Jon selfishly writes about surfing from covid sickbed
Isn't this newsletter supposed to be about podcasts?
I’ve had covid for a few days. I caught it because I was the last one holding onto mask wearing in Eagle, and everyone that had moved on from the pandemic was able to shame it on me with their judging eyes.
During this time of, thankfully light, illness, I’ve created an incredible automated marketing system for Timber called Firenado that already has you in its vortex, finished building a new custom computer, and written this newsletter.
Now, please enjoy the rest of this newsletter without interruption.
I’ve been surfing for 20 years. Too much has been written about how the surfing community is insular, so I won’t get into that. But within this closed community there is a tradition of storytelling that goes back forever and people with some connection to Hawaii affectionately call “talking story.”
We surfers never stop talking story. Back in October, I spent the weekend in San Clamente. My friends and I were eating on the rooftop at Pizza Port, and sitting next to us was Australian three time surfing world champion, Mick Fanning. Next to him was world tour finals contender, Morgan Cibilic, and across from them a couple industry guys. These guys have been in the water every day minus a month of covid lockdown since they were old enough to walk. They must be bored of surfing stories by now. We were close enough to overhear their conversation…
What were they talking about?
Surfing and surfboards. So were we.
With all this practice at storytelling, it stands to reason that surfing must have spawned some great storytellers.
My first contact with them was via surf competitions. I started working from home long before I started listening to podcasts. Around 2008 I discovered all surf competitions were broadcast online, and that they lasted for days at a time. Surf competitions consist almost entirely of a couple of surfers floating out in the water for hours between waves.
I used to turn on the surf comp just to listen to the commentators—sometimes washed out pros, and sometimes former champions, but never slick media professionals—talk while I worked. Good commentators could fill twelve hours with stories about waves, surf trips, airline disasters, hospital visits, drug problems, party gossip—anything and everything. They were essentially doing hours-long podcasts seasoned with occasional live-action wave commentary.
I miss those days before surf competitions were professionalized and media-trained, slick commentary became the norm because those early web commentators were my companions through years of working from home. Certainly, though, even here in no-attention-span 2021, the great surfing storytellers are still out there.
Surfers telling stories on video
Unsurprisingly, some have found their way to social video, like the creators of these two clips.
This first one features Paul Fisher who got his start as a mid level pro surfer willing to do anything in front of the camera. He turned his camera antics and surf industry connections into a friendship with Brody Jenner, and ultimately became one of the top booking EDM musicians on the planet: Fisher. Here he is telling a classic fishing tale:
Watch it for the irreverent Australian dialect, but stay for the line “Are we gonna make it?” … “We’re fucked!”
The next one is from Ivy Miller. She also didn’t quite climb to the top of surfing’s competitive heap but has managed to kick up an online following with her own brand of viral videos consisting largely of skits where she plays multiple characters.
The other day she decided to “go live” on Instagram and share her solo rotisserie chicken meal with the world. It takes her a couple of minutes to warm up, but by the time you get to the mint ice cream, you’ll wish you could invite Ivy on your next road trip. (sadly Substack doesn’t unfurl instagram videos so you have to hit that link up above). Seven minutes in, she starts talking about doing a podcast and isn’t sure whether she can shoot the shit for that long before proceeding to entertain 300 people for half an hour.
Surfers telling stories in podcasts
I haven’t really gotten into the world of surfing podcasts, yet. I know they exist, and there might even be good ones. So I asked Reddit and Twitter. The only worthwhile response I got was from a surf friend on Twitter who wrote:
So I decided to listen.
Holy shit what have I been waiting for! The linked episode is a fun story about poor drug choices taken by young a surf journalist on endless series of overseas junkets. The show’s hosts are clearly comfortable behind the mic, the storytelling is first rate, and the added music and editing means they take the show seriously.
Most of the episodes have incredible storytelling, but they don’t take time to explain surf jargon or humor, so they aren’t a good fit for a wider audience. Hang on a sec, if I’m not going to make recommendations you’ll actually like, who is this newsletter even for? Me or you? Score one for Jon.
Surfers telling stories in books
Finally how about books? You know I love a good book especially when I can listen to it. Would you ever read a book about surfing? If you’re the slightest bit curious, do it. They have the important elements of storytelling—good characters, great settings, high stakes.
1) Barbarian Days. It’s the best-told story ever of a surfing life. It transcends the genre. You might even have read it since it won a somethingerother prize—Pulitzer.
2) In Search of Captain Zero. It’s a non-fiction, Hunter S. Thompson style tail of drug smuggling and lost friendship with surfing along the way. The movie based on the book was a C- but the book is a solid A.
3) Welcome to Paradise, Now Go to Hell. Chas Smith has always been my favorite surf journalist. He brings the perfect blend of who-invited-you and should’ve-been-here-yesterday cynicism to his writing. He makes me laugh every time. This book tells the story of the big business of North Shore surfing (billion dollar lifestyle companies) and the violence and mafia-like practices that go with it. Reading it helped me understand what our sport appropriates when it arrives upon distant shores.
That’s it! Do any of you surf? Tell me at least one of you surfs. We can be surfing, podcast buddies.
ps. Oh you thought I wasn’t going to shout out LWC this week? You thought wrong. Get your wallet out and donate right now. Here’s the link: https://www.podcastingseriously.com/fund
I’ve already explained it four times, but I’m patient. I’m just sitting in bed anyway:
LWC Studios launched the The Podcasting, Seriously Awards Fund to support independent BIPOC, Queer and Trans audio producers in submitting their work to media/journalism awards.
Basically they pay the submission fees (which, before I started Timber, I didn’t even imagine that you would have to pay to win an award, but that’s another story) for these indie podcasters.