The Laces Invitationalby Andy Davis, images by Nick Aldridge and Richard Johnson / 12.01.2011
It’s tough being friends with the number 2 surfer in the world. Jordy Smith is a bonafide global surfing celebrity. His life, one imagines, is a litany of tropical beaches, airport lounges and very hot women in bikinis, mixed up with all the steely determination, the fitness regimes, the yoga, the training and the competing. Not to mention the big cash endorsements and winners’ cheques. There’s a lot of glory to be had, but you’ve got to have a thick-skin to roll in Jordy’s entourage?
Last year we bought you the story of Steve “Laces” Michelson. A friend of Jordy’s who often fills in as his right hand man, board caddy and number one Best Friend Forever (BFF), while the king is in town. His devotion to the king earned him the nickname Laces, because, as the legend goes, he’s so far up Jordy’s ass, that only his shoelaces are sticking out. Credit to him, Steve soon came to own and wear the nickname with a sense of pride. But, oh cruel fate, just when he thought his position as Jordy’s number one BFF was secure, another of the king’s pals arrived from California – and the battle of the Laces began.
Semi-professional surfer, loud-mouth and prolific video-blogger Warwick “Wok” Wright explains. “So we got Greg Kaplan – he’s our mate from Cali, but he’s pretty much the Laces of Cali, he’s actually originally from Durban, and we’re all really good mates. He used to do the contest scene, but he’s actually a terrible surfer. Greg’s a full on Hollywood actor now. Like you know how Laces says he’s a pro surfer? Well Greg claims to be an actor in Hollywood. Which is why we call him the Laces of America. So it’s pretty much a battle of the bullshitters.”
And with that the concept for the Laces Invitational was born. Basically a three heat surfing competition, judged by Jordy himself, to determine who would have the right to claim the title of Laces. A thousand Rand grand prize for the winner and a free jol at Caprice.
“The winner pretty much becomes Jordy’s bitch for a whole year on tour.” Says Wok. “Which is exactly what they want. And think about it, if Jordy wins the World Tour this year, and one of them’s his bitch… it’s pretty much like being Tiger’s caddy.”
And where does Jordy’s childhood friend, travelling companion and pro-junior competitor, Damien “Dooma” Fahrenfort fit into all this?
“Nah, Damien’s at a higher level.” Wok explains. “He’s a better Laces. He doesn’t know what he does better, surf the waves or ride Jordy’s coat tails. They all live in the dream of Jordy. Also, Damien’s a tall oke. Too tall to call Laces… Let’s call him Shins.”
In this rare video footage Travis Logie explains how the Jordy Smith celebrity ATM works.
Apart from Jordy’s stellar rise to number 2 in the world, the rest of the South African surfing fraternity is going through a major slump, with no other contenders even qualifying for the men’s Championship Tour. Jordy’s pretty much flying the flag solo, somewhere near the top. However, there’s a rash of new, tell-all blogs like IAMWOK, the Tripod TV and Dooma’s Rumours determined to shed light on the chafed and pimply underbelly of the South African professional surf experience. Maybe it’s a reaction to failing on the competitive circuit. Or an attempt to prolong one’s career through media interest. Who cares? The net result is a flood of entertaining behind the scenes footage that exposes a very different reality to the groomed image of soul surfers searching and “living the dream”.
The Laces Invitational is just another pixel making up that composite image of brutal vloeking, burning and one-upmanship. But what did you expect from a motley collection of jaded, over-exposed and increasingly media-savvy, semi-professional athletes who are paid to travel the world, surf, ghoen, dop and jol? Sure it’s nihilistic, but it’s also honest and engaging.
Let’s get back to the summer’s day at Llandudno. The beach is pumping. Wherever you look there are pneumatic bronzed and oiled boobs in barely concealing bikinis. There are Germans with stacked Speedo pouches, Cape Town goofies in straw hats playing hackey sack and a lot of ripped surf jocks lining the shore watching the action.
In between heats I sidle up to Laces, who has the line “Taming the Rapist” written in permanent marker on the side of his board.
“What’s that about?” I ask.
“You don’t have to take everything so seriously.” He tunes me back.
The thought of Laces being a potential rapist makes me do a double-take. I mean he looks kinda harmless in a chubby shaved-chested wannabe model way. But now I’m imagining him handing out rohypnol-laced flutes of champagne to my daughter.
“How do you feel about being invited to participate in this event?
“Well it was my idea anyway!” He claims. And then backtracks. “Well OK… the boys came up with it.”
“If you win you become Jordy’s bitch for the whole year?” I say rhetorically.
“There’s rumours of it.” Being cool about it.
“There’s rumours of a handjob.” Shouts Liam from Hurley.
“He’ll definitely give us a little turbo-wristie each.” Laces smiles.
“Oh so Jordy’s giving the handjobs?”
“Aren’t they mocking you?” I ask.
“Oh yes definitely.” Says the Laces. “We’re all friends here. Kap and I took the brunt of it this year. But ja, we the only two in this whole group of friends who aren’t being paid millions of dollars to be professional surfers. So we are the sitting ducks.”
“How did you get to be called Laces?”
“I dunno. During the Billabong I was paid to be Jordy’s right hand man, his caddy. And some people took it the wrong way and thought I was brown nosing him. But they don’t understand that I’ve known him a lot longer than the rest of the world has. I guess it just comes from trying to be a helping hand.”
“Is it true that the winner of this event gets to be called the official Laces?”
“No that’s my name.”
Next up they head back to the cooler box for some “rehydration” before the final heat hits the water. As they paddle out I sidle up to the King and ask him why we’re here at Llandudno watching his two friends compete for the grand prize of being his bitch.
“Basically it’s just the battle of two best friends. I’ve known them both for a while. Greg’s originally from South Africa but he moved to the states about 15 years ago and he’s been my best friend in the States. Steven Laces Michelson is basically another best friend of mine, who I stay with when i come to cape town. I just kind of hang out with them. And they’ve done a lot for me and who I am. It’s just something fun we put on for the boys, come down here and drink some beers. Enjoy ourselves. Have some time off.
“Is it true the winner gets to be your bitch for the whole year on tour??
“Pretty much, ja.”
“How come Dooma doesn’t have to compete?”
“Well Dooma’s been with me since day one. These guys only came along once I was successful.” He pauses. “And besides, Dooma’s so tall. We’d have to call him Kneecaps.”
There’s silence as we watch Laces and Kap scratch around the crowded line-up.
“It’s just cos both these guys speak a lot of shit about how good they can surf.” Jordy offers. “That’s really it.”
Towards the end of the Laces Invitatonal, with Kap in complete control. I ask Damien Fahrenfort if he’s comfortable with proceedings.
“Does this compo threaten your position, cramp your style?”
“Nah, in California that guy lives at my house.” He says nodding towards the King. “So he’s my bitch. He pays for me.”
“Do you think they’re taking it seriously enough?”
“Oh yes. They both feel a little bit insulted so they’re definitely taking it seriously. About an hour ago they started realising that we were just fucking around with them, and that this is just a big joke. But now they’re taking it seriously. They want it.”
And then it’s all over. Laces storms out of the ocean tossing his board aside and moaning about being blocked on every wave by some local surfer in a hoodie.
“Just do an air reverse behind him.” Someone suggests.
“Fuck that bru.” Rages Laces. “That ous a fucking muppet. That’s bullshit. I was vloeking you ous on the beach the whole time and you guys didn’t even do anything about it.”
“We’ll fight him right now.” Someone else offers.
“What happened to local knowledge?” I ask.
“Some muppet out there.” Answers Laces.
Later, up in the shade by the cooler box, they try to have an impromptu prize giving, but Laces is having none of it.
“You ous are just taking the piss.” He moans.
“Be a graceful loser!” Shouts Damien. “Jordy got a couple of seconds this year. Jordy’s number 2 in the world.” He says. “There’s nothing wrong with coming second.”