Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Castro Don't Surf

"Is there room in the revolution for a surf bum?"

That's the question my good friend, Tyee colleague and fellow Gulf Islands alumnus Grant (the Jewish Charles Atlas) Shilling asks among the surf bums of Havana in the Tyee today.

Grant's little essay tells you as much about Cuba as anything else you're likely to read from all the egghead pundits today in the lee of Fidel's admission that mortality is finally about to airbrush him out of life's great central committee portrait.

The Hak Maoist position embraces my sentiments on the subject.

Grant's book, The Cedar Surf, is one of the original titles in my Transmontanus imprint at New Star Books. Grant's inspiration for the Cuba trip comes from Doc Paskowitz, the 86-year-old father of Israeli surfing, who donated a whole bunch of surfboards to his Palestinian surfer comrades in Gaza, and thus struck up a proper conversation.

That is what is known as internationalism and solidarity.

This is not.

UPDATE: Grant kindly advises you all go see Doc Paskowitz.


Blogger Will said...

Quality surf link.

Not that crappy quality shit surf link stuff.

The cut of his jib -- I like that surf dude's jib.

Can we have more of the serf dude's jib plese?

5:29 PM  
Blogger Dragon Lady said...


Charles Atlas wasn't one of the tribe, but we do have claim to Montreal's bodybuilding empire builders Ben and Joe Weider. Not quite as famous as Charles, but not too shabby either.

5:34 PM  
Blogger Will said...

*'Please'* mo'fuckers --that'll be *'please'* mo'fuckers.

Never let it be said I can't type *'please'* mo'fuckers.

(Nor either the correct use and placement of apostrophes let it be noticed and said).

On with your day. I have finished.

5:36 PM  
Blogger JR said...

Good article by surfer-boy Shilling. You’re right, it does capture the flavour of Cuba under Castro quite well. This alone does it:
But surfboards in Cuba are extremely difficult to come by. Many surfers share one board, and you can't find any for rent or for sale in the country.
"Fidel doesn't care about surfing," Daniel says with a shrug. "Because it isn't an Olympic sport."

Unless “Fidel cares” nothing in Cuba gets done, except by a few hyper-dedicated enthusiasts. And worse, if Fidel cares but disapproves you’re totally screwed.

Given this, Shilling’s conclusion seems a tad blasé / banal:

No doubt there are deep flaws in aspects of the Cuban political system. For me the main thing the average Cuban person seems to be missing is freedom to travel. The spirit of the place is very free.

“...deep flaws in aspects”? “Main thing..missing is freedom to travel”? Good grief! There’s no economic freedom, no political freedom, no freedom of speech, no free press, no freedom - except maybe “the spirit of the place” whatever that means under the circumstances.

As for “The Hak Maoist position”, it’s not clear which of your sentiments he embraces. His comments come off mostly as a thin anti-American, anti-GW Bush sneer. Though he does seem to favour a “workers’ democracy” (whatever that is), he might have embraced at least one aspect of American democracy for Cuba, e.g. two four-year term limits for el presidenté.

6:22 PM  
Blogger kurt said...

Cuban "serf" dudes? Is that where the expression "hang ten" comes from?

7:07 PM  
Blogger Transmontanus said...


Grant's essay is splendid. It is a story about ordinary people, not a libertarian polemic, nor a radical-chic apologia.

Some people are like that. They like people more than politics.

Having spent time in Cuba, I know exactly what Grant means by the free spirit of the Cuban people.It is also a warm and generous and hospitable spirit. Affection for the people transcends political analysis.

The absence of rote rightist commentary about the morbidity of the regime diminishes the essay not one jot. There was no Pavlovian leftishness about plucky anti-imperialists, either.

Hak Mao is a she, not a he, and I meant what I said. She's for a workers' democracy. That embraces my position just fine, because I'd be happy to settle for democracy.

7:27 PM  
Blogger JR said...


Agreed. It was a fine essay and I get that Shilling is far more into surfing and grooving to the local atmosphere than worrying about the politics surrounding Cuban serfdom. However, you can’t deny he’s political to the extent that he’s attracted to visiting political and economic basket cases like Gaza and Cuba to spread his endearingly idealistic surfer version of a 60's peace message in which he has “... more faith ... than anything Bush could dream of accomplishing.”

“Rote rightist commentary” certainly isn’t expected. Perhaps you're suggesting that freedom is strictly a “rightist” concept. Come to think of it, you could be right.

If that’s all Hak Mao had said I’d agree - provided that a “worker’s democracy” comes with a measure of freedom beyond voting.

1:09 AM  
Blogger Transmontanus said...

"his endearingly idealistic surfer version of a 60's peace message."

See, that's what bugs me about allowing comments. Some anonymous right-winger with a lot of time on his hands comes here making smartass remarks about a friend of mine and chucks in a lame remark about freedom being a rightist idea.

What I am I supposed to do? Debate the guy?

JR: Fuck off. Get a job. Go away.

12:17 PM  
Blogger JR said...

“...making smartass remarks about a friend of mine.”

That wasn’t a “smartass” remark. It was a an observation of fact - the interpretation of which is certainly debatable.

“What am I supposed to do? Debate the guy?”

That would certainly be a classier way of dealing with legitimate comments on an article you pointed your readers to.

By the way, it was "right-wingers" who pointed me to your blog as a good read. I took their advice and agreed. Now I’ll take your advice.

Suggest you either drop your comments function or get an attitude adjustment.

6:45 PM  
Blogger Transmontanus said...

Okay. Maybe I was too harsh.

But when people talk about my friends, I expect them to keep a civil tongue in their heads, and I have no patience when they don't.

I mean this about friends to my left and friends to my right.

Nobody messes with.


7:28 PM  

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