What I Learned From Hosting Stab Highway California - Stab Mag
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Sixteen surfers enter. Only four will leave. With a trip to Kandui Resort up for grabs, would you put it all on the line? Photo: Arenui Frapwell

What I Learned From Hosting Stab Highway California

I’m going to need therapy after this.

Words by Garrett James
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Now that the dust has settled and the Yukons have been returned to GMC (and their legal team hasn’t contacted us about anything), it feels like an appropriate time to reflect on what the hell actually happened during the filming of Stab Highway California. 

I won’t spoil anything, but wanted to pass some appetizers around to keep you sated ’til the main course is served next month. Why am I in a place to share this info with you? Great question. As a Stab Highway California producer from Day 1, and the series’ eventual host, I’ve spent more time on this project than anyone — for better or worse.

Anyway, near the end of March we filmed for nine days along the California coast with a cast of 16 international surfers, 10 filmers, and one photographer.  Roughly 600 miles separated us from our starting point at the Golden Gate Bridge to our finish line at Black’s Beach, in San Diego. During that time, I learned a few things.

Is this a good jumping off point? Photo: Arenui Frapwell

#1 The New Highway Format Stirred Up The Drama

After a solid debrief from the inaugural Stab Highway in Australia, we came up with a few ideas to turn up the pressure cooker on our surfers. The main point of difference? Eliminations. 

There were no participation trophies this time around. Out of the four teams, only two made it to the end of the road, and only one team emerged victorious. The added stakes made the competition cutthroat from the first challenge, and you know how we love a mid-season cut.

Another point of difference? The amount of challenges. It was nearly impossible to complete all of the challenges in our booklet this time around. With 120 challenges total (in comparison to Australia’s 30), to complete every challenge would certainly lead to exhaustion, emergency room visits, and quite possibly jail time. That said, we had some close calls. 

A common sight on the Highway: Teams loading/unloading their GMC Yukons just to rip to the next challenge. Photo: Arenui Frapwell

#2 When You Split Up A Tight Crew Of Friends, The Outcome Is Better For Everybody

As part of Highway tradition, teams are decided on the first day, gym-class style, and no level of bribery can change that. So when a certain crew of acquainted surfers pulled up to the team-picking ceremony with the intention of landing on the same team, they were faced with a sweet dose of reality… and a lasting dose of separation anxiety. The demeanor of these individuals changed almost as immediately as they were split between the teams, as did the communication in their group text, including its name being changed to “Break up crew” within 15 minutes.

But I’ll tell you why this was a win for you. It allowed for these individual personalities to shine in uncomfortable situations, and in some cases with surfers they had never met before. It wouldn’t have been the same had the band stayed together.  

Not gonna lie, we kinda scored. Mateus Herdy with a Monster Air attempt. Photo: Arenui Frapwell

#3 The Eithan Osborne vs. Jacob “Zeke” Szekely Rivalry is Alive and Thriving

Their rivalry, which we’ve written about on more than one occasion, could very well be the freesurf version of Kelly Slater v. Andy Irons. OK, maybe that’s too generous. Still, we don’t anticipate a “fly in the champagne” ending coming any time soon. 

#4 Helmets Save Lives

We had some seriously close calls during the filming of Stab Highway California. On one occasion, a helmet saved one of our surfers from living off of a feeding tube for the rest of their days, and possibly death. Another surfer would have definitely benefited from strapping on a skid lid before attempting a challenge in the middle of the night. In both situations, and many others, we were reminded that surfers should probably just wear helmets while maneuvering through their day to day lives. While we may be skilled in the water, most of us are clumsy on land. 

Think you could submit Joel Tudor in a BJJ match? Your arm might think otherwise. Photo: Arenui Frapwell

#5 Freesurfers Are Fucking Competitive

Playing it cool has been part of the surfing schtick since Miki Dora walked, talked, and Marlboro’d his way through the lineup. But let me tell you something. The moment a trip to Indonesia is up for grabs, the DGAF attitude turns to dust. The transformation took all of 20 minutes — the length of the first challenge — to take place. It was remarkable.

On occasion, Head Judge Mikey Ciaramella was able to get his feet wet. Spoiler: He was the most hated person on this trip. Photo: Arenui Frapwell

#6 FSS (Filmer’s Stockholm Syndrome)

Surely you’ve heard of Stockholm Syndrome, when a captured victim falls in love with their captor. But, what about when your hired-filmers fall in love with the teams they’ve been assigned to document? Shortly after production began, I came to realize that the “captured” filmers quickly became partial to their assigned teams. Their tempers flared when their squad was denied points. They pulled out all the stops to get other teams disqualified. They even set up sabotage missions. Each filmer’s personality became an integral part of the team dynamic, and their work ethic should be celebrated by their teams, even if they are technically getting kidnapped for a day rate.

#7 Learn The Heimlich Maneuver

You never know when this will come in handy. Trust me. (Yes, we got it on film.)

A relatively calm moment among an otherwise insane week. Photo: Arenui Frapwell

#8 Dane Reynolds Really Loves Eggs

Scrambled, preferably. But a parking lot omelet will do the trick.

Last but not least, your Stab Highway California roster:

Captains: Holly Wawn, Zoë McDougall, Ivy Miller, Ainara Aymat

Team Members: Parker Coffin, Eithan Osborne, Mateus Herdy, Balaram Stack, Eric Geiselman, Ian Crane, Micky Clarke, Kai Paula, Noah Wegrich, Rolando Montes, Jacob Szekely, Kuio Young

The first episode of Stab Highway California presented by Monster Energy drops Thursday, June 23. Just wait until you see the reckless abandon these surfers embrace for bragging rights and a trip to Kandui Resort. It’s shocking. It’s hilarious. It’s entertaining. I can’t wait for y’all to see it.