I spend a lot of time each week thinking about what you want to see, trying to figure out if this person or subject might be more interesting than that one. Not going full clickbait, but trying to put some light in a new place, find a different angle, catch your attention, get some back-and-forth going on a thread or two. It’s always a crapshoot. My guesses are educated, but I never actually know what’s going to work. Last week’s “No Contest” History of Surfing page fell a little flat in terms of traffic, maybe because we’ve all seen the Wayne Lynch pics too many times. The new Keith Paull uploads, on the other hand (this profile piece, and Paull’s Above the Roar interview, and especially this video) went gangbusters. Because the images and the bio, unlike Wayne’s, are not as well-known? That’s part of it.
I think it makes a difference, too, that Paull, like Ron Stoner, was both handsome and doomed. Going further out on a limb, I think it makes a difference that the surf world collectively wronged Paull for years by marking him as a drug casualty rather than a schizophrenic. “I always hoped he’d make it through the dope period,” Midget Farrelly said of Paull, just a few years ago. “Maybe the peer pressure was too much.” But there wasn’t really a “dope period” for Paull, or “peer pressure” either. There was mental illness, severe and undiagnosed and long untreated, a huge black cloud, with drug use threaded across it like lightning. Paull’s own biochemistry failed him. But we failed him, too, by thinking of him as a drug burnout.
So my guess is that we applaud Paull in 2018 to acknowledge his under-appreciated contribution as a surfer—the man was flow incarnate. But at the same time, because we now better understand the burden people like Paull live (and die) with, we applaud in atonement. We were unfair. Hopefully we learn something. Celebrate Keith Paull, understand his plight, and maybe the next surfer who gets taken down by mental illness won’t be discounted the way Keith was.
Coming up this week: more Wayne Lynch (really, can you ever have enough?), and the origins of localism. And a palate cleanser of some kind, to be determined.
Thanks, everybody, and see you next week.
[Keith Paull bw surf pic by Greg MacGillivray]