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    120 Hours on the North Shore

    Had to delay posting this until this morning. Enjoy.

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    I’m writing this from my gate at the Montreal airport where I’m waiting on a flight back to LA, delayed most likely due to weather. It’s cold here for a California girl – like, snow-blanketing-tree-branches cold. Like I-bought-snow-boots-for-the-first-time cold (and thank God I did!). My blood’s especially thin right since just last week, I was soaking up the sun on Oahu’s North Shore.

    Until we meet again.

    A photo posted by Audrey Cleo (@audreycleo) on

    Perhaps I would feel differently if I lived there, but the beauty of the North Shore never gets old or any less breathtaking every time I visit: all damp sand and rolling waves in varying shades of turquoise, aquamarine and cerulean. It’s a place where wearing shoes feels both like a bore and a chore.

    It’s also the home of the Vans Triple Crown, the final three-part showdown on the ASP World Championship Tour (WCT) where the best surfers from around the world spend six weeks riding the epic waves endemic to the sport’s birthplace. It’s been six long years since I’ve been to the Triple Crown – specifically, the contest at Sunset Beach – so I was super excited to spend the latter half of last week doing just that, ultimately witnessing Tahiti’s Michel Bourez take the coveted cup. The 28-year-old power surfer beat out Hawaiian watermen Dusty Payne, Sebastian Zietz and Ian Walsh, securing the so-called second jewel of the Crown with a killer 9.0 ride at the legendary big wave spot. The contest now moves down to Banzai Pipeline, the contest’s grand finale and the ASP world title showdown.

    What a win by Bourez! Such an amazing contest. Glad I got to witness. #vtcs #sunset

    A photo posted by Audrey Cleo (@audreycleo) on

    You can't tell from my face, but I was stoked to be at the contest today. #vtcs #amazing #surfmore

    A photo posted by Audrey Cleo (@audreycleo) on

    And if I may betray my California roots for a moment by saying this, there’s something intimate about watching contests in Hawaii as opposed to back at home where the massive crowds and bands and skate parks – the whole “scene” – tend to be overwhelming. They also tend to be unsafe, as demonstrated by the general horrorshow of the 2013 Vans US Open at Huntington Beach. It’s not a good look for surfing when members of the crowd start acting like Tusken Raiders. I attended the first day of the contest where I saw a group of marauding jerk teenagers harass a city janitor ostensibly for no other reason than to be marauding jerks, spewing hateful racist epithets at the guy. It was before Huntington descended into general mayhem, but the trouble was bubbling up underneath the surface early on.

    Surf contests are never exclusively about the surfing, but Hawaii contests tend to be a touch less about the scene, more about the sport at least from a spectator’s POV. There’s comfort in the fact that I can watch some world-class wave-riding, grab a free hot dog and just chill out until sunset without fear that I will be harassed or have a Porta Potty fall on my head. You know, common decency type things. Plus, as my local friend noted, if anyone starts trouble, chances are someone will know someone who will set you straight; it’s an island, after all.

    Of course, my trip wasn’t all play, poke bowls and impromptu visits to the Billabong house, although there was plenty of that. Actually, it was mostly work, as I profiled young, up-and-coming junior professional Mahina Maeda who, with her adorable Australian shepherd pup Hoku, welcomed me into her home and life for a day. At only 16, Maeda has already nabbed two International Surfing Association (ISA) gold medals and won the junior ASP world title in Portugal this past October. Oh, and she also did this while she was there.

    Kind, intelligent and ambitious, the North Shore native is a rising star in the junior talent pool, and I’m stoked to see where her career takes her. A girl after my own heart (and stomach), she also had the best food recommendations, and now I know who to blame for my cravings for Ted’s chocolate haupia pie and Pupukea Grill’s coconut curry quinoa! Hashtag noms.

    So, as I sit here in a parka, scarf and Ugg boots, battling a half-headache from anticipating my six-plus hour flight, I’m thinking about my next trip back to the islands – back to ocean breezes, taro pancakes and bare feet all day.

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    Janay Rice breaks her silence. Let’s listen.

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    Ray Rice might not be a Baltimore Raven anymore, but he is allowed to play in the NFL once again after an arbitrator ruled Roger Goodell’s indefinite suspension of the running back an abuse of discretion. “Abuse.” It’s a word that put Rice in this situation in the first place and covered at length, the gruesome video of him punching out his now-wife Janay Rice and dragging her limp body out of an elevator played on loop throughout the fall news cycle.

    Now Janay will get to speak and not a moment too soon. In a two-part exclusive interview with Matt Lauer on NBC’s “Today” show – part one airs tomorrow – the woman who has stayed relatively reticent about the act of domestic abuse she suffered so publicly will, as the TV teases like to blare, “break her silence.” It’s a silence that many of have been quick to judge and pontificate on even tangentially, from the “why did she stay?” questions to video rants about needing more women at the big boy table of sports broadcasting.

    Over Thanksgiving weekend, I got into a heated discussion with someone about the recent Artie Lange controversy where the comedian tweeted a series of racist and vile tweets to ESPN reporter Cari Champion. This individual was surprisingly shoulder-shrug about the whole thing, taking on a “Well, that’s Lange’s humor, take it or leave it”-attitude about it. “Really? That’s considered funny? Why would anyone think that’s okay?,” I contended, adding that if I were Champion, I would be horrified and probably think twice before checking the @ replies on Twitter.  I would probably feel unsafe. Needless to say, the person I was talking to is not a woman and, furthermore, not a woman of color. The discussion reminded me how easy it is to be unencumbered by the burdens of others when no one has required empathy from you otherwise. Nothing excuses Ray Rice’s horrifying attack, let’s be clear. But as for Mrs. Rice, it’s easy for those of us who have never been victims of domestic abuse or have never uprooted our entire lives for a significant other or relied on said S.O. for a livelihood to sit back and go, “He did this horrible thing to you. Duh, leave him!” It’s easy for us to glaze over the complicated psycho-emotional blocks that preclude domestic abuse victims from leaving their abusers when we haven’t been there.

    So, what will Janay say? From the select clips “Today” has released and her defensiveness in the past on social media has indicated, she will likely and, yes, controversially, stand by her man. She isn’t afraid to express her thoughts about what influences the NFL brass’s decision-making. No matter the content, though, the most important part about Janay Rice telling her story – or the parts of it her handlers have advised her to – is that it puts a face and a voice, indeed a person, to the lifeless body in the video released this September. Mrs. Rice herself has said she has resented being portrayed as a victim because she thinks of herself as a strong woman. Maybe we can look for a shred of that strength if we dare.

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    Dancercising… into the Olympics?

    Above: A recent sketch from Comedy Central’s “Key & Peele” featuring some sweet dancercising, outfits.

    Last week’s episode of “Key & Peele” featured a strangely dark – yet still hilarious – skit about a fake 1980s era dance aerobics competition gone terribly wrong. The whole spectacle – shot brilliantly in homage to the aerobic dance movement that hit a fever pitch in the ’70s and ’80s – is a blur of Spandex, headbands and pitch perfect goofball dancercising. The sketch led me down an Internet wormhole and to a YouTube video of the 1988 Crystal Light National Aerobic Championship opening sequence aka the video so effectively parodied by K&P:

    So much power! So many unitards! And that SONG!

    So, whither dance aerobics today?

    Aerobic dance started not long after Dr. Kenneth Cooper, a former Air Force Colonel, introduced the concept of aerobic exercise after developing military fitness tests and conducting extensive fitness research on some 5,000 military personnel in the 1960s. Cooper’s book, “Aerobics,” was published in 1968.

    Jazzercise – which is a still a thing – started in 1969 and is now taught in 32 countries. Countless dance aerobic programs have popped up since, although modern-day descendants tend to be sexier than their leg warmered ancestors: think ZumbaPole Dance Fitness, various barre-based classes and Tracy Anderson. There are countless other ways to booty-pop on DVD, online fitness portals and local gym schedules.

    And contrary to what the Key & Peele skit may suggest, competitive aerobic dance is not just some anachronistic dorkfest immortalized on YouTube. In fact, it could be an Olympic sport. The Association of National Aerobic Championships (ANAC) will hold its 26th International Championship event in San Diego in July 2015. In 2011, the ANAC added something called AeroDance to the competition mix.  Sportaerobics or aerobic gymnastics require athletes to perform choreographed 1 minute 45 second routines demonstrating, among other things, “cardiovascular endurance” and “power through continuous movement patterns” and looks like a combination of cheerleading and rhythmic gymnastics but with more push-ups. It also looks hard:

    Sportaerobics is already recognized by the IOC and, according to the ANAC website at least, is poised to make its debut on the Olympic stage in the future. It’s easy to laugh at the sparkly Spandex, perma-smiles and cheese factor that seems endemic to dance aerobics, but they just might be key to winning Olympic gold one day.

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    Surfwisest

    Above: The official trailer for “Surfwise” (2007). 

    Last Monday, Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz, the patriarch of the so-called “First Family of Surfing,” died in Newport Beach, Ca. due to complications from a femur injury. He was 93.

    In the pantheon of quirky characters in surfing, surely Doc earned his place. A Stanford-trained doctor, he gave up a thriving practice and instead toured the US, Mexico and Central America in a camper with his third wife Juliette and their nine kids during the ’70s, a Von Trapp family of surfing. The family would later open the world-famous Paskowitz Surf Camp on San Onofre State Beach which has been attended by thousands of surf pupils. An ardent believer in the benefits of surfing not only on mind and body but also in resolving political conflicts, Paskowitz wrote “Surfing and Health” and, with Kelly Slater, started the organization Surfing for Peace in the hopes that the sport could ease tensions between Israelis and Palestinians. In 2007, Doc (born Jewish) personally delivered boards to Palestinian surfers.

    Of course, all of this is detailed in the documentary “Surfwise” (2007), a moving and rather unflinching portrayal of one of surfing’s biggest evangelizers. It opens with a scene of a not-young Doc doing naked yoga stretches before (duck)diving into his personal history and the nomadic, at times destitute life he thrust upon his family, members of whom did not always agree with his way of doing things. There are suggestions of resentment and authoritarianism. But there is no denying that the man loved to surf and lived, for better or for worse, every surfer’s daydream of packing it all up – or leaving it all behind – and following the waves wherever they may take you.

    A few years ago, I volunteered for a day with Surfers Healing, an organization started by Israel Paskowitz – one of Doc’s sons – that holds free surf camps for autistic children. Israel started the organization after witnessing the calming power the ocean had on his own autistic son, Isaiah, a therapy of sorts. And somewhere between helping kids with their wetsuits and handing out cartons of coconut water, I had a chance to meet Doc and his wife, Juliette. Thin and delicate-looking, Doc spent most of the day in sitting on a fold-out beach chair but when introduced to me, made it a point to stand up (“Because she’s a lady!” he said), take my hands in both of his to shake hello and thank me for volunteering my time. I don’t get star-struck, and I wouldn’t call this that – it was more like surf-struck. It’s a moment of which I wish I had a photo a la Bill Clinton and JFK. At some point during our brief conversation, he told me that he could no longer surf every day, an unsurprising fact but one that kind of bummed me out nonetheless if only because it was a reminder that that day comes for all of us.

    The Paskowitz Surf Camp website is paying tribute to the beloved Doc: “In honor of Doc, remember to celebrate life, follow your dreams, never compromise, be passionate! Life life to the fullest! Surf more! And stay away from refined sugar!”

    Some (surf)wise words to live by, no?

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    Sunday Night Futbol

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    Above: Kelly and I take a break from eating stadium food and doing insightful commentary to take a selfie.

    What do two overworked graduate fellows do on a Sunday night to turn off their brains? Go to a soccer game! At least that’s what my colleague, Kelly, and I did by nabbing last-minute tickets to see the LA Galaxy trounce Real Salt Lake in the MLS Western Conference semifinal last night. We watched Landon Donovan in one of the final games of his professional career pull a hat trick, scoring 3 out of the 5 goals against RSL (final score: 5-0) in a not-empty StubHub Center. We made our own running commentary about Cozmo, the Galaxy’s mascot which looks of indeterminate Muppet origin and contemplated Kyle Beckerman’s grooming habits (Me: “Do you think Beckerman’s dreads are hard to keep up?” Kelly: “Yeah, but they’re part of his brand” – we are commentary gold).  There was overpriced, unhealthy stadium food devoured. And to top it all off, we spent about 40 minutes wandering the campus of Cal State Dominguez Hills in search of our car. All in all, pretty typical, fun game day stuff and a very necessary break from staring at our laptops.

    When we talk about soccer or futbol – or as one hater I know calls it, “kickyball” –  ever “making it” in the US, the conversation is usually pretty fatalist. You tend to find few US futbol fans who openly and optimistically think The Beautiful Game has more than a snowball’s chance in hell of ever overtaking football, baseball or even basketball. And there are reasons for that, some of them cultural to be sure.

    Futbol may never overtake football but that doesn’t mean Americans aren’t watching or don’t care. And in the US, where cultural tropes of mavericks and heroes and being #1, the impetus that may give the sport that extra push into the mainstream consciousness is just one win on the world stage away. It’s just about getting there.

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    The StubHub Center seats up to 20,000 and there weren’t that many empty seats last night. Over 26 million Americans watched last summer’s World Cup final, and the chant for the USMNT, heard yelled in unison at full volume, was “I believe that we will win.” Imagine if we actually had.

     

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    Am I cut out for CrossFit? Probably not and here’s why

    A previous version of this blog post erroneously suggested that “The OC Throwdown” is a CrossFit-sanctioned event and pre-cursor to the CrossFit Games. It is not a CrossFit-sanctioned event. However, outlets including ESPN describe Ogar’s injury as the result of training for the CrossFit Games.

    Above video: A clip from HBO’s “Eastbound & Down” season 1 that summarizes my feelings about competitive exercising like CrossFit, feelings admittedly rooted in my own insecurities and weakling status. I own that.

    Earlier this year, during a CrossFit competitive exercise competition called the “OC Throwdown” – a pre-cursor to the CrossFit Games an event not sanctioned by the CrossFit brand – Kevin Ogar attempted an Olympic lift that would, within seconds, render him a paraplegic. One of the top athletes in the sport, Ogar, a former rugby player and CrossFit coach in Denver, was surely no stranger to the highly technical maneuver, but his slight move backwards caused him to drop the bar, 240 pounds in total weight, and sever his upper spine. The video of Ogar’s injury is disturbing, to say the least. Striking still is his reluctance to blame CrossFit for it.

    If you pay any mind to workout trends like I do (albeit as an easily-bored, obligated exerciser), you have heard of CrossFit and have at least one friend who cannot stop singing its praises in terms and zeal that border on fanatical: they’re in in the best shape of their lives, they’re healthier than ever before, bad karma erased, the list goes on. The CrossFit movement is emboldened by its 10,000 worldwide affiliates (gyms in laymen’s terms; “boxes” in CrossFit parlance) and its acolytes, over 200,000 of whom signed up to compete in the CrossFit Games Open, the worldwide qualifier for the ESPN 2-broadcasted CrossFit Games.

    Above video: Highlights from the 2014 Reebok CrossFit Games broadcast on ESPN 2 where men and women competed to be the Fittest on Earth.

    CrossFit, at its core as an exercise philosophy, involves (very) high-intensity interval training in a compressed time frame. What it boils down to – with variations – is doing as many rounds as possible of set exercises dubbed “WODs” or “workouts of the day” usually with minimal rest. There are Twitterfeeds devoted to posting WODs or take your pick from a variety posted on the CrossFit website. Pick your pull-up poison; it’s all in the name of achieving elite fitness.

    “What is ‘elite fitness’?” you might be wondering. That depends on who you ask. While some have set out standards for being elitely fit, a sort of one-workout-to-rule-them-all, more generally, “elite fitness” seems to be an umbrella term for achieving the ability to complete the rigorous exercise regimens once only familiar to Navy SEALs and members of law enforcement and the military, populations with which CrossFit is immensely popular. Celebs have jumped on the WODwagon, too.

    “Forging elite fitness” (CrossFit’s motto) is also big business. CrossFit founder Greg Glassman is not what you would call a traditional businessman, but he might be a marketing genius. Operating on a unique model built on a network of, more or less, independent entrepreneurs who essentially buy into the CrossFit brand, the company pulls in around $100 million in revenue. It’s generated mostly from licensing fees and seminars that could turn anyone – even me! – into a Level 1 Certified CrossFit trainer for a $1,000 flat fee.

    In theory, after I complete my Level 1 certification, which includes a multiple choice test and completing a rigorous WOD called the Fran (okay, so maybe I can’t be a CrossFit gym owner), I could open my own “box” – a purposely generic term since it can be customized to the owner’s liking under the CrossFit brand. Box owners pay a $3,000 annual licensing fee, although early owners have been grandfathered in at rates as low as $500.

    To the marketing genius end, not only has Glassman founded an entire workout methodology/philosophy/lifestyle and created a lexicon around it (WODs, boxes), he’s co-opted some of the less-than-flattering buzz around CrossFit into the brand. There’s “Uncle Pukie” alternately known as “Pukie the Clown,” a vomiting clown mascot speaking to CrossFit-induced vomiting that’s made puke buckets box staples. A 2005 New York Times article detailed one new CrossFitter who landed in the ER after his inaugural workout with a debilitating condition known as rhabdomyolysis where muscle breaks down and causes kidney damage. Uncle Rhabdo, a fatigued clown hooked up to a dialysis machine, was Uncle Pukie’s corporate mascot cousin for awhile.

    It’s all very fascinating how CrossFit has turned puke and the rapid breakdown of muscle tissue into tongue-in-cheek marketing tools. Indeed, Glassman himself has acknowledged that CrossFit “can kill you.” But it’s precisely that weed-out-the-weak branding that has made me hesitant and, admittedly, intimidated about ever stepping into a box.

    Then there are the CrossFit-related injuries which have drawn criticism from various fitness professionals and doctors mostly because of inconsistent and unregulated programs that push participants to levels of physical activity for which they are unprepared. But before I get a deluge of hate-mail, let me be clear: certainly, correlation does not imply causation. One study cited the CrossFit-related injury rate at three per thousand hours of exercise, similar to rates in gymnastics and Olympic lifting. Every sport has its inherent risks. Living has inherent risks.

    But the CrossFit brand is bolstered by such vocal practitioners that I often wonder what they’re preaching about. The word “cult” has been thrown around, but I find that way too charged – “community” seems more appropriate. Furthermore, members of said community continue to promote it even when assuming those risks don’t work out in their favor: Ogar is now confined to a wheelchair and no longer competes but continues to train other CrossFit athletes.

    One of my favorite scenes from HBO’s “Eastbound & Down” season 1 is of a conversation between generously-mulleted Kenny Powers (Danny McBride) and his boss (Andrew Daly), a smug school principal bragging about training for an upcoming triathlon, to which Powers responds, “I play real sports, not try to be the best at exercising.” Chuckle, chuckle. It’s a clip I like to shove in my marathon-running, triathlete friends‘ faces mostly out of insecurity because I know I could/would never elect to do what they do. I would probably give up halfway through mile one.

    Competitive exercising just isn’t my bag, so then by extension, I have assumed that neither is CrossFit. But then again, if I were to try sell someone on surfing knowing full well there are sharks in the ocean and rocks and – most dangerous of all – other surfers while singing the sport’s praises, I would probably sound like some evangelist; I would probably sound like a dedicated CrossFitter.

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    Watch: Jasmine Villegas indulges my back-up dancer fantasies, does acoustic performance.

    Jasmine Villegas is currently blowing up the radio with her single “That’s Me Right There” featuring Kendrick Lamar, and she breaks it down acoustic style in the Young Hollywood studio. With over 760,000 Instagram followers and over 1.5 million on Twitter, the pop star – who made her big debut in Justin Bieber’s music video for “Baby” – is no stranger to navigating the often treacherous waters of social media. We sit down to chat about that, her ultimate R&B idol and how I can achieve my lifelong dream of being a back-up dancer.

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