Those readers who frequent the website Beach Grit will know that Chas Smith has found a new dead horse to kick. “I let no dead horse go unkicked,” he wrote, by way of introduction, roughly 20 hours ago. “If I see a dead horse, anywhere at anytime, […] I will gird my loins, steel my spine and begin kicking. Kicking. Kicking. Kicking.”
It is his chief quality, his defining characteristic, and rightly or wrongly he’s very proud of it. “He let no dead horse go unkicked”: if his gravestone were to bear that as an epitaph, I expect his corpse, which may have to weather a kick or two itself, would positively beam for all eternity.
Beth Greve, who has been the World Surf League’s Chief Commercial Officer for over a year, was last week filmed walking down the beach with the fins screwed into her surfboard back to front, a tag of some sort still dangling from the tail. Even before she was recognised and her identity became known, Ryan Williams’ footage was all over Instagram, and Greve had been officially anointed Kook of the Day.
That she turned out to hold an important position in surfing’s frequently hapless governing body made it doubly funny, doubly apt, (“you can’t script this”, etc.), but what had made the clip so funny and apt in the first place was its other protagonist: a gleeful stranger, evidently a surfer, who struggled to contain his laughter as he first took her photo, then explained to her the error of her ways. That is the proper order of things, of course, in this age of instant imagery: photo first, assistance later. His schadenfreude, his eagerness to obtain photographic evidence, made the clip an intriguingly self-reflexive one, not just an instance of but also a comment upon viral kookdom. And so, in this handsome, tall, dark-haired stranger we saw — ourselves.
A video of a surfer taking a photo of a non-surfer trying to be a surfer: no image could better encapsulate surfing’s fine tradition of ritual humiliation, given new wings by social media. No image, for that matter, could better encapsulate the dubious direction of travel currently being pursued by the WSL.
But could you perhaps script it, after all? Many wondered if it wasn’t an elaborate con. “[S]omething about it feels so… staged,” agreed Smith. “If it is a spoof then boy oh boy they got us all good. The best mass prank in surf history wouldn’t you agree?”
He finally declared himself 98% convinced of the incident’s authenticity, but was left with several unanswered questions: “I need to know more about the handsome, taller, dark-haired man taking the picture and exaggeratedly explaining. What did he know and when did he know it? I’d also like to see his photo. I think that is important for us and our investigation. Or at least for me and my dead horse kicking. Does anyone know him? Do you?”
Pepe Jose Ceballos
One joins in the dead-horse kicking only reluctantly, only in order to hasten its proper burial. (Possible epitaph: "Here lies a horse whose name was Beth; / She shall be kicked no more in death.")
Pepe Jose Ceballos — his surname just one letter away from “caballos”, Spanish for “horses” — is from the Basque town of Irun, to which he recently returned following a fortnight in Bali. I first met Pepe two summers ago, and have met him several times since; besides being handsome, tall, and dark-haired, he is very likeable and always struck me as the sort of person who can be relied upon, when he sees something funny at the beach, to take a photo of it and put it on the group. I don’t know him very well, I'm not on any of his groups, but I know him well enough to recognise him in a viral video, and well enough to trust him when he says he isn’t part of a of an international conspiracy or some bizarre, counterintuitive marketing ploy.
He had been at Keramas watching the comp, when his friend spotted two girls walking down the beach carrying surfboards, one of them with its fins back to front. Pepe showed admirable presence of mind. “I grabbed my mobile from my bag and went rushing down to her,” he told Surf Europe on the phone this morning, amid much laughter. “I tried to be inconspicuous so she wouldn’t notice, but when I turned around to take the photo she looked at me like, ‘what are you doing?’ So I asked if I could take a photo and she just stared at me in confusion, like, ‘but what for?’ I was just trying to stop laughing.”
After taking the photo, he explained to the woman her mistake and offered to rectify it, which accounts for his running out of the frame at the end of the clip. “She came with me to where we were sat on the beach, where I had all our stuff, including a fin key," he said. "I put the fins the right way round for her, we had a nice little chat, and that was that. […] I asked if she'd ever surfed and she said, ‘yeah, I’ve been surfing before’, I can’t remember if she said in Costa Rica or in Nicargua, somewhere like that.”
Pepe said he had no idea who the woman was, even now. When I told him she was the WSL’s Chief Commercial Officer, reportedly its fourth in command, he sounded shocked: “What? Her? No way!”
He searched her on the internet. Then four or five seconds’ silence, after which: “Yes, it’s her!” This he repeated several times, in the manner of one still processing new and unlikely information.
As for the suggestion that the whole thing had been staged, Pepe was dismissive. “You reckon? Nah, I don’t think so, the look on her face when I told her she had the fins the wrong way round… If it was a set-up she acted extremely well.”
Alas, no footage of the subsequent session has been forthcoming, and Pepe could give no eye-witness account of it, though apparently it did not last long. “There was a big crew surfing where we were, Jordy Smith and a few others were out there free-surfing and the waves were big, so she went over to another peak where I couldn’t see her. But I saw her walking back with her hair wet barely ten minutes later.”
Williams, who can just be made out in the background of Pepe’s photo, agreed that the episode was “100% real”. He told Surf Europe that he knew nothing about the woman until Beach Grit reposted the clip.
None of this, of course, precludes the possibility that Greve was set-up by whoever gave her the board in the first place. The identity of Ms Greve’s companion, whose green board can briefly be seen entering the right of the frame in Williams’ footage, remains a mystery.
Oh Beach Grit may be good at kicking dead horses, may have a slightly faster metabolism, but when you want the hard questions answered, when you want ear-to-the-ground investigative nous, when you want your horse meat red-raw and still twitching, it is at Surf Europe’s door you must come knocking.