Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Maya's Passion

Maya Gabeira's near drowning at Nazare, off the coast of Portugal, on Monday has been well publicized and documented. Certainly, the images of her floating face down in the surf, her tow partner Carlos Burle leaping from his PWC to pull her out of the water, and being administered CPR on shore are together disturbing. She's lucky to have only sustained a broken ankle from this harrowing experience.

Not surprisingly, many others feel the same way. One of my favorite surfing websites,, posted the following question on Twitter yesterday to engage those who saw, heard or otherwise have an opinion on risking one's life to surf giant waves:

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p>We&#39;ve watched Maya Gabeira almost die surfing big waves twice in two years. Should she stop? <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; The Inertia (@the_inertia) <a href="">October 29, 2013</a></blockquote>
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Note: if the tweet didn't embed properly, posed the question: "We've watched Maya Gabeira almost die surfing big waves twice in two years. Should she stop?"

There's no doubt that what Maya, Carlos and many other big wave chargers do is dangerous. Quite frankly, it's a miracle not more people have died trying. But by directly or indirectly questioning her decision to continue pursuing her dream is ludicrous. It isn't up to or any of its readers to decide whether Maya should stop chasing big waves. This more than a job. This is her passion; it's how she defines herself. Yes, it's dangerous. Yes, people have died and she's come close twice now. I'm sure she's fully aware of the risks and consequences of her decisions. And I'm pretty sure she battles fear when she's out there, particularly when she lets go of the rope and commits to outrunning an avalanche of water.

I'm going to guess that she would prefer NOT to die while surfing giant waves so I think it's fair to assume she'll do everything she can to prepare herself for these life threatening conditions. This requires year round physical and mental training. Weights, cardio and breathing training. Nutrition, sports psychology and scenario planning. PWC driving, First Aid, swell forecasting. All these and more I suspect are a part of her weekly routine. Her sponsors, friends and fellow chargers provide the necessary support to enable this preparation and the pursuit of her dream. Unfortunately, her near drownings are a part of the experience. Any less preparation and we'd be likely mourning the loss of another big wave surfer.

We should be envious and not judgmental of her dedication to this dangerous sport and her decision to pursue it with a 100% commitment.

Until next time, may your waves be head high and glassy.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Ode to Fall

Welcome back Fall, or Autumn as the more sophisticated (but less passionate) know you.
In the depths of winter, we pine away for Spring and Summer, for sun and warmth
But they bring crowds and small waves. And with them disillusion and disappointment.

It's Fall that's really the best.
You're like the girl next door, Fall,
The one we overlook, too busy ogling at the popular girl.

But Summer, she's overrated, Fall is not.
Those in the know give her a wink and a nod, calling her "Indian Summer;"
The slipper fits so wear it with pride, Fall.

Every year she brings warm weather, smaller crowds and offshore winds
Together they remind us:
Hey, I live here and this place is pretty special this time of year.

Soon there will be pumpkins, turkeys and Christmas trees, and all are welcome 
But right now there are no distractions. 
Just beautiful weather and a feeling of serenity. Of harmony. Of here and nowness.

Thank you Fall. 
For bringing groundswells, beautifully groomed waves 
And a reminder how great it is to be alive. 

I ain’t no poet and now you know it. Until next time, may your waves be head high and glassy.

Friday, September 27, 2013

More Duct Tape

In early June a video was posted on Yahoo, as well as many other sites I'm sure, of a surfer in Australia surfing with his friend's mom, a paraplegic, duct-taped to his back. As it should have, the video and accompanying story went viral. I too was moved by this tale of love and trust and wrote about it on this blog (to read my entry and learn the back-story and see the original video, click here). did a nice feature too.

More recently, the physical and emotional bond between these two surfers was showcased using GoPro's kick ass products and technology. As with many GoPro user videos, viewers get an up close and very personal look into the fun people are having out there. Our dynamic duo in Oz are no exception as you'll see in this video.

Once again, this story and image captures the true essence of surfing: communing with nature and sharing the thrill with a friend.

Until next time, may your waves be head high and glassy.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

North Shore Revisited

While trolling for covers of the Sandals' Endless Summer theme last night on YouTube, I stumbled upon a posting of the film "North Shore" in its entirety. So marked the beginning of the remainder of my evening. Filmed in 1987, "North Shore" is a cult classic among surfers.
For the uninitiated, this guilty pleasure tells the story of Rick Kane, a surfer from land-locked Arizona, who takes his 2 foot wave pool prowess to the North Shore of Hawaii, home to big waves and big egos. He struggles with the decidedly more potent surf, the push and pull between surfing for fun and love vs. fame and fortune and finally, with the Hawaiians' disdain for haoles (mainlanders). Of course, the movie wouldn't be complete without a local girl who captures Rick's eye and is forced to choose between a predictable life in the islands and the a new life with Rick on the mainland.

No Oscar nods here as the movie is very formulaic and the acting is sub par at best. And the vintage 80s electronica music is God awful. Yet, surfers love this movie. But why? Why this one and not other surfing films? Surfers quote this movie with reverence but blast other films like In God's Hands, Point Break, Blue Crush and more recently Chasing Mavericks (although the criticism for this movie is more subdued as it's based on a true story of a legend in the surfing community).

So what's different about "North Shore?" I have my theories. For one, it seems much more legitimate given the involvement of so many 80s surf legends. Shaun Thomson, Derek Ho, Mark Occhilupo, Hans Hedemann, Mark Foo, and of course, Mr. Pipeline himself, Gerry Lopez are all over the film. Gerry in fact served as technical director and both he and Laird Hamilton have prominent roles. Other big names in surfing like Ken Bradshaw, Michael Ho, Robbie Page, Corky Carroll, Lord "Tally Ho" Blears, among many others, have bit parts or make cameos.

Secondly, the film seems to really capture the communal spirit of the North Shore. Surfers from all over the world flock to the Seven Mile Miracle every winter to challenge the big waves at Sunset, Pipe and Waimea. Everybody seems to know everyone and surfing is the common bond. But a big part of that community is the locals. These are the shapers, glassers and sanders who support, and are supported by, surfers. 

The real locals, those with Hawaiian ancestry, are also highlighted. Poverty and localism (read: racism) are evident but not with an overtly social agenda in mind. 

So is respect. Demanded and enforced by the Hui Nalu but also by Turtle and Rick who push back against the age old stereotypes of haoles chasing waves and women while in the Islands. Regardless, the dichotomy between the soul surfers and the glory seekers is prevalent on the North Shore and in the movie version as well.

So the themes are real in that they're an accurate depiction of life in and out of the water in Hawaii. This is most evident in John Philbin's character, Turtle. He's a local who earns a (meager) living sanding boards. He's dialed in and knows what's what. And Philbin (who not surprisingly surfs in real life) plays the part masterfully -- he walks, talks and acts like he's been on the North Shore his whole life. It's Turtle's classic lines, delivered in pidgin, that surfers parrot. With the exception of Big Wednesday, other surfing movies just miss the mark when trying to portray the surfing life. 

The guys who made North Shore really did their homework. So a word of advice to all Hollywood execs planning on making a surfing film: pitch your concept to Turtle. He'll shoot straight from the hip (in pidgin of course) and tell you whether you've got a hit on your hands. But, sadly, he knows you won't listen because as fans of the movie know, "Nobody listens to Turtle."

If you're curious, you can watch the movie here. Enjoy. Until next time, may your waves be head high and glassy.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Adventure in an Alternative Water World

Me and the fam recently went white water river rafting on the South fork of the American River, a bit outside of Sacramento. For those of you who've never been, it's a rush and I recommend it highly. 

Looking at the river, I was struck by rafting's similarities to surfing. Obviously, the biggest similarity is the fact they're both done on water. From there though the similarities get a little bit more subtle. Like oceans, rivers are living, breathing things; they are always in motion. It's not surprising then that rafting, like surfing, is primarily about thrill seeking. There are periods of calm and waiting as you drift down the river between rapids, just as you'd sit in the lineup waiting for a set. In both instances, your eyes light up when you see what's coming at you. You start thinking about where you need to be, how you get there and what you need to do at the specific moment when you collide with the forces of nature. With surfing, the thrill of catching waves can become addicting and some surfers will make sacrifices to chase them. River guides, I learned, are no different.

Family Portrait
Like surfers, rafters go where the action is. They know where the secret spots are and keep those spots under wraps. It may be a rock or a bend in a river whereas, for a surfer it would be a reef or sandbar. In either case, if you can get to know the locals they will share this knowledge with you. 

Our guide was named Ed (I changed his name on the off chance he owes someone money or is running from the law although he was so nice I highly doubt either to be the case) and he completely encapsulated the spirit of the classic surf bum. He had given his life to the outdoors, foregoing much of the bullshit the rest of us distract ourselves with. As a result, there was a very peaceful aura around him and it was easy to understand why. After all, he spent his days on a river, sharing the experience of a lifetime with the uninitiated. 

Having done it for nine years by this point, I'm sure he is well aware of the effect he has on people. The laughter, smiles, and screams of joy and excitement must be so fulfilling and rewarding. While spending his days navigating city dwellers down Class 2 and 3 rapids may not sound like much fun, it seemed to him because shooting down a river was truly his passion. 

Ed wasn't alone in his endeavor. There are many people like Ed who work on the river, pursuing a life of adventure. Sure, there are trade offs. They don't make a lot of money. They also don't wear fancy clothes or live in big houses.  They don't drive nice cars or eat at fancy restaurants either. They may not even have health insurance. But they don't seem to mind. These are creature comforts the rest of us have, enjoy or pursue to make us feel comfortable, cultured or successful. Well, I suspect Ed and his friends have a different definition of success. They've found something they love to do and they're doing it. They're chasing - and living - the dream. They work odd jobs in the off season so they can return to the river in the Spring. Some will wait tables. Some will do manual labor. Others, like Ed, will do ski patrol.

I know there are surfers out there doing the same thing. I think of guys like Kepa Acero, Rusty Long and Brian Conley who have made lots of sacrifices to chase and live their dreams. I'm sure there are thousands of surfers just like these guys. I'm also fairly sure they're happy and don't envy the lives we weekend warriors lead. These adventurers are the modern day versions of surfing's North Shore pioneers, guys like Pat Curren and George Downing, and Buzzy Trent. These guys scrounged to get to Hawaii, sleeping in Quonset huts, cars, cane fields or on the beach and living off the land in order to surf world class waves. 

Kepa Acero: blending in with the locals down south. WAY south

Brian Conley: tube hunter

Wally Frosieth, George Downing, Buzzy Trent: surf check

Whether on a surfboard, raft, bike, skis or whatever, these are keeping the spirit of adventure alive and are to be admired. And if you're looking for adventure on a river in Northern California, look no further than Beyond Limits. It's a family business with tons of expertise, professionalism and aloha. 

Until next time, may your waves be head high and glassy. 

Monday, July 29, 2013

Riot Redux in Huntington Beach

July has been quite a month for surfing. I find it ironic that the subject of my last post, which championed the presence and influence of women on surfing and celebrated via Salted magazine, would be muted by the hysteria created by the video promo for the Roxy Pro in Biarritz (you can see my response in the comments section of an over reaction posted on and, more importantly, yesterday's riot following the Vans U.S. Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach. 

The scene in 1986
Huntington Beach and Santa Cruz have argued with one another for years (in court even) over which town is more deserving of the title "Surf City." After two riots involving this event in the last 30 years, I think Santa Cruz is better suited for the crown. A lot has been written about yesterday's events with eye witness accounts and pictures and videos all over the web (I don't want to glorify the violence by posting photos or videos however for a good overview, click here). I wasn't there thankfully so I can't comment on what happened however I've been in enough large, boozed-up crowds (49'ers-Raiders games, Bourbon Street, rock concerts, Halloween in Isla Vista, etc.) to see the effects of too much booze and testosterone. 

Surf contest or martial law?
Now, I'm not an expert on crowd control, mob violence, event planning or sociology but I don't think it takes an expert in any of these fields to figure out that lots of people filled with lots of beer with lots of distractions over an extended period of time can lead to trouble. Inevitably, some Bobby Badasses who can't manage their liquor start getting obnoxious and get out of hand. Girls get disrespected, grabbed or groped, guys get pushed, shoved, or hit and then festival fun turns into chaos and mayhem. Valleys, gang bangers, hooligans; whatever you want to call them, they're losers.

I realize the riots weren't likely instigated by surfers or even by fans of surfing (hard to imagine exuberant Brazilians celebrating Alexo Viejo's win or dejected SoCal'ers lamenting Kolohe Andino's loss getting THAT out of hand) however that essentially doesn't matter because the violence is forever linked to the main event: a professional surfing contest. The ASP, the City of Huntington Beach, and the surf industry at large have got to get this figured out. Not just for public safety but for the very reputation of surfing. Because while surfing was born in Hawaii and today is enjoyed all over the world, a lot of our perspectives of surfing are set in Southern California, the epicenter for the sport's fashion, style and much of its talent. You don't see this bullshit at the events held in Hawaii, Australia, Europe or Asia. I'm fearful that this behavior signals to many observers here and around the world that we have lost the spirit and value of surfing. We can't let that happen.

What would Duke think?

Until next time, may your waves be head high and glassy and your head screwed on nice and tight.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

I'll Take Mine Salted, Please

Last week I picked up the second issue of Salted, a surfing magazine for women, brought to you by the fine folks at Surfer Magazine. The inaugural issue quietly debuted a year ago and I suspect no one was sure when or if there'd be a second issue. Needless to say, I was pleased when i learned Surfer was going to give it another go.

You may be asking why I'd care about a surfing magazine catering to women. I have a handful of reasons, actually:

1. I love surfing regardless of who's doing it. Hell, I'd buy a surfing magazine if it catered to cats as long as the writing and photography were good.

2. I don't need to see only male surfers rip to be entertained or inspired. I'm pretty sure every single girl featured in Salted surfs better than I do. They hit the lip harder, they bet barreled more, and they surf with more style. And it's not just me. They surf better than most guys. For sure. By far. These girls are pure athletes.

3. And, yes of course, most of them are absolutely beautiful. I'm not a doctor but I've been surfing long enough to know that in dedicating one's life to surfing, typically there are acute side effects like toned bodies, tan skin and beach blonde hair. 

4. These women make great role models to young girls all over the world, including my two young daughters. They are (or at least are presented as) happy, bright, culturally and environmentally conscientious and all around good, thoughtful people. Male surfers are seldom, if ever, portrayed this way. Pop Quiz: Which of the following images better conveys surfing?

Personally, I'm more proud to be associated with the first photo than the second. 

Also, Salted does a great job celebrating them as real people; no anorexic, vapid swimsuit models who've been more airbrushed than a Chip Foose muscle car.

This edition of Salted features exotic travel pieces to places as diverse as Iceland, a secret spot in Mexico, and an island off the coast of China. In addition, there's an introduction to a group of female big wave surfers that all big wave surfing fans should take note of. Until this article, I thought the list of hell women who charged monster surf started and stopped at Keala Kennelly, Maya Gabeira and Sarah Gerhardt. The feature piece in this issue is an interview with Lisa Anderson, a radical, pioneering surfer who I followed as a kid as much as I did Martin Potter and Tom Curren. It was great learning about her struggles and triumphs and that she's still as stoked and waterlogged as she's ever been.

In all, if you love surfing you'll love Salted. Hopefully we won't have to wait a whole 'nother year for issue #3.

Until next time, may your waves be head high and glassy and with lots of surfer girls in the line up.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Strength, Love and 50 Yards of Duct Tape

All right people, let's talk about love and strength. Don't worry -- it's in the context of surfing. I saw on Yahoo! yesterday a Good Morning America clip of a young Australian man who takes his friend's mom surfing. Here's the catch: she's a paraplegic and she's duct taped to his back. WTF? That's right, tandem surfing, paraplegic, duct tape. The jackasses on GMA didn't do it justice so I went looking for the clip on YouTube (God, how I love YouTube). I found an extended clip without the stupid commentary that really does the event justice. Take a look:

My first reaction was, "wow, that's crazy" and then I moved on. But I woke up this morning and, for whatever reason, started thinking about it again. The more I thought about it the more the significance of what I saw started to sink in. I didn't just see some dude doing something crazy. I saw the personification of  strength and love. 

Strength in the bond between this man and woman. She wants to experience surfing and trusts her life with this man. He wants to share the joy of surfing with this woman and goes to the extent of strapping her to his back, risking both their lives, to share this joy. 

Strength in the physical (and no doubt extremely challenging act) of surfing with someone strapped to your back. Surfing is a marriage of timing and balance that varies in difficulty given the size and speed of the wave your surfing. In other words, surfing can be challenging enough on its own. Surfers rely on muscle memory and quick reflexes to paddle, duck dive, pop up, bottom turn, carve and even glide. We've done all of these motions so many times that they're automatic. Now imagine just for a moment surfing with someone strapped to your back. All those mechanical motions you've mastered and taken for granted over the years go straight out the window. This surfer has to completely re-calibrate to find his timing and balance and adjust them to a moving wave. And the wave in the video isn't a knee high peeler either. It's got some size and chop with a stiff wind thrown in for good measure. The fact that the man and woman are towed into the wave on a SUP is of little consolation. This guy is deceptively strong.

Lastly, strength in duct tape, the physical bond that binds them together. I hope their local hardware store sees this video and provides them with a lifetime supply so that they can keep the stoke alive.

Now let's talk about love. If you're reading this it's probably because you love surfing. Hell, that's why I have this blog. We surf because we love to do it; it makes us happy. Well, it's safe to say this guy in the video loves surfing too however he's doing something so few of us do -- he's sharing this love. Surfing is truly special and to be able to share it with someone -- especially someone who can't enjoy it by themselves -- is truly magical. The world would be a better place if we surfers shared our love of surfing with others. 

Love of ingenuity. It's been said necessity is the mother of invention. After watching this clip I think it could be said that love is the mother of invention. What else would provoke two people to risk their lives by binding themselves together with duct tape? There is no rip chord or velcro or snaps or ties binding them together. They are literally stuck to one another. They clearly love surfing (and clearly trust one another).

Love for one another. Given their love of surfing, I have no doubt that by sharing this special experience together they certainly love each other. If they didn't beforehand, they must certainly love one another now. I don't mean sexual love but rather a deep understanding, concern and appreciation for one another. It's a shame they can't see the joy in each others' faces while surfing together but I have no doubt they are bound by the thrill, the laughter and the exhilaration that this shared act provides. Like a first love, I imagine their perceptions of surfing are changed forever because of what they have shared together. Surfing will never be the same ever again for either of them.

If you think about it, in this sense love and strength are intertwined and symbiotic. Love makes us strong and having that strength allows us to love. Surfing has that power and we have witnessed it in this video. 

Until next time, may your waves be head high and glassy but also shared with a loved one.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Catch a Wave -- It's the Law

I saw on The Surfer's Journal website yesterday a clip I hadn't seen in many many years. For those of you who grew up in the 70s, this will resonate.

The year was 1976. Two acts were on the rise and would eventually become part of our American fabric. One for the first time, the other enjoying a resurgence. The first group spawned from Saturday Night Live which had debuted the previous year and was gaining cultural traction. John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd had gelled as a team and had their trademark bullshit artist bravado act down pat (it would be another four years before we'd see them in another cop car, in The Blues Brothers). Another cultural icon was The Beach Boys. While many had written them off as an oldies act, by the 70s they had quietly blossomed into a real rock band. Recently recruited members Ricky Fataar and Blondie Chaplin broadened their sound significantly both in the studio and on the stage. They put out quality AOR-type LPs like "Holland" and "Carl and the Passions -- So Tough" during this time and it only takes one listen to "The Beach Boys in Concert" to understand they were were a force to be reckoned with as a live act. Rolling Stone magazine went as far as naming The Beach Boys the #1 band of the year in 1974, eight years after the release of "Good Vibrations."

Today, Brian Wilson is a household name among hardcore music fans. But in the 70s, he was a dazed and overweight recluse, spending a few years (yes, years) in his bedroom. He had stopped touring with The Beach Boys in late 1964 to focus on writing, producing and arranging however the combination of drugs and paranoia eventually drove him further from the public eye into his sanctuary (cue "In My Room").

Anywhooo, someone in the entertainment community decided it was high time to combine the two acts and contracted Lorne Michaels to produce the intro to a Beach Boys TV special. The result is classic:

My takeaways: Belushi and Aykroyd were comedic genius and their shtick was a sign of many more laughs to come. Brian Wilson's first wife, Marilyn Rovell, playing the straight man to a "T." Third, the CHP cruiser with a long board fastened to the top. I can only imagine what people must have thought seeing a black and white driving down PCH, sirens blaring, lights swirling, with a surfboard on top (strangely, the image somehow fits perfectly in quirky Malibu). As an aside, I'd love to know who shaped that board and how the crew acquired it. Lastly, the cutaway to the band playing one of their classics, "Surfin' USA" with front man Mike Love struttin' loud and proud like a rooster. Mike's definitely got the "Moves Like Jagger."

While this clip is classic 70s SNL, it also highlights the irony and tragedy that was Brian Wilson's life during this time. Always a joker with a great sense of humor, you can tell he's having fun playing along with the gag while in the comfort of his own house and bedroom. But once he hits the water it's clear that Brian, the heart and soul behind all of those Beach Boys classics, is afraid of the ocean. He looks lost and scared and unable to even fake it in waist high water. He struggles to get through the shore break and once he's finally able to lie on the board he's got it fin first. I can imagine he didn't have much of an appetite for multiple takes to get it right.

But my how things have changed in the almost 40 years since this was filmed. Brian has emerged from his haze of drugs and paranoia and is creating new music and enjoying more popularity than ever before. Belushi is long gone, a victim of the drug abuse that partly drove Brian indoors. And Aykroyd is, I presume, enjoying retirement, listening to Blues music and collecting well earned royalty checks.

I fell in love with surfing through The Beach Boys' music and learned the power of laughter by watching SNL. The coming together of these two gems therefore holds special meaning for me. And even though Belushi isn't around to enjoy it, Brian thankfully is. I hope he'd get a kick out of it if he were to see it now. I sure did and hope you did too.

Until next time, may your waves be head high and glassy.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Fade to Blue

I try not to make a habit of watching television, although I make an exception for San Francisco Giants baseball. Otherwise, I am a recovering TV-aholic that has reached the age where I realize and appreciate that life is too short to live it vicariously in front of the boob tube. 

This is all the more relevant in light of yesterday's terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon. As with the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School last December, it's easy to get sucked up by 24-hour news coverage of this event in an effort to try and understand what happened, why it happened and what we we can learn from it. Well, I've learned that we can only try to understand why these senseless acts occur. But I suppose if we could truly understand why they happen then we could prevent them from happening again and again. But we can't. Those entrusted with our security - and God bless them for their commitment and sacrifice - can limit the frequency of these cowardly and heinous acts but they will never completely rid our society of them. In the meantime, we are left with journalists filling air time with conjecture and stupid questions to those affected while political pundits back at the studio blame leaders, administrations and policies. Well, none of this makes me smarter or feel any better, two things I always strive for. Call it an "ignorance is bliss" attitude but I just don't see the point in hyper-analysis without some sort of conclusion other than Nielsen ratings.

You may be wondering what, if anything, this has to do with surfing. Glad you asked. As I read about these events (yes, I do try to stay informed) and their aftermath, I find myself drawn to two things that I hold dear: surfing and music. Both are healthy, harmonious and in most cases peaceful. We as a society need more of these qualities. While I don't need to see every single human being paddle out or pick up a guitar, I think the ones who are troubled enough to want to kill, maim or terrify innocent people would benefit from a salt water cleansing, a magic carpet slide down a crystal blue wall and a groovy, positive tune in their heads. They can take their pick: body surf, boogie board, short board, long board. Right, left, prone. Oldies, Country, Classic Rock. Whatever they choose, I would think they, like me and millions of other surfers, could get in tune with nature, work out their problems and feel better about themselves and the world around them to the point that they don't feel compelled to harm and destroy. 

Since yesterday's tragedy, I have come back time and time again to this video. I discussed this video by Jack McCoy and Paul McCartney in my last blog entry about Jack's film "A Deeper Shade of Blue" and commented it was one of the highlights of the film. For me, "Blue Sway" captures what surfing is for me and I imagine for so many others: serenity, harmony with nature, physical activity, spiritual cleansing, all in a dream like environment. Macca's accompanying music only heightens the effect. Watch it in large screen and as many times as you need to remember that it's the beautiful things in this world, not the tragic, that give us purpose and hope.

Until next time, may your waves be head high, safe, peaceful and glassy.

Friday, March 29, 2013

A Deeper Length of View

Tonight I saw Jack McCoy's highly anticipated surfing film, A Deeper Shade of Blue, his 25th film. Like the last surfing film to hit theaters nationwide, Chasing Mavericks, it had both high notes and low notes and ultimately could have been a lot better (read my review of Chasing Mavericks here). 

Let's get some things straight: Jack is a legend in surfing and surf film making. I love surfing. You'd think then that a documentary about surfing by a surf film legend would appeal to surfers. For parts of the film these planets aligned and it was wonderful. Unfortunately, the biggest drawback of the film was that it seemed completely devoid of any editing that could have made the movie flow. 

At least 45 minutes of A Deeper Shade of Blue should have been left on the cutting room floor. There is a a LOT of superfluous material that would be mildly interesting on a bonus DVD disc. For starters, the first 15-20 minutes is a panel discussion between McCoy and some of the movie's subjects with lots of rambling on about the inspiration behind the film and how it came together. I'm no film expert but I'm not aware of the practice of starting a film by talking about the film. Suddenly, Manoa Drollet, a Tahitian surfer, joins the panel and when he starts talking about something interesting, namely managing/surviving a wipeout at Teahupoo, he gets cut off and the segment abruptly ends. 

The premise of the movie, as I understand it, is to highlight a handful of surfers around the world who make surfing special in their own special way. They all use different surf craft but they're all super stoked on surfing and therefore make defining surfing impossible. These portions of the film are terrific. I loved watching and learning about incredible surfers like Jamie O'Brien, Chad and Trace Marshall, Derek Hynd, and Terry Chung. But it's WAY too long before we get to the first subject. This is unfortunate because these are stars of the film. Let's get to know these guys and see what they do! 

Unfortunately, these segments are broken up by an evolutionary history of surfing and board design. If you want to make a movie about surf history, fine. Surfboard evolution? Fine. But to combine these, assuming a lowest common denominator with your audience and interspersing it with segments of Manoa Drollet at Teahupoo and Marty Paradisis at Shipstern's Bluff and Terry Chung foil boarding in Kauai makes for a jumbled mess. Where was the editor?! The history segments weren't helped by the fact that the writing and narration were in a style that left me wondering if I was at the Polynesian Cultural Center and not a theater filled with surfers who already know this stuff. As the saying goes, "know your audience."

That said, the historical footage of Barry Kanaiaupuni, Wayne Lynch, and George Greenough among others were all great. Before tonight I had mostly seen only still photos of these legends which obviously doesn't come close to capturing their brilliance. A Deeper Shade of Blue really hits its stride when we get to Jack's underwater cinematography. It's both gorgeous and innovative but we don't get enough of it. It's not until after the closing credits do we see some of his best underwater footage that's further highlighted by a great new song from Paul McCartney called Blue Sway. Why leave this phenomenal stuff for the very, VERY end, when several people have already left the theater? And this wasn't even the end of the movie! McCoy goes back to his informal panel discussion and we hear these guys drone on and on about nothing in particular. I literally couldn't stand it any longer and had to leave, exhausted by the two-plus hours of disorganization. Again, where was the editor?!

Let's end on a high note. As a father to two girls, I loved the women's segment. Like McCoy's underwater footage, the women's segment was beautiful and aspiring. I found it fascinating to hear how much of an impact Kathy Kohner, aka Gidget had on Stephanie Gilmore, one of the world's best female surfers. Her revere for Gidget contrasts sharply with the broader surfing community as most surfers equate Gidget with the death knell for the golden age of surfing by bring the masses to our coasts, shores and waves.

In closing, I'd like to have this movie for my collection however a remote with functioning fast forward button will be absolutely critical as this movie was about twice as long as it should have been. 

Until next time, may your waves be head high and glassy.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Allure of the Not-So-Secret Spot

I get to surf once a week, usually a Saturday or Sunday, the same two days most of humanity comes out to surf. To make matters worse, humanity seems to converge on the same few spots and this makes for a really crowded, frustrating experience. If I want to sit in a sea of humanity and get really frustrated on a day off, I can do that at the DMV or the mall. I never look forward to going to those places. Why would it be any different on a surfboard? I want to look forward to going surfing. 

It's because of this that I find myself going to spots humanity doesn't care to surf. They aren't secret spots by any means. They're just off the beaten track. You can't check them from the highway. There are no webcams showing you the conditions. They're more fickle and therefore less popular. They aren't spots you go to be seen, to be noticed, to be cool. Instead these are the spots you go to be alone with your thoughts. You go to get in the water and wash off all the crap that accumulates in your life while on land. Sure, the waves may be smaller, mushier or close out more often. The beach may be harder to get to and the lull between sets may be longer once you get there. But these spots are also less crowded. You can let waves go by. You can try new moves. Work on fundamentals. Be a kook. You can do all of these things at a crowded spot but humanity will notice. Humanity will drop in on you, snake you, spray you and all around disrepect you. Not my idea of a good time.

Don't get me wrong. I wish I was more patient or more aggressive. I wish I could sit in the pit, exert my place in the hierarchy, terrorize groms, all the stuff that established locals do. But I'm not so I don't. And I'm okay with that. I'm happier with the peace and quiet I get sitting at an empty break. The thrill of riding a wave seems more pure, more special, more thrilling. And because you don’t have to compete for waves, you can feel that thrill more often. In my book, more waves means more fun.

So don't be a snob. Spend more time searching for a surf spot and less time searching for a parking spot once you get there. There's fun to be had off the beaten track, at a not so secret spot that isn't hard to find. Go!

Until next time, may your waves be head high and glassy.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Kelly Kills it at Kirra

KS has done it again. Yesterday he won the Quik Gold Pro at Kirra on the Gold Coast of Australia. His 52nd ASP event win. He beat Joel Parkinson, last year's ASP world champion, a native Aussie, at his home break, in less than optimal surf (while the final had lots of barrels, the conditions for most of the contest were terrible). In fact, he beat Mick Fanning, another local, to face Parko in the final. Ultimately, he continues to defy the odds. Some things to ponder:
  • He's twice as old as many of his competitors.
  • He doesn't have to prove anything to anyone anymore - he's already the winningest professional surfer and athlete in all of sports.
  • Many/most in the surfing community expected him to announce this would be his last season on tour, making the season nothing more than a farewell tour.
  • He has a family, friends all over the world and a business venture - all things that can and should require more of his time and energy or at least make retiring an easier decision.
  • He held his own in the expression session earlier in the week, a no-holds barred, free surf where the most radical moves are called for. Think lots of aerials with, again, competitors half his age.
  • He advanced to the final in crappy surf despite having the opportunity, resources and practice of surfing flawless waves at the peak of a swell all over the world.

How does he do it? How does he stay motivated? How does he stay healthy? How does he stay inspired? I don't think he uses PEDs (he says he doesn't and doesn't believe they would make anyone surf better). And while I've never seen him bleed, I'm confident he isn't a robot or software program. He is simply amazing. On top of that, he seems very humble and nice and a great ambassador to the sport and lifestyle.

I'm officially pulling for him to win his 12th world title this year and I wish him years more of competitive success and happiness. He is truly an inspiration to me and countless other surfers all over the world. Congratulations Kelly. Go get 'em in '13.

Until next time may your waves be head high and glassy.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Build a Board, Break a Board

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness. It was the...okay, you get the point. Christ, Dickens, were readers that dense a hundred and fifty years ago?

Regardless, this dead horse beating is meant to demonstrate that I had a roller coaster of a weekend. On the one hand, I finished shaping my first surfboard. It took years, yes years, to shape. Afraid of messing up, quick to put it aside to focus on easier things, not having the right tools and a whole bunch of other excuses all made it easy to put off. Well, I finally got tired of looking at yet another project I'd started and not finished. I also realized I'd never get any good at shaping if I didn't actually shape. So I did it. Once I glass it (hopefully this part won't take 2-3 more years), I'll be really anxious to take it out and see how it works. My expectations are low but, it's a big accomplishment just the same. As a result, I got a lot of kudos and back slaps from friends and family on Saturday. Most importantly, I can now say that I am a shaper. Not a dreamer. Not a wannabe shaper. A shaper. Safe to say, I was pretty proud of myself.

Well, I guess the surf gods didn't want me to get a big head. I went surfing on Sunday and took one of my favorite boards, my 9'6" Pearson Arrow longboard. I've had it for years and it surfs great in all conditions (you can read more about this special board here). Unfortunately, the conditions were terrible on Sunday. Waves were doubling up and, when I did catch one, I had to contend with the backwash. Needless to say, decent waves were hard to come by. When I had finally had enough of not catching waves, I started moving closer to shore, hoping to catch one last wave. The waves further inside were steeper but also breaking in shallower water. I got what I wanted. I caught a wave but even with over nine feet of rail, the board never bit into the wave. Instead, it went straight down. When I surfaced, I had a bad feeling. When I swam over to to my board and flipped it over, my fears were almost realized. It didn't snap but the impact shattered, peeled and delammed the glass as well as broke one of the stringers. While I enjoy doing doing repair, this is going to be a lot of work.

If there's a silver lining in this, it's that I have a great excuse to shape another board.

Until next time, may your waves be head high and glassy (and not in 12 inches of water).

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Making Jay

Because there aren’t a lot of fictional surf movies made (and given the quality and authenticity of those films, that’s a good thing), surfers probably spend more time thinking and talking about the ones that have been made than they should. Such is the case with last Fall’s Chasing Mavericks. While it was better than the tin standard, Point Break (read my review here), it had its flaws. But most movies do.

As I was already pretty familiar with Jay Moriarity’s story, I was most intrigued by Frosty Hesson, Jay’s coach and mentor. Here was a guy who charged Maverick’s and, despite the bravado and life threatening repercussions associated with surfing this wave, took Jay under his wing and taught him how to ride it. That’s why when my friend Greg Cochran, President of the Pedro Point Surf Club, mentioned that Frosty had written a book following the release of the movie, I put it on my Christmas wish list.

Part autobiography, part Jay biography, and part coaching/life manual, Making Mavericks is a fascinating look into the life of an underground surfing legend. From an early age, Frosty was drawn to water and strove to be proficient in it, first with swimming, then water polo, then skiing and finally surfing. Frosty prospered in these sports but had to figure things out primarily on his own. He recognized that quality coaching was critical to success and growth and dedicated a lot of his free time to coaching kids, first with Bob Pearson’s surf team, then the Soquel High School surf team. When Jay approached Frosty, it was with the wish to be a better surfer. Jay’s request was simple but pure. Frosty admired that and showed Jay the way. To Jay’s credit, he provided the perseverance and work ethic. Frosty admired that too. When Jay wanted to be an effective contest surfer, Frosty helped him achieve that goal too. Again, with a lot of hard work, Jay accomplished his goal. Then, at only 15, Jay approached Frosty with a real challenge: teach him to surf Maverick’s.

The book features many takeaways that are bolded for emphasis to reinforce the lessons Frosty learned through his experiences and imparts on Jay. Some samples include:
  • Have a vision.
  • To become a capable, competent individual, learn from capable, competent individuals.
  • Don’t give less than it is your right for you to give.
  • You have to break down every goal into smaller, achievable steps, and acknowledge accomplishing each of them.
  • When you’re experimenting and trying to learn, you’re going to fall – when you stop falling, you start stagnating.
  • It’s easy to make a good athlete. It’s very hard to make a good human being.
  • To be successful, you cannot let yourself be tainted by other people’s fears.

Having grown up in the Bay Area, it was a treat reading about Frosty’s upbringing. He was raised in Hayward and lived in Lake Tahoe and Santa Cruz. His surfing exploits took him to the North Shore of Oahu, the East and West sides of Santa Cruz and, of course, Maverick’s. You’d have to be living under a rock not to know that Maverick’s is a special place and the surfers who charge it are special people. I especially enjoyed Frosty’s retelling of his first paddle-out at Maverick’s in October of 1998:

I saw Jeff [Clark] start to paddle and he was paddling harder and faster than anyone I’d ever seen. As he started his paddling, the bottom of the wave slope had not touched him yet. A few seconds later, the bottom of the slope touched him, and he went backward. He kept paddling at this furious pace, so intent and so focused, and I could not fathom how he went backward up the face of a wave. My heart started to pounding in a rush of excitement and fear—this was obviously a totally legit huge wave and it as where I lived! The whole world had suddenly changed. At the same time, I had to focus and put aside my emotions. It didn’t matter how awesome it was to have these waves in my backyard if I couldn’t ride them. So rather than get caught up in the thrill of the discovery, I started watching and turned it into an analytical process. There was only on question on my mind: how do I ride this wave?

Ultimately, Making Mavericks is much more than a book about a guy teaching a hyper-focused kid how to surf big waves. Instead, it’s a retrospective of a man preparing a boy for manhood while at the same time learning what manhood is all about. Frosty doesn’t pretend to have all the answers. When he was a kid he was just like Jay – an energetic kid thirsty for knowledge. But unlike Jay, Frosty had to figure things out on his own. Frosty sees Jay’s passion for learning and setting/meeting goals but knows kids can’t lean life’s lessons all on their own. He takes Jay under his wing and the rest is history. Frosty clearly has a soft spot for Jay and Jay clearly reveres Frosty. We get a glimpse into that symbiotic relationship and this element of the story really shines in the book.

In all, I found Making Mavericks a great book for two reasons: it provided me with a glimpse of the special relationship Frosty had with Jay and it provided many important lessons Frosty acquired through life that I can apply to my own life, to make me a better person. I highly recommend this book.

Until then, may your waves be head high and glassy.