Re-introducing The Great Charlie Smith
Interview by Derek Rielly When was the last time you got really excited about surf writing? Been a while, hasn’t it? A combination of inexperience in the game, soft (and hard) pressure from advertisers and technical flaws makes most character strokes in surf mags and online somewhere between the earnestness of high school essays and […]
Interview by Derek Rielly
When was the last time you got really excited about surf writing? Been a while, hasn’t it? A combination of inexperience in the game, soft (and hard) pressure from advertisers and technical flaws makes most character strokes in surf mags and online somewhere between the earnestness of high school essays and the hero worship of fanzines.
And then there’s Charlie Smith, the thirty-ish writer from North San Diego county, California. Chas swung onto my radar eight years ago after reading a piece of his in Vice mag. Here was a surfer who wasn’t afraid to dirty his hams in Middle Eastern shitholes. Here was an Arabic-speaking, thrill-chasing writer who wasn’t going to be cowed by a face-to-face with Reynolds, who wasn’t going to drench his pink chinos as he was dragged out of a world title party by faceless thugs with strong forearms. Charlie’s online contest reporting from the 2009 European leg is still the high-water mark of this website.
Welcome to Paradise is Charlie Smith’s first book. It is the best book ever written about the North Shore. It follows Chas’ 24 hours on the Shore four years ago. Those rumours about Fast Eddie Rothman, pretty much the caretaker of the North Shore, slapping the Billabong exec? The rivalry between John John and Kolohe? The time he was choked out at Mick Fanning’s party? The delinquent debtor shot in the mouth? Yeah, it’s here. And it’s good. Better than good. It’ll make you see the North Shore in the most unexpected way. Enforcers? Maybe the place is the better for it. Maybe heroes don’t always have to be cleanskins. This is a book you don’t want to miss. Eighty-thousand words, too. You’ll smash it in a day-nighter.
Stab: The remarkable thing about this book is the Fast Eddie-goes-to-the-Billabong-House story. It hasn’t run anywhere. Ain’t that weird!
Charlie: NO! It didn’t run anywhere. It didn’t run anywhere. Eddie was, to me, always open about that story, too. It’s funny, the lawyer at HarperCollins was so paranoid about so much of it, like, all of it. The legal read was weeks long. She said it was one of their toughest-ever legal reads because so much of the book came from the coconut wireless. And she’d say, there’s no way you can run this because Eddie is going to sue you. And I was, like, I have it on tape! Eddie doesn’t care about all the crazy stuff. The stuff that he cares about is the minutiae, like getting his age wrong, when he first went to Hawaii or whatever. But all the stuff like, “You were in the room when a guy got shot in the mouth?” He’ll be, “Yeah yeah, I was there.”
How do you think Eddie will take the book? He swings out of it as a legend, a modern hero… Yeah, I think so too. He’s mad because he didn’t have control over it but that’s why I feel good about it. I don’t feel like I did him a dirty. I feel like I wrote the best version of Eddie, the most legendary version of Eddie, that’s been written in terms of making a character out of his character.
And the unexpected conclusion of him and Kai Borg coming across as necessary for the purity of the North Shore experience. It’ll surprise a lot of people. I think that’s true. What they do bring is rough and as odd and scary as it is or can be, I think that without them, what is the North Shore? It’s a tropical place with a great wave called Pipeline. Without their menacing presence on land, the North Shore loses its allure.
What do you think are the book’s best parts? For me, the best parts of the book are not the Eddie stuff. It’s funny and it’s great and Eddie’s such a great character but, personally, I like the Hawaiian history. It’s so blood-soaked! From the Tahitians coming over to the priests crushing people’s bones on and on to Captain Cook. The blood-soaked history of the North Shore still reverberates on the North Shore every season. That’s Hawaiian lineage. Hawaiian lineage will always include violence.
What doesn’t succeed? At some point I had to resign myself to it being a finished work. It’s probably not the best it could be but it’s not my life work. I’m not going to spend the next 20 years writing the ultimate North Shore book. It’s a snapshot of 24 hours four years ago.
Readers who are familiar with your work might be surprised at how straight a lot of it is… When I re-read it I found the stronger stuff was when I was relaying information. Me as a character is fun to write and I don’t mind it, and I wouldn’t change it, but I don’t think I’ll be that much of a character in book number two. It’s fun to write straight!
You dedicate the book to your wife and to Mick Fanning. Will he be pleased to have such a hold on your heart? I wish. I hope Mick thinks it’s funny. I’m sure he won’t.
For those who wanna buy the book, we’re offering a reduced price for Stab readers. If $29.99 doesn’t tickle you, then come get to know $19.99 with postage included, right over here.
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