Chris Ward–The Most Interesting Surfer in the World?

29 09 2009
Lost has of the best ads in the business. The Dos Equis spoof is shown here. “I do not always wear clothes, but when I do I prefer …Lost.

Lost has of the best advertisements in the business. The Dos Equis spoof is shown here. "I do not always wear clothes, but when I do I prefer …Lost."

It has been a tumultuous, Ogie Ogilthorpe-esque ride to the WCT for Chris Ward. He had a baby at 18, caused a major disturbance on a plane in Brazil not long after 9/11, when disturbances on planes might get you an extended stay at Gitmo. There were rolled rental cars, the parties and unhappy sponsors. And most recently, the bar brawl in Mammoth Lakes, California last year and the legal battle that ensued.

Last week at the Quiksilver Pro France, Chris Ward missed his first round heat. What us folks in the working world call a “no call no show.” No big deal, right? Live to fight another day. All that jazz. Rome wasn’t built in one session at Lower Trestles and it certainly wasn’t going to be built on a middling day at a French beachbreak. But, it gets better.

For his second round heat, which I affectingly call the Cash for Clunkers round, he showed up 15 minutes late, leaving Ben Dunn alone in the water staring back at the beach like the black guy in Caddyshack before getting run over by Rodney Dangerfield’s yacht. “Well, it definitely plays with your head,” Dunn said of Ward’s curious absence. “Wardo missed his Round 1 heat and I thought he was going to show up for today’s heat because I saw him yesterday, but he said he overslept or something.”

Then there’s the replay of the webcast. A solitary white jersey hangs in the competitors area, cascading in the wind like something you’d see in a trailer park clothesline on a summer day. You’d be hard pressed to find a better post heat interview. Something about oversleeping. I was half expecting him to ask Peter Mel “Hey dude. Where’d you get this Jaak-et?” Just moments earlier, he amassed a total heat score of 3.6. I think his blood-alcohol content level was higher than that in Mammoth last year. C’est bien.

The French prepare for Wardo's invasion.

The French prepare for Wardo's invasion.

Ben Dunn should be buying him beers and letting him screw his sister. Before France the “Doom-Bringer” was tittering on the edge of excommunication to the WQS. Dunn, now the 22nd ranked surfer on tour, with no result better that 17th this year (until now), may have just won a spot on tour for 2010 because of Wardo’s alarm clock. I’ll have not check with Guinness and Al Hunt but I believe that is a first. Meanwhile, Dunn made it to the quarterfinals—his best result by far.

Chris Ward was supposed to be the next Tom Curren. Or at the very least, the next Shane Beschen. He was featured in magazines at twelve years old. At 17, Gotcha signed him to a reported $450,000 contract. He was California’s heir to the world title. At least that’s what everyone said. But he never really hit his competitive stride until five years ago. After years of slogging away in the WQS slopfest he finally made his way on the WCT at 25 years old. Last year was his best to date. He peaked at Pipeline, the last event of the season, finishing second to Slater. It looked as if he would finally crack the top 10. But, after the 33rd at Les Bourdaines, he’s firmly planted in a regulation spot he might not climb out of. After the Peter Gibbons act in France, he tumbled to 35th.

When he’s on Wardo has proven he can surf with anyone, but unfortunately this may be Ward’s last year on tour. He appears to have the WCT-itis that has hit so many greats in the past. It’s time to buckle down and grow up son. We can’t take anymore two-to-the-beach circle jerks won by fast Mick Fanning. The tour needs you. One might even say it would be …lost without you.


For Your Viewing Pleasure: Julian Wilson

25 09 2009

The following webisode is a snippet of the yet-to-be-released Scratching the Surface. It’s an Irons Brothers production featuring Julian Wilson as the protagonist with a little Dane, Dusty and Taj thrown in for good measure. Today I’m licking Julian’s stamp and mailing it in. Wait, that didn’t come out right. Enjoy the weekend you bastards. And get in the water.–Nug

Style Bandits: A Case Study

23 09 2009

Style pioneer Miki Dora at Malibu circa 1966.

Style isn’t any exact science. In fact, it’s not science at all. In competitive surfing style is undoubtedly the most overlooked aspect of the judging criteria. If you commit and do something radical, nearly fall, and foresake any resemblance of style you’ll get a better score. If one makes surfing look too easy, the scores will suffer.

There are exceptions, but those with the best style usually hone their skills surfing points and reefbreaks. It makes sense, right? Stinkbug punters and grovelers, for the most part, grew up surfing beachbreaks. Surfers like Curren, Parkinson and even Dora perfected their gifts at world-class pointbreaks.

There is a shift that’s been slowly happening for decade or so. Sadly, style is not what is once was. I see it every day in the lineup. Kids are trying to emulate the Dane Reynolds and Julian Wilsons of the world. But Reynolds and Wilson are fin-free freaks…with style. That is a rarity. Not the norm. These days groms learn airs even before they perfect a simple cutback.

The ASP judging criteria states… “A surfer must perform radical controlled manoeuvres in the critical sections of a wave with speed, power and flow to maximize scoring potential. Innovative/Progressive surfing as well as variety of repertoire (manoeuvres) will be taken into account when rewarding points for waves ridden. The surfer who executes these criteria with the maximum degree of difficulty and commitment on the waves shall be rewarded with the higher scores.” (Note: It was obviously written by an Australian, hence the spelling of “manoeuvres.”)

Did you notice anything peculiar other than the funny spelling? You guessed it. It does not mention style. Repeat. It does not mention STYLE. Not once. Sure it states “flow” will be scored, but not style. Webster’s Dictionary defines flow as “proceeding smoothly and readily.” So if I’m reading it correctly, this means Jihad Khodr will score a perfect 10 on every wave as long as he shaves his entire body, lathers his skin with baby oil and gives the judges a playful San Francisco bath-house wink. If it’s flow they want maybe Marlon Lipke should cohearse Jay-Z to be part of his entourage. Would he then have a better chance of ever making it past the first round? It couldn’t hurt. 

Earlier I stated style is undoubtedly the most over-looked aspect of the judging criteria. Disregard that. I was wrong. It’s not even a part of the judging criteria.

ASP judges, much like a kitten that just witnessed a bird fly past him, are easily distracted. Waving your arms wildly (also known as claiming) scores points. Don’t believe me? How do you explain the longevity of Gary “Kong” Elkerton and Victor Ribas? Maybe the problem is that the long-time ASP head judge was a Brazilian and the system is still recovering, even years later. The irony is the average Brazilian wouldn’t know style even if it crawled up his ass, built a campfire and started roasting marshmallows. But this isn’t about the proper technique for making a Brazilian s’more. I’ll cover that in a future post.

Most will agree Joel Parkinson is perhaps the most stylish surfer on tour right now. His surfing is like sex on satin sheets. It’s slippery smooth. It’s wet. It’s exciting and fun. He’s the world champ-elect for good reason, despite a judging criterion that has always been a few steps behind the times. In the September issue of the Surfer Magazine Parkinson stated this in regards to claiming a wave…“People can give me shit about claiming, but if that’s what it takes to win a world title, then I’ll claim every wave.”

So there you have it. If you wave your arms after that last turn, you’ll win a world title. Now that’s science.

Hurley Pro Final Day

20 09 2009
Fanning and Reynolds Celebrate while Machado Drifts in the Background

Mick and Dane celebrate while Machado drifts in the background

Wake me when it’s over.

It was the afternoon of the last day of the Hurley Pro, and halfway through the quarterfinals it was as exciting as watching Tiger Woods sink a five-foot putt at a miniature golf course.

The main problem was the uncharacteristic lack of swell for a break that usually pumps in September. The other problems were the short waiting period (due to state park restrictions) and a bad call by the event organizers—choosing not to run at least some of the event mid-week, instead of hoping and praying for a swell that in typical Southern California fashion didn’t show up on time.

Twenty minutes into the quarterfinal heat between Kelly Slater and Heitor Alves announcer Dave Stanfield said, “It sure is great when there’s waves.” The unintentional comedy factor of the typical ASP announcer’s everything-is-rosy outlook is off the charts. Terrorists could have detonated a bomb killing ninety percent of the crowd, and Stanfield would probably said something like “at least Kelly Slater survived and good news folks…looks like there’s a set on the horizon.”

Meanwhile, the ocean sat bloated and weary like an overweight dog sprawled out on the kitchen floor on a scorching summer day. Every 15 minutes or so the Pacific Ocean drooled, offering up a set wave or two, and an occasional leg to hump. Earlier in the week I saw Slater pumping gas at the San Clemente Chevron and it was a more thrilling spectacle than his semifinal heat against Mick Fanning.

Adriano de Souza sits at third place in the ratings and may finish higher than any other Brazilian in ASP history, but for my money Heitor Alves is the best Brazilian surfer on tour. He’s also clearly the most underrated surfer on tour. But Slater sent the Brazo home early in yet another wave-starved heat.

Dane Reyolds whips his tail around at Trestles

The Future is now. Dane Reynolds whips his tail around.

Taylor Knox versus Dane Reynolds was the heat of the day and also featured the day’s best exchange. Knox dropped in on a head-high where-the-fuck-did-that-come-from right and just destroyed it, getting an 8.0. Then Dane picked off the very next wave (9.7) and made Knox’s eight look ordinary in comparison. He buried the rail of his 5’7 Merrick and out-Knoxed Knox in the process.

Before the semifinals the VIP area was buzzing in free beer and mental masturbatory hopes of a Dane versus Kelly final. Meanwhile, former world champion Mick Fanning was quietly winning heats after miserable heat, one Ambien off the lip at a time. During Mick and Slater’s semi Dane was battling exhaustion and dehydration. The medical staff on site gave him an IV, while the Hurley staff provided the VIPs with Bud Light to keep them entertained and hydrated. No needles required. Slater’s come-from-behind 10th world title aspirations may have ended at Trestles, unless he wins two of the three events of the European leg (which is in the realm of possibilities). So in reality, the race is now a threesome between Joel Parkinson, Fanning and Slater. With Slater as the third wheel who holds the video camera, watching mostly, waiting for the perfect moment to join the fun.

At the halfway point of the WCT season, Dane Reynolds was sitting in a regulation spot, at 34th in the ratings. After his equal third in near-perfect conditions at JBay, he jumped to 20th. Now, after and second at Trestles, he sits comfortably in 11th place. Any person who is not brain dead and/or tipping back  Tooheys at an Aussie pub would admit Dane is a better surfer right now than Fanning.

Last year, every story I read about Dane Reynolds mentioned Jordy Smith as if they were Siamese twins sipping juice boxes, rolling around a cul-de-sac in a two-seat baby stroller. At Trestles, Dane not only separated himself from Jordy, but from the rest of the ASP pack as well. He’s the present and future of competitive surfing and everyone knows it. When Julian Wilson arrives, the surfing world may just implode, scattering swatches of Diamond Dobby boardshorts in the process.

Slater may have said it best shortly after the final while Fanning was popping the champagne. “I thought Dane was the surfer of the contest. I don’t even think Mick would argue with that.”

With a shot of honesty and a humble dose of reality, the circus heads for Europe and a three-event run before the climax at Pipe.

Small Talk with Alana Blanchard at the Surfer Poll and Video Awards

18 09 2009
The Women of Surfer Poll or Blaphemy's Harem? Thrailkill

The Women of Surfer Poll or Blasphemy's Harem? Thrailkill/Surfer

Editor’s Note: I do not know Blasphemy Rottmouth well. From his passionate and cryptic comments on PostSurf, it is clear he’s a witty, and perhaps an inherently drunk individual that captures the embodiment of the working-class surfer like no one I have ever seen. Somehow, he made it to fabulous Anaheim, California for the illustrious Surfer Poll Awards. This is his story.

This past Tuesday evening, I was afforded the supreme privilege of being whisked into the annual Surfer Poll and Video Awards Show under the shelter of my longtime friendship with the former North Shore big wave pioneer Chuck Noll. In all actuality, it was my friendship with his old gardener, Alejandro.

As per house rules, I made my way directly to the bar, where I began tipping back the first of many whiskey and rocks. The scent of alcohol, mixed with cologne, coconut-butter lotion, perfume, and nervous ball-sweat that permeated the room, perked my senses enough to keep my eyes from being lulled to sleep as various industry bigwigs, professionals, their entourages, and a few lucky peasant’s called ‘fans,’ filed into the Grove’s stifling main gallery and terrace.

I was about to send another squadron of malted-rye practitioners of liquid death to quell my thirsty liver, when I was stopped short by the entrance of something altogether lovely. There at the doorway, stood a golden-haired goddess in a generously low-cut, black evening dress, with a zipper that wouldn’t quit.

“Ye gods!” my loins screamed to me from within. But all I could think about was how badly I wanted to build a summer cottage in the small of her back. I pictured myself galloping through the hand-tilled barley fields outside that cottage’s front patio, while Sigor Ros played in the background. I envisioned our evenings together, where I read her chapters of Silas Marner: The Weaver of Raveloe, by candlelight, while she stared at me like a dog that had just been shown a card trick. Later we would no doubt retire to my bedroom where I’d gently nuzzle the underside of her ankles before engaging one of the head posts in soft-focus coitus.

Read the entire story here…

Not So Fast Parko—Hurley Pro Day 3

16 09 2009

Hurley Pro 2009

In 1995 a black, former professional football player and dreadful actor named OJ Simpson proved anything is possible in America—even getting away with murder. That same year Rob Machado won three of the first seven ASP events. He was on a Parkinsonian roll and well on his way to his first world title at the age of 22. But, that title never materialized. It was snatched from him during the waning moments of the Chiemsee Pipe Masters’ penultimate heat. The epic semifinal when Machado high-fived Slater as he exited the barrel still stands as one of the best world title finishes in ASP history.

Flash forward 14 years later and the anything-is-possible-in-America principle is alive and well. Tuesday, in inconsistent 3-4 foot Trestles, the 36-year-old Californian symbolically put a knife to Joel Parkinson’s neck on a blue-gray California afternoon. Now, if Slater goes on to win the Hurley Pro we may look back to this day, September 15, as the great American heist of a title that was seemingly in the bank.

Before the flowing Manny Ramirez mane, before he became a Drifter and before the million-dollar contracts with Gotcha and Hurley, Robert Edward Machado was just a skinny goofyfoot from Cardiff-by-the-Sea who had a passion for surfing and heaps of talent. He was Mick Fanning in reverse— ultra quick, wiry and sharp as a stiletto.

While Australia basked in Occy-ness, California’s soaked in El Machado. But El Machado never had that innate Slater-esque competitive fire. He was and is a cruising motorbike in a world of rice burners and gaudy European numbers. Now, removed from the tour by several years, the wildcard is riding a steamroller, laughing, sunburst locks blowing in the wind, on his final ASP sendoff into the sunset.

It’s no wonder the Aussies hate this place. Its lazy, seemingly embracing charm is a facade lined with all that is fake and evil in the world. In Orange County pristine coastal headlands that house world-class point breaks are juxtaposed with nuclear power plants while the American industrial military machine sits in the hills firing mortar shells for practice. This nook of Southern California is ground zero for soccer moms and the real estate mortgage meltdown that caused a worldwide recession.

Machado wasn’t the only storyline during round three. Another Californian named Dane Reynolds continued his roll that started two months ago in South Africa. After disposing of Ben Dunn he went on to win the Facebook Expression Session in the afternoon chop slop. Looking at the draw, Reynolds and Slater sit at opposite ends of the heat sheet which could lead to a pinch-me-I’m-dreaming Dream Tour final.

The turn of the day went to Heitor Alves for his coast-to-coast, butter-on-toast, fin-free slider in heat 12. French Fry Jeremy Flores never knew what hit him. The way he’s surfing he may just come out of nowhere and win this whole thing. Slater welcomed wildcard Brett Simpson (No relation to the knife-wielding football player) to the WCT and quickly waved goodbye and closed the door. Slater made several mistakes and a savvier veteran would have pounced on the opportunity. But his 16.83 total was still the highest of the day. This is a little scary in retrospect.

A day after sending Taj Burrow off to Europe with a 33rd, Machado showed the flashes of brilliance that made him the enigma he has become. But flashes don’t get you too far after round four at this level and he was undoubtedly aided by Parkinson’s miscues. Perhaps Parko’s ankle is not completely healed. Perhaps the Australian fell victim to the California buzz saw that stupefies so many of his countrymen. But one thing is for certain—his grip on an almost certain title loosened just enough to make the WCT interesting again. Parko didn’t seem too fazed however. Just after the loss his Twitter page read in true Aussie reveling fashion, “Surfer Poll just got a little more fun now.”

To put the Hurley Pro and its record purse in perspective, Machado was the leading money winner on tour in 1995. He won nearly $70,000 for the entire year. Later this week Hurley will cut the winner a check for $105,000 for one contest. What a difference a decade makes.

Hurley Trestles Pro Round 2

15 09 2009
Dane Reynolds punts at Lowers. Rowland/ASP

Dane Reynolds punts to a win at Lowers. Rowland/ASP

Competitive surfing is an awkward yet beautiful ritual. Sometimes, when the moon and stars are perfectly aligned, it is a magical. Yin and yang form a perfect circle of congruence. Think Joel Parkinson and Dane Reynolds at Jeffrey’s Bay two months ago. But more often than not, it resembles a teenage virgin attempting to have sex for the first time. Palms are clammy.  Runaway beads of perspiration glide down foreheads, falling to the floor. Nervousness and confusion.  Legs are spread and kicking wildly. The anticipation is often better than the end result.

Round two of the Hurley Pro, or as I affectionately call Cash for Clunkers, undoubtedly felt like virgin sex. Sure the build up was exciting, but the parents (or worse, ESPN) may walk in at any time and ruin the moment.

There are several ways to spend a Monday afternoon that are less painful than watching round two of a WCT in crappy surf. For instance; a colon exam or catching up on Sunny Garcia’s Twitter updates.

Taj Burrow was the highest seed to lose and first to go home. For those of you who felt Taj got robbed by the judges, go back and watch the heat on demand. Machado surfed better. Simple as that. In fact, he was underscored on a few early waves. It shouldn’t have been as close as it was. If I didn’t know any better I would think he looked inspired. But Rob is seemingly carefree. At times, that is a recipe for success on the WCT.

For Jordy Smith it was over before he could put on a condom or contest jersey. He went down in a squeaker to Portuguese rookie Tiago Pires 13.5 to 13.24. In less than ideal conditions, determination often trumps talent.

Round three continues Tuesday with several key matchups, namely Slater versus wildcard and de facto local Brett Simpson and Machado against Parkinson, or the Hair versus the heir to the throne. Starting with round four, will be webcasting in true high definition. Fuel’s feed during the Huntington event was the best I’ve seen.–Nug