Sarah Natochenny | ABC Open: Mother Tongue | Mass Media in India - 525 Words

Welcome to Paradise, Now Go to Hell: A True Story of Violence, Corruption, and the Soul of Surfing by Chas Smith

A finalist for the PEN Center USA Award for Nonfiction

For two months every winter, when Pacific storms make landfall, Oahu's paradisical North Shore turns into a fiery hell. Its normal population of sixteen thousand more than triples and this explosion of mainlanders, Brazilians, Australians, and Europeans creates one of the most combustible milieus on earth. Waves, like gold and oil, are a limited resource and, as such, are fiercely fought over by the visiting hordes, the surf industry, other Hawaiian islanders, and North Shore residents. The otherwise sleepy North Shore becomes a lawless, violent, drug-addled, and adrenaline-soaked mecca.

It takes uniquely fearless men to paddle into thirty-foot waves breaking over a razor-sharp reef hidden beneath three feet of water. Death and maiming are regular occurrences during North Shore winters. Yet when the sun dips, the fearless become truly scared. You see, the ocean has rules. The men who haunt the land do not. And so they whisper about helter-skelter violence dished out by larger-than-life Hawaiians. They whisper about being choked, slapped, and bloodied for breaking unspoken codes of conduct. About the protection money extracted from the surf brands that want to hold their contests on the North Shore. About drug running, fights, and maybe even murders. And then they return to multimillion-dollar beachfront homes and drown their anxiety with cocaine and booze. But they know they are not safe. Because no one is ever safe here.

The surf world is far more volatile and complex than outsiders know or popular depictions would have us believe, and the North Shore during winter is its most extreme representation. It is downright dangerous but also exhilarating, and this story paints a true picture of what it feels like to be in the middle of it all. It is both a breathtaking and wildly funny tale of beauty, wickedness, and the unyielding allure of ocean waves in all their glory.

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