The best books are the ones you’re not supposed to write. The stories you are cautioned not to tell. The ones that shake the pillars of the status quo and could, quite simply, get your ass kicked—in some cases, maybe even killed. Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, Nabokov’s Lolita, Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. While Chas Smith’s Welcome to Paradise, Now Go to Hell doesn’t necessarily stand alongside the others on that list, it is still one that could get his ass kicked.
Simply put, Smith’s book is a tell-all of the surf scene on the North Shore of O‘ahu. And though every surf magazine and website the world-over spits out their share of perennial North Shore coverage (the entire surfing world converging there each year for the final three competitions of the ASP World Tour) no one has really talked about the dirt. And no one’s talked about the dirt because the visiting surf world wants to return to the North Shore the following year with its head still attached to its neck.
But what, might you ask, is there to tell? Surfer dudes, big waves, Pipeline—case-closed. Well, not really. While an average tourist passing through the North Shore, stopping to watch the turtles at Laniakea, might never see it, a shocking world of violence, intimidation, and extortion exists on that seven-mile stretch of coastline, according to Smith. Men are beaten and choked on the beach (in front of lifeguards) by local surfers for minor infractions. CEOs of major surf brands are slapped and humiliated in their rented beachfront homes, afraid to prosecute. An unspoken payment known as “Hawai‘i tax” is levied by thugs. All of this, Smith suggests, and so much more occurs there on a yearly basis and continues to because every visiting professional surfer and surf industry employee is scared shitless to do anything but comply.
Chas Smith at the Chateau Marmont in his home base of Southern California. Image by Iouri Podladchikov
But Smith, a former war journalist turned surf writer, goes to the North Shore and lets the cat out of the bag, precisely because it is so dangerous. Having covered conflicts in Lebanon, Yemen, and Somalia, Smith investigates this hidden world and its most notorious figures because it is the element he most thrives in. As he says, “The rain is still falling, lightly, and my heart is on fire because it loves being where it is not supposed to be, like Hezbollah turf, like Eddie Rothman’s kitchen. It is exhilarating, it is adventure and I cannot stop. I am addicted. I am fucking addicted.”
Smith also doesn’t plan on returning to the North Shore anytime soon.
While the tales of this hidden world are juicy, cinematic, and entirely novel to most readers, it is Smith’s voice and storytelling that make the book impossible to put down. His raving narcissism, flamboyance, and ironic “trash prose” (a term he’s coined) continually turns the scariest of situations hilarious and light.
As the title suggests, Smith’s book is not a flattering picture of Hawai‘i. Some will find it shortsighted at times, if not downright offensive. Others with no knowledge of surfing or surf vernacular (though Smith takes great pains in translation) might find the book too insider, like gossip in a yearbook from a high school you didn’t attend. Regardless, Welcome to Paradise is undoubtedly entertaining and, for many a part of the surf world, long overdo. Most importantly, however, it is bold—like all great books that no one else has the balls to write.
Welcome to Paradise, Now Go to Hell:
A True Story of Violence, Corruption, and the Soul of Surfing
By Chas Smith
Published by It Books (November 2013)
Hardcover, 256 pages