I did this interview for me. I had spoken to Chas Smith once before – right after he got into all kinds of hot water for quoting Mick Fanning using anti-Semitic language at a house party on the North Shore. And I’ve followed his work pretty closely since. When an article called Tales of a Fucking Jew appears in a surf magazine, it tends to grab attention. Especially from Jews. So I’ve followed him with interest, because unlike most of the words published beside gorgeous images of dudes in the ocean in glossy mags, his aren’t usually boring. He twice shat on The Inertia, which I was excited to discuss with him, and two weeks ago, we spoke through a phone line connecting me in Venice, California to him in San Diego. The call only dropped once. Between discussing details of his new book Welcome to Paradise, Now Go To Hell, beatings on the North Shore, the injustice of Andy Irons’ tale, and why he hates his first wife, ’twas a good talk. And now, we’re best buds. ‘Til the next episode.
Well, congratulations on finishing up your book. I really enjoyed it.
Thanks. I enjoyed your review. It was a good, solid, honest review, which is more fun for me to read than just fluff or any other kind.
Well, honestly, I kinda just wrote a review about myself.
Ha. That’s the best kind. The best kind to do.
Well, the whole time I was reading I just thought about myself and how I processed similar experiences on the North Shore, and how I would have gone about the same task. I don’t know if that was the intention or not. Whether it’s because I write about surfing. Or whether it’s how you write – how you make yourself such a prominent character in your stories. For better or worse, I think it forces people to think about themselves.
I think a lot of people see that as pure narcissism. It’s hard to explain why I do what I do maybe, but I feel it gets to the heart of it more, and it’s way more honest if my point of view is really specific, because then the reader can have a specific point of view as well.
Do you agree with the idea that you’re more interesting than 95% of the surfers you interview?
I mean, yeah. And not because I think I’m – well – I guess I think I’m pretty fascinating. Even outside of that, I think surfers for whatever reason, and maybe even it gets more specific to contemporary surfers – I think they’re such one trick ponies, right? All they know is performance surfing. Everything outside of the water seems pretty dull. And they surf amazingly, but that’s all they do. And so, therefore, to me, most of them are not very interesting.
It seems like you wanted to get into trouble on the North Shore. Do you think you succeeded?
It’s weird. I thought going in and writing about it at all was going to cause trouble. I didn’t necessarily want to get into any more trouble than just that. I wanted to be honest. I wanted to paint a picture. Or a lot better picture than the way it really feels than anything I had read before. People think I maliciously shit stir, and that’s why I have a bad reputation, and I do shit stir. But it’s only ever, or at least I think it’s only ever, to get to a story. Sometimes you have to poke a little. With the North Shore, not even poking it would get a story. And I have gotten flack for it, but not as much as I thought I would, to be honest.
So are you satisfied with the result? You took the initiative. You had the balls to do it, and this was the first valiant effort that I’ve seen at reporting on time spent on the North Shore with that sort of candor. In hindsight, how do you feel about the project?
I knew I wasn’t writing the history of the North Shore. There are people who do that, and do it amazingly. Like Matt Warshaw is a genius at that style of writing. That’s never been the kind of writing that I do so I didn’t pretend that was the kind of writing I’d do with the book. I did a snapshot of 24 hours on the North Shore. And I knew that parts of it were going to feel dated as soon as I finished it, but I didn’t care. I wanted to write this quick bang. In and out. And this is the way it feels. And the brand stuff and some of the characters I knew would be dated, but I didn’t care about that. I think the overall feeling, I feel I captured it. In hindsight, I think I did a good job with this first kind of brush, and I would really love for somebody else to pick up the ball and really do the real history – there are so many damn characters out there. There are so many stories, and I just knew that that wasn’t the book I was going to write.
Which is a long ways to say, I feel good about what I did, because it’s what I set out to do. That’s the book that came out, I guess.
So tell me about Eddie Rothman beating up Graham Stapelberg, then VP of Marketing at Billabong that winter. That’s kind of the glue of the book.
I knew when that happened – that was the season I chose to write the book – and as soon as that happened, I knew that I had what I needed because to carry the book, because that incident to me sums up everything that the North Shore is. It turns stuff on its head. I thought it was going to be a lot harder to get that story out of people than it was – or particularly out of Eddie. But Eddie was super open about it, which surprised me because I’m used to talking to real tight-lipped surfers who don’t like to spill any kinds of beans. Eddie had no problems telling the story up one side and out the other.