Interview by: Leo Maxam | Photos by: Herbie Fletcher
Editor’s note: By now you’ve hopefully had a chance to watch our Fairly Normal on Christian Fletcher that we shot in Bali. On the back of his motorbike. Proving ourselves. Nearly dying. But getting the interview. And hopefully you’ve gotten a chance to get a copy of our What Youth Issue featuring some iconic and never before seen images from Herbie Fletcher’s personal archive, including the cover photo of a three-year-old Christian Fletcher slamming a Coors. And if not, below is a sample of the interview and a little glimpse at what it takes to abide by Christian’s motto: “live fast and die last.” —Travis
I’ve got Christian Fletcher in a death grip and I’m not letting go. I’m on the back of his two-stroke motorbike holding on for my life as we blast down the airport road in Bali, weaving in and out of traffic. His engine lets out a chainsaw wail as we bank into a tight turn and shoot a one-foot gap between a bus and a rusty pickup truck. One drifting car, one dog in the road, one patch of loose Indo gravel, and we’re fucked.
This is the kind of shit you have to expect if you want to interview Christian Fletcher. It’s an assignment that’s had me follow surfing’s aerial pioneer into the dark corners of thumping Bali nightclubs, to a sumo wrestling tournament and Metallica concert in Jakarta, and to Christian’s impromptu wedding on a cliff above Uluwatu. And I still haven’t managed to record a single word.
Lucky for me, what was originally supposed to be a three-week Bali vacation for Christian and his new wife has turned into a three-month tour of Indo. So I was given a bonus round to try and hunt him down – 56 days to be exact, and I’ve needed every one.
But Christian flies back to California tomorrow, and this time it’s for real. This is my last chance to capture some Fletcher gold. I’ve literally got him in my clutches. We just have to make it back to his hotel alive.
WHAT YOUTH: Let’s talk about speed, since you pretty much dusted us here on the motorbike.
I like speed. All kinds. I just refrain from doing some kinds of it now. I like riding waves that are really fast, shallow, hollow reefs. I like riding street bikes. One would think that because of the aerials and everything that I probably wanted to jump on motorbikes, but that’s the last thing I want to do. ‘Cause what goes up must come down, and you come down an inch too short and you’re fucked. I’m friends with all the freestyle dirt bike guys and they’re always hurt. Road racing, those guys usually walk away from crashes, unless it’s a highside. But down here (in Bali) it’s a different deal. You’re ridin’ in sandals and shorts, you know, so you crash and you’re fucked.
Yeah, how many tourists do you see these days all covered in bandages?
Yeah. I ride fast and I ride safe – well, pretty safe. I’m not cautious. When you’re cautious, you end up going over the falls in life in general. Cautious means you hesitate. The way I look at it is, you commit or you don’t – and I commit.
When was the last time you were scared?
I’m scared on a daily basis. Walking across the street around here scares me. If you’re not scared you’re stupid. That goes for surfing and everything – if you’re not scared that means you’re dumb. Like, I love the element of danger – it makes the heart beat, makes you feel alive – but at the same time you gotta be smart about it. Driving around here is like a video game where your life’s on the line. Shit’s scary. And I definitely don’t ride scooters ‘cause they scare the livin’ shit out of me. No clutch. No power if I need to get out of the way. Plus the way they turn, they weeble wabble – those tiny little tires and shit. That’s scary.
Have you been in any motorbike accidents?
I’ve been in a few, when I lived here before. I been in four of ‘em, but none of ‘em were really my fault. I’ve been rear ended twice. I don’t like going slow – that scares me. ‘Cause slow means people are passing you and people are gonna run into you. I had another kinda head-on collision up in Jimbaran – I flew like 20 feet in the air and landed on my head. But I wear a full-face helmet usually and that saved me. My ankle was a little hurt. Other than that I was good.
No, no, no. No crashes. I got precious cargo in the back now (Christian’s girlfriend, Chhum). Having a girl on the back, you know, I drive a lot slower and mellower. Still faster than the average person, but…
Have you ever been in a high-speed chase?
Yeah. The second day she got here we were looking for helmets and my ATM card got demagnetized, or they shut it down because I was in Bali and they thought somebody was stealin’ it. And I was in Denpasar tryin’ to buy her a helmet. Well, they were stoppin’ traffic on the way out of Denpasar. The police pulled us over and I started to pull over and then I hit the gas. The cop tried to do a flying punch into her head and we went down Sunset Road the wrong way, horns honking, all the way down to the Double Six stoplight. We hooked a left, a cop on a big bike pulled up, went around him – had like a fifteen minute chase all the way into Oberoi.
You lost ‘em?
Yeah. There was a lot of traffic but I got a loud horn – bam! bam! – fuckin’ in and out of traffic. And I’m going, is he still back there? She’s trying to look but her hair is flyin’ in her face.
Was she freaking out?
No, no, she was all good. But she was kind of pissed, like, “Get me a fuckin’ helmet!” (laughing).
A contract has been drafted by Christian’s girlfriend Chhum. She wrote it on a bar napkin from the Balcony restaurant in Kuta, where we’ve agreed to meet Christian to film his interview. Among the contract’s stated points: “No hipster shit” and “all aspects of the story will be preapproved by Mr. Fletcher himself.” Our video guy, Blake, looks deeply confused. We’re all confused. How did our lunch date interview with Christian turn into a meeting at the negotiating table? And how the hell have we let Christian hardball us like this?
“I live with my parents,” he says. “I need to get a hotel room if I want to spend the night with my girlfriend. So all I wanna know is what am I gonna get out of this interview?” Then he demands the cover of the next issue. “You put my brother on the cover. How about me?”
After a period of awkward silence, someone in our camp signs the contract and Christian agrees to give us an interview. But not right now. Right now he has to school Noa Deane and photographer Nate Lawrence on the art of Tabasco tequila shots. And he has to show us the footage from his visit to a haunted house in Lombok. And he has to perform his juggling act.
By the time we finish it will be midnight – and we still won’t have an interview. But we’ll have a damn fun evening to recall. And a very large bar tab. And a future interview that’s growing more epic by the day. It will happen. The napkin says so.
What do you think of rules?
There’s a time and a place for rules. Down here there’s not many rules, but the ones there are, if you break ‘em they’ll kill ya. And I kind of like that, ‘cause it’s a way simpler deal. In America there’s so much red tape. Down here it’ll just cost ya fifty thousand. In America it’s fifty thousand too – but fifty thousand dollars, instead of fifty thousand rupiah. And here you don’t go to court. You stick the money in a cop’s hand and bail – that’s it, life’s good. I like that way better. People want to stop the corruption and stuff – I like the corruption, makes it easy. The little guy gets paid and you only pay a little bit.
What do you think of all the talk that the world is gonna end soon?
Fuck, I’ve had my fun. If I die tomorrow I’m fuckin’ good. I’ve had more fun than most people have in ten lifetimes. For sure.
What’s it like being a dad?
Well, the kid’s 22 (Greyson Fletcher). It’s like any father / son relationship – kids don’t listen to parents – that’s just all there is to it. I could tell him something and he doesn’t give a fuck. Then somebody else will tell him something… Kids don’t listen to parents, but they’ll listen to somebody else. You tell ‘em the exact same thing, but it doesn’t matter. It’s pretty cool though. I mean it’s not easy. Try and point him in the right direction. My parents must have had a hell of a time. You havin’ one any time soon?
Not that I know of.
Nate: He sure has been practicing a lot though.
Oh, practice makes perfect, right!
Was there any chance your son wasn’t going to end up skating or surfing?
Well, I was doin’ wheelies with him down the street when he was three weeks old. The other parents kind of tripped out. But it’s like the Crocodile Hunter, he had his kid around the crocodile. And bikes and skating and surfing is what I did. So that’s what I know. That’s what I know how to teach the kid. Same like the Crocodile Hunter. People think it’s crazy but it’s not crazy. My dad had me on a surfboard as a tiny baby – that’s just what he did. If your dad’s a mechanic, you’re hanging out in the mechanic shop, you know. It’s just part of the deal. Some people just start their kids younger than others.
Funny, though, sometimes you see kids and they end up the complete opposite of their parents.
Oh yeah, my kid’s a skateboarder. But it’s evolution. My dad was a longboarder. I brought the skateboarder tricks into surfing. So it’s only natural for my kid to be a skateboarder, you know. But he’s surfing pretty good now. He’s finally learned how to surf. Stoked. He’s launching some airs and shit. He’s ready for Indo. Ready to come get barreled.
Where do you think is a better place to raise a kid – California or Bali?
I told my girlfriend – she wants to have a kid eventually, you know – and I said, as long as we don’t have him in America, I’m down for it. I wouldn’t want to raise a kid in America. It’s no fun. Like when I was eight years old, I could ride my bike to the beach by myself, go surfing at my grandma’s house – my grandmother lived on the beach at Capo Beach. You can’t do that now. Too many people, and too much traffic, and too many weirdoes. Too many fuckin’ people touching kids and stealin ‘em. That shit doesn’t happen down here – they kill ya. They don’t have the rape problems down here either. You can go pay for sex if you want it that bad, you know what I mean? At home you can’t, you get busted. And down here it’s cheap enough too, so everybody can afford it. And they don’t look at sex like such a taboo. In America it’s like, oooh you shouldn’t do that, it’s bad – so of course you’re gonna want to do it.
Do you encounter a lot of people who have preconceived notions about you based on all your tattoos and how you look?
Oh, lots of people have preconceived ideas about me, for sure. I talk to people and they’re like, wow, you’re not a dick. And I’m like, excuse me? What, you read something in a magazine? They trip out because I’m polite, I have manners, I have common courtesy. ‘Cause at the end of the day if you don’t have that stuff, then you really ain’t got much – no matter how good you ride a surfboard, or fuckin’ fly a kite, or drive a car or whatever. Some common courtesy, some manners, and some respect. And that’s the thing my kid does have too. He’ll walk up, he’ll look you in the eye, he’ll shake your hand and say: hello, my name is Greyson. That’s very important, I think.
America went to shit when they made it illegal to beat your kid. I don’t think kids need to be beat, but I know I needed to be smacked on a regular basis. That’s how you learn. The kids have no respect nowadays. I had a kid snake me twice at the pier. I did an air behind him and landed in front of him and he bottom turned and crashed into me. He came up from under water and he’s yelling, fuck you! Go down the beach! I said, what? Fuck you! And I started paddling up to the kid and he’s like, I’m only fourteen! Kids just have no respect now. They think because they’re under age they can get away with doing whatever they want. That’s when you pay another little kid to go kick their ass (smiling). I know a lot of bad little kids that’d be more than happy to do it (laughs).
CHRISTIAN WITH HIS SON GREYSON FLETCHER.
We are gathered here today to join Christian and Chhum in holy matrimony. None of us had planned on attending a wedding today – not even the bride and groom. It just happened.
We’re on a cliff overlooking Uluwatu at sunset. Mega, one of the island’s top shredders and a Balinese priest in-training, agreed to perform the ceremony. It’s his first wedding and he looks more nervous than the bride and groom. But Mega handles under pressure (he won the Padang Cup yesterday) and keeps it short and sweet. Christian says, “I do.” Chhum says, “Fuck yeah!” And then they make out like two kids peaking on Ecstasy at senior prom. The Technicolor sun dips into a purple Indian Ocean and the dance party begins.
Christian and Chhum walk out to the edge of the cliff to set a Roman Candle off over the ocean. Rizal brought the fireworks. They were left over from New Year’s Eve 2002, he said. Christian lights one and points it out to sea. Nothing. Maybe they’re too old? Boom! The thing explodes in Christian’s hand and falls to the lawn, spinning out of control and sending blasts of fire back into the crowd and the neighboring villas. Everyone hits the deck screaming until the rogue firework has exhausted itself. We’re all ok. Laughter all around.
It was a beautiful ceremony. The marriage won’t be legal back in California, but who cares? The kids are in love – and the neighbors’ living room may be on fire
That was a fun wedding.
Kinda random, right? The wedding was an eclectic group of people. It’s cool though. I like random. Greyson’s stepmom is ten months older than him (laughs).
Do they get along?
Uh huh. They’re buddies.
Chhum seems pretty easy to get along with.
She got straight As in university – she’s smart. She majored in fine arts. Sometimes she’d be like, I’m not going to school today. And I’d be on my way to work and I’m like, fuckin’ bull-shit. Get your ass out of bed and get the fuck to school; I expect nothing less than an A.
Have you ever made art?
Oh, I got my point across.
What’s one thing that no one knows about you?
I’d say my life’s been kind of an open book. I don’t know, I saw a Frankie Goes to Hollywood concert, the “Relax Tour” when I was 12 with my parents. Also saw Talking Heads, “Speaking in Tongues.” That was pretty sick. But how ‘bout this: that same year, The Pointer Sisters concert was one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen. That’s something nobody would know or guess.
Who are the Pointer Sisters?
Who are the Pointer Sisters? You don’t know who the Pointer Sisters are? Fuckin’ YouTube! The Pointer Sisters were bad. They’re three black chicks.
Are they old school, like Motown?
No, no. It’s like fuckin’ like in ‘82, when Tina Turner was Tina Turner.
Is this before or after Ike?
After Ike. But I used to listen to Ike and Tina.
I think you’d do good on Jeopardy.
I know a lot of random facts. My head is filled with random facts. But the facts on Jeopardy are different. Like, my aunt (Joyce Hoffman) was a five-time world champion surfer. My grandfather was ’50 and ’51 tandem champion at Makaha. Got pictures with the Duke handing him the trophy and stuff. But my aunt was married to an architect and her husband designed the Chart House – the one in Palm Springs – there’s like 70 of ‘em or something, the one in Dana Point where they’re built into the cliffs and all that. Well I remember discussing IQ tests with my family one time. And I said if I had an IQ test that was geared more towards the stuff I know, I think I’d rate just as high as my aunt’s husband, the architect. And my mom and my grandma are laughing at me. They’re like, you’re so full of shit. I’m all, well, you put him on a street corner and you put me on a street corner, who’s gonna come back with a bag of weed? Not him.<
It’s true. All those questions are just whatever questions they want to ask. Same with standardized testing. The questions are geared towards a specific type of knowledge.
It’s all more, like, fuckin’ book learning shit.
I went to the University of Life. Quit school when I was 15 and started traveling around the world surfing and getting paid to go surf. Living in Gerry Lopez’s house. I had to deal with all the gnarly locals every day – Dane Kealoha, Johnny Boy, everybody, you know. It was cool. That was my school.
DIBI FLETCHER, CHRISTIAN FLETCHER, NATHAN FLETCHER AND HERBIE FLETCHER.
@ChristianFletcherLives’ Instagram post on August 27th, 2013 shows Christian and Chhum smiling sweetly for the camera, awash in post-wedding bliss. The caption: Sumo wrestling + Metallica + The Stadium in Jakarta = what a honeymoon.
What’s it like growing up with Herbie Fletcher as your father?
Fuckin’ gnarly. My dad’s gnarly. ‘God dammit, get the fuck out of the water you little pussy!’ Then he drops in on you and runs you over. And he yells at you for it. ‘What are you doin’ taking off behind me?’ It’s like, can’t you catch your own waves on that fuckin’ longboard you fuckin’ asshole? Gotta resort to snaking your own kid? ‘Oh, I wanted that wave!’ Yeah, well so did I! Nah, it was cool though. My dad’s tough. And he would not accept a pussy. So that makes it hard for me to deal with lot of people – a lot of photographers too – ‘cause a lot of them are pussies and I wasn’t trained to deal with that.
Do you surf with your brother much?
Sometimes. I surf Salt Creek and stuff and I see him. He’s traveling a lot though. Like, I go to work every day. So he surfs in the hours when I’m usually at work.
You’re working at the factory?
I work at Astrodeck. I live at home with my mom, my dad and my kid and we all work together at Astrodeck.
Talk about your living situation right now.
I live with my parents. I live at Trestles; can see Cottons from the living room – pretty cool. Almost 43, can’t even bring a girl home. But I got married now so we’ll see what happens. She lives with her parents too.
What do you do at home when you and your wife want some alone time?
We both work during the week and we go stay at hotels on the weekend and go surfing, go to the beach. But I’m in the process of getting a boat from my friend. His boat was getting destroyed and impounded so I’m getting the paperwork straight and stuff. It’s a 32-foot Motorsailer. So I figured it’s about time I get a captain’s license. I have a history of about 13 or 14 captains in my family. My dad’s dad was on the USS Arizona, him and his twin brother. Two weeks before it got blown up they got transferred.
At Pearl Harbor?
Pearl Harbor. I even have a grandmother that was a captain – all on my dad’s side.
You want to live on the boat?
Yeah, that’s what I plan on doing. That’s the only way I could afford to get my own place, because business is slow. And when you work in a family business and business is slow, you don’t get paid. But I’ve had a roof over my head. I’ve had gas money – nothing to complain about. Nobody likes a complainer anyways.
Christian is carrying his green Timmy Patterson up a crowded beach after surfing in the Expression Session of the Padang Cup. He just did “The Zombie” (front-facing, straight-legged barrel stance – his signature daredevil move) through some deep low-tide pits out at Padang. A guy with a microphone stops Christian to interview him on the live webcast. The interviewer asks him the same tired questions: waves, conditions, prize money. Then he lobs one of several hundred clichés that will fill the day’s broadcast: “But it’s not really about the money, is it Christian?” Christian sniffs in the pungent aroma of bullshit and pounces on the poor bastard like a jungle cat. “Of course it’s about the money! I got a family back home. What, are you new around here?” And with that, Christian Fletcher claims the “Only Original Interview Of The Day” award.
Some guys come to Bali and they barely even surf. They just party or get lost in other stuff. You seem to be really psyched on surfing this trip.
The last couple years I’ve just been surfing every day. I’ve been getting back to the basics, like when I was a kid. I go to the beach, hang out, smoke joints and surf all day on the weekends and every day after work. It’s been a lot of fun. I’ve been stoked on surfing again.
Were you ever over surfing?
It goes through phases. You get burned out. I turned professional in ’85, surfed the Pipe Masters in ’85. So you get burned out on it after a while, especially the way my dad is. My dad was gnarly. He’s dropped in on me and ran over me my whole life. Still does it to this day. If he doesn’t run me over on the wave, he’ll run me over when I’m paddlin’ out. But he made it so I could surf in any crowd and he took me to really good surf spots. And if I got out of line he’d smack me in the head and tell me, get the fuck out of the water you little pussy! And I thank him for that. That’s the best thing he ever could have done for me.
Is there anybody who you watch surfing right now who gets you psyched on surfing?
Eddie Blackwell. The Predator. Gnarliest fuckin’ backside surfer I’ve ever seen. Nobody compares. Not Kelly, none of ‘em. At a big gnarly left he’ll smoke all of ‘em. You know who I’m talking about?
That guy with the dreads and…
And no front teeth, yeah. Guy has no front teeth.
If you could turn back the clock to any era in surfing history, what era would you want to go back to. Or would you stay in the present?
Life’s good now. I don’t know if I could live through being young again. That was a rough one. I’m stoked where I’m at right now. I think I surf better than I ever have. I ride the tube better. I do as big of airs as fuckin’ anybody. I hate spinning – I think that’s weak – it’s easier. That’s why all the guys do it, ‘cause they don’t know how to do a proper air most of ‘em. ‘Cause if you do a proper air you have to be accountable for your fins when you’re landing in the water. If you land sideways or backwards, you don’t. And you don’t have to be over the top your board. You let the wave push you back up on top of your board. That’s why everybody lands sideways and backwards.
What about grabs?
Grabs are sick – as long as they’re not double grabs. Like, I don’t want to see my buddy riding down the street with training wheels on his bicycle, you know – kind of embarrassing. That’s how I feel when I see my buddies do double grabs – unless it’s a specific maneuver that calls for a double grab, which there ain’t many.
If you could create a wave, what would your perfect wave look like?
The Wedge was created. It ain’t exactly perfect, but it’s perfectly gnarly. It’s the only place I can go around my house where it’s guaranteed you’re gonna get the shit kicked outta ya. They just need to drop the blackball. Or at least give the surfers and the bodyboarders a couple days a week where they can surf. You know what I mean? Trade off. It’s blackball from 10 o’clock to 5 o’clock, no flotation devices allowed. From around March till Halloween.
Why is that?
‘Cause of some rich bodysurfers and their fuckin’ lawyers and shit. The Balboa Group. They grew up in Balboa (Island). Their parents are politicians, know what I mean?
I had a bodysurfer screaming at me one day, ‘This is body surfing break, this isn’t a surfing break!’ I said, that’s funny, I come out of the tube. You don’t. As far as I’m concerned it’s a surfing break. Bodyboarders are sick though. I’m friends with all the bodyboarders. Bodyboarders get the biggest, heaviest waves that come through. And the fuckin’ Wedge crew are fuckin’ sick. They’re like Aquaman.
How do you deal with crowds?
My dad was worse than any crowd. Surfing around crowds, that don’t bother me. I’ve surfed Trestles, I’ve surfed Pipeline. The crowd at Uluwatu is kinda gnarly these days ‘cause there’s a lot of Russian beginners, so it’s dangerous. I’m a wave catcher, it don’t matter how crowded it is. It’s easier to catch a wave at Pipeline with 60 guys in the water than it is in a heat at the Pipe Masters with four people.
‘Cause in a heat there’s interference rules, and fuckin’ people paddling over each other, you know what I mean? With 60 people you can drop in on somebody and deal with it afterwards, you know. It’s just easier.
Have you gotten into many scraps over surfing?
Oh yeah. Surfing’s a violent sport; a selfish, violent sport. I was bummed out on it for a long time ‘cause you paddle out and there’s like two people in the water and they’re still giving you dirty looks. I decided to go skateboarding because there’d be like 50 people on the skateboard ramp and everybody’s still like, what’s up! Stoked to see you and stuff, it’s cool. Crowds, I don’t know. I can deal with ‘em. I don’t really care. I catch waves anyway. If it’s fuckin’ crowded I just go surfing at night and I can have any wave I want.
We made it. Christian’s banshee bike screeches up to the hotel. I hop off and wipe my sweaty palms on my shorts. Christian does a couple more wheelies out front. A family of Japanese tourists snaps photos of him from across the street. Christian gives them a thumbs up and a smile. They all return it enthusiastically.
We take a seat in the hotel bar and order beers. Christian says he’s kinda sad about leaving Bali, but it’s his mom’s birthday in two days and he has to get back to San Clemente. Tomorrow he’ll be on a plane bound for America. Back to a different reality.
We order a round of tequila shots with a bottle of Tabasco on the side. “A beautiful girl from Sulawesi taught me how to drink tequila like this,” he says. We toast to his mom’s birthday. And to living in the moment. It burns. Good.
What’s next for you? Like, where do you see yourself in another five years?
Next month I see myself in Japan. That’s about as far ahead as I can give you. I’m not one of those people that really plans for the future. I live in the moment. In a lot of ways it sucks ‘cause you don’t think about the future. But what happens if there is no future? And I ain’t gonna live in the rear view mirror and dwell in the past. I’m fuckin’ here now and gonna have as much fun as possible. Simple. Live it up. That’s why I got a tattoo on my knuckles that says ‘LIVE.’ Everyone says, why don’t you get the other knuckles done? And I say, ‘cause livin’ is a hard enough job and I’m busy with that one. I don’t need nothin’ else.
You seem to really like living in Bali.
Down here I feel alive. In America I just exist.
That’s what a lot of people do there. Like when you’re stuck in rush hour traffic and you look at all the people…
There’s rush hour traffic here too. But you drive the motorcycle on the sidewalks and you fuckin’ ride around it. In America you’re just existing. There’s too many police. Too many rules. Nothin’ seems to work. Down here there’s not many rules, but everything kinda flows.
A lot of shit doesn’t work here too.
Well, yeah, that’s if you’re trying to do business. But if you’re just livin’, it’s pretty simple. It’s a pretty easy life. It’s a hard life for a lot of the local people who live here ‘cause they don’t have nothin’. But the one thing about the people here, even if they don’t have nothin’, they still usually have a smile. You go back home, and they got all kinds of fancy things, but they don’t even got a smile. That just goes to show you, you can’t buy a smile. Sad. They’re so worried about everything, you know?
How do you think the world is gonna end?
How do I think the world’s gonna end? Ahh, I’d rather not say. There’s two things you’re not supposed to talk about at the dinner table: politics and religion. And those are both kinda how I think the world’s gonna end.
Do you have any kind of religious philosophy?
Yeah. Don’t worry, be happy. My mom would consider herself Buddhist if she had to pick a denomination. My dad too – or Taoist. My wife’s Buddhist. Me, I believe in that philosophy. It’s pretty simple. When people ask me, I tell ‘em I’m happy. That’s the religion I am: I’m happy. I’m a happy person. I like to see people smile. I believe in karma, I believe in being a good person. And if there is a God and he can’t accept that, then fuck him, I wouldn’t want to hang out with him anyways.