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“He’s brilliant. A warrior poet in the commentary booth. But Joe Turpel is crazy as hell.”


A voice comes booming from somewhere behind us. It’s a cold afternoon in the Santa Monica sand dunes. Kaipo Guerrero and I have just finished our tete a tete in the ecologically significant little tern nesting area .

Kaipo probing my loyalties to the WSL. Me trying to figure out what the hell I’m even doing here at the Global Home of Surfing.

“Guerrero!“ the voice comes again. Louder and closer this time. From the direction of the WSL HQ.

A figure appears at the top of the dune, though it’s no more than a silhouette. I can’t make out any detail from the glare of the low spring sun.

“Oh shit,” says Kaipo. “It’s Turpel.” There’s a quiver of fear in his voice.

As the figure makes its way down the lee side of the dune, the profile of Joe Turpel comes into focus. Joe’s wearing his trademark vans, chinos and Hawaiian tee. But there’s something serious about his look. The way he moves. Deliberate. With authority.

“Kaipo Guerrero, did I just see you ashing your cigarette into the designated little tern nesting area?” he barks in his distinctive nasal accent.

Kaipo’s a deer in headlights.

“Yes sir, I mean no, I mean…”

Kaipo looks to me for help. I have to think quick.

“Ah, it was my cigarette,” I offer. “Mr Guerrero here, well he was just holding it for me.”

“You. who the fuck are you”

“Haven’t you heard?” says Kaipo. “This is Cote’s new guy. He and I were just uh, working on this nesting area…”

“… and then I decided to have a smoke,” I continue. “I was just finishing it off when I caught my shirt on this chicken wire.”

I point to the roll of wire on the ground.

“So I threw the butt to Kaipo to make sure we didn’t lose it in the sand while I untangled myself. He was just about to ethically dispose of it in this Bonsoy Brew can.”

I hold the can up like a piece of evidence in a courtroom. Kaipo looks at it and nods.

Joe Turpel comes to within kissing distance of us both. Inspects us up and down.

“And you think it’s ok to smoke in an area where we are trying to re-ha-bil-i-tate?” he yells, pausing on each syllable. His words are short. Abrupt. Economical. None of his usual verbosity. Yet his voice is still unmistakeable. He’s like a stoned army drill sergeant.

“You think it’s some kind of joke? If there is one fucking thing in this world I will not stand for. It is the desecration of a protected species nesting area.”

He leans even closer into my face, so we are eyeball to eyeball. He smells like musk sticks.

“Both of you. Follow me”

“Thanks for covering for me back there, brah,” whispers Kaipo as we make our way through the dunes.

“Don’t mention it, mate. You’re all good.”

“No, I’m serious. You do not want to get on this guy’s bad side. He’s brilliant. A warrior poet in the commentary booth. But Joe Turpel is crazy as hell.”

We arrive at Joe’s office in the WSL building, walking through stained glass doors into a darkened space. Joe claps twice and light floods the room.

The office is a brutalist statement. All steel and concrete. Smooth, menacing greys. There’s no work station to speak of. It’s a void, except for the two 40 pound dumbells and serrated hunting knife sitting on a bed of newspaper in the middle of the room, and an old moosehead affixed above the glass doors. The knife glistens in the light. It must be 15 inches long.

Kaipo is bowing his head. I follow his lead. We’re in this together now.

There’s a knock at the door behind us. I sneak a look up and see the familiar face of Jessie Miley Dyer. She holds up a limited edition Yeti coffee keep cup in her hand and wiggles it with a hopeful look.

But Joe Turpel shoots her a stare that could cut through the stainless steel walls. The WSL Chief of Sport drops her head sullenly and disappears from view.

Joe shakes his head and turns back to us.

“More god damned inferiors wanting my goddamn time. Just because I look like a happy, approachable guy on screen. They think they can come up to me with their problems. Shoot the shit. Talk about feelings.”

He air quotes the word feelings and then spits on the floor.

“What do they want? A hug from Joe Turpel? Last time I hugged anyone was when I put Jack Johnson in a sleeper hold at Sunset elementary for stealing my juice box. I showed him, though. Him and that little band of his. You can both look at me now.”

I watch as he picks up the hunting knife and runs his finger along its edge.

“You know this morning, after I had done my workout and vocal exercises, I saw a snail crawling along my knife. Crawling, slithering along a serrated razor’s edge. I realised, at that moment, that we are at war. My dream. My nightmare. The war for surfing’s heart.”

He throws the knife at the moose head. Buries it to the handle, right between the moose’s dead black eyes. Joe Turpel turns to me

“You’re new here. So know this. Don’t. Ever. Cross. Me.”

He runs his hands through his hair. Smooths his collar. Takes a deep breath. I swear I’ve seen this routine before. I think about Chris Cote, sucking the stale office air through his teeth. It all seems like a lifetime ago.

“Now, if you’re both so happy working together I have a mission for you,” Turpel says. “As you know we have been in a leadership vacuum here at the WSL since the departure of .”

“I’ve had word from above” – he nods to the moose’s head – “that there’s a new candidate for the position of WSL Chief Executive. There’s a real buzz around this guy. Could open some new doors for this great organisation of ours. Give us a chance to hop on the ski and re-set.”

I look to Kaipo. His head is still bowed.

“I want you to both travel to meet him and report back to me. Do a vibe check. Get a sense of his leanings.”

Am I taking orders from Joe now? What about my original job with Chris Cote?

“I should let Chris know-”

Joe cuts me off.

“Mr Cote doesn’t need to know about this. I am giving you the direction. That is all you need. Now, gentlemen, the WSL eco-jet is already on the tarmac. You have five minutes until wheels up. I suggest you hurry.”

Thoughts swirl through my head as we take off over the ocean. Below I can see the tiny specks of the Channel islands race below my window as the WSL eco-jet engages hypersonic speed.

My first meeting with Cote feels almost make believe. As do his supposed secret plots. And now Kaipo and I are best friends? Who am I to trust? Whose side of the war for surfing’s heart am I on? And who could this mysterious new head of the WSL be?

Kaipo passes me a can of Bonsoy Brew from across the aisle. I crack the lid, and strap myself in.

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