Pumphouse, the Rocks, RC’s, and some spots we won’t discuss in the general vicinity of Jacksonville and Wilmington.

***Names have been altered to protect the living.

Jordy Smith, world title contender.
Fewer than a thousand points separate Ethan Ewing, Yago Dora and Jordy Smith in positions five, six and seven, respectively. (1330 points for making it past the opening round, remember.) | Photo: WSL

Middle-aged surf star Jordy Smith surges into unlikely world title contention!

"Jordy Smith hasn't paid heed to anything greater than Pokemon Go over the past two decades, but somehow at this unlikely point of his career, he’s right in the mix."

The only real surf fans in the world packed the beach at finals day in Saquarema, as they do every year.

Pundits, flustered with the prospect of presiding over an actual, real sporting event, found themselves grasping at words and air.

“Wow. Saquarema,” said Kaipo.

But to what, no-one was sure.

His tone was of a man landing from space and reading a road sign, but without wonder, excitement or question.

Strider, apropos of no segue that might indicate a question about oral sex or public masturbation, claimed, with his typical effervescence, that despite the crowds he “hadn’t seen one lewd act”.

(Somewhat ironically, it was he who would spunk furious superlatives all over the sand and crowd all day.)

The moral cleanliness of the beach at Saquarema was mirrored by some clean conditions in the water for finals day, and some entertaining enough surfing.

The four quarter-finals were mostly low-scoring, uneventful match-ups, aside from Yago Dora finding the best wave of the entire event to displace John Florence, and Medina not getting a score he probably should have at the buzzer, losing out to Griffin Colapinto.

Colapinto opened against Medina with six points for a single turn. Nice, unspectacular. But the heat was scrappy. Medina scratched throughout, finding nothing.

Almost at the buzzer, he took off looking for a mid-five.

A opening carve was followed by a consequential floater to flat landing. Surely it was the score? In front of a home crowd and at the death of a heat there seemed no greater certainty.

But Rio has never been kind to the son of Sao Sebastiao. The judges delivered Medina a foul-tasting 4.77 to chew on in the Saquarema sand.

“A lot of good things happening for Gabe,” said Joe Turpel. “His name’s Gabriel Medina, for one.”

On the opposite side, Dora’s defeat of Florence laid further waste to Medina’s immediate top five aspirations.

Yago was comfortable, but his 9.17 was given mostly by virtue of being in the right place at the right moment for a rare, long, clean left.

“That was like Mundaka,” said Turpel, with a level of embellishment that bordered on criminal negligence.

It was not Mundaka. But it was still the best wave that had rolled through in three days.

But that’s how it goes sometimes.

In his post-heat interview, Dora acknowledged that cosmic forces beyond our ken were at work, and he knew it.

“That was the one I was waiting for in El Salvador,” he said, “and it came here.”

It spoke to his rhythm and focus. He’d never left the zone he found at the last event, the state that elevated him skyward and to the final at Punta Roca. He was still on the type of run a man might find himself in once or twice in a lifetime if he pays heed to the cosmos.

I don’t imagine Jordy Smith has paid heed to anything greater than Pokemon Go over the past two decades, but somehow at this unlikely point of his career, he’s right in the mix.

Smith held the highest score of an 8.40 for much of his semi final match up with Yago Dora, but Dora had a high seven and a backup and looked comfortable.


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“Too young, too dynamic, too Brazilian,” read my notes.

Then just at the moment of notation Jordy exploded into a righthander, double grab, small rotation, then satisfactory finish. The 5.83 awarded was enough to take the lead, but looked like an oddly low score in context.

Potential controversy was quickly soused by Dora. Almost as soon as Jordy’s score landed he took off on a left, raced towards the closeout on his forehand, pump, pump, bang! He exploded out of the lip with a clean rotation. In the air he’d needed a mid-six. He greased the landing for a 7.97.

Jordy didn’t even get another attempt before Yago slammed the door. His 9.33 for one torqued opening carve, followed by a stylish but relatively forgettable layback on the end section was grossly overscored. But it didn’t really matter.

In the opposite semi, Italo despatched Griffin Colapinto. His clean backside rotation early in the heat spoke to his rhythm. Nine points and no arguments.

Colapinto gave a good account of himself, but his pocket sevens were not enough to turn over Ferreira’s early chip lead.

It was noted during this heat these men had only met previously on two occasions.

Is not there something vastly wrong with the structure of a sports league if two stars have only met twice in the seven years they’ve shared as full-time WCT competitors?

Apart from the very simple premise of pitting talent against talent, this sort of error robs us of potential rivalries and narrative arcs that other sports have.

But at least in Saquarema the Brazilian fans make it seem legitimate.

And so the final, between Italo Ferreira and Yago Dora, delighted an eager, partisan crowd in a high state of arousal.

Yet although the men in the water shared a flag, they had little in common in terms of demeanour or style.

Italo, a coiled explosion of foam and spray, set on a hair trigger. An intense, squat muscularity, like a bull terrier. His emotions swing wildly, like water sloshing in a bucket. You wouldn’t fight him. He spits tears both in fury and joy, and his rawness can’t help but be admired.

For Italo, only success and death are final.

Yago Dora, by contrast, is a languid eel of a surfer. He floats from arc to carve to air as if suspended by invisible thread. Feet narrowed, he glides through life with a calm mind and ungodly talent that forms a warm current only a few are carried by.

Yago’s surfing is agnostic to criticism.

These two men held the four highest scores of the event, a brace of nines apiece. But as is often the way when the two best surfers of a competition meet at a critical point, the realisation of the battle was underwhelming.

It was a mere and perhaps controversial seven-point ride for Ferreira that proved decisive in a one-sided affair, bereft of waves.

Ferreira’s seven, the fatal blow struck early, was mundane, especially by his standards. Back to back forced reverses on a small wave. A wave that will register in no-one’s memory.

We never got to see Italo at his raging best, cannonballing through air and spray.

Nor did we see Dora, raking the sky with wings in stoop.

With twenty minutes gone, Yago had attempted just one wave. 1.13 points.

In the end, the clear emotion of Italo’s victory was enough for a satisfactory conclusion. It’s always gratifying to see a man so close to the edge in service of our entertainment.

John Florence sits as number one and will likely remain there until Trestles.

Griffin sits solidly behind, and can hold his own at both comps remaining.

Italo vaults into the top five, level on points with Jack Robinson. Jack could win in Fiji, but Italo is a monumentally greater adversary at Trestles.

Fewer than a thousand points separate Ethan Ewing, Yago Dora and Jordy Smith in positions five, six and seven, respectively. (1330 points for making it past the opening round, remember.)

Gabriel Medina rounds out the top five threats in eighth, but will need the men above him to falter in Fiji, and/or make at least the semi final.

If this was proper sports reporting, I might be inclined to say there’s everything to play for.

But since this is surfing, suffice to say:

Wow. Surfing.

Italo Ferreira (pictured) feeling it.
Italo Ferreira (pictured) feeling it.

Ordained John John Florence title in sudden jeopardy as raging Italo Ferreira lurches into World Surf League top five

Bonsoir, John John?

Last week, a third John John Florence professional surfing title seemed all but ordained. After two years of Filipe Toledo dominance, surf fans thrilled at the thought of a champion who is not terrified by bigger lefts. Some had even begun making commemorative plates in order to celebrate the day.

Conventional wisdom, and loud rumor, has Florence, 31, retiring at year’s end. A hat trick of trophies the storybook ending that surf fans need what with Kelly Slater refusing decorum and forcing everyone to watch him grow ancient on the world stage a la Joe Biden.

Sitting high atop the leaderboard, with only two events to go, the North Shore local would have only had to beat either Ethan Ewing, Jordy Smith, Jack Robinson or Griffin Colapinto one time in two tries at Lower Trestles and that would be that.

But then came the Rio Pro.

Italo Ferreira had gotten off to a clunky start at the season’s opening Pro Pipeline, bowing out in the first round. Poor results in Portugal, Bells and Maggie River had him counted out. He seemed off. Wacky. Then came wins in Tahiti and Brazil and boom.


A good performance in Cloudbreak, the final regular event of the season, could push Ferreira into the third, 0r even second, slot and surf fans now must assume that the title is very much in his grasp. Of all the surfers on tour, the 31-year-olds Red Bull fueled kinetic energy could easily bulldoze Florence’s more laconic stylings in San Clemente.

Attention will momentarily turn to the Olympics, of course, and whether Filipe Toledo will refuse to paddle in front of Colin Jost, bringing shame to an entire nation. Not being on the Brazilian team must irk Ferreira greatly, which could be put into the rage shaker and poured out upon Florence’s blonde head.

Wild times.

Wild times indeed.

Celebrate surf god Tom Curren’s sixtieth birthday with his goofy all-time classic film Free Scrubber

In an era where everybody has a desire for the superficial, Tom Curren reminds us of individualism, variety and dissent. 

Three years ago, Tom Roland Curren, the three-time world surfing champion, who was unbeatable for most of his carer and who popularised the modern Fish, released an unlikely surf movie hit called Free Scrubber. 

The film, a one-of-a-kind ride filmed by Andy Potts and whipped into a masterpiece by comic creators Vaughan Blakey and Nick Pollet, was built around Tom Curren’s three-month Mexican vacay in 2020, the three-time world champ trapped across the border as COVID hit and the US shut its doors to the world.

Curren, then fifty-seven, came equipped with a portable electric piano that could be played on the beach, fishing equipment and a flotilla of surfboards.

Empty waves and the maestro of minimalism who influenced a generation of American surfers including the noted Kelly Slater, himself world champion surfer of renown. 

What could go right? Everything! 

The film is frank, revealing, intimate. Tom Curren’s speech is sometimes incomprehensible as his words are slurred by his extravagant diction, but his surfing is patient, aggressive and with enough magic to still amaze people.

“On a wave he’s ageless,” said Vaughan. “The fact that he’s not looking for big sections to hit is easy on the eye. It’s not all about the hammers. You’re not waiting for him to do something. He’s just riding waves.”

Well, this July 3, which is a couple of days away, Tom Curren turns sixty years old, proof that time waits for no man except maybe Tom Curren.

In an era where everybody has a desire for the superficial, Curren reminds us of of individualism, variety and dissent. 

Happy birthday old man!

Courtney Conlogue doing her thang.
Courtney Conlogue doing her thang.

Orange County surfers fume after famous first daughter Courtney Conlogue claims hated Los Angeles a “surfers’ paradise”

"El Porto is often crowded with local surfers due to its consistent waves with above-average quality and height."

I am currently in Paris, France where the country’s further right continues to stun pundits with victory after victory. Round one of Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron’s snap elections were carried out today with more bummer news for progressives and televisions everywhere are flashing much talking heads discussing Marine Le Pen, Greg LeMond and other Pepe Le Pews. None, though, are as furious as Orange County, California surfers who, also today, were forced to read first daughter Courtney Conlogue’s utter betrayal.

Those who live behind the curtain woke up to an extremely rude shock. Conlouge’s Santa Ana bonafides need no burnishing. The longtime professional surfer an orange flavored icon. But how did she repay her people?

This way, according to the august BBC:

“LA is a surfer’s paradise,” says Conlogue, who grew up in nearby Orange County and learned the fundamentals of surfing from her father when she was just four years old. “The county has every type of wave you might be looking for, whether it’s a soft beginner’s beach break, point breaks with their long peelers or powerful reef breaks that churn out circular barrel waves. With the Pacific Coast Highway running adjacent to the beaches, part of the fun of surfing here is hunting down the perfect place to spontaneously pull up and dive in.”

Later adding the best beginner spot around is Erik Logan’s Mannhattan Beach.


Part of northernmost Manhattan Beach, El Porto is one of LA’s most-surfed waves for good reason. “The ocean here forms a beach break so it’s better for beginners who can find their feet in smaller and less-intimidating waves,” says Conlogue.
A stone’s throw from Los Angeles International Airport, El Porto is often crowded with local surfers due to its consistent waves with above-average quality and height.

Above-average quality and height?


Giant sads spreading from Downey to San Clemente.

Jet lag just hit hard.

So more as this story develops.