Monday, September 13, 2010

ALL GONE: The oil's still there, only the media has dissipated

That didn't take long. What with the spill 'contained' and the oil gone (not really, as this post shows) the media's back to VMAs and Q'uran burning psych-outs and all the other nonsense that keeps us distracted so we can go back to not carrying about the Gulf Coast. That's what The Powers That Be always do in with places they deem inferior. What follows is the unedited text of what Surfing ran from my ISD trip with Patrick Ruddy. (Thanks for the photo, Pat.) I figured our nation would soon forget, just not this quickly. Now what got clipped seems more important than what ran. I've bolded that stretch for your convenience (and maybe just to yell a little more):

These beaches are clean.

For four days, that’s all we hear. But what folks say, and what you see — what you smell, inhale and gag-on — are two different things. And you can spot the bullshit from a mile away.

Or in this case, a mile up. Flying in over Pensacola Bay, brown ribbons of sheen flow out like a diarrhea slick. And the close-up is even grosser. Drive into Alabama, white sugar turns to brown stain just above the shoreline. The air turns to petrol fumes you can smell from the parking lot. And last summer’s circus turns to this season’s desert.

Miles of sand. Buckets of sunshine. Dozens of chairs. But no takers. Except for the work crews — wearing gloves, raking tar-pebbles into plastic bags to stuff in front-end loaders and, later, incinerators. The only bright-colored floats are containment booms, orange-and-yellow barriers that keep the slick from going upstream — but do little to keep it from running up the coast.

Already, one Panhandle surfer’s been treated for skin burns and cornea damage. In Seaside Beach, kids come out of the water covered in oil, only to find paper towels instead of public warnings. Walton County spends $1.25 million dollars of BP payola — not to clean up the mess, but to convince Tennessee tourists to taste the good life at a cheap price. Meanwhile, back in Alabama, the Governor spends his Father’s Day weekend screaming, “Y’all come on down!” into TV cameras (then whispers, “use your best judgment” when it comes time to swim).

Taking a boat to the pass, a family chooses to frolic just off the marina. Trailer park MILF, bikini shallow, burning Marlboro 100s. Dad’s floating on his back with a Busch Light on his belly. Two toddlers spit water in each other’s faces.

“No sheen!” they scream, oblivious to the boom line a mile away.

They’re not backward — just ignorant. But for most Americans, being clueless — and a bit quirky — is still reason enough to condemn.

Would we care more if it were a different species? Not of pelican or turtle — but of human? If the people of the Gulf were all pretty and perfect? Rich and powerful? If they weren’t like the reefer-smoking Rasta sneaking rum from a Starbuck’s cup. Or the guy casting lines buck-naked in a lightning storm. If they weren’t like… this woman. Bra-less, black-toothed. Babbling ‘bout her bad back. Sporting a soiled pink elephant novelty hat, pulling cans from random park trashcans to eek by. Apparently, she and her husband are more disposable than the aluminum shells they shovel behind them and carry off for better use.

Is that the problem? God, I hope not. Because that means surfers. Locals. Tourists. Beach bums of every stripe. We’re disposable, too.

That may be the ultimate lesson of this whole disaster. How greed conquers all. It’s not just Big Oil sacrificing irreplaceable green marshlands to preserve precious black gold. But the equally callous coastal towns who, facing a catastrophic summer season, willingly urge man, woman and child into a toxic cocktail of spilled slick and cancerous dispersant — the type of chemicals that twist today’s chromosomes into tomorrow’s cretins — as long as it keeps the vacation dollars multiplying. A sweep-it-under-the-rug sales pitch straight from Jaws where the town fathers tell their own kind that everything’s safe — all because you can’t see the shark. Until it’s too late.

This situation’s just as dangerous, huge, and mean. Only this one’s invisible. And that’s what these towns are banking on. That’s why the work crews spend 12-hour shifts scraping tar off the main beaches. It’s not to keep you safe — it’s to keep you stupid. Cruise to a stretch of Condo-free coast, and it’s impossible to reach the water without touching some tacky piece of prune-sized putty with the texture of fruit filling and the smell of asphalt. Proof we’ve finally found a way to pave the ocean.

And this is only the beginning. The leading edge of a disaster with no end in sight and no answers of what to do next. BP’s CEO just paid out 1000 “I don’t knows” to the U.S. Senate. And for once, he’s being honest. Nobody knows nothing.

Nobody’s even tested for “topkill” for a month — how can they tell what it will do over time? That gradual influx of foreign chemicals and unseen contaminants. The sheen before the sheen.
Will it enter the loop current and move up the coast? Will it streak west and show the true meaning of messing with Texas? Will it circumnavigate the globe, silent but deadly?

And how long, can we surfers hold out? How many ISD’s can we spend skating and waking in some backwater bayou? How many summers can we stand in burning sand, sizing up all that suspiciously clear saline — flames of torture and desire licking our senses, sweat soaking our bodies — before we finally break down? Duck-diving and pulling in with our eyes wide open.

Truth be told, if the right wave peaked among that cluster of tarballs, I’d paddle out and pay later. Telling myself it ain’t all that bad. Not because I believed it— but because the alternative is too painful. Like losing money is too painful for businessmen. Like losing elections is too painful for politicians. Just like those poor pelicans who see a sketchy patch of water and can’t help but land. It’s in our nature. So we repeat to ourselves and everyone else what we wish was true, no matter how false it is. Because it’s those crazy lies that keep us from going insane — even if it kills us in the end.

So fuck the truth. And your surf spot, your lifestyle, and your health. And fuck your two-headed baby. Just keep telling yourself: “These beaches are clean.”

Editor’s note: three days after ISD, tar coated 8 miles of Pensacola Beach. One week later, 400 sought medical care in Escambia County.

Monday, June 28, 2010

TARBALL DISCOUNT: One man’s environmental disaster is another’s economic opportunity

Somewhere under a Gulf Shores pavilion, Alabama Governor Bob Riley is sweating tarballs. Not just because it’s 100 degrees and the ocean’s an unsympathetic, oily mess. But because beach tourism is down 50% and fixing to plummet further. So when he’s not sweating, he’s pitching. Pleading into a row of boom mikes and news cameras. Praying that mainstream masses turn a blind eye to all the oily pelicans on their TV screens and come sit on the white sugar spoonfuls of his otherwise soiled coastline. Unfortunately, “you’ll get used to the diesel smell” isn’t much of a sales pitch. Neither is “tarball bocci.” So he paints a fantasy of waterparks without lines. Dining rooms without waits. Hotels with massive pools and miniscule prices. Or as his PR partner-in-crime Senator Dick Shelby puts it: “Alabama is a heck of a bargain right now!”

You can’t blame the fellas. Coastal businesses are hurting. But there’s something sketchy about “protectors of the people” encouraging their greater constituency to visit an area where oil sheens come and go without warning — along with dispersants known to cause organ damage and potential reproductive harm — then saying “use your best judgment” when it comes time to swim. And the approach is straight-up shameless. A pitiful mix of patriotic guilt-trip and street-corner begging.

“Don’t’ be scared to spend your dollars! Y’all come down to Alabama!”

That’s actually the first lady — baby in arms to complete the image of the heartbroken grandma. But it’s the tourist bureau that busts out with the big guns, reading a letter from a lifetime visitor who says he enjoys the people and restaurants even more than the beach. And he’ll be back this summer because “that’s the American thing to do.”

He’s right. That is the American thing to do: to try and make a buck no matter how oil-stained, green washed, or just plain evil. Somewhere in Tennessee, Myrtle Beach is running ads to lure Louisiana’s usual tourists — whetting the appetites of still more other East Coast towns eager to cannibalize each other’s markets. In Florida, Spirit Airlines is mixing oil-slicked bikinis and bad puns to keep folks flying down. And the closer you get to ground zero, the more hard-sell things get.

In a single Saturday, I met . . .

A tour leader moaning that his annual baseball camps of 3000 kids are now down to 60. (That’s 2940 pre-teens who may not to be tempted to play catch in mix of petroleum and the neurotoxin pesticide meant to keep it under the surface.)

A hot chick armed with 500 ‘Cool Pouches’ — basically pre-folded towels, bunched at the ends and packed with ice — that she’s selfishly handing out to cleanup crews and members of the press (in hopes that we’re feeling just as generous).

And let’s not forget the folks at Crown LLC. Who, in their mission to “reclaim the Earth’s natural resources . . ..harmed in our quest for energy independence” wasted no time in developing a special machine that sifts oil from sand right on the beach. “Take all the pictures you want!” invites the president. (He says he laments the tragedy, but seems more troubled that NBC still won’t come see their demo.)

And that’s just one beach park. Drive east to Pensacola, you’ll find more signs saying “tarball discount” than “biohazard.” In Walton County, they’re spending a cool $1.25 million of BP’s payola on fresh spots — TV spots, not oil spots. And be sure to visit Seaside Florida, the town where reports of an unforeseen oil slick put authorities on red alert — not to warn citizens, but to threaten activists and reporters with arrest for spreading the news.

So, hate BP all you want, but they ain’t the only money-grubbing, black soul on the block. And that’s the scariest lesson of this whole damn debacle. From ‘tophat’ to ‘top kill’ it’s not the environmental toll making calls – it’s economics. Otherwise, a judge wouldn’t reverse the six-month deep-will moratorium, putting irreplaceable natural resources at risk to save the very industries that threaten it. Otherwise, Obama himself would stop the insanity once and for all with a new, federal moratorium. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here either. Racing around looking for ‘compelling images.’

Sure, my end goal may be pure, but the means to that end requires selling mags and driving web traffic. And I’m far from alone. When a movie cameraman sneaks up to poach our carefully crafted photo, a media catfight ensues. (Apparently the makers of “The Cove” smell fresh blood.) He skulks off, then turns.

“We’re all the same here, bro!” he shouts over his shoulder: “All we’re trying to do is our jobs!”

How true.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

ENERGY PIMPS: MMS looks to ho-out Atlantic coast, even as the Gulf takes a beating

“The U.S. Department of the Interior protects America’s natural resources and heritage, honors our cultures and tribal communities, and supplies the energy to power our future.”

That’s how the DOI describes itself. But I’ve got a better description: energy pimps. At least for its Mineral Management Service. After all, how else can you describe an organization who actively aims to exploit a fresh piece of coastal ass even as it’s wore-out beat up Louisiana hooker is bleeding to the tune of 200,000 gallons of oil per day. And when I say exploit. I mean exploit.

I just got back from the MMS meeting in Norfolk over seismic testing. The first round of battles that’ll go down before they get to drilling. Call it the foreplay before getting down to the real rude and crude business.

I heard the Governor of Virginia’s spokesperson open the hearing by calling the Gulf disaster a “setback.” I also heard an oil lobbyist shamelessly urge the MMS to push into the North Atlantic, even as they’re dealing with a spill large than Rhode Island. But the most salacious “hey baby” sales pitch of all came from the MMS smooth talkers themselves.

Not only did they downplay the damage to marine mammals that seismic guns cause and it’s effects on commercial fishing, they actually implied that finding oil and gas was only one small reason for exploring. A minor concern. A side note. Number 3 on a list of more noble motivators like understanding which bathymetry worked for windfarms or finding suitable sand for beach nourishment in case a hurricane rips our coast apart.

And as I watched them grease the room with a mix of false promises and fear, it came to me. They’re not just the pimps, they’re the hos. And the johns. Playing whatever role the energy lobbies and companies want – so long as they get paid. The only difference is, when the transaction’s made and the money changes hands, they strut away in their fine fancy suits – while we coastal residents get royally fucked.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

MECCA NO MORE: Cape Hatteras officially closed to surfers

April Fools.

Yeah, we know, websites live for this day to make up BS stories. The difference? This one could come true — at least, partially — as the National Park Service is in the final stages of determining how to handle ORV and Pedestrian Access along Cape Hatteras National Seashore. What they decide could close miles of some of the East Coast’ best sandbars during the most active times of year. And you only have until May 11 to make yourself heard by public comment.

It’s a complex issue – complete with an 810-page document -- so here’s the Cliff’s Notes:

On one side, you’ve got Audubon, Defenders of Wildlife and others looking to restrict the maximum number of miles to both beach driving and people. On the other, you’ve got fishermen, local business owners and a whole lot of angry locals screaming “all access, all the time.” The final decision will likely like somewhere in between. In fact, the NPS preferred recommendation -- Alternative F (sounds like a bad 80s techno band) -- mixes new parking zones with seasonal closures around several miles of ‘secret” sandbars, plus no night driving for most of the year.

Granted, we’re no experts, but of them all Alternative C seems to preserve the most possible access to the best surfing areas for the most time, while keeping some common sense ideas in place. (On an island filled with drive-thru beer stores, maybe requiring ORV permits will keep a few drunken yahoos from burying their Escalade in a turtle nest.)

The point is: if you care, check out the document and take the time to voice your opinion. Be sure to speak up for surf access specifically. You can also list your preferred alternatives in order.

Also, since there’s been no real scientific study connecting ORVs with bird mortality — except the federal vehicle that ran over a nest a few years back — and 88% of deaths is attributed to weather and predators, demand the NPS keep studying how these closures are affecting species survival in hopes of looser, more reliable restrictions in the future. And if you live in one of the following areas – or just have the free time to drive -- attend one of the five hearings below.

Whatever you do, speak out. Now. To do anything else would be foolish.


Ocracoke, NC – Monday, April 26, 2010, 9:00 am to 11:00 am
Ocracoke School, 1 Schoolhouse Road, Ocracoke, NC 27960
(Doors open at 8:30 am for sign-in, the meeting will begin at 9:00 am)

Buxton, NC – Monday, April 26, 2010, 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm
Cape Hatteras Secondary School, 48576 Hwy. 12, Buxton, NC 27920
(Doors open at 4:30 pm for sign-in, the meeting will begin at 5:00 pm)

Kill Devil Hills, NC – Tuesday, April 27, 2010, 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm
Wright Brothers National Memorial First Flight Centennial Pavilion,
1000 Croatan Hwy., M.P. 7 ½, Kill Devil Hills, NC 27948
(Doors open at 5:30 pm for sign-in, the meeting will begin at 6:00 pm)

Raleigh, NC – Wednesday, April 28, 2010, 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm
McKimmon Conference & Training Center (NC State University Campus),
1101 Gorman Street, Raleigh, NC 27695
(Doors open at 5:30 pm for sign-in, the meeting will begin at 6:00 pm)

Hampton, VA – Thursday, April 29, 2010, 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm
Holiday Inn & Conference Center,
1815 West Mercury Boulevard, Hampton, VA 23666
(Doors open at 5:30 pm for sign-in, the meeting will begin at 6:00 pm)

Coalition for Beach Access is holding work shops on making informed public comments at the following Outer Banks workshops:
Tue., April 13, 6:30pm – BUXTON, Cape Hatteras Secondary School
Wed., April 14, 7:00pm – OCRACOKE, Community Building
Thur., April 15, 6:30pm – KILL DEVIL HILLS, First Flight High School

Learn more

Saturday, March 13, 2010

SUPERFREAK TO THE RESCUE: Slates joins the World Surfing Reserves Movement

Okay, it's hardly a shocker. Our legendary 9-time champ's used his huge influence -- and wallet -- to help in a variety of fights, whether raising dough to save Trestles or writing letters to preserve access on Hatteras. This time, he's joined forces with World Surfing Reserves, which aims to protect the planet's most revered surf zones by granting them a holy status of say Jerusalem. (Or at least, Graceland.) But whatever it is, we back it. And we back Kelly -- surfing's fitter, soberer answer to Elvis -- for throwing his weight around on surfing's behalf.

Get the full Press Release below. And stay tuned for updates on Surf-First's data crunching efforts to protect every US break. Because not all of us can make the drive to Graceland.

Kelly Slater Joins World Surfing Reserves Movement

First trio of World Surfing Reserves to be in Australia, California,
and Hawaii

13 March 2010

Bondi Beach, Australia - Nine-times World Surfing Champion Kelly Slater joined National Surfing Reserves founder Brad Farmer to announce his endorsement for the World Surfing Reserves program, and that 2010 will be the year of global surf spot enshrinements. In announcing this historic year for surf-spot preservation, Slater stated, "This is a pretty exciting thing for me to be a part of and support. It's almost mind-numbing that [WSR] hasn't happened yet, especially in Hawaii, the birthplace of surfing."

World Surfing Reserves seeks to identify and enshrine the most important and cherished surf areas around the world, in partnership with local surf communities. World Surfing Reserve (WSR) sites are nominated and selected based on four major criteria: quality and consistency of waves, importance to surf culture and history, environmental characteristics, and community support.

The naming of the specific WSR sites is anticipated soon, according to Dean LaTourrette, Executive Director of the California-based Save The Waves Coalition, which launched the World Surfing Reserves program in 2009, in conjunction with National Surfing Reserves Australia.

Several surf areas in Australia, California, and Hawaii have been proposed for enshrinement as initial WSRs. These were selected from over 125 iconic beaches nominated from 34 countries. The nominations include sites like North Narrabeen and Manly Beach in Australia, Malibu and Santa Cruz in California, and Waikiki and Oahu's North Shore in Hawaii, in addition to many others around the world.

Beyond its cultural and aesthetic significance, each WSR is a meeting of land and sea selected for the unique and salutary nature of its waves and natural setting. The dedication of each WSR seeks the protection of this coastal zone of waves and habitat from wanton destruction and exploitation - through no other mechanism but the positive force of appreciation and valuation.

On hand at the Bondi announcement was Brad Farmer, founder of Australia's National Surfing Reserves (NSR) program, which enshrines exceptional and culturally significant waves and beaches in Australia. The NSR program has been an inspiration and model for the global WSR effort.

"Today," Farmer announced, "I join Kelly in announcing that spots in Hawaii, California, and Australia are finalists to become World Surfing Reserves." He added that, "In Australia, the three finalists are Margaret River (WA), the Gold Coast (QLD), and a Sydney (NSW) beach."

Farmer said that Australia's Prime Minister will announce the final decision in June and that, "we expect that beach to be dedicated as a WSR in October 2010."

Today at Bondi, Farmer and Slater also announced the launch of a new NSR website (, which offers access to this exciting new vision of respect and valuation to beach-lovers all over the world. This new site, combined with Save The Waves' WSR site ( provides further details on the global surfing reserves movement.

For more information:

Friday, February 12, 2010

SWELL-FARE?: When surfers charge south, shouldn’t airlines charge less?

So I’m off on a trip. Not saying where, but you probably know. (Hell, half of you are already there.) Either way, the last-minute air purchase forced me to once again confront that most enraging of surf-activism issues: board charges.

Now, this topic’s been played to death as THE hot-button discrimination fight of the past decade or so. (You don’t charge for golf clubs! You don’t charge for skis!) But in the time of the Great Recession, they do. They also charge for Pepsi. Peanuts. I’m betting seat belts, pilots and cabin pressure are next. (The rest of us will be handed an oxygen mask, stuck in a giant catapult and aimed toward the horizon.) But there are upsides to such almost-equal-opportunity price gouging: a) airlines are beginning to wake up to competing in terms of how much it costs to fly your bags as yourself b) it makes it harder to complain. And when you lose the ability to whine you’re more likely to act.

So here’s how I acted: instead buying a ticket off Delta from my closest airport, I drove two extra hours to spend three bucks more for an Air Tran ride. Why? Because I hate lying. And the only thing I hate more than lying is paying $100 bucks a board each way compared to $79 a bag. So, instead of Delta making $1000; they lost $350. (Yeah, I’m using names: good actions deserve praise; screw jobs deserve punishment. So, once more: Air Tran rules, Delta drools.)

Luckily, this is the exact type of free market shit that gives CEOs and bean counters bloody, kneebuckling ulcers. (Good, you deserve it, heartless worshippers of mammon ) So if I was Delta’s CEO (douchebag), I’d do something about it. Like try to figure out when surfers would be converging on a given area and adjust my board charges. It shouldn’t be too hard: check the swell maps, see the blob, follow the arrows. Too busy? Slip an air trafficker $50 on the side to pay attention. (Those guys are the best multi-taskers in the business.) Or hire a forecaster. Or just pay some egghead to write a simple program that when the swell models lined up, the board charges disappeared. Or at least dropped to single bag fare.

If it’s “so easy a surfer can do it?” why can’t an airline? Do it enough times, they may even see it makes sense to stop charging entirely (or at least as much). Or not. Till then, surfers should just have fun boycotting the badboys. If there’s a better feeling than saving some cash, it’s screwing an airline for a change.

Remember: despite the anti-drilling rages defending Mother Ocean the past year, the primary purpose of Surf-First is defending surfer’s most selfish interests and I’d argue cold cash and cheap travel are almost as crucial as clean water, which is why we included surf trips and board charges in our survey. Don’t worry: we’re still crunching data and will update with some numbers ASAP.

Thanks to Political Graffiti for the cartoon.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

ANOTHER GIFT THAT WILL KEEP ON GIVING: Surf-First’s Scott Wagner has a holiday present for all of us

‘Twas the week before Christmas and not a creature was stirring….except 28-year-old Scott Wagner, who’s busy sorting ages, incomes and other bits from 5600 American waveriders. But Wagner’s no brow-beaten Bob Cratchit. He’s Surf-First’s official new man, helping Surfrider’s Chad Nelsen distill all the data. As an SDSU econ grad student and lifelong San Clemente local, tackling Surf-First’s first survey is a dream job for Scott — and a giant gift for all US surfers, who’ll one day use the info to protect their homebreaks. So cheers to Scott for the holiday overtime — and here’s to even more happy new years to come. Here’s why:

SURF-FIRST: Being from San Clemente, did the role of economics in saving Trestles pique your interest in the project at all?
SCOTT WAGNER: What got me active in the Trestles campaign was just straight-up malice in my San Clemente heart. But I’ve always thought every decision was based on economics — that’s why I pursued my degrees —and I feel like using this information to make a case for conservation on surfing areas is both new and fun. And I think it has a future.

Have you scanned any of the info yet? Anything to report?
I can’t generalize off the top of my head. Over the next couple of weeks I’ll know more. But I can say there’s a wide range of ages, habits and incomes. Actually, one thing I can say is I was surprised to some very high incomes. But I always try to go into these things with no expectations — as cheesy as that sounds.

The two that stuck out to me was seeing an 80-something from — coincidentally — Old Man’s and then a 13 year-old from someplace in Minnesota. How hard will it be to turn that range of user groups into something cohesive?
Well, for now we’re looking at doing summary statistics and describing populations by nation, state, region and surf spot — and with modern statistical programs that’s pretty simple. The most tedious part will be going over everything before inputting the data to make sure we don’t have any crazy responses that don’t belong.

Do we need to worry about you swaying the results?
If I see more than a few responses from 13-year-old kids getting high under lifeguard tower, maybe I’ll erase those. Keep the most respected individuals representing the population. [laughs]

Good work. Now, assuming we get this done by spring, what will you do when you finish up?
Well, I do have another job with the Southwest Consortium for Environmental Research and Policy. I like the whole research field. It’s like those CSI-type investigative shows, but really nerdy and without all the killing and the rape. But I say we just promote the hell out of this thing, then sell the information to make shitload of money, give half of it to Surfrider, then use the rest to go on a killer surf trip.

That would work except for we promised from the very start not to sell any info.
Oh. I didn’t see that part.

Anything else you’d like to say?
Oh yeah — hell, yeah — congrats to Greg Long for winning the Eddie. And congrats to Tanner and Pat Gudauskas and Nate Yeomans for making the WCT. So sick to see San Clemente kicking ass.