By Jamie Brisick


In 1999 I met Marie in the southwest of France. Tall, straight blond hair that cascaded down her back, rapturous blue eyes, mischievous big smile—she got a lot of attention from men, and I felt lucky to have hers. We were at the Seaside Bar in Hossegor, both of us in town for the Rip Curl Pro, an international surf contest. I was writing about it; she was doing marketing/P.R. for her employer, Oakley Europe.

Over drinks we talked about Magnum photographers, Brazilian writers, and the loutishness of the pro-surfing tribe. She told me she loved bullfighting, that she anxiously awaited the corrida de toros season (April-October) so she could spend weekends in Seville, where she wore flamenco dresses and occasionally danced on tables. “There’s this torero who trains for the corridas by going to the beach at night with his cape,” she said. “He pretends that the waves are bulls.”

Marie lived in Paris, in the 16th, on Rue Passy—“really bourgeois, but also really beautiful. Catherine Deneuve is my neighbor.” She wrote her number on a cocktail napkin. “If you’re in Paris any time soon, come visit.”

I was there three days later. We met at a sushi restaurant, had an excellent dinner and lots of sake, and went for a stroll. On the steps of the Trocadéro, the Eiffel Tower presiding over us, we kissed for the first time. At her one-bedroom, minimalist apartment that smelled of roses and strong cheese, we had sex.


June 23, 2017

A Life in Surfing - Symphony Space, July 27

Jamie Brisick has spent more than four decades deeply immersed in surfing, first as a professional surfer in the '80s and '90s, and since then as a writer, photographer, and filmmaker. An author of several books, an editor of international surf magazines, and a Fulbright scholar, he is an astute observer of the culture. In conversation with Chris Gentile, founder of Pilgrim Surf + Supply, and through a selection of his photographs, Jamie will discuss his life in surfing, as well as show excerpts from a few of his favorite surf films, which include Jack McCoy's StormridersGreg Schell's Chasing the Lotus, and Alby Falzon's Morning of the Earth.



"You've never read anything like BECOMING WESTERLY. Peter Drouyn is a character beyond the capacities of almost any novelist to imagine-and then he turns into someone else. Jamie Brisick traces the emergence of Westerly Windina with so much empathy, eloquence, and patience. His book is dazzling, devastating, funny, and surpassingly strange." - William Finnegan, author of Barbarian Days

"BECOMING WESTERLY is much more than a book about a celebrated surfer who becomes a woman-in this case, a dude who becomes a diva. Brisick presents us with a case study of narcissism, of the pathology of celebrity, and a detailed look at the complex world of competitive surfing. It is a funny and painful book, too, and one I greatly enjoyed." - Paul Theroux, Mr. Bones: Twenty StoriesThe Last Train to Zona VerdeThe Great Railway Bazaar and Mosquito Coast

"Brisick shines a brilliant light on the fascinating Ms. Windina, at once damsel in distress and Superwoman. The surfing scenes are riveting-written with an excitement and an immediacy that only a lifelong wave rider can pull off." - James Frey, A Million Little Pieces

"From deep inside the barrel, Jamie Brisick recounts the tale of the waverider who revolutionized pro surfing with man-to-man heats and then became a woman - having thought of herself as Marilyn Monroe all along. With this compassionate, funny, and wrenching book, Brisick has taken his impressive body of work to a new level, establishing himself as a fine observer of life's currents, on land, sea, and inside the heart." - Deanne Stillman, Twentynine PalmsMustang, and Desert Reckoning

"Jamie Brisick tells the unlikely story of how Peter Drouyn, one of Australia's greatest surfers, morphed into the chanteuse Westerly Windina. At once candid autobiography, participatory anthropology, and cultural history, the tale of Drouyn's metamorphosis is told with compassion, humility, and authority. BECOMING WESTERLY is a remarkable book, proving once again that the truth is usually stranger than fiction." - Dr. Peter Maguire, Law and WarFacing Death in Cambodia and Thai Stick

"What happens after the endless summer? BECOMING WESTERLY is what happens. Jamie Brisick has given all readers one shaggy, tasty gift: not only the history of surfing, as seen from inside that raging, curling wave (quite an accomplishment in itself) but the more intimate struggle that comes from being alone with your aloneness. The transformation of Peter Drouyn-troubled narcissist, influential surfing genius-into wannabe starlet Westerly Windina is every bit as absorbing as it is frustrating, as charming as it is essential." - Charles Bock, New York Times bestseller Beautiful Children

"Whitman wrote, ‘I contain multitudes,' and he might have had this book in mind. BECOMING WESTERLY is the story of surfing great, Peter Drouyn, and his subsequent transformation, via a sex change operation, into aspiring diva Westerly Windina. But it's also a tale of the writer, Jamie Brisick, and his efforts to understand what-for lack of a more specific term-it all means. In the process, this engrossing narrative raises a series of questions rather more profound than you might expect: Who are we? Where do we begin? Where do we end? Is there such a thing as destiny? Are we riding the wave or a part of it? And as with the best books, in the end it's our own lives we examine." - Jim Krusoe, Parsifal

"BECOMING WESTERLY is a haunting and important book-a reminder of what it means to be human, flawed, and occasionally fabulous." - Karl Taro Greenfeld, Speed Tribes and The Subprimes

"What a wild and wonderful and fascinating journey our lives can be! BECOMING WESTERLY stands as beautiful evidence of this-gorgeous proof of the ever-unfolding transformations many of us undergo-and Jamie Brisick brings these changes to vivid and heart-rending life. A sometimes-brutal book, every page is marked with care, affection, friendship, and pure honesty. - William Lychack, The Architect of Flowers

"BECOMING WESTERLY examines a difficult life with clear-eyed compassion, a story that helps us better understand how we all can become authors of authentic lives." - Kem Nunn, Chance

"A strange, exhilarating, ultimately uplifting ride. Jamie Brisick is the perfect guide into the life of an amazing ninja-level surfer, provocateur, and diva." - Matt Warshaw, Encyclopedia of Surfing

"Westerly and Peter are two of the greatest characters to ever grace surfing, two titanic life stories, and with BECOMING WESTERLY Brisick has written incredible portraits of both. A story of the glory and terrible burden of ambition for greatness, and greatness unrecognized. Beautiful, sad, and full of hope." - Surfing World

"If Augusten Burroughs had surfed, he might have come up with something like this sharp, witty, poignant, heart-wrenching, ribald memoir-although Jamie Brisick brings a sweet and aching humanity all of his own. The life of a professional surfer is sometimes idealised as an Endless Summer of girls and parties. This is the real deal of the messy, confounding, intoxicating rollercoaster of growing up with a head full of dreams and the insecurities of being on show and constantly judged as a professional athlete while tripping about the planet trying to work out who you are. Brisick is honest, funny, masterful and never hits a dud note." - Tim Baker, author of OccyHigh SurfBustin' Down the DoorSurfari, and Australia's Century of Surf

"WRITTEN ON WATER is the closest you'll get to being a pro surfer on the contest circuit without actually being a pro surfer on the contest circuit. It's also as close as you'll ever get to being neck deep in the briny blue without getting your feet wet. Brisick's surf memoir is as languid and hypnotic as the sea itself; the pages roll by in perfect sets, and, like a good day at the beach, you won't want it to end." - Jason Crombie, Editor in Chief, Monster Children

"Brisick's the writerly equivalent of those surfers - those bastards possessed of effortless power and timing - that you can't turn away from watching (or in this case, reading...)." - Graeme Murdoch, Editor of White Horses

"A touching memoir about family, loss and a life spent in the waves. A child of the Southern California Dream, Jamie escapes into the fantasy world of professional surfing while his family is ripped from within by his beloved elder brother's drug addiction and eventual death. The tales of hope and heroism on tour are a surreal contrast to the frightening truths awaiting him at home. This book is a powerful and painful antidote to the Jeff Spicoli vision of the inarticulate doper-surfer, and to the equally inaccurate idea that surfers are somehow immune from normal human concerns." - Nick Carroll, author of TC

"Imagine Holden Caulfield went surfing. With charming candour and vivid prose Jamie Brisick takes the reader on a compelling ride through the fluoro-tinted, idealism of the ‘80s pro surfing scene and the suburban dystopia he had to escape to make it there. Insightful and funny, Written on Water strikes an engaging balance between a surfing subculture that has never been so evocatively traversed and the sometimes tragic struggles of a middle-class, Californian family." - Luke Kennedy, Editor of Tracks

June 9, 2017

Surf’s Way Up

As I climbed out of the bathtub-warm Indian Ocean and onto the deck of the motorboat, one man grabbed my surfboard, another handed me a bottle of chilled water, and a third doused me in a fresh-water shower then handed me a fluffy white towel. Before I’d finished drying off, a fourth man offered me a plate of sliced cold coconut. I felt a cross between a prizefighter in his corner and a Hollywood starlet between takes on a big-budget film.


February 22, 2017

And Then I See A Darkness

Thirty minutes and half a bottle of Pinot Noir into their first date he stood up, walked over to her side of the table, placed his hands on her shoulders, and whispered into her ear: “So here’s how it works. You’re trying to get DNA from my body over to your body. Blood, cum, saliva, hair, finger and toenails, a hacked off pinky—all fair game.”

[I’m unsure whether this story takes off in a Last Tango In Paris direction or whether she splashes her drink in his face, but I do see a later flashback scene where our male protagonist meets a cute ponytailed girl in kindergarten who invites him to play Hide and Seek. The Hide and Seek games carry on through elementary school, getting bigger and more elaborate, covering their entire suburban neighborhood. They never really talk. We see them climb over walls into random backyards, bury themselves under blue tarps in alleyways. The flashback ends with male protagonist at the breakfast table with Dad. Dad reads the paper. He furrows his brow, reads aloud: “How awful. A fifth grade girl from your school was run over by a car yesterday.”]

November 16, 2016

Surfing World

Thrilled to talk writing, surfing, elephant wrestling (always keep a stash of cayenne pepper in your back pocket) w friend and colleague Sean Doherty in the latest issue of Surfing World. @seano888 @surfingworld ��@markonorati Thanks fellas.

October 28, 2016

Identity Is A Slippery Game

Identity is a slippery game. We conduct ourselves one way with one person, another way with another person, and yet a third way with yet a third person. We contain multitudes. We are kaleidoscopic. And yet we are forever stuck with ourselves. Which can be exhausting. And suffocating. And imprisoning.

Which leads us to Halloween. How delicious to put on a mask and be someone or something else! How totally invigorating to be, say, an honest investment banker by day, but Pablo Escobar, or a zip tie-bound Kim Kardashian, or a castrated Donald Trump on October 31st!

My longtime friend Marcus Dash talks a whole lot, often nonsensically, occasionally brilliantly. 37 years old, married, two young kids, Marcus remembers Halloween as one of the highlights of his childhood. And he never stopped dressing up—even through high school, college, and in his early years as a restaurateur in New York he played with his persona, blurring, obfuscating, slithering. He has a lot to say on the subject, as I found out over a recent drink at a noisy and brightly lit gastropub in Brooklyn.

“Escape has become a big theme in adulthood. There’s less wiggle room, what with the wife, kids, and mortgage. I see friends try to escape in dangerous ways—drugs, alcohol, double lives and all that that implies. It’s like we’re just looking for people to see us in a fresh way; it’s like we’re chained to our past. And though we might wake up in the morning with the intention to start anew, or to reinvent, or to kill off the sides of ourselves that we’re tired of, or that don’t serve us, the people close to us, our wives, our kids, our families, they want consistency. They might be coming from pure love, but still they’re wanting us to stay who we are. They might even be holding us back. ‘Cause let’s be honest, it’s scary to see your spouse or partner make a radical change!

I’m a big fan of that movie ‘The Passenger.’ Jack Nicholson’s a married man, a documentary filmmaker, on assignment in Africa. Not a bad life, but when the opportunity to fake his own death and assume the identity of a stranger falls into his lap he takes it. It’s like Eeny, meeny, miny, moe, I’ll take any life other than my own! Jack speaks for a lot us—in most of his roles, but especially in ‘The Passenger.’

In college I used to fantasize about my funeral.  I’d see my ex-girlfriends there, weeping, sniffling, bringing Kleenex to their nose—and there were hot ones! I did well at college. And then I’d see my dad and my brother, and my dad nudging his elbow into my brother—‘Kid did well, didn’t he? Probably better than his old man even.’ And then my brother going, ‘Shush!’

Anyway, that’s a real long rant, probably more than you bargained for, but long and short of it is this: Hell yeah, I love Halloween. I dress up for Halloween. I even wear strange outfits when it’s not Halloween, stuff I’d normally never wear, stuff that presents me as someone I’m not, false advertising if you know what I mean. Masks, costumes, uniforms—they’re not really about who you’re playing, they’re about who you’re escaping. It’s like a drug-free, airplane-free, mistress-free vacation from the monotony of your own life. It’s like a refresh button—and you don’t take down the whole family in the process…”

Marcus went on like this for a long while, mixing wisdom with hyperbole. He drank ginger ale—he’s been sober for nearly five years—otherwise I would’ve thought he was a bit tipsy. He told me he looks forward to taking his kids trick-or-treating on Halloween. He said there’s a neighborhood not far from his Williamsburg home where they give out premium candy.

Who is he going to be this year?

“Well there are some great options, aren’t there?” he said, chugging the last of what must have been his seventh ginger ale. “I was toying with something anthropomorphic, like a polar icecap that’s both melting and weeping, like it just hates that we human monsters have ensured its demise. But then I’m also thinking Edward Snowden. I’m real afraid of this whole transparency thing. You know me, I love the veils.”

October 28, 2016

Florida Surf Film Festival Hosts Jamie Brisick Journalism Workshop

On November 19, 2016, Florida Surf Film Festival will host a journalism workshop at Atlantic Center for the Arts by Jamie Brisick, writer, photographer, and director. He surfed on the ASP world tour from 1986 to 1991, and has since documented surf culture extensively. His books include We Approach Our Martinis With Such High Expectations and Have Board, Will Travel: The Definitive History of Surf, Skate, and Snow. His writings and photographs have appeared in The Surfer’s JournalThe New York Times, and The Guardian. He was the editor of Surfing magazine from 1998-2000. In 1981 he surrendered his virginity to a brown-skinned eighteen-year-old in a dinghy hotel room in Cayucos, California. Blue Oyster Cult’s “Burnin’ For You” played on the staticky clock radio. The smell of Marlboro Reds wafted from the stained bedspread. It did not last long. In 2008 he was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to Japan. He lives in New York City, travels frequently, and loves his 6’1” Channel Islands Warp.

Artist’s Statement: 

For nearly 25 years I’ve been writing about surfing and documenting surf culture at large. It continues to fascinate me, and I continue to find new ways into it. My approach to the workshop is less ‘Journalism 101’ and more about personal expression and growth. We’ll have only one day, but by the end of it I hope I can help you to go deeper as a writer, photographer, and/or filmmaker.

Agenda for November 19th:

9:00AM – Intros

9:30AM – Media and Journalism in the Industry – Then and Now.

10:00AM – Structure, POV, Interviewing, Recording, Note-taking, Outlining, Drafting, Workshopping, etc.

12:30PM – Lunch

1:15PM – Writing exercise

1:30PM – Voluntary readings and workshop

2:30PM – Photography and its relationship with surf journalism

3:30PM – Publication tips and contacts – Relationships, taking anything you can get, paying dues.

4:30PM – Documentary filmmaking for dummies – Or whatever…

5:00PM – Wrap

6:00PM – 2nd Night of the Florida Surf Film Festival Begins

Please submit the information requested, and one of our staff will contact you about workshop openings, required non-refundable deposit, travel advice, and be available for all other questions.

The cost of the workshop is $95.  This does NOT include a pass for the Florida Surf Film Festival.  If you would like to include a discounted, two-night patron pass for the Florida Surf Film Festival, the added cost is $100.  This includes a 2016 FSFF t-shirt, FSFF Tervis Tumbler, Clancy’s Cantina dinner both nights, and a Monster Energy Gift Bag. Check the appropriate box in the application to take advantage of the discounted patron pass.

If you’d like to stay at Atlantic Center for the Arts during the festival, we have small efficiency-style motel rooms for $69.50/night, including all taxes.  If you’d like to stay three nights, November 17-20th, you are eligible for a 20% discount for a total of $167.40, including taxes.  Please contact Stephanie Stallard at [email protected] for reservations.

APPLY HERE – Deadline is November 4, 2016

August 11, 2016

The Rat-a-tat of Sentimental Gushings

Memories that smell like pet gopher snakes and bowls of Count Chocula.

Memories that sound like seashells held up to ears.

August 3, 2016

At Port Eliot Festival

Talking performance with @kimletgordon at @porteliotfestival

August 3, 2016

My Pre-Teen Speed Addiction

He wore white pants, blue shirt, red scarf, and a white helmet with a red M on the front. His face was round, boyish. He seemed tangible to my kindergarten mind, a fellow thumbsucker and tee-ball-whacker, but in fact he was eighteen, a driver on the international racing circuit. His car was white, weapon-looking, with a three-pronged front end. Its name: the Mach 5.

            My first celebrity crush was maybe the perfect kind of celebrity crush. He was beyond flesh and blood—he was a cartoon character. I found him every Saturday morning on Channel 13. The opening theme song made me salivate with joy.

            Here he comes, here comes Speed Racer, he’s a demon on wheels…

            Speed Racer presented a world far more interesting than the one I inhabited. There were high-speed battles against Mammoth Cars and X3s. There was Speed’s hot girlfriend Trixie and his cool little brother Spritle and their pet monkey Chim-Chim, who brought new life to the stuffed monkey I slept with at night. There was Mom and Pops, who showered Speed in love, provided a cozy respite from the dangers that lurked outside. There was that incredible way in which Speed got in and out of his car, a kind of dance/leap/swagger.

            Speed bridged me from the Hot Wheels I played with in the living room to the Big Wheel I vroom-vroomed around the neighborhood. My two brothers and I took turns reenacting scenes from the show. We fought over who got to play Speed—pinching, biting, hair-pulling, the occasional mag-wheel run over an unsuspecting foot. We negotiated deals. If there was only enough Cap’n Crunch for two bowls, for instance, then whoever got to play Speed had to make due with Dad’s Cheerios. Halloween presented a fairly colossal problem that was settled through rock-paper-scissors.

            Looking back, it was less about Speed than the forging of a certain kind of relationship. Speed was a hero, a role model, a spur. He taught me how to mimic, how to sublimate. My Big Wheel was not the rain- and sun-faded hand-me-down from Kevin and Steven; it was the powerful Mach 5. The sidewalk was not a mere strip of pavement at the top of Escalon Drive; it was a racetrack. I was too young to know melancholy and existential dread, but Speed was stirring in me the tools I would later use to combat these things.

            And he prepared me for Evel Knievel.

            I was six. The training wheels had recently come off my red Huffy bicycle. On “Wide World of Sports” we watched Evel jump nineteen cars. That night, in our bunk beds, my brothers and I replayed every last detail: his star-spangled leathers, his Harley Davidson XR750, the blue cape that he discarded before doing the big jump, the way he got us biting our nails and clenching our fists with heebie-jeebies. “How did he get the name Evel?” we debated at length. I figured it was the name his parents gave him. Steven thought it was a nickname. Kevin came up with something vaguely Faustian: “He’s broken every bone in his body and he still jumps his motorcycle over nineteen cars? That’s beyond human!”

            On the following Saturday morning I did not watch “Speed Racer” on Channel 13. Instead, I went out to the garage, grabbed a couple scraps of plywood, a few bricks, and every Tonka truck in the bucket. On the sidewalk in front of our house I set up a kind of Evel Knievel miniature: launch and landing ramps with five trucks in between. I remembered that Evel wore protective headgear and ran back into the house to get Dad’s aviator sunglasses and Kevin’s Notre Dame football helmet.

“C’mon,” I called to my brothers, who were playing soccer in the backyard. “You guys gotta see this.” They followed me outside. “That’s your seat right there,” I told Kevin, pointing to the left side of the Tonka trucks, “And that’s yours,” I told Steven, pointing to the right.

They sat. I rode a ways up the sidewalk, turned around, and gunned it. But as I got close I hit my brakes, stopping with my front wheel on the ramp. Evel had done this in his nineteen-car jump—a fake out.

I scratched my crotch, adjusted my glasses, and brought my index finger to my tongue and pointed skyward (I wasn’t sure what this last part meant, but I assumed it had something to do with Evel’s religious beliefs). I surveyed the three-foot gap and Tonka trucks waiting ominously below. Then I rolled backward, rode two driveways up the block, spun around, and began my approach.

            I peddled hard, my bike rocking back and forth between my legs, my mouth making the waaaah, waaaah, waaaah sound of an XR750. I felt winged. But the instant I hit the ramp it buckled under my weight. Instead of launching skyward like a bird, a plane, a six-year-old Evel Knievel, I crashed head-on into the flotsam of bricks, Tonka trucks, and plywood. My handlebars crossed up and I spilled forward, smacking the pavement with my chin. The sunglasses flew one way; the football helmet—which I’d failed to strap on—the other. Blood splattered my Mickey Mouse T-shirt. I tried my hardest not to cry.

            “Where does it hurt?” asked Kevin, borrowing Mom’s line.

            I pointed to my chin. He escorted me into the house. In the bathroom, Mom smeared away the blood with Betadine. It bubbled and stung.

            “Do you think I broke the bone?” I asked hopefully.

            “Not quite,” she said.


Big Wheels, bicycles, then skateboards. For my 11th birthday my parents got me a Bahne deck with Chicago trucks and Cadillac wheels. It had a fabulous glide, but it only really came to life when I discovered Skateboarder magazine. The year was 1977. On the west side of Los Angeles a band of teenage skaters known as the Dogtowners tore apart streets, sidewalks, drainage ditches, empty swimming pools, anything smooth and banked. Their pictures in Skateboarder captivated me. I wanted to skate like them; I wanted to look like them. Most of the Dogtowners were poor kids from broken homes. They dressed like Jeff Spicoli.

            Vans deck shoes —navy blue

            Tube socks all frayed and strectched out

            OP corduroy shorts with boxers hanging out the bottoms

Levis corduroy pants, two sizes too big

            Surf T-shirts (Blue Cheer, Natural Progression, Zephyr, Mr. Zog’s Sex Wax)

            This was what my back-to-school clothes list looked like. What my loving mother did not know was that I took my spankin’ new gear out to the street and scraped it on the pavement to get it looking more “Dogtownerish.” Tony Alva wore a pimpin’ porkpie hat, Shogo Kubo wore a rising sun headband. I wore both.

            Watching the Dogtowners in the surf movie Go For It was a real treat, but skating with them at Kenter Elementary School in Brentwood truly lit up my world. They possessed an insouciance, a flow, an inner music. I studied every last detail: the way they hopped the fence like panthers, held their boards as if they were rifles, pushed three times then charged down the blacktop bank in a low tuck, knock-kneed, hands like Merlin the Spellcaster. They carved up and down, up and down, drawing graceful, poetic lines, crossing-stepping to the nose here, ducking into an imaginary tube there. It was exactly the kind of projecting I was familiar with. They were riding the concrete bank as if it were a wave. In their heads they were surfing.

            Skateboarding led me to surfing, surfing led me to three West Coast titles and a sponsorship from Quiksilver. I turned pro in 1986, did five years on the world tour. My pictures were in the surf mags. I signed autographs on the beaches of Rio, Biarritz, Bondi, Capetown. And even when I was at the top of my game I was still a mimicker and a hero worshipper. Before paddling out against the very pros I was trying to beat—and sometimes did—I studied their acts the way I studied Speed Racer on television at age five (Gary Elkerton scraped toes on the sand like a bull about to be let loose in a ring; Tom Curren shuffled hips, cracked knuckles).

            And don’t let’s get started on this writing business. I’m a forty-eight-year-old man-child bouncing to the characters in fiction, emulating the writers and comedians I admire, still mimicking consciously and unconsciously. Not that I haven’t tapped my own inner voice, but more like that voice enjoys dancing around in other people’s shoes. I find that the monotony of yet another sunny day in Los Angeles can take on a happier hue if I imagine myself as The Dude from The Big Lebowski. Stuff that torments me, scares me, ties my stomach in knots—I think what Louis CK would do with it and it somehow lightens.

            Not long ago I was giving a reading at a literary festival in Cornwall, England. It was a difficult passage about a close friend of mine who drowned while surfing in giant waves. I started improvising, telling the story as I remembered it, when suddenly I was seized by a combination of raw emotion and stage fright. I completely lost my train of thought. A hot flash washed over my face, my palms sweat, I froze up. And then George Carlin stepped in. In “Fart Jokes” he doesn’t so much crescendo as he simply runs out of material. “I have no ending for this,” he says/I said, “So I take a small bow.”

            This lineage of inspirational figures, these lives that have given spirit and sparkle to my own, all trace back to Speed.

April 6, 2016

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