Author, and now documentarian, Chas Smith has earned infamy in the world of surf journalism, spinning mostly first-person documentations of surfdom across a variety of publications—from Stab to Surfing Magazine to The Surfer’s Journal—as well as two books, 2013’s “Welcome to Paradise, Now Go to Hell” and the newly available “Cocaine + Surfing.”
“It is really about the surf industry… what it is, where it came from, where it’s going and why we should kick against the goads to keep it dirty,” Smith says of his new book, out this month (available here). “I love that surf is this wild junk show of personality, place, stories and whispers. If it ever cleaned up I would leave and never turn back. So this book is part celebration, part frustration but mostly, I hope, funny.”
The new book can only bolster Smith’s reputation as surf journalism’s most sardonic voice. His irreverent takes on everything from the training regiments of World Surf League competitors to shark-based fear mongering, are fun, if not stinging, reminders that to take our hallowed pastime too seriously, is to do so at our own peril. Smith’s passion for surfing and surf culture, meanwhile, as evidenced by his inside-baseball style oeuvres on his website Beach Grit, is undeniable.
In the case of the new documentary, “Trouble: The Lisa Andersen Story,” Smith’s passion for a story well told supersedes his more caustic instincts, as the film chronicles the Ormond Beach native’s tumultuous road to surf stardom. Beyond his gift for gab, Smith’s a crack journalist (note: not a reference to his new book). A former war zone reporter for Vice and Current TV, Smith knows a gripping story when he sees one. And Andersen’s story is nothing if not compelling.
“She should be the face on surfing’s 20 dollar bill,” Smith says of Andersen. “She is an icon and a trailblazer yet I think her story isn’t nearly as well-known as it should be.”
“Trouble” premieres tonight as part of the Florida Surf Film Festival’s quarterly screening at Surfer the Bar in Jacksonville Beach (tickets available here). Before the event, we engaged Smith in a broad-ranging conversation about his work, drugs in surfing, and earnest affection he retains for the Sunshine State.
Why did you want to make a movie about Lisa Andersen?
Lisa is my favorite surfer, full stop, and I think uniquely captures all that this damned life means. She is a dreamer, a charger, someone who never gave up. She was not gifted anything but rather scrapped for every ounce and did so with impeccable grace and style. She is an icon and a trailblazer yet I think her story isn’t nearly as well-known as it should be. She should be the face on surfing’s 20 dollar bill.
The film ends as Lisa wins her first title, right? Why did you choose to focus on this part of Lisa’s career?
The arc just made lots of sense. From birth to Florida and rebellious living to running away and more rebellious living to finally putting it altogether and winning a title. I’m certain that all her titles were special etc. but that first one, and what she went through to get it, is cinematic perfection, story-wise at least.
Lisa grew up in Florida. What role do you think Florida played in her success and/or who she became?
I think Florida played a massive role in shaping both who Lisa is and what she craved. Of course there is a beautiful and significant beach culture around Ormond Beach, where her family moved when she was young, but it’s not mainstream surf culture. And so she got a taste of this thing we’ve all spent most of our lives pursuing but also saw visions of Hawaii, Indonesia and California and wanted… more. I think growing up in Florida gave her a hunger to go get it. And also a sort of grounding.
You’ve written glowingly (though from a skeptic’s point of view) about Florida in the past. What do you love about surf culture in the Sunshine State?
I have completely fallen in love with Florida to be quite honest. I love that its surf culture is its own and that it is pervasive. Like, the fact that 24 hour surf shops featuring diners exist in Florida is all that anyone needs to know. 24 hour surf shops featuring diners. God bless that right there.
Can you talk about the premise of your new book “Cocaine + Surfing”?
So it’s about cocaine, right? And… get ready for it. Sufing! And it really is, or at least that is the vehicle I ride in on. It is really about the surf industry though. What it is, where it came from, where it’s going and why we should kick against the goads to keep it dirty. I love that surf is this wild junk show of personality, place, stories and whispers. If it ever cleaned up I would leave and never turn back. So this book is part celebration, part frustration but mostly, I hope, funny.
How has professional surfing (the WSL) dealt with, or reckoned with surfing’s historical connection to drugs and drug culture?
I don’t think the WSL has dealt with it at all. There is no celebration of it, no real angry repudiation of it, no nothing. I think it is a real wasted opportunity, to be honest. To deny that surfing really was the pursuit of derelicts for much of history is to deny the greatest and grandest stories of all. It is also to deny the heart.
You’ve got a book and movie out simultaneously. Which of your children do you love more?
Writing will forever and always be my first love.