Friday, January 31, 2014

This is Surfing, Old School Style

If reading's your bag, you probably have visited a used book store or two in your time. Well, in my limited experience, it doesn't get much better than Hein & Company in Jackson, CA. Two floors jammed packed with thousands upon thousands of books on every topic imaginable tucked into every nook and cranny. In brief: sensory overload for book lovers and knowledge seekers.

While visiting my mother-in-law over the holidays, I stopped into this eclectic shop in hopes of finding a good read to curl up with while I digested 2 metric tons of food and drink. Given Jackson is a few hundred miles away from the coast, I was curious to see whether the store had any books on surfing. Surprisingly, there were two. The first one was Daniel Duane's well known book Caught Inside. The other book was considerably older and, no disrespect to Daniel Duane, more unique. Decision made.

Originally published in 1960, Surf-RidingIts Thrills and Techniques, by O.B. Patterson, is a step back in time. Any images you may have of 1960s longboarding is probably tied to Bruce Brown films like The Endless Summer or the current stylemasters who give a nod to this era - cats like Joel Tudor and Kassia Meador. But this kind of longboard surfing is light years ahead of the images captured in this book. No tube rides, stalls, head dips or nose rides. Just trimming and riding in the curl. Post-war surfing was clearly a simpler time as it predates the emergence of scammers trying to get rich off the sport/lifestyle. Thus, Surf-Riding is a nostalgic read.

That said, the book is hopelessly and helplessly hokey. Patterson begins his ode to the Sport of Kings with step-by-step instructions for paddling a surfboard, catching a wave, popping up and, of course, riding a wave. While his intention is sincere, anyone who has ever tried surfing will agree that a "how to" manual doesn't remotely prepare you for the real thing. Surfing is not like baking a cake. 

Today this is just called a kook wiping out.

He then cajoles anyone who's still hesitant to give surfing a try:

Join us in this thrilling sport:
     When the sea is raising hell
     with breakers crashing high
     We will cheer for those brave lads
     who dared join us and try!

His discussion of surfing in Northern California is also comical:

For daring action and sheer foolhardiness we doubt if there is anything in the world that will compare to a bunch of wave-happy Northern California surfers in the act of riding the 'big ones' that roll in their rugged coast. In addition to shattering waves, they must brave bone-chilling water most of the year.

Unless you have tried the ocean water in Northern California, all this [neoprene] gear may sound strange, but, Brother - just take a dip for yourself and you will understand their problem!

Wetsuits have evolved ever so slightly since the '50s,
as has photoshopping

There are also several notable surfers mentioned in the book whose names are badly mis-spelled. Given their stature in surfing, you'd think this was avoidable. For example:

Dale Velsy (Velzy)
Mickey Minose (Muñoz)
Ricky Gregg (Grigg)
Jose Angle (Angel)

All that said, the book's naivete or high kook factor can be forgiven as it merely reflects the author's love of surfing. He is comprehensive in his overview, addressing all things surfing: design, construction, surfing in Hawaii vs. the mainland & other countries, and finally surfing in legend and history. This guy is clearly stoked on surfing. But let their be no mistake: Patterson didn't just talk the talk, admiring surfing from the beach. His career was primarily in PR but he was a proud member of the Outrigger Canoe Club and surfed for years along Oahu's South Shore and the California coast with his son Richard "Dick" Patterson.

O.B. "Pat" Patterson -
THIS guy is stoked on surfing!

Pat's alter ego: surf bum

Clearly, Surf-Riding is a period piece, a step back in time. Lord only knows what Patterson would think of today's surfing, characterized by giant waves and big airs. What hasn't changed is the stoke surfers have for surfing. You heard it here first, ladies and gents: stoke is timeless. You can take that to the bank.

Apparently dropping in is a timeless practice. Hope these guys are friends....

Who wouldn't want to be here?

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

Friday, January 24, 2014

What I've Learned From Watching The 2014 Mavericks Invitational

While still in progress, today's Mavericks Invitational so far has been epic. Conditions have varied but the waves have been monstrous. The quality of the waves and the skill level of the surfers riding them have done wonders for surfing. Here's what I've taken away from this event so far:

1. It's cliche but these surfers are truly men who ride mountains. Unassuming on land, total gladiators in the some of the scariest waves in the world.

No justification. Just shameful.
2. With the ASP's Dream Tour and the Big Wave World Tour (of which the Mavericks Invitational is a part), competitive surfing is at a pinnacle. Good riddance to the days of contests held in 2-3' slop. Who remembers the 1985 pro contest held in a wave pool in Allentown, PA?!

3. I don't know what's more impressive: these surfer's physical conditioning or their mental conditioning. I'm assuming that hucking yourself over a 40' ledge takes plenty of both. And I'd imagine surviving the beatings these guys have taken in waves this size takes even more of both. PWCs and CO2 cartridges are nice but getting rag dolled under a giant wave is a lonely place to be.

4. The circus of boats, PWCs, helicopters, groupies, cameras and prize money don't detract from the fact that, at its core, this is about some really brave men surfing some really big waves. I get a feeling that all that bullshit gets stripped away when the competitors are sitting alone / together in the peak, waiting for that next giant set to loom down on them from the horizon.

5. Surfing giant waves isn't about big balls, it's about commitment. These guys have accepted the fact that they will be absentee fathers, husbands and friends; they will hover just above or below the poverty line; they will make decisions and live their lives that virtually no one else will understand. Dropping everything to fly half way around the world at a moments notice but needing to drag boards through airports and customs, deal with connecting flights, layovers, time changes, rental cars and finding a place to stay, all in hopes that the forecast materializes. It's not a glorious lifestyle.

The finals have begun and I don't imagine the final result will change my perspective. These competitors and this wave have my utmost respect and I'm grateful to have the opportunity to watch them do something truly incredible.

Zach Wormhoudt, Mavericks 2011

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

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Song Remains the Same

Wow, it's been a long time since I last posted. Let's see if I can remember how this works. Push this button, pull this lever, add water here, okay, I think we're good to go.

Happy New Year faithful readers. And Happy New Year as well to all of you who stumbled upon this blog by accident. What's happened since my last posting in late October? Here's a quick summary:

  • Maya is surfing once again after breaking her leg in huge waves in Europe (see previous post)
  • There are huge waves in Europe.
  • Mick Fanning beat Kelly Slater to take the 2013 ASP crown following some questionable judging
  • Haleiwa was a snoozer but Sunset and Pipe delivered big time for an all around exciting Triple Crown
  • Nat Young, Santa Cruz's very own, was elected ASP Rookie of the Year

And just today it was learned that Gerard Butler, who admirably portrayed Frosty Hesson in Chasing Mavericks (see my review here), has signed on to play Bodhi in the remake of Point Break, which is arguably the worst (surf) movie ever. As I see it, Butler's involvement signals one of two things: 

1) After hanging out with big wave legends like Peter Mel, Grant Washburn and Greg Long, soaking up all of their philosophy and almost drowning at Mavs, he has an appreciation for big wave surfing and wants to right the wrongs, the oh so many wrongs, committed in the first Point Break. 

Or, 2) he's dismissed everything he learned from these big wave chargers, including Frosty himself, blocked out his two wave hold down in the boneyard, and is doing Point Break for the money. Let's hope it's #1.

Either way, this is the benchmark:

And now we're caught up. So let's raise a pint and make a toast to hope for 2014. Hope for good surf, hope for no injuries or drownings, hope for a another ASP crown for the ageless Kelly Slater, and hope I can surf more like Joel Tudor and Taylor Knox.

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