Welcome To Paradise – Now Go To Hell

While in Margaret River, I bought a couple of books, this one calling out to me because of its title and bright yellow cover. I’m glad I didn’t read it on a flight to Hawaii as it might have spoiled any holiday there.

Welcome To Paradise – Now Go To Hell is a memoir-cum-medley of old articles by a surfing journalist named Chas Smith, who writes principally for a smaller Australian surfing magazine called Stab, and who would like to be Hunter S Thompson when he grows up. I have approximately zero interest in surfing, but I like reading well-written gossip, so I really enjoyed most of the book.

There’s a lengthy metaphor in here about Chas Smith as an equivalent to Marlow in Heart of Darkness. His Kurtz is a sixtysomething hardman called Eddie Rothman (anyone named after a brand of cigarettes is probably quite terrifying) who runs Hawaii’s surf scene by beating people up. In fact, the entire surf scene consists mostly of people beating one another up. Surfers beat up surfers, who beat up journalists, or CEOs of surfwear companies, and nobody says anything. Hawaiians beat up anyone who isn’t Hawaiian, and the ocean beats up everyone, often to death.

Smith has a good turn of phrase and colourful characters to write about, but at length the book gets a bit dull. Yes, there’s a good discussion of the history and politics of Hawaii (now I have a reason to feel guilty about Captain Cook), and there’s some lovely use of vocabulary, ("tenebrism" was my favourite) but it’s all slightly too much look-at-me-ma-no-hands writing, which is fine in short doses but harder to read at book length.

Oh, and there’s a chapter explaining all the surf breaks on the North Shore of Hawaii, which if you’re a surfer you already know about, and if you’re not you don’t really care about. So he could do with more judicious editting.

There’s some nice twists, a good turn of phrase, and it’s not a boring book (list of surf breaks aside). One to avoid if you’d like a romantic tour of Hawaii with no illusion-shattering


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