What would Bourdain do?
“No explicit art ever hurt me.” —Flea, Acid for the Children
I miss Anthony Bourdain. And I don’t mean that in a social media specific sort of way where I feel the need to post a vintage portrait of him on Instagram and caption it with a quote of his sort of miss him — I’ve already done that. Twice.
I miss him genuinely and at the core of what drives the creative wheel in my head. Since he left us, I find it hard to locate voices that aren’t pandering to algorithms or telling sterile stories for profit. I miss Bourdain’s frustration with frauds and that he actively accused them of such. I miss the way he called bullshit on “celebrity” chefs, politicians, television networks, and himself. I miss the way he rolled his eyes at the audacity of using already dead squid as stand-ins for live squid during a Parts Unknown fishing scene in Sicily. And how he got mind numbingly black out drunk in protest while filming the next scene. I miss his wit and writing. The underground snarl of Kitchen Confidential. And the learned perspective but maintained growl of Medium Raw. I miss how unpretentious he was — and how he was always striving to make the world and its cultures and people comfortable being who they were, even if that meant making themselves vulnerable. I miss the things he did for the cooking life — revealing what was really going on. Or wrong. For making fun of the mockery it was becoming and standing by his fellow chefs and cooks and the way they were being represented on television. For being the guy who’d show up in the alley at 2 a.m. armed with beer and cigarettes for his comrades. For never letting the real cooking culture get entirely overshadowed by Rachael Ray’s cloying enthusiasm. Or Emeril Lagasse’s ridiculousness. Bourdain made sure there was an alternative. He told us what was actually going on because he knew we could fucking handle it.
This is the spirit — the spirit of Anthony Bourdain — that I must channel and act upon when I watch what’s become of surfing — and what more specifically the WSL and ELO and the O-Squad are in the process of doing to us, to our outlaw disposition and competitive nature. They’re making it Mickey Mouse. Inside the walls of their sterilized Santa Monica HQ are fakers (and real ones being forced to be fake) and it is so unnecessary to fake this stuff! They have done worse than Disney-fy it. They’ve Joel Olsteen’d it. They’ve WSL’d it. They’ve put it in a polo shirt and restricted it from ever getting laid. They made it boring. And wack. And set it to bad studio music. Even the competitive fire is gone from the tour. Good God imagine Andy Irons on this tour in 2019! He’d be illegal! Too rad. Too real. They don’t have the capacity for representing someone as thrash as A.I. They’re too busy making photoshopped Meme jokes around their Rinse Kits in the Venice breakwater parking lot as they get ready for a full workday of presenting surfing, tame as t-ball, all dressed and ready to show up for their heat at the Olympics. Right on time.
At this point, I’m officially done viewing. I must applaud and acknolwedge Chas Smith and his Beachgrit revolution (attacking an actual article in the WSL Rulebook, 189 to be exact, that refuses to allow any surfer on tour to speak negatively about surfing, surf culture or the WSL). And while he’s staging that riot (which I will attend) I’m personally no longer interested in being fed their evangelically inspired content offerings and over-hyped teases. Fuck this. It’s gone beyond “kinda cheesy.” We’re drowning in well-funded microwave Velveeta now. We’re surfing in kook sewage and it’s being shot in 4k. I’m drowning. We’re drowning. We drowned. But the worst part of all: It doesn’t have to be this way! Anthony Bourdain’s biggest fear in creating television was making average content. “I’d rather make unsuccessful TV than make competent television,” he said in an interview with Fast Company Magazine. “I detest competent, workman-like storytelling. I’d rather fail.”
I agree. We have the opportunity to do this right. And I’d rather fail being ourselves than succeed conforming to whatever that weird boardwalk the WSL is skating down on a cruiser board. If Bourdain could do it his way on a network like CNN, we can trailblaze our own creative surf entertainment experience. One that understands and celebrates every ridiculous nuance and treasure that surfers have. And just because the WSL regime has the competition torch now, it doesn’t mean they get to keep it forever. Their time is running out. We may be running this operation here on cheap margarita buzzes in the evening by oil lamp in the garage, but we promise we’ll keep it real. Because all the funding in the world doesn’t make what’s happening to surfing OK. Just remember the next time you roll your eyes at them: It does not have to be this way. —Travis Ferré