There are a few surf-oriented web sites I like to check out on a regular basis – mostly for their surf reports, a scattering of surf-related news, vids, and such. For the most part they’re informational, some kinda generic, or ultimately catering to the business/contest-driven aspects of surf culture. But every so often you stumble upon greatness: the web site
Random Thoughts of a Surf Forecaster (aka “Venice Surf Report”) is one of those.
For zine fans, this thing reminds me, in certain regards, of the handful of incisive punk zines of the day, like Cometbus, and even a dash of Ben Is Dead at our most street. In a mix of thousands of useless piece-o-shit blogs wasting web space, this is one example of the paperless ezine evolution that works. Not simply a daily updated surf report, this blog incorporates the atmosphere and environment that makes up the surf/culture of Venice Beach, California (thankfully he doesn’t get into the hippie stuff) – which means it includes the homeless men and women who, literally, call Venice Beach home.
Nicknamed the “boyos” (the female version dubbed “boyo toyos… though there have only been a few”) these guys are the ones you usually walk by, or step over, as you make your way to the Pier. But for some reason the author of Venice Surf Report, who goes by the name “Dogtown Surfer”, decided not to just walk by them on the way to the beach. He recognized they were a part of the whole experience. Well, maybe the interaction wasn’t so much egalitarian, as it “just kinda happened” as DTS explained to me in an email interview. And “once it did I decided to run with it, as I found it very very informative and was surprised by the life they lead.” But I had to ask him to get more specific, because as friendly as one can be on their best day, usually people don’t intermingle with the homeless to the depth this man has.
I knew I wanted to do something more that just the surf report and I guess the friendship grew out of me not really ever asking anything more than “what’s going on today” and every once in a while I was a source of beer money. It has definitely progressed past that point, but I would say the whole thing just came from me wanting to write, and write about something I thought was interesting and that I wanted to learn about…
His March 8th report “First Approach to Pier Homelessness” explains in more detail the method to the madness:
I finally resolved last night to make some real effort to get to meet some of the homeless down by the pier. So, to start off, I drank about a fifth of vodka, put on some old ratty clothes and hopped on the bike. A quick reconnoiter failed to turn up any gatherings but I did see one old guy all huddled up trying to stay warm. It seemed rather incongruous – one old guy with nothing, surrounded by hundreds of beer swilling, sushi eating yuppies – so I took a few pictures from behind. Plus, the dude looked like he was sleeping and I didn’t want to wake him. I wanted to give him a few bucks for using his likeness so I nudged him and told him I found three dollars on the ground right next to him, which he eagerly grabbed.
So I went into the Whaler for a quick beer as it looked like there was a comedy show going on…but all in all the comics were pretty lame…Knowing I couldn’t sit through that I made my way outside and what do I see? My buddy in the orange coat wide awake and full of piss and vinegar.
Turns out his name is Thomas and he has been living at the pier for something like 20 years. My three bucks had immediately gone to a 40 oz. Colt 45 and it seemed to do wonders for him; what was a comatose old man 30 minutes ago was now an expansive and eager storyteller. Seeing as the Colt 45 had had such an effect I immediately bought him three more and a Heineken for myself. Even though I was a little too drunk to make much sense I explained what I wanted to do as far as using him as one of my correspondents at the pier and he was all for it. I left him knowing that I had found the right person indeed.
As proof of that, I saw Tom again this morning at 7:15 am (in the exact same spot where I left him at 10 pm last night) and as he sees me he calls out my name and starts telling the other two about our discussion last night. They were also eager to help, which is reassuring, but then I notice that Tom is holding what? Three Colt 45’s! I remarked at his discipline for saving them for the morning and he just shook his head and looked at me like I was the dumbest guy on the beach. “Son, these ain’t from last night; these’re my breakfast!”
So beer plus boyo equals good stories. The amount of beer needed: unlimited supply. And the cast as it were, have all become important members of the daily reporting (including transient friends, weirdo locals, even alcoholic pets: rats, dogs, guinea pigs). On a smaller scale it’s something like Howard Stern’s Whack Pack. From blow-jobs to passin’ out in their piss – an endless adventure. And the coverage is accomplished with a balance of compassion, realism and virulence.
It’s not really one of those jobs everyone is equipt for. Picturing myself doing the same “field reporting” I imagined I’d likely think twice before drinking a fifth of vodka, putting on old ratty clothes and hopping on my bike to talk story with some homeless guys in the middle of the night in Venice. So I asked him if he has ever found himself in a dangerous situation, to which he explained that at 6’5″ and 290 pounds he never really feels threatened (man, if I could be that big for a day!).
An interesting factoid about the author, “Dogtown Surfer” (who choses to keep his real name to himself due to occasional hate mail and a potential psychotic finding his home – though here’s a pict here of him and Victor), is that he only started surfing two years ago at 38 years of age, when he moved to Venice Beach, California from (originally from Greenwich, CT and NYC) in early ’05. He was doing a surf report for swellmagnet.com since late ’05 on a volunteer basis. But that all changed when the owner switched it to a pay site and started censoring him, which he explained with his first post entitled No More Bullshit:
To give you the full rundown on what started this, yesterday I wrote a Top Ten list on what Al Sharpton would do if he found out he really was related to Strom Thurmond, whose greatgrand-daddy apparently owned Shrpton’s great-granddaddy back in the days of slavery. The point was that Al would all of a sudden start doing white, redneck things like fire the “darky” that worked in his kitchen. Maybe not the funniest thing in the world but hey, I was trying to give the Swellmagnet readers something for their $$$ on a day when surf was questionable.
Anywho, some dude named Shane (who apparently does the silkscreening for the Swellmagnet t-shirts ) writes this rambling letter telling me I am going to ruin the site cause people will be offended and his future (is silk screening a future? Sounds more like a lack of one to me) is in the site and blah blah blah. So, I post his email on the site and my response calling him an illiterate retard. Oh, he did go out of his way to call Sharpton and Jesse Jackson “bags of shit” but apparently my racism was just so much more blatant.
Al Sharpton, Strom Thurmond…sounds like reasonable “flat condition” surf report material to me! Despite the brouhaha, he still does the surf report for them, a more typical one paragraph of conditions and picts, for which he now gets paid, but the creative stuff all goes to his blog. Thus Random Thoughts was born, with a smirk and a big fuck you, on February 27th, 2007.
And as promised from day one, and unlike most bloggers who start their site with such New Year’s resolution-type optimism, this guy posts almost every single day! The first thing a surfer wonders…especially when you work full time is…how do you have time for surf?!
I am strictly a PM surfer during the week. I have to work NY hours ’cause of my job so I hit the pier at Sunrise, take a few pics, talk to the boyos, drive to downtown LA and hit my desk by 6:50 or so. I then post the pics and write for maybe 10-15 minutes. Which means I am home by 3:45 or so, so can surf the blown out, crappy PM conditions we have here in Venice 99.999% of the time (yes, that is bitterness you are detecting). So, the report takes slight precedence over the job in the am on the weekdays, but on the weekend if it’s good, and even if it’s not, you will find me in the water. That’s why the weekend reports tend to focus on the surf exclusively. Plus, I get the feeling people read the blog primarily as a 5 minute distraction at work.
The dichotomy between the rich and the poor is never so apparent as it is in the beach areas of Southern California. Where the rich are…so rich. And the poor are…the poorest. On top of that, Los Angeles is strewn with the famous as well. A place where you could easily run into one tv or movie star a day depending on your route and modus operandi. I recall as one of my favorite features in Ben Is Dead Magazine, when my sister, who was living on the streets of Hollywood at the time, compiled a piece of her spare change experiences with celebrities; who would give her the cash, and who would give her b.s. excuses. It’s always a tell-tale sign, how they react with the real world, to how real in fact they are (or aren’t). So, of course, when you mix celebrity with drunken bums, it has to evolve into something absolutely humorous. Especially when you’ve got Dogtown Surfer ready and waiting with his unexpected camera and truth-capturing pen. And certainly when these guys decide to indulge in a beer…
“Hey Matt, guess who this is?” asks Tommy.
“The Henry Hill? The one you keep talking about?”
“Fucking right I’m the real Henry Hill, ya asshole!” Henry says.
Recognizing his voice from the Howard Stern Show, Matt (just out of the surf, runs home to get his camera) catches some shots of the ex-mobster from Goodfellas. But, what may seem like good fun at the time, sometimes ends up in threats. Like the sweet note from Henry’s girlfriend once they discovered the event exposed in a YouTube video.
TAKE THIS SHIT DOWN ill get henrys lawyers to sue you this isnt cool at all at least get him with good drunks not these scumbags
How dare she imply the boyos aren’t good drunks!
Or when, to everyone’s surprise, Minnie Driver showed up to watch the HobOlympics (well, actually she was coincidentally cruisin’ Venice Beach Pier on her bike and when they very politely asked for a picture, she got one whiff of the boyos and totally dissed them).
What’s a HobOlympics, you ask? When I read he was organizing a HobOlympics I got excited, thinking they were going to get the hobo’s on surfboards. I mean, some of the local guys at our beaches start drinking after their first session (meaning, by 9am) and their second sesh is completely DUI. You certainly don’t want to get too close, but otherwise it’s completely comical. But surely the homeless of Venice Beach with no surf experience might not survive even the manini So. Cal summer shore break. No, this HobOlympics was an athletic competition that included the “Snipe Hunt”, “Chug-of-War”…I think they were too fucked up to do much more….
This small excerpt should give you an idea of the atmosphere [note: this is after the winner of the Chug-of-War couldn't quite hold it down]:
Randy was despondent. Not only was he not going to win the beer chugging contest and the $10 first prize, he had just wasted an entire Hurricane!
“Matt, do I still win?”
“Well, I don’t know Randy. This was the chug of war, not the vomit competition. You think that was worth ten dollars?”
“Yes. Yes, I do.”
“Well, I don’t, and since I run the games my word is final.”
“It was not worth ten dollars – it was worth twenty! That was the coolest thing I have EVER seen. Here, take a $20.”
His eyes lit up like a kid at Christmas as he saw me pull the twenty out of my wallet. I would have taken a picture of him holding it up but I was still pretty much laughing at the memory of him puking his guts out, egged on by the motley crew that is the boyos, while Mom and Dad stroll the pier, trying to have a relaxing Saturday only to see a crew of the roughest looking characters this side of prison chuckling at someone blowing chow big time.
How many Surf Report readers showed up to cheer them on? Seven. Hey, that’s pretty good…they even had special t-shirts made for the event. Really, this guy has a large readership (300-600 per day) considering his blog is pretty fresh. But then again, if only we all had our own batch of boyos doing publicity…for the low low cost of a few beers! But I wondered, does he ever feel as if he’s taking advantage of these guys?
No, everything I do is strictly voluntary and there are one or two who have asked not to have their picture taken or be included and I respect that.
And on the the other end, does he ever think he might be able to help get these guys off the street (approx. 90% of whom are vets)?
Nope. Without exception they are there because they want to be. They all know how and where to get into treatment if they want and one of them, Dave, actually did go about a month ago. I help them by buying them beer when they can’t afford it and every Sunday night I cook a big, cheap dinner, like spaghetti, and pack it up and bring it down to them
Has your site, and your “contributions” helped them?
I don’t know. They get recognized constantly, the cops read it and I think have taken a little more empathy with them, even to the point where Bowser, the asshole cop of the month, went out of his way to explain that he doesn’t really give a shit what they do but that he is tired of getting calls about them. Of course, five minutes later he broke Kenny’s umbrella, so I don’t know how sincere he was. I guess the only thing I can say for sure is they find the site very funny, they really enjoy reading about themselves and if it makes them laugh then great.
Part of the adventure with the boyos is the cops. And it’s an endless game of boyos “drinking in public” and the cops wasting their time harassing and writing them tickets. As Dogtown explains:
The problem with the tickets is not the ticket itself, it’s the fact that if the cop runs your (real) name you get busted as you haven’t paid the last 23 tickets the cops have given you. None of the boyos have ID so it’s like a game they all play; the boyos pretend they’re going to pay the ticket and the cop pretends you’re telling him the truth when you give him your name and personal information.
Attitude is a big part of making this work, though, so no mouth or attitude to the cops. It’s all “yes, sir – no, sir”.
Here’s Victor being lectured by the rookie and looking very contrite and serious as he signs and accepts his ticket.
He takes the thing, sits down and gives me this look like “Oh shit, I better hurry down to City Hall and pay my fine!”
What do you think the chances are this one gets paid?
How does he think the cops should deal with them? Should they ignore them/their drinking in public?
I think it is outrageous the amount of resources and time and money that goes into hassling these guys who are essentially harmless and who have nowhere else to go anyways. Let’s face it, kick them off the pier and where do they go? Somebody’s alleyway or carport or wherever and then they become one guys big problem rather than everyone’s slight inconvenience.
And if you were “in charge”, what would you do?
Like some of the cops do – see it, let them know the threat is there, treat them with a little respect and then generally the boyos do whatever those cops ask. There is one female officer in particular who never writes tickets, always stops by to see how they are when she is on duty, and they know when she is, they go out of their way to behave.
Considering how indiscreet and unobtrusive the author is not, he’s pretty much kept under the radar while behind the camera. Despite hanging out and drinking brewski’s with the boyos on occasion, printing shots of the officers in action, running “Asshole Cop of the Month” (which I believe evolved into “Cool Cop of the Month” to inspire a little more positive effects), he hasn’t gotten written up or hassled. Okay, maybe hassled a little bit. Like that time when he wouldn’t stop taking photos even when the cop told him to: “What the hell did I just tell you about taking pictures? You moving around and I don’t know if you have a gun or what you reaching for; just sit there and don’t move!” Of course, they love to pick on the homeless, and the homeless often respond amiably; they don’t want to be the brunt of the pig’s aggression. But sometimes the cops see that as a sign of weakness, and they go into predator mode. But when they threw Dogtown Surfer into the mix with the boyos and tried to treat him with the same lack of respect, he would have none of it: “Hey, dude, I’ll sit here and be quiet while you do your little investigation if it makes you happy, but I’m not doing anything wrong or illegal so don’t treat me like a fucking criminal. I run a website that 30,000 people a day look at and you so much as touch me or my camera and I will Rodney King your ass so fast you won’t know what hit you.” Okay, he made up the last line later, ’cause often our best comebacks are the ones we figure out hours after the scenario has already played itself out.
Yeah, the meat of the site is not simply surf and shenanigans. DTS reports on litter at the beach (and how it’s the homeless guys who are always cleaning up after the beach slobs), serious issues involving some of the crew, how to’s for using the bike path (anyone who’s been to Venice knows how idiotic tourists can be), driving while putting on mascara (what about driving while taking photos?), and info on subprime and hedge funds (huh?). Well, fact is DTS is a bond trader…and every once in a while you might get a good financial tip. Personally, for the past few years while all has seemed hunky-dorey and my own friends have mentioned the attraction of buying houses with ridiculous adjustable rate loans, I have been warning them about the upcoming crashes and flashback wiffs of ’70s high interest to come….
So I asked his take on what’s happening to the economy?
Going to get a hell of a lot worse before it gets better. We haven’t seen a credit / liquidity crunch in a real long time in this country and I don’t think anyone is prepared for just how ugly it could get. …This mess was created by mortgage writers that were able to separate themselves from the fallout of loans that blew up, investment banks that were willing to buy this shitty paper and homeowners that were stupid enough to put their house on the line so they could buy a new car or travel to. Everyone who is going to feel pain is partly to blame. Not a bad time to be sitting on cash or Treasuries, frankly. Get that credit repaired, pay off your debt and hopefully get back in at the bottom.
What do his co-workers think of the site?
Most everyone I work with reads and enjoys it.
And his wife? Though he’s mentioned numerous occasions how she puts up with it, or how the boyos are an excuse to getting away from her now and again, his new Venice Beach lifestyle doesn’t seem to mesh with hers. He wouldn’t be the first surfer boy who’s lost a relationship over his calling. Last time I spoke with him he said they were getting divorced.
And besides losing a wife and making the transitional move to sunny So. Cal, how has surfing changed him?
So much for the better. I live to surf now, basically, have made so many cool friends and know that no matter what, whenever I meet a fellow surfer, that I have more in common with him/her than I do with my own brother. It’s a club that money can’t get you into, you know?
* * * * *
Yeah, despite the oft cocky attitude, DTS isn’t scared to express his sentimental side. What exposes it best might be an excerpt from piece he wrote for a contest on Surfline, about what got him into surfing:
That’s how old I was when I first grabbed the 8 ft piece of orange fiberglass, which, at the time, I thought was just an old surfboard. Having earlier wriggled into a brand new wetsuit that fit my chunky 6’5” frame I headed to the beach, board in hand, firm in my resolve to finally do what I had always wanted to: surf.
It wasn’t until much later that I learned that what I had grabbed that day was not just a surfboard, it was a ticket of admission to a sport – no, a lifestyle – that would be more challenging than anything I had ever tried, something that would test the limits of my endurance and patience, pushing me to extremes I did not know I had inside me.
But they say that you don’t choose surfing, it chooses you, and by the time the first month was over I knew I was hooked forever. Just the thought of moving back to the godawful state in the Deep South from where I had come was enough to set me off for days, causing fights with my wife and family, all of them worth it as I found a way to stay in California.
Because eventually that day came – the day when I got up on that board, made a bottom turn and moved across the water propelled by nothing more than my desire and a 3 ft. swell generated thousands of miles away by a storm I would never see or feel. What I would feel, though, was the immense and humbling power of the ocean in head high beach break… Even as I write this the memory of that day, and that wave, puts a smile on my face that leads my co-workers to, most likely, question my sanity.
Like I said, you don’t choose surfing, it chooses you and my life is far, far better since I finally picked up the board, paddled out and answered that call.
* * * * *
Yeah, every surfer can relate.
So if you’re ever down by the Pier, checking out the surf, don’t forget to stop by and give a shout out to the boyos, or better yet, buy them a beer, or even better yet, a malt liquor, something with High Gravity; who knows the misadventures you may find yourself involved in. And if you can’t make it, indulge in a visit to
venicesurfreport.com, with your morning coffee, and enjoy some of the day’s highlights of the Venice Beach boyos and some random thoughts of a surf forecaster….
addendum: RIP Dogtown Surfer. no doubt you are missed.