By Greg Gordon
I’ve had a good run of both surfing and poker at home in central California and Costa Rica, and while watching the Pipe Masters online I had time to reflect on two of my favorite hobbies.
Both I had learned to do at a young age, and I think when I do either there is a connection to my dad. He was a Navy Diver so I grew up by the coast and we have sailed, snorkeled, or swam along a large swath of the East Coast. He also taught me poker and chess, and he still plays some online home games to keep the mind sharp (although my mom has been winning the tournaments lately).
Both surfing and poker have histories going back over 500 years, but the poker I’m talking about is Texas No-Limit Holdem, not your play-money, five-card game where threes and one-eyed Jack are wild. Here are seven ways they are similar to me. Maybe you can think of a few more?
1. Surf breaks and players can both be categorized, but no two waves or hands dealt are exactly the same: Some will pound you while others you know will let you off easy. Some are easy to read, you know what they are going to do every time. Most surfers and poker players do it for recreation, but some are very competitive even when not in a tournament. Both can be unpredictable.
2. They are played in exotic locations: Australia – check. South Africa – check. Asia – check. The Caribbean – check. Florida and California – more venues than you can shake a stick at. The players in both games will spend a lot of money traveling to new and foreign locations, where the locals speak many languages. The accommodations closest to the venue are generally overpriced, but closest to the action. If you are on a budget, you can crash on a friend’s sofa. When you go a new spot, the locals give you this look like they are going to take all – your chips or your waves.
3. The old timers get respect … sometimes: Shaun Tomson, Tom Curren, The Duke, and Doyle Brunson. Legends that live and play their sport to the end. It keeps them young, their minds sharp. They are searching for the double up and know where to sit in order to find it. When they leave us, their stories and glories are retold by their family and friends, and annual events and charitable fundraisers are hosted in their honor. But if you didn’t know who they were then you just look at them and play your game, hoping they stay out of your way.
4. … But the young risk takers rule the lineup: These days you visit a lineup and the youth are out in droves. Gratefully the casinos don’t let in kids under 18, or you’d be going all in with an 8-year-old wizard with nothing but a trust fund to lose. In surfing they sit the deepest, play recklessly, and compete more for their share of the scraps, while the older surfers wait for the big pots.
5. There are pros in both sports: You can win a lot of money but the sponsors don’t pay. Only the top professionals get any type of big endorsements. It could be a clothing company, an entertainment company, possibly some upstart that makes sunglasses. Their logos are splayed on their body like tattoos, on hats and shirts. There is a tour, and sometimes it feels like a grind, especially when they don’t win their draws. The men outnumber the women, and the women’s prize money just doesn’t stack up.
6. It can be fun to be a spectator: If you are not a pro but still like the sport, it’s just fun to watch the professionals compete. It’s not your money invested in the tournament, it’s not your boards that are getting broken. These guys (and girls) take risks that you wouldn’t think of doing. The announcers know the game, but sometimes they drone on when there isn’t a lot of action. The fans cheer their favorite competitors. There is always an element of luck involved in catching cards or catching waves. And any hometown hero can be the next champ.
7. With big rewards are big risks: Have you ever made a bet that would cost you $1 million dollars? Or maybe it would cost you your rent? Hopefully it won’t cost you your life, but if it does then you are in WAY too deep. You do more than you expect to play the game, and make sacrifices. And when you are dropping into a wave, you can’t hesitate. It’s all in or nothing.