Surfing World - - Introduction - By Sean Do­herty

For­mer pro surfer Jamie Brisick once mod­elled along­side Madonna for Rolling Stone. These days he’s a damn fine quills­man.

At a time when writ­ers are be­ing hunted to ex­tinc­tion and the Surf Writer’s Union can hold their an­nual gen­eral meet­ing in a phone box, a book about surf­ing just won the Pulitzer Fuck­ing Prize. In the midst of this con­fused Dali land­scape stands Jamie Brisick; a man of some re­fine­ment de­spite be­ing born a surfer, a man who wrote po­et­i­cally about the sav­agery of pro­fes­sional surf­ing, a man who left surf­ing to live in New York and ex­plore the myth­i­cal, pur­ported world out­side. He ven­tured boldly out into this civilised land, out onto the very fringes of him­self, but now finds him­self back in the bad­lands of surf­ing.

He’s been drawn back to surf­ing by the siren call of Westerly Win­d­ina, the surf­ing artist for­merly known as Peter Drouyn, the most com­plex and lay­ered and se­quined bi­og­ra­phy sub­ject any surf writer has ever had to cap­ture faith­fully in print. Only thing is that now Westerly has been rein­car­nated back into her pre­vi­ous in­car­na­tion, and it was Peter Drouyn who called Jamie and sum­moned him back from Cal­i­for­nia to doc­u­ment the lat­est twist in his story. And this is where we find Jamie.

We could say Jamie’s one of the finest writ­ers surf­ing has ever pro­duced, but that’s run­ning the risk of damn­ing him with faint praise. He’s a great writer, full stop, and like all great writ­ers he’s still evolv­ing. He’s a writer on the verge of de­liv­er­ing his life’s work. He’s also writer who is dis­cov­er­ing the most com­plex char­ac­ter he’s ever writ­ten about might well turn out to be him­self.

I can't work out if this is the Golden Age of Surf Writ­ing or it's dy­ing days.

SW: You’re over here on a film project, the Drouyn/westerly/drouyn doc­u­men­tary. It seems you may need to se­ri­alise the story and run it over a few sea­sons. JB: It’s in­ter­est­ing you say that, it al­most feels that way. We’ve been work­ing on the project for five years now, but it fi­nally feels like we’ve got it.

How would you char­ac­terise the ex­pe­ri­ence of writ­ing the Drouyn book? You know, as a writer it’s been by far the most in­ter­est­ing story I’ve ever been in­volved with. I’ve never met any­one more in­ter­est­ing than Westerly Win­d­ina/peter Drouyn. In Be­com­ing Westerly I wrote some­thing to the ef­fect of ‘Westerly is a kind of car­ni­val mir­ror, re­flect­ing back who we are in a kind of ex­ag­ger­ated man­ner.’and I still feel that way. The story is be­yond gen­der and more about iden­tity. In the be­gin­ning we thought, Okay, it’s about this man who’s be­come a wo­man, and now it’s be­come about a fas­ci­nat­ing char­ac­ter who tran­scends gen­der and it’s about life and per­for­mance, about where the lines be­tween the two are, and I think I’ve learned a lot about my­self along the way as a re­sult.

Look­ing back over the life of Peter Drouyn, his story was al­ways more the flu­id­ity of char­ac­ter than flu­id­ity of gen­der. Ab­so­lutely. I guess one of the big ques­tions is: How much are we per­form­ing? That quote by Shake­speare, “The whole world is a stage,” that’s some­thing that has be­come such a big theme. I guess I thought about it a lot be­fore. Grow­ing up in Los An­ge­les and close to Hol­ly­wood and watch­ing movies as a kid and know­ing a lot of ac­tors through­out my life, the idea of per­form­ing is some­thing I feel close to. Bring­ing it back to surf­ing, lov­ing pro surf­ing, know­ing a lot of pro surfers and hav­ing been one my­self, there’s the per­for­mance el­e­ment of surf­ing it­self, that idea of show­man­ship, but there is also the char­ac­ter that ev­ery­one who is in these surf mag­a­zines and surf movies cre­ate for them­selves, some of them sub­con­sciously and oth­ers more man­u­fac­tured. In the end there is that ques­tion: Do we dis­cover our­selves or do we cre­ate our­selves?

You’ve de­scribed your­self as a 50-year-old man-child… does that flu­id­ity of char­ac­ter ex­tend to your­self? Are you still evolv­ing? Are you de-evolv­ing? It’s funny this con­ver­sa­tion is kick­ing off on such a heavy note, and I don’t mean for it to be the way, but I’ve been grap­pling with these ques­tions a lot over the last cou­ple of years. I guess it hap­pens in a much lighter, more sub­con­scious man­ner. It’s not like every day I’m sit­ting here scratch­ing my chin and fur­row­ing my brow think­ing about this stuff, but it comes up a lot. I guess it’s all de­vel­op­ing. You know, I’m so grate­ful to surf­ing. I’ve been surf­ing more than I ever have in the last cou­ple of years, and it re­ally keeps the youth­ful spirit alive in­side of you. There’s so much ob­ses­sion with youth in our world and in our cul­ture, it’s as if get­ting old is a bad thing and I dis­agree with that a hun­dred per cent. But at the same time there’s a feel­ing in­side that’s giddy and light that we as­so­ciate with youth, and I’ve been feel­ing a lot of that, and I’ve been get­ting a lot of that through surf­ing.

Fifty, the new 30. 50 has al­ways seemed ab­so­lutely an­cient to me. When I was 20, to meet some­one who was 50, there was some­thing de­press­ing and over the hill about them, but be­ing here now I feel a light­ness. I still bounce around the street and imag­ine where I’d grind the trucks or do a lit­tle slash on my skate­board, all that stuff, but I guess I went through a pe­riod… look,

I was so im­mersed in surf­ing in my teens and twen­ties, and when I started work­ing for mag­a­zines and get­ting se­ri­ous about writ­ing I thought to my­self, I’ve got to make up for lost time here. I’d spent way too much time on the beach and spent too much time liv­ing this he­do­nis­tic life­style, and what I need to do is get into books and get into writ­ing. So I moved to New York and I lived there for 10 years, al­most in de­nial of who I was and where I’d come from. I was try­ing to com­pete with peo­ple who’d gone to great col­leges and spent the bulk of their years in­doors, read­ing and writ­ing. Now I’ve found my way back to surf­ing and I find my­self re­ally em­brac­ing it and I’m aware of how for­tu­nate I’ve been to have had that in my life.

You’ve writ­ten about other peo­ple a lot, and it’s some­thing you’ve re­ally got to put your­self out there to do. How well do you re­ally know any­one? What gives any­one the right to write about any­one else with any au­thor­ity when they don’t know them­selves… and you don’t even know your­self? I ab­so­lutely agree. How well do any of us know our­selves? One of the things that al­ways in­ter­ested me about be­ing a writer was the idea of be­ing ex­tremely em­pa­thetic, al­most able to en­ter an­other per­son’s world, sim­i­lar to what an ac­tor does in tak­ing on a char­ac­ter.

To try to un­der­stand some­one as deeply as you can, but maybe on some level that comes back to try­ing to un­der­stand your­self bet­ter too.

Is writ­ing about your­self eas­ier or harder than writ­ing about some­one else? It’s hard to say. One day I’ll feel like it’s all mas­tur­ba­tion, but I sup­pose go­ing into your­self gets you out of your­self to some level, and you parse and pick it apart and try and un­der­stand your life and by do­ing so you get a bet­ter per­spec­tive. You al­most need to be­come your own ther­a­pist and you al­most write a profile on this other per­son who is ac­tu­ally your­self. But it’s hard to say. Over the years of writ­ing pro­files of peo­ple I have of­ten won­dered if I’m be­ing too nice, or not say­ing ex­actly what I want to say for fear of hurt­ing them. When writ­ing about other peo­ple I have this bat­tle with my­self, but with mem­oir or per­sonal es­say I’ll hap­pily take my­self down. I’m not afraid pick my­self apart and re­veal my in­se­cu­ri­ties and the things we’re sup­posed to be ashamed of, and I feel there’s great lib­er­a­tion in that. I re­mem­ber be­ing younger and not hav­ing a broad range of friends and be­ing stuck in sub­ur­ban south­ern Cal­i­for­nia and ad­her­ing to cer­tain be­havioural mores or what have you, and then watch­ing co­me­di­ans like Ge­orge Car­lin or Richard Pryor just ab­so­lutely rip them­selves apart and ad­mit things that are usu­ally to­tally taboo, and by throw­ing that out there, by be­ing shame­less, they en­cour­aged ev­ery­one else to do the same, they made it okay to talk about the murk and weird­ness and per­ver­sion of hu­man­ity.

You’re al­ways fair game for your­self. Ex­actly.

Of all the peo­ple you’ve writ­ten about, who do you think you’ve got clos­est to un­der­stand­ing the essence of who they re­ally are? I would say Westerly. It’s been the deep­est im­mer­sion in a sub­ject I’ve ever had, and I’ve done it in long form, in a book. I wrote a 280-page book about Peter Drouyn and Westerly Win­d­ina, yet I prob­a­bly had the ma­te­rial to write a thou­sand pages.

You write a lot about your child­hood, and it’s in­fused with a warm nos­tal­gia that leads the reader to the in­evitable con­clu­sion that this kid’s got a great life ahead of him. It was a child­hood that seemed to hold so much prom­ise. Did it de­liver? That’s a good ques­tion. I feel so for­tu­nate for my child­hood in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. I came to skate­board­ing at a re­ally young age, and then to surf­ing, and it was the ‘70s and the ‘80s and it’s funny you men­tion that, be­cause I’ll of­ten step back and go, Man, I’m get­ting all nos­tal­gic for the past. What about right now? What is miss­ing from my present? I’ve had some rough times, for sure, but the sense of what I’m feel­ing now is re­ally great. But I just don’t have the per­spec­tive on it. I al­most feel like look­ing back at your­self – and this is from some­one who has spent a lot of time writ­ing mem­oir – look­ing back at my life, it’s al­most like I be­come some­one else. It’s not even re­ally me. I’m pars­ing and ex­am­in­ing and writ­ing sto­ries about this char­ac­ter. It’s al­most a kind of self-in­ven­tion, but it’s not like I’m be­ing dis­hon­est or ide­al­is­ing or ro­man­ti­cis­ing, but so many years have passed that my ner­vous sys­tem now is not the same ner­vous sys­tem of that per­son I’m writ­ing about, so it’s no longer this vis­ceral thing. At times it is, and you start writ­ing some­thing and it has emo­tional ref­er­ence and it hits you and it’s al­most like your stom­ach is mov­ing with it, but then with the re­vi­sions you start look­ing it as a writer in a tech­ni­cal sense and you start and you ask, “Am I ram­bling? Did

"There's so much ob­ses­sion with youth in our world and in our cul­ture, it's as if get­ting old is a bad thing and I dis­agree with that a hun­dred per cent."

I say that twice?” and then it’s al­most like you’re wear­ing a white gown in a lab­o­ra­tory with a mi­cro­scope, pick­ing at some­thing and the past sud­denly be­comes al­most cold. Writ­ing about my youth and teens, what does that say about me right now? It’s not like I had this great child­hood and now my life is shitty. If I’m lucky enough to live till I’m 70 I might be writ­ing about be­ing 50 in the same man­ner. These might be my golden years right now.

Surf­ing is painted as peren­ni­ally young, but most of the writ­ing about it is pointed back­wards at the past. I think about that as well and I don’t know why. Surf­ing is youth driven, and you open a surf mag and if you look at the faces they are young, and in a way ath­leti­cism favours that. But then the peo­ple doc­u­ment­ing it are largely older, so there’s an al­most in­evitable look-back thing. If we worked for a lit­er­ary jour­nal and we were talk­ing about the great writ­ers in his­tory or even the great ac­tors, you’d find you’d be writ­ing about Brando in his fifties, or Hem­ing­way in his for­ties. We wouldn’t write about them at 20. You wouldn’t be writ­ing about these young, trim, good look­ing and in­no­cent peo­ple. You’d be writ­ing about peo­ple with sto­ries.

You just wrote a book about a trans­gen­der surf­ing sa­vant who idolises Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe, a ge­nius who drove a taxi for years and was once al­most ab­ducted by a UFO. Is the rea­son there is so lit­tle great surf­ing fic­tion around be­cause the char­ac­ters that ex­ist in surf­ing are stranger than fic­tion could ever dream up? And where are those char­ac­ters to­day? My im­me­di­ate re­sponse is that there were more great char­ac­ters in the ‘60s and ‘70s than there are to­day. Of course, if I was 17 and pay­ing more at­ten­tion I might see more nu­ance to­day, whereas at my age and hav­ing lived through a gen­er­a­tion in which the char­ac­ters seemed larger than life, the con­tem­po­rary surf land­scape seems more vanilla, more bland, more ho­mogenised, but I don’t know. While the ‘90s felt like an era where it all turned cor­po­rate and stale and the char­ac­ters were stripped out of it, you had a guy like Andy Irons emerge. What an un­be­liev­able char­ac­ter. You had Kelly Slater emerge. That might be hap­pen­ing right now and we just don’t have the win­dow on it as we’re older and we’re not look­ing at it with as much won­der as a younger kid might.

But why don’t we see long form 10,000word pieces be­ing writ­ten about surfers to­day? Is it be­cause you don’t see 10,000 words writ­ten any­where? Is it be­cause there’s nobody who’ll ac­tu­ally read 10,000 words? Or is it be­cause there’s no one worth writ­ing 10,000 words on? Why don’t we see 10,000 words writ­ten on some­one, like, say, Dane Reynolds? That guy seems like a 10,000 words would only just scratch the sur­face. Surf­ing has be­come big busi­ness. In the process of sell­ing it­self to the masses it has wa­tered it­self down. There are a lot of pol­i­tics at work, a lot of dol­lars that stand be­tween the clean cut, user-friendly im­age and the real gritty sto­ries. Sadly that’s been the case for a long time, and I’m think­ing out loud here, but I re­mem­ber hav­ing this epiphany many, many years ago, when I was three or four years into work­ing for the mag­a­zines. I re­mem­ber driv­ing away from in­ter­view­ing some surfer at

"There's the per­for­mance el­e­ment of surf­ing it­self, that idea of show­man­ship, but there is also the char­ac­ter that ev­ery­one who is in these surf mag­a­zines and surf movies cre­ate for them­selves, some of them sub­con­sciously and oth­ers more man­u­fac­tured. At the end there is that ques­tion, do we dis­cover our­selves or do we cre­ate our­selves?"

the time, a fairly bland char­ac­ter, and think­ing as a writer, these guys I’m fas­ci­nated with and love to watch as surfers, what they have to of­fer that’s ex­tra­or­di­nary is the surf­ing it­self. It doesn’t al­ways trans­late into con­ver­sa­tion. They spent their years cul­ti­vat­ing their surf­ing tal­ent, so if you want to see them at their best you’d sit down and watch them surf, not sit down and lis­ten to them talk about it. There job is the do­ing, not the ar­tic­u­lat­ing.

Is there any surfer to­day you’ve got a burn­ing de­sire to write about? I love watch­ing and writ­ing about con­tem­po­rary surf­ing but I feel a bit re­moved at this point. I’m more in­ter­ested in peo­ple on the mar­gins of surf cul­ture, I guess, and I’m in­ter­ested in some of the older surfers who are past their ath­letic prime, watch­ing them nav­i­gate life. I was a pro surfer in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, and when I stopped do­ing that I was slapped in the face by re­al­ity. As Rab­bit put it beau­ti­fully, I “came back to civil­ian life” and it seemed rough. I knew that it was go­ing to be hard to find those highs again, and then I got in­ter­ested in read­ing and writ­ing and the arts, and I wanted to learn. I be­came cu­ri­ous in a way that I’d sti­fled as a pro surfer. Surf­ing is still a big part of my life, so I’m more in­ter­ested in surfers my age, guys I was on tour with like Tom Car­roll and Ross Clarke-jones. I look to them with the hope to learn. What does the ag­ing surfer do? How does he or she en­joy life? How do they keep go­ing? How does surf­ing fit into their lives?

Does writ­ing about surf­ing for so long – writ­ing about any one thing I sup­pose – make it seem one-di­men­sional to the point where you’d rather write about al­most any­thing else but surf­ing? I meet a lot of peo­ple who don’t surf, and over din­ner they’ll ask, “So, what do you do?” And I’ll say, “I’m a writer,”and they’ll ask, “What do you write about?” and I’ll shrug my shoul­ders and say, “Err, surf­ing,” and they’ll of­ten say, “How cool,” but on hav­ing writ­ten about surf­ing for 25 years now I feel I should have more range and a big­ger imag­i­na­tion than just this one thing. My first pub­lished pieces were for Waves and Tracks in the early ‘90s and I re­mem­ber even then I wasn’t read­ing surf mags at the time, I was read­ing fic­tion writ­ers, and I thought, Okay, I need to learn how to be a good writer and then I’ll ex­pand and I’ll be writ­ing nov­els and each novel will be about this dif­fer­ent sub­ject in this dif­fer­ent style and I’ll have this enor­mous range and I’ll be this lit­er­ary ge­nius. All this hubris and this to­tally ex­ag­ger­ated sense of my­self, but I re­mem­ber think­ing in my head, You know, by the time I’m 40 I’ve got to stop writ­ing about surf­ing, I’ve got to be out of it. And I guess what I failed to re­alise then is that surf­ing is a live or­gan­ism and it keeps grow­ing. I’m 50 now and I write about a lot of things, but surf­ing con­tin­ues to be a through line. I guess I feel burnt out on writ­ing about high per­for­mance surf­ing and the surfers that dom­i­nate the con­tests at this point, but I’ll write about an Academy Award nom­i­nated screen­writer or ac­tor in Los An­ge­les who hap­pens to be a surfer, and we’ll have this con­ver­sa­tion with surf­ing hum­ming along in the back­ground. And I think it’s just grow­ing up. I look at the peo­ple I’ve writ­ten about in the last cou­ple of years and they’re ac­tu­ally peo­ple I’ve dreamed of writ­ing about. I feel like I’m be­ing chal­lenged in my writ­ing… and yet there’s still surf­ing there. I sup­pose this is a good point for Bill Fin­negan to en­ter the con­ver­sa­tion. I joked with Fin­negan re­cently that he’d ru­ined the rep­u­ta­tion of surf writ­ers as the low­est form of lit­er­ary life… A rep­u­ta­tion we hadn’t worked very hard at all to achieve. You know Bill and his mem­oir, Bar­bar­ian Days well. How you think it changed the wider opin­ion of surf writ­ing and even surfers them­selves? I met Bill Fin­negan eight or nine years ago, but I’ll di­gress for a mo­ment. We know surf­ing well and we write for some of the same mag­a­zines and it’s not a hugely lu­cra­tive ca­reer. A while back I had the re­al­i­sa­tion that if I’m go­ing to be do­ing this thing that’s not go­ing to be earn­ing me a whole lot of money, I’m not go­ing to sit here and wait for the ed­i­tors to give me an as­sign­ment, I’m go­ing to go and find things that in­ter­est me and that I can maybe learn from and I’m go­ing to write about them. Wil­liam Fin­negan had writ­ten that piece, Play­ing Doc’s Games, and I read it and I thought that that was the gold stan­dard as far as surf writ­ing goes, and he lived in New York and I lived in New York at the time so I pitched the idea of do­ing an in­ter­view with him for The Surfer’s Jour­nal. I met him and we be­came friends. While he was writ­ing Bar­bar­ian Days, which has just won the Pulitzer Prize, we would have din­ners every few months and he’d talk about the writ­ing of it and he would say, “Oh, it’s go­ing to be a dis­as­ter” or “It’s not work­ing.” I’ve never been so close to watch­ing an artis­tic process that would go on to be­come a mas­sive suc­cess, see­ing it from the very be­gin­ning and see­ing the self doubt that even a guy of Bill’s stature ex­pe­ri­enced. It’s en­cour­ag­ing—it re­minds me to never give up on those projects close to the heart. But to get to your ques­tion, Fin­negan has raised the bar in a huge way. He’s changed the per­cep­tion of surfers. He’s made us look re­ally good.

Can you char­ac­terise the peo­ple who write about surf­ing? I was talk­ing about this with a friend re­cently, and it starts with a love of surf­ing. I think the pop­u­lar writ­ers we know, as kids they were sit­ting in­doors read­ing, and I don’t think that fits the mould of most surf writ­ers, who came to surf­ing first. There’s the out­doorin-the-sun­shine, bare­foot, he­do­nis­tic, play­ing-in-the-ocean el­e­ment to surf­ing that is the to­tal op­po­site of sit­ting alone in a room with a book.

The two crafts are at odds. I think most surf writ­ers start with a love of surf­ing, then a love a read­ing, then they start writ­ing. It’s very dif­fer­ent to find­ing the books first. For a long time I thought that surf­ing ev­ery­day was my birth right, that I’d write around that, in my spare time. I quickly learned that writ­ing is a full-time gig, an art form that needs 100% at­ten­tion and fo­cus. Liv­ing in New York, meet­ing se­ri­ous artists, want­ing to make se­ri­ous work taught me that writ­ing has to come first.

At what point of your ca­reer did you know you’d made it? I don’t think I have yet.

Well I was in the dunny at the Bird Rock bar re­cently and as I was tak­ing a piss I no­ticed they were us­ing one of your old

Tracks sto­ries from the ‘90s as wall­pa­per. I wasn’t sure how­ever if that was a sign of whether you’d made it… or not. Hon­estly, I’m not feign­ing modesty. I moved to New York in late 2001, just af­ter 9/11, and I met my late wife. She was from Sao Paulo, Brazil, and she was a doc­u­men­tary film­maker and we fell in love and got mar­ried and I spent a long time in New York work­ing on this mem­oir about my surf­ing life. I should say right now it’s still yet to be pub­lished. I had a re­ally good lit­er­ary agent in New York and he worked with me on var­i­ous drafts but it all just felt so off. I never felt more un­com­fort­able in my body. Part of it was that I wasn’t surf­ing any­more and part of it was that I was try­ing to be some­one that I was not. I was hang­ing around peo­ple who went to Columbia and Har­vard and Yale and I al­ways felt like the dumb­est guy in the room and be­came al­most ashamed that I’d surfed my en­tire life. And my writ­ing felt like I was try­ing to be this pseudo in­tel­lec­tual, it was stilted, and my voice wasn’t mine. I was out on the very edges of my­self try­ing to be some­one I wasn’t, in a bad way. I strug­gled with that and I went through this for a long, long time. Then in 2013 my wife died sud­denly, and when that hap­pened it was the most dif­fi­cult thing I’ve ever had to deal with, but in the wake of her loss it was like all the fog and mi­asma that cov­ered all the things that truly mat­ter in my life just dis­ap­peared and I saw life in sharp re­lief, I saw what mat­ters and what is im­por­tant. And I thought, What a drag. I’ve spent the last seven years of my life – and the fi­nal seven years of my late wife’s life – brood­ing and nar­cis­sis­ti­cally con­cerned about my book and hitch­ing my en­tire iden­tity on it. And I look back now and think, ‘What a sad waste of time.’ In the wake of her death I had the re­al­i­sa­tion, you know, just fuck­ing en­joy life, just make it fun, don’t get so caught up in your­self—gisela’s death re­leased some­thing in me. I know it’s made me a bet­ter writer. I’m more shame­lessly on my path. I’m back into my voice, I’m not so con­cerned about ex­ter­nal val­i­da­tion.

I like your In­sta­gram posts. They make me feel like the cap­tion is a small ex­cerpt from a short story that ac­tu­ally has 500 more words on ei­ther side of it. What’s your take on so­cial me­dia? Are you bit­ter that it’s stran­gling the life out of long form writ­ing? You know, it’s funny, I re­mem­ber when so­cial me­dia came out think­ing this is just go­ing to dis­tract me from the un­bro­ken at­ten­tion I want to give to writ­ing every day, and if I’m at my desk and check­ing my phone every minute that’s not a good thing. And then it swung the other way and I thought this is al­most a re­hearsal for real writ­ing in a way. Play­ing with words and ideas, to­tally ex­per­i­ment­ing, try­ing to lose the self-con­scious­ness and let these lit­tle voices just chan­nel through you. And you know, what you said about them be­ing parts of big­ger sto­ries is true. I’ll be work­ing on some­thing and I’ll find a phrase or a sen­tence I like and copy it and paste it in with a photo and it might be vaguely con­nected to the im­age or it might not, but I have be­come that much bet­ter at it. It’s about break­ing away from this self-con­scious­ness and just throw­ing shit out there and play­ing with words and char­ac­ters and hav­ing fun. I’m find­ing play in my work. I’m ex­per­i­ment­ing a lot.

What’s the great un­writ­ten book of your life? I wrote this surf mem­oir and it deals with me on the pro tour, as a surfer, but it’s also my fam­ily story. When I was a pro surfer and I was at the height of my mod­est ca­reer my old­est brother died of a drug over­dose and I guess I felt like things that are dif­fi­cult or chal­leng­ing or life al­ter­ing are the things I want to write about. So I wrote this mem­oir about the years af­ter my brother’s death and the ac­tual scene where I learn of his death, my re­ac­tion to it was… Look, I loved ten­nis and Ivan Lendl and John Mcen­roe were my favourite play­ers at the time my brother died, and I thought, What would John Mcen­roe or Ivan Lendl do here? They’d chan­nel it into a vic­tory. So in my mind I had to win the OP Pro at Hunt­ing­ton. At the time of his death that event was com­ing up a few days later and that was my de­fence mech­a­nism. My way out of the pain was to fo­cus on try­ing to win the con­test. When my wife died my ini­tial re­sponse was, I’ve got to write about this, and that got me through. And that’s still there. I want to write about all this beau­ti­ful and ter­ri­ble stuff. That’s the story I need to tell.

I’m pre­sum­ing the file lives on your com­puter desk­top and you open it up most days and look at it and tin­ker with it. How do you feel about it? I pre­sume you think about it a lot. What kind of re­la­tion­ship do you have with that mem­oir? In the wake of my wife’s death I wrote notebook af­ter notebook and I’ve had all these de­tails com­ing back to me, but it feels like my call­ing now, the “love/loss mem­oir” is how I re­fer to it. I have so much writ­ten down al­ready but I’m still a lit­tle bit fright­ened of it, which I think is a good thing. I think if it’s go­ing to be the big book of my life I need to be scared of it.

"I was hang­ing around peo­ple who went to Columbia and went to Har­vard and Yale and I al­ways felt like the dumb­est guy in the room and al­most be­came ashamed that I'd surfed my en­tire life."

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