• The Dazzling Blue #37: Winners and Losers

    Posted:Oct 03 2016

     

    There’s a Bob Dylan lyric for every mood. And there’s a Miki Dora story to illustrate every facet of the surfing kaleidoscope. This one involves contests.

                At one event, in the makeshift awards ceremony on the beach, Dora was announced the winner. There was applause and there were hoots. He stepped up, received his trophy—and tossed it into the sand. At another event, he rode a 12-foot tandem board in the final (the surfing equivalent to running a 10K in ski boots). At yet another event, the 1967 Malibu Invitational, he dropped his shorts at the spectators, media, and especially those five dudes sitting with clipboards and pencils. His point? That surfing is far too poetic and expressive to be judged.

                At the recent Hurley Pro at Trestles there were flickers of this. Judges were taken to task. Top pros expressed their disenchantment on social media. “Time to go home. Very sad, I dedicate or have dedicated my life to it … so tired, tired!” wrote a pissed off Gabriel Medina. “It is hard to accept when they make decisions that decide people’s lives and don’t take care to make the decision right and are not at all held accountable” from world title race leader Matt Wilkinson. And this from Julian Wilson: “The Judges might need to take some responsibility for their scores over the past two days. Might be time to put them under the microscope, like they do to us.” 

    I showed up on the final day, a sunny Wednesday on which there were only six heats remaining: two semis and a final for both the Mens and the Womens. The surf had dropped, and though it was the climax, there was something anticlimactic about the day.

                The crowd was thin. Long lulls elicited yawns. Title contenders had died out. The winners, Jordy Smith and Tyler Wright, surfed spectacularly in the slightly wind-chopped rights.

                “I have a hard time concentrating at art museums. The people always upstage whatever’s hanging on the walls.” I can’t confirm that Bob Dylan ever said this, but he might have. Similarly, I loved what I saw the athletes do across the waves at Trestles, but most memorable for me was not a giant carve or screaming slash, but the much more classical image of the two surfers exiting the water (think Colosseum, circa 8th century). Both the Mens and the Womens finals presented the same scene: The winner exulting, hands raised triumphantly over head. The loser slithering out the side, moving hurriedly, doing whatever is the opposite of savoring the moment.

    - Jamie Brisick
    The Dazzling Blue is a series of short pieces about things we do in boardshorts. It is written by Jamie Brisick. A Fulbright scholar and a lifelong surfer, Brisick has written several books about surf culture, including Have Board Will Travel: The Definitive History of Surf, Skate, and SnowandBecoming Westerly. He lives in NYC and rides a 5'10" Channel Islands Pod.

  • The Dazzling Blue #36: Buy Less By Buying Better

    Posted:Sep 25 2016

                In my wetsuit-rashed and sea-ulcered early teens, an older friend said something that I found hard to believe. We were riding in the back of my mom’s station wagon after a long day of surfing, feet sandy, faces sunburnt, boards poking over seats.

                “They do that on purpose,” he said, pointing to my boardshorts, made by a prominent surfwear manufacturer. The left leg was torn open. My white thigh poked out. There was no shark attack, no fin slash—just a poorly sewn seam that had come undone. “They make ‘em cheap so they fall apart and you have to buy new ones, usually within the first twelve to eighteen months,” he added, swigging from his Mountain Dew. “It’s called capitalism.”

                He chuckled. I didn’t. I hated the idea that the world could work like this. It went against everything my parents and teachers and mentors told me: Do your best. Try hard. Take pride in everything you do.

                How could you make something designed to fall apart and still look yourself in the mirror? I wondered.

                This was pre-global financial crisis, pre-Bernie Madoff, pre-Volkswagen emissions scandal. I had no idea how savage and corrupt the world could be. And though I lacked the words to express it, I felt deeply disappointed that the surf world—a world I believed in wholeheartedly—could take part in this cruel brand of capitalism. Didn’t the eternal ocean teach us anything? Didn’t the riding of waves imbue us with, shall we say, higher truths, loftier ideals, a distaste for bullshit?

                Fast forward to the present day. There’s climate change; there are those plastic rings that kill fish, birds, and sea mammals; there’s “fast fashion”—the notion that clothing is disposable. There’s a lot of throwaway stuff.

                But there’s also hope. The countertrend to the flimsy, disposable, and outsourced are ethically-minded, durability-focused, American-made companies. Case in point: Birdwell Beach Britches.

                This year Birdwell celebrates 55 years of building surf apparel and accessories in the same Santa Ana, California factory. The manufacturing legacy ranges from the iconic 301 boardshort and competition jackets made since the ‘60s to newer product offerings like the Tactical Walkshort and CPO Shirts. The thread that ties all of these products is an unwavering commitment to quality.

                For Birdwell, the commitment to quality is more than just a tagline. It literally starts with the thread and other materials Birdwell sources to build their products. “Before a single piece of fabric is cut or a seam stitched, we spend a great deal of time finding American manufacturers who approach their craft like we do” says Birdwell’s president, Geoff Clawson. “An example is the wool we use in our Wool CPO Shirt. We proudly source the wool from Black and Sons. They’ve been in the same building in the garment district of downtown LA since 1922. Four generations of this family have dedicated themselves to manufacturing exceptional wool. Every product that bears the Birdwell name and the customers who invest in our products deserve that kind of legacy.” 

                Geoff also talked about integrity, pride of craftsmanship. “The heart of the Birdwell brand is a team of craftsmen dedicated to hand cutting and sewing only the highest quality gear. For our team, success is measured not in sales or sponsorship deals, but in years of a product’s life and the memories made by customers.” Lilia Saavedra, a Birdwell employee who started back in 1977 and still clocks in every morning with a smile, said it this way: “I feel very proud to work here. I feel like part of me is traveling as my work goes all around the world. And after many, many years the customers keep coming back.”

           So yes indeed, there is hope, there is integrity, there is good stuff in the world.

    - Jamie Brisick
    The Dazzling Blue is a series of short pieces about things we do in boardshorts. It is written by Jamie Brisick. A Fulbright scholar and a lifelong surfer, Brisick has written several books about surf culture, including Have Board Will Travel: The Definitive History of Surf, Skate, and SnowandBecoming Westerly. He lives in NYC and rides a 5'10" Channel Islands Pod.

  • The Dazzling Blue #35: A Superstitious Tribe

    Posted:Sep 12 2016

    Magic boards are a rare thing in the surf world. When they come around they take us to new heights in performance, they show us a deeper connection with the wave.

                There’s a chicken-egg element at work. Like the notion of a soul mate, is it specifically the board that elevates us, or is it a confluence of us being in a higher groove and that board just happens to be there at that time? (“We get the partners we deserve,” a marriage counselor once told me.)

                So the magic board enters our lives, it gives us a glimpse of our own surfing divinity, and in turn it raises the bar. We’ll be forever chasing that appendage-like connectedness, we’ll dream at night of dancing across water with that oneness.

                And in our chase we’ll get weird. We’ll wonder what exactly it was that made it all come together. There was the magic board, but there was also the wax, the leash (or no leash), the fins, the boardshorts and/or wetsuit, the towel you used to change into boardshorts and/or wetsuit, the sunscreen, the pre-surf breakfast, the music you listened to before paddling out, et al. We’ll trace all that preceded an excellent surf—or an excellent period of surfing—and we’ll obsess over it, and we’ll repeat it in an effort to get that thrill back.

                Any ambitious surfer knows this, but no one knows it like the pros. One of my surfing heroes growing up was Cheyne Horan, who I’d been told had a thing about clean teeth. He’d brush and floss before every heat. Four-time world champ Mark Richards never shaved during contests. In my pro surfing days, the general rule was that if you won your first heat, you repeated those pre-heat steps/rituals from round two onward. That means if you drank a bottle of Gatorade and peed in a particular toilet stall an hour before your heat, you followed suit before your next heat, and if someone was using that toilet stall, you waited for them to finish, you didn’t use the stall next door. It was an interesting way to find your groove. It was as if all those little steps were ways to summon your inner Superman.

                I googled “surfers and their weird-ass superstitions” and found nothing terribly new. “Don’t eat shark and shark won’t eat you” is a maxim that surfers who live in sharky areas live by. The Indonesians have a thing about never bringing anything green into the sea. There’s an Aussie surfer who never takes a leak before paddling out (a dehydration thing, I think). There’s the surf sacrifice, i.e., best way to end a flat spell is to burn a board on the beach. Then there’s the amended, more environmentally-friendly surf sacrifice, which is to go out and get really drunk, and the next morning, when you’re brutally hungover, the wave gods will no doubt deliver something tasty.

                I have a friend who believes that it’s the “one more wave” that gets us. It’s getting late, you get a decent ride, nearly get out, then some voice in your head goes, ‘One more.’

                “That’s the one that gets you,” he told me.

                “How do you mean ‘gets you’?”

                “That’s the wave where you eat shit and get the nose of your board in the head, or where the shark suddenly appears, or where you bust a fin out in the shorebreak.”

                “What if you verbally announce that you’re getting one last wave to your buddy, does that nullify it?

                “What do you mean?”

                “Well, sometimes a superstition loses its power if you speak about it.”

                “Oh, that’s not true at all. In fact if you speak about it I’d say that you multiply its power. ‘One last wave!’ and the next thing you know you’ve got a board in the head and a shark circling you and a couple of missing fins.”

     

    - Jamie Brisick
    The Dazzling Blue is a series of short pieces about things we do in boardshorts. It is written by Jamie Brisick. A Fulbright scholar and a lifelong surfer, Brisick has written several books about surf culture, including Have Board Will Travel: The Definitive History of Surf, Skate, and SnowandBecoming Westerly. He lives in NYC and rides a 5'10" Channel Islands Pod.

     

  • The Dazzling Blue #34: Like Found Money: The Joys of Indian Summer

    Posted:Aug 28 2016

    Just when you think it’s coming to a close, a bonus month or two of sunshine and warm water. Indian summer is like found money. Unlike June, July, and August, it’s not the payoff for winter and spring. It defies the seasonal rhythm, a kind of turbo booster. The surprise of it all kicks us out of the humdrum of daily life.

                And it happens while the kids are back at school—a good thing if you’re no longer a student; an excuse to arrive late, cut out early, or, on the right swell and conditions, take the whole day off if you still are (not that we’re encouraging such things).

                I associate Indian summer with “The Day of Dreams,” a legendary September Thursday that took place when I was in junior high. I missed it. In fact I’d yet to become a fully committed surfer when it happened. But I certainly heard about it. According to the tribal elders at my local break, it was a day you remember forever, a day that you call on during lulls in a surfing life to remind yourself why you do it. Here’s how it was told me, composited from the many versions I heard:

                “Santa Ana winds, solid, but not gusty. Just strong enough to make every wave throw top to bottom. The water was sapphire blue and ridiculously warm, we were trunking it and it was late September! The swell was out of the northwest, peaky, A-frames, the kind of waves that you paddle into, and as you hop to your feet you decide whether to go right or left.

                It was not huge, but the biggest sets were maybe double overhead, top to bottom. You stroked as hard as you could, hopped up, dragged your hand over the face, or maybe gouged it in there, depending on how deep you were. Then you just stood there in the barrel. Pretty much every wave. It had those breaths and wafts, cool air pushing up from the collapsing lip. The tube was like a wild animal.

                And there were only about a dozen of us spread over a half-mile of sand-bottom beachbreak. And it stayed like this all day. And luckily we packed Gatorade and sandwiches and apples. And by the afternoon the tube became so familiar it was like your living room at home or something, you knew every dimple, the lip heaving over your head didn’t freak you out like it does when you haven’t been barreled in months, it was almost relaxing, soothing. You had your head on the pillow—you pull the sheet up over your head for a bit, then you pull it down, breathe a little, and dive back in.”

    - Jamie Brisick
    The Dazzling Blue is a series of short pieces about things we do in boardshorts. It is written by Jamie Brisick. A Fulbright scholar and a lifelong surfer, Brisick has written several books about surf culture, including Have Board Will Travel: The Definitive History of Surf, Skate, and SnowandBecoming Westerly. He lives in NYC and rides a 5'10" Channel Islands Pod.

  • The Dazzling Blue #33: Christian Troy and Waves For Water

    Posted:Aug 22 2016

     

    As Executive Director of Waves For Water, Christian Troy’s job description varies. In hurricane-ravaged Guerrero state, Mexico, he led about 75 people in what was essentially a human chain across a wide river. Floods had taken down a bridge, cutting off a hillside village’s access to food, water, and supplies. Along with delivering filtration systems, Christian’s job was to oversee the passing of boxes from hand to hand, a feat that looked like it belonged more to the insect world than the human. In the outermost islands of Vanuatu, after it was devastated by a category 5 cyclone, he literally swam buckets and filters to shore, lugged them up steep, muddy slopes, and brought them to the native inhabitants, many of them wounded.

    But his real job is getting clean to water to people in need. And while it is literally lifesaving, it also contains a certain abracadabra. Demonstrating how the filtration systems work to a camp of Syrian refugees in the Beqaa Valley of Lebanon, I watched him spill a couple ounces of brown, wretched-looking water into the filter, then pour the clear water into a glass, then hand it to a young boy, who gulped it down gleefully and gave a thumbs up. The entire camp cheered.

    Waves For Water has implemented clean water programs in 38 countries. Much of this work is enabled by partnerships with the U.S. Army, BMW, and the World Surf League. Christian is a goofy foot. He rides an egg-shaped displacement hull single fin, never wears a leash, never wears a wetsuit. “The fewer things that I can operate with the better,” he said of his surfing ethos. When he’s not on the road, he tries to put in as much water time as possible, typically at Malibu, where this conversation took place.

     

    How did it start?

    I went to Haiti shortly after the earthquake in 2010 to help problem solve, and in problem solving I was immediately thrust into this chaotic environment, and Jon Rose (Founder of Waves For Water) and I worked really well together, I think we complemented each other with different skills and different approaches, and I think in that brief time together we realized we were a good ‘two hander.’ Six months after the Haiti earthquake there was a major flood in Pakistan, and through some sort of cavalier evening in Haiti sitting around talking about how much help was needed in Pakistan, and how the world wasn’t responding in the way that they were to Haiti, I was nominated to go to there and do what we were doing in Haiti. So there it was, it was like a spring, the natural disaster kind of called for it. So I went to Pakistan in July of 2010 and it was a quick launch into being a humanitarian.

     

    What do you do exactly?

    We provide access to clean water. The technologies to convert contaminated water supplies into something potable, something useable—we get those technologies from where they’re made and we get them into the places that desperately need them. And really, it’s like producing in a way. There’s lots of adventure and tricky components to doing it. It requires funds; it requires the ability to navigate all those adventures and the hazards. So we problem solve. And the biggest problem is access to clean water.

     What does a typical day in the line of duty involve?

    Every one of these projects has its own nuance. I can give you an example in Afghanistan, or in the Amazon in Brazil, or in North Korea. Each of those has something so different. There’s always a curve, so we’re always ready to pivot suddenly—it’s a lot of thinking on the go. When I land at the airport, when I hit that ground for the first time, what am I going to see? Who’s going to take advantage of what? Where might I hit a hurdle, starting with immigration and customs onward? It’s always exciting. The North Korea trip, the mysteries of what goes on in a country that’s so not participating with the rest of the world, and you’re about to go into this place and go off the grid, off the map, off the radar—that’s a new experience. There are so many unknowns, but we think of them as manageable unknowns. We try to be tactical in how we approach those manageable unknowns.

     

    Six years since you first went to Haiti and began this whole odyssey. Has the work changed you at all?

    I would say it certainly has grown me. I gravitated toward this work because it hits on so many of my interests—politics, helping people, travel, adventure. I think in all those areas I’ve definitely grown. Have I changed? I still think that at my core I’m doing this for the same reason I started it. I’m still me, but I’m probably a savvier me. When you learn something about yourself that you didn’t have so pronounced or expressed before, do we change? All those parts of me that were there before are just amplified.

     

    - Jamie Brisick
    The Dazzling Blue is a series of short pieces about things we do in boardshorts. It is written by Jamie Brisick. A Fulbright scholar and a lifelong surfer, Brisick has written several books about surf culture, including Have Board Will Travel: The Definitive History of Surf, Skate, and SnowandBecoming Westerly. He lives in NYC and rides a 5'10" Channel Islands Pod.

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