Sep 13, 2020

From Jonathan


Hi Paul,
The only surfing I've been doing this smokey summer has been in my head. 
I transcribed a hand-written letter I sent you in 2015 when I was traveling in New Zealand, which you printed here in all it's chicken-scratch illegibility. I thought you might like to offer it again in a readable form, with a photo that matches the day, and a photo/link to the man I was writing about, who's well worth knowing a little more about. 
Since the Surfer article was written, Phil has sold his eco-retreat (with prescient timing), and is devoting himself full time to environmental activism for our oceans. A good man. He even kept up with mat surfing, after this audacious introduction....

  Indicator walls ...


Hi Paul,

How are you? Hope my writing is legible. No spellcheck either! The facade of literacy is stripped away.

It’s beautiful here, everything I’d hoped for. I’m living in a little Schack (my name for it). No electricity, propane stove, wind whistling through the cracks… no city hum, no mobile reception, just birds, wind, occasional distant “moos” and sheep bleats. Already without internet I see my reading attention span returning- so stoked! Going to sleep at sundown & getting up at sunrise(ish).

The first week I was travelling with a friend-of-a-friend I just met, doing tourist stuff, de-emphasizing surfing for her sake. Hard though- the weekend we got here, the swell was pumping. I did manage a mat surf though, on the second morning, which prompts this letter. Not a report though- an anecdote….

A knock on our room’s door. It’s Phil, owner of Solscape, a thriving eco-retreat here in Raglan and an old friend. Phil began surfing as an adult a few decades ago, and has become quite a charger, blessed to learn in such a consistent, quality wave zone. He’s pretty fearless, and a bit macho. And this day, for some reason, he’s asking if he can have a go at a mat. Whoa! He’s always taken the piss out of me (in a friendly way) about riding mats. Er- OK, sure Phil!

We check Manu Bay. It looks perfect for mats, but it’s crowded (it’s a Saturday). But Phil isn’t feeling it. He’s an Indicator’s guy- a much more challenging ride- bigger, longer, faster, more walled. Pretty hard on a mat!

And yes, it’s a LOT bigger! Sets are well overhead. And it’s high tide. The shore break is SLAMMING against the lava rocks, the current is intense, guys are paddling for their lives, and it ain’t clean or perfect at all- YIKES!

And that’s where Phil wants to have his first-ever mat surf.

Why didn’t I put the brakes on this stupidity? Partly trying to save face, partly trying to keep up with Phil (who has a history of “challenging” me this way), and maybe just a hint of wanting to “challenge” him back!

As we puffed up our mats and put on our fins, I dolefully recalled the part of your Rider’s Guide suggesting it’s be good to pick slightly larger surf for your first go-out, to benefit from having a little push (or however you put it)….

Anyway, there we were, looking at overhead walls from about 15’ above sea level. We jumped in at The Keyhole (the one safe in/out spot, as tiny as it sounds), and powered out. My heart was pounding, and I could see Phil was getting a vertical learning curve on navigating an inflatable. Considering what we had been watching from the shore, we got very lucky paddling out- a decent lull (that I had no faith would be repeated… and wasn’t!).

We were wide to the side of the takeoff zone, but as it turns out, in about the right spot for the biggest swing-wide bomb sets- maybe a bit too far in, actually! And sure enough, right when we caught our breath, a MONSTER set came through. Picture it: eight foot face, lime green, choppy sidecar opaque wall- zero taper, just a solid wall hundreds of yards long climaxing in those awful lava rocks! We paddled like mad, barely making it over the first one, even further back from the second one. It was huge! What the hell was I doing out here, and what about poor Phil? What had I gotten him into?

And here’s the third wave, already peeling from the top of the point, gobbling all paddlers and drop-in attempts 100 yards up the line. It’s feathering 50 feet in front of us… we might just make it over- just-

and… there’s Phil, turning around and going for it! I’ll never forget the look on his face- psychotic glee- and how huge that wave was, and how LATE it was- crumbling over him, just his face, arms and hands visible. I screamed a broken Gyuto Monk harmonic as I punched through, made it over the last wave, and turned to scan the inside…

He friggin’ made it!  He was down the line a fair bit, still had the thing, and was flip-floppin’ slowly back out.

Phil caught a few more waves that morning, and lost the mat for a good long time too- I should ask him about that…. I don’t know if he caught the bug (he was enjoying paddling up to his mates showing off, I think, what an absurd thing he was doing), but the fact that he tried it at all was something of a paradigm shift.

Anyways, more later. Hope all is well with you and Gloria.


Jonathan ... AKA Tusked Beast