Blame Laird

Think of a 70-foot wave.

It rises out of the water like a possessed mountain. If you close your eyes to it, your mind still sees it because of the ferocious sound. It curls, creating a perfect temporary barrel that plunges towards the shore with the weight of the ocean behind it.

There’s a tiny dot on top of this giant wave.

The dot glides gracefully over the top and down into the barrel, a little white trail following.

That dot is Laird Hamilton.

Part madman, part dolphin and part Achilles, big wave surfer Laird Hamilton was literally born into the environment that he spends most of his time in. His mother gave birth to him on March 2nd, 1964 at UCSF Medical Centre into an experimental salt-water tank that was designed to ease the pain of labour.

His watery entrance into the world was but the beginning of a life spent in the ocean. Growing up in Oahu, Hawaii, Laird took to surfing at a young age, with his stepfather, former pro surfer Bill Hamilton, teaching him the ropes. He was always an excellent surfer, but despite his obvious skill and natural talent, Laird never wanted to be on the professional surfing circuit.

Instead, he invented his own shtick.

In the early 90’s, Hamilton, along with friends like fellow big wave surfer Dave Kalama, frequently surfed the North Shore of the Island of Maui. Pe’hai, also known as Jaws, boasts some of the biggest and most powerful waves in the world. Spurred on by a longing to ride the massive breaks that they could see in the distance, but couldn’t paddle to with just their boards, Hamilton and Kalama began using a Jet Ski and a towrope to get onto those mammoth waves. This method, known as tow in surfing, would revolutionize big wave surfing.

What does it take to ride a wave bigger than your house? A blatant disregard for, or a superior understanding of, fear? Yes. But it also takes brute strength. With a neck the size of a large bull’s and a muscly physique built to take on waves that could literally wipe out cities, Hamilton, save for his blonde Ken doll mane, is a scary looking dude.

He’s a scary looking dude who has ridden the world’s biggest wave.

Here’s a video from the movie Riding Giants of Laird riding Teahupoo, an insane break off the coast of Tahiti. (The money shot starts about 4:20 into the vid)

Most of us will never even see a wave that large in person, let alone be in the water when it breaks, so lucky for us, Laird’s there.

Another technique made popular by Laird, and one more accessible to us regular folk, is stand up paddle (SUP) surfing. It’s an ancient Hawaiian sport called Hoe he’e nalu in Hawaiian. Instead of lying tummy-down on the board to paddle out, the surfer stands up, balancing with his or her core strength and a long paddle. The paddle is used to propel the board forward on the water and later to balance as you ride the wave.

SUP surfing is fun because you can see everything in front of you as you paddle out to the waves. You can also do it in calm waters and lakes as a more tranquil water activity. If you take out the surfing bit, it’s basically canoeing for those who can’t sit down.

I think Laird Hamilton is the greatest, but he isn’t without his haters. Some people say tow in surfing pollutes the ocean and has corrupted the sport of big wave surfing. A lot of surfers are also bothered by Laird’s promotion of SUP surfing, mainly because it has turned into a trend of yogaesque proportions and is now a flavor of the week activity for rich businessmen and their spoiled kids to try while on vacation in Maui.

The “Blame Laird” movement was started by purest surfers as a way to accuse him of mainstreaming surfing and selling out.

He wasn’t opposed to being accused, though. Being the maverick that he is, Hamilton turned “Blame Laird” into his personal catchphrase (and business venture, as you can purchase Blame Laird merch from his website: www.lairdhamilton.com).

You surfed all day and forgot to call your wife? Blame Laird. You want to sell off all of your assets and move to a surfing village in Costa Rica? Blame Laird. You’re going to trade in the Armani suit for a wetsuit? Blame Laird. Go try your best to live the life you want, and if you get into trouble along the way, just Blame Laird

By branding Blame Laird onto stickers, T-Shirts, coffee mugs and the like, Laird’s giving us all permission to have fun at his expense.

My favourite part of the Laird video above is when he cries on his surfboard after riding that monster wave. Surfing is a sport where your strongest teammate is also your biggest opponent. Trusting yourself on waves that could kill you in an instant requires a zen-like understanding of both yourself and nature.

We’ve all had moments of this. I’ve cried while looking out at Rocky Mountains on a sunny day. I once had a spiritual moment with a goat farmer in the hills of Tuscany. I’ve felt totally embraced by and at peace with the ocean while swimming in it. I’m not totally a part of that world, though. To really be a part of it, you sort of have to live it and be it, full-bore.

This is why Laird Hamilton isn’t just a big wave surfer. He’s also a big wave.

Madonna’s Namesake

Madonna was born to offend you, now wish her a Happy 54th Birthday.

Every single Italian I met when I lived in Rome had the same reaction to my last name: “Ciccone, like Madonna!” They know that Ciccone is Madonna’s last name, what they’re not buying, however, is the Madonna part.

“Carla, what is her real first name?” my friend Massimo asked me. “Madonna,” I said. He laughed and shook his hands the way Italians do when they want to say, “mamma mia! Whaddaya talkin’ about?!” without actually saying it.

While they wholly embrace Madonna as her stage name, it’s unthinkable blasphemy that Madonna’s real name is Madonna. In Italy, that name is reserved for the one and only Holy Virgin Mother of God.

“It has to be Maria, Mary, Marie,” said Massimo, and after a trip to the World Wide Web proved him wrong—as she is indeed Madonna Louise Ciccone—he was left shaking his head.

Madonna had offended him. Not with her singing or stage humping or cross burning or boob flashing, but with her name.

Etched on her birth certificate, the seven letters that make up her bold first name contain within them an inherent contradiction. It represents the antithesis of what she is. If faced with the choice of being the Madonna or the whore, Madonna is the whore every time, and proud of it.

I don’t have to tell you about the impact Madonna’s had on music and culture. She ushered in the seminal music video era of the early 80s with so much sass that she transcended the corniness of the decade and transformed a generation of tween and teen girls (and boys) into lace sporting, multiple cross wearing, messy haired, gum chewing, cheeky little queens.

She was a fearless, fun, envelope pushing badass who challenged the norms of her Midwestern, motor city Catholic upbringing with so much gumption that, though many people were put off by her, they still believed her.

I remember my grandfather smiling down at me in the basement of his house in Toronto as he held up a poster of Madonna in 1987. He told me that we had the same last name as her and were from the same part of Italy, and I was in awe of the beautiful blonde woman with the dark eyebrows, red lips and mean face who, thrillingly, could possibly (but probably not) be my fifth cousin.

The video for 1989’s “Like A Prayer” featured a mélange of scandalous taboos at the time: interracial making out in a church, bumping and grinding, also in a church, and cleavage bouncing in front of burning crosses next to… a church! So it was perfect for a bunch of 7-year-old Catholic school girls to imitate at school.

My friends and I did so over recess one day, happily dancing and acting out the words of the song on a grassy hill. Life is a mystery… Watching us from her pious corner was the hawk-eyed relic of our Catholic elementary school, my second grade home room teacher, Mrs. Van Kant. Everyone must stand alone…

Van Kant somehow found out that Madonna the hussy’s last name was also my own, and pulled me aside before class. “You have the same last name as Madonna,” she said, her stale coffee breath assaulting my nose as she hiss-whispered through her teeth. “She is defiling the church. You better pray for her soul.”

Mrs. Van Kant was terrifying. All tightly wound white curls and high-collared, starched blouses, she constantly rapped a long, yellow pencil against the palm of her hand while patrolling our desks. She’d whack kids on the head with it for chewing gum, looking sleepy, or not praying loud enough. Madonna would’ve despised her.

Had I been 12 at the time, I would’ve been like “screw you, you tight ass bitch and hell yes Madonna CICCONE!” but I was not 12. I was 7. I was scared to death of teachers, hell and the devil and wanted nothing more than to be a good Catholic girl. Madonna was really messing with my elementary school God game, so after praying for her, I viewed her with severe side-eyed skepticism and hated her very much for three years. Until, that is, she became Mae Mordabito.

“A League of their Own” was the zenith of Madonna’s film career. The 1992 movie had a talented ensemble cast and was about women stepping in to play big league baseball for the masses while the men were off killing Nazis during World War II. They faced ridicule and sexism, they had to play in skirts, and they kicked ass.

Not unlike Madonna herself, #5 Mae Mordabito was lippy, feisty, and wicked. At one point, she poisons her team’s female chaperon Mrs. Cuthburt so the girls can sneak out to go swing dancing. More than anything, Madonna, and the rest of the Rockford Peaches (Geena Davis, fist pump!) made awkward prepubescent girls like me want to be sporty and play baseball, which I did, for a little while.

My musical tastes have always run more rock ‘n roll gypsy than pop princess, and I’d be the first to agree if you told me that Madonna’s songs, voice, words, face, performances, antics, or life choices have offended you, but love her, hate her, hate to love her, or love to hate her, Madonna has been the pinnacle of female pop stardom for the better part of the past 30 years. She’s sold over 300 million albums, which makes her the world’s top selling female recording artist.

Two years ago, I took an Alitalia flight from Rome to Sicily. I gave them my passport, and upon seeing my name, the attendant looked at me and smiled wide. She then called a coworker and said, in Italian, “I have Madonna’s niece at my desk!” They bumped me to first class and didn’t charge me for my extra heavy bag. I didn’t correct them. Madonna wouldn’t have wanted me to.

She’s been condemned and rewarded in grand fashion throughout her career, and in much more insignificant ways, I too, have been condemned and rewarded for my name-association.

As she turns 54, my wish for Madonna is to keep on living unapologetically, to keep on pushing (which she will, because she’s Madonna).

Fairground stripper, beret wearing rapper, new-age yogi, whatever’s next for Madonna, it’ll be provocative, because Madonna Ciccone was born to be a controversial anomaly fighting against the majority. I haven’t always liked or agreed with her, but I have always admired her.

She might have the name of a saint, but she’s got the balls of a lion.

Please Don’t Ruin the Dancing!

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In 1987, the world was a simpler place. The air was cleaner, the roads were emptier, and moms, dads, kids and cousins used to pack into the family Volvo to go see a double header at the drive in movie theatre on Saturday evenings.

My family did just that one fine Toronto summer night. The double bill was Back to the Future and Dirty Dancing. Back to the Future was not a new movie at the time, but Dirty Dancing was.

Even though I was only 5-years-old, even though I peed my pants halfway through the film and my mom forced me to put on one of my little sister’s diapers, even though my older cousin called me “Carla Smelly Diaper Pants” because of this for years to come, watching Dirty Dancing for the first time is one of my favorite childhood memories.

The movie is pure nostalgia. A movie about dancing because you want to. Dancing for money. Dancing for love. Dancing all sexy like in front of children and seniors even though the boss man tells you you’re not allowed.

But it’s not just a movie about dancing. It’s also a coming of age love story, and a film that was largely untroubled by Hollywood expectations. A simple, captivating story that no one knew would be a hit when they were making it.

This is why remaking Dirty Dancing 25 years later solely to make money will never work. You can’t recreate movie magic by ripping off a classic. Will you never learn, Hollywood?

I don’t want to see anyone else as Johnny Castle or Baby Houseman or Penny or even grumpy old Max Kellerman.

Children of the 80s, it’s time to stand up and REVOLT!

Rollerblades!

Right around my 10th birthday, I was obsessed with the following: Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, the Bryan Adams song from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, perms, puppies, Blossom, The Traveling Wilburys, trampolines, and the beautiful thought that I soon be the owner of a pair of rollerblades.

I had told all of the cool girls from school that I was getting rollerblades for my birthday and they had agreed that if I had rollerblades, I would finally be able to join their rollerblading posse. They all had really cool nicknames like Bo and Flo and Jo and, if I got in to the group, they would give me my very own nickname (Ho?) and we would rule the neighborhood.

The Dream of My Life:

On the morning of my 10th birthday, my mother walked into my room carrying a very large box.

I was so, SO excited that she had obviously gotten me the rollerblades I had been asking for all year.

I shredded the wrapping paper in a delirious fit of delight as my mom happily watched, perhaps slightly scared of my enthusiasm.

The moment of truth arrived as I lifted the box open.

And there it was…

A pink bathrobe.

I looked at my mother with the sort of serious disappointment one has when their life’s dreams are beaten down until barely recognizable and then murdered.

Like this, except although I was awkward looking as a child, I was still a human:

“Thank you,” I said to my mom, desperately trying to hide my heartbreak and suppressing the cry lump that was rising in my throat. Clearly my mother was intent on ruining my entire childhood.

I didn’t complain because when someone gives you a gift, you pretend you like it, no matter what. Even when you are expecting rollerblades and you get a really stupid, ugly, pink grandma robe.

The worst part about this was I now had to tell my friends who I had bragged to that I was going to have the coolest rollerblades in town, that I hadn’t gotten the rollerblades.

Upon hearing the news, those bitches swiftly kicked me out of the rollerblading club and I spent the summer riding my old, ugly bike.

I also fell off my bike that summer and still have an inch-long scar on my upper thigh from where the pedal cut me. I’m not saying this would’ve been avoided had I gotten rollerblades, but probably.

For months, every time I saw that pale pink bathrobe hanging on the back of my door, I cringed and secretly planned how I could light it on fire in my bathtub and then collect the ashes and leave them wrapped in a nice box for my mom as a present. I never did this, because I’m mostly only psychotic in thought, not action.

I avoided bathrobes for most of my adolescence and early 20s because of this event. I only recently bought one because when I first moved to Rome, I lived with a strange, hairy Romanian philosopher who would stare at me when I ran from the bathroom to my bedroom in a towel.

My 10th birthday taught me important life lessons. One should never expect anything! It seems the minute you start thinking “I’m the Rollarblading Queen of the World!!!” something will happen to remind you that you are, in fact, a pink-bathrobe-wearing plebeian.

In retrospect, being denied entrance into the cool kids club due to lack of rollerblades was probably for the best. Humiliation, disappointment and having your childhood dreams squashed builds character like nothing else can.

*Also, my mom bought me rollarblades the next year and I used them for two months before retiring them to the garage for good. I was a terrible child and she is actually the world’s greatest mother.

Kermie makes it better

Here’s Kermit the Frog, to make your day brighter (or greener). He’s sweet, he’s green and he wears a spiky choker, so you know he’s sorta kinky.

I have an extra special bond with the world’s favorite frog because my nickname was Kermit in Jr High school. I had big green eyes and wouldn’t put out (and ribbit sort of rhymes with frigid).

Oh Kermie, it isn’t easy being green!