Reflecting on the passing of another year, I can certify but one thing: I’m getting older. This realization didn’t come through securing a job with benefits or the death of a loved one. I’m still not married and I have no children. See, I’m talking about getting old because I’m suddenly turning into a different surfer.
It began a while back when I started noticing the infestation of entitled little groms wearing the now-typical brightly colored wetsuits and riding boards plastered with so many stickers that plain white foam couldn’t be seen. I get it, brands are willing to set kids up with the hope that if by some miracle they become professionals, they’ll remain loyal to said company for the price of a few stickers and maybe a hoodie. This, in turn, will bring that company plenty of advertising and more money in the endgame. The problem, however, lies in the real world outcome of dozens of little monsters with humungoid egos dropping in on people (often at the urging and/or approval of their parents), totally oblivious to the reality of true stoke.
I fought this battle for a long time. I tried to show the youth the right way to ride a short board: with power and speed, deep in the pocket, top to bottom, put her on a rail in a critical, borderline unreasonable spot on the wave powering through to the shoulder. Unfortunately, despite all efforts, they never could grasp the concept of respect. I would let them go if they were deeper to show them first hand the practice of proper etiquette. I was mistaken, however, in thinking they would have taken notice, often being burned by the same kid I’d just given a wave to. I’ve gotten into it with some of the aforementioned parents, and with the exception of a few responsible fathers, haven’t seen very many people paddle over to teach their kids the right way to act.
God save these children. They’re coddling and hours of studying footage of themselves surfing may never learn the true and pure joy behind why so many of us surf.
Aside from those poor, misled souls, there are “the others.” These “others” are the ones the surf industry both loves, and loves to hate. They are the ones with a decent amount of disposable income, but not as much disposable time. They buy new boards and top of the line wetsuits, the target consumer for each new product the surf industry wants you to desire.
These folks, who are often seen carrying the coolest boards down the beach, have little clue that no matter how amazing the acid wash is on that 5’8” single fin or quad, it would be hard for anyone to ride their board in knee to waist high onshore point surf. And perhaps it shouldn’t be the board they start learning to surf on. It’s a glancing thought, though, because even though surfing it is nearly impossible, it looks great on the wall at home; it’s a sweet conversation piece at parties. Plus, girls like it.
All this is well and good except for when they get in the water on a decent day. Sure enough – just like those little guys – it’s time to forget all the rules. It’s true that some may not even know the rules to start with, but it doesn’t take long to learn not to burn people. Snake me once, shame on you. Snake me twice, shame on you again and now you’re just being plain old inconsiderate and starting to ruin my session…dick. It breaks my heart to see those beautiful singles and quads going straight, rather than being put through the paces they were designed to be run through. Beachbreaks that I was legitimately afraid to surf at – places where a friend of mine pulled someone’s eye out of its socket once because the guy was holding his head underwater on the inside – are now flooded with this new breed of hyper-equipt goon.
Just like the kids, the beginner goon has a formidable ego as well. This ego comes from all that fancy equipment they buy. They work hard for their money, and if they’re gonna spend a grand on a board and four-hundie on a wetsuit, you’d better believe they’re the best surfer out there (unless of course someone else got the same suit with the attachable hood, or has a more expensive set of fins). The truly hilarious part, my friends, and cohorts, is that they truly believe they’re really, really good. They might even practice their stink-eye faces in the mirror at home for all I know.
I just want to enjoy my surf. Lord Almighty, am I the only one?! I feel like I’m being flanked on all sides by the enemy with nothing left to do but lash out at those around me. So after years of watching these people flood the lineup, there was only one place left to turn. It was a place where the commercially-sterilized and spiritually-oblivious of all ages haven’t penetrated. A place hard to market because of its simplicity. The realm of the logger.
That’s right, in my desire to hold on to the deep-seeded stoke of my own childhood, I turned to a little cove near my house, where I knew I’d find longboarders. I’d surfed here with them a few times, always as a last resort, and had always had fun. I decided to join them one day after I showed up to one of the better beachbreaks in my area and counted 64 people crowded into an area not much bigger than an Olympic-sized pool. The surf was good but it wasn’t cranking. There were no cleanup sets to keep people at bay. Nobody seemed to be thinking twice about taking off on the wave of their choice. Nobody seemed to care if they were roasting someone and blowing their own drop simultaneously. And to top it off, nobody was dishing out the necessary discipline for taming such situations. I would go longboard today.
I grabbed my longboard that day.
I went home and swapped out my thruster for a 9’9” Becker I had bought about 10 years ago. This board had previously been reserved for long flat spells. I paddled out and got a couple head high waves. Surfing a longboard in bigger surf is quite a unique experience, even if you’re comfortable with one in the small stuff. I still got dropped in on, but the most miraculous thing happened after each occurrence: I received an apology. Short, concise, to the point: “Sorry about that, I didn’t think you’d make the section.” That’s all it takes! You don’t even have to really mean it, just spit it out. Even the smallest showing of contrition wipes clean the sour taste of a ruined wave. I couldn’t believe it! “Noooo worries brotha!”
I was smiling; getting long rides now, top to bottom. I had forgotten I even still knew how to play on the nose, but cheater 5’s were coming through my toes with an upbeat fluidity. The sea’s surface sparkled, the birds whooshed by, eel grass brushed my skin, pelicans dove and cormorants guzzled fish while a pod of dolphins breached playfully on the outside. I did the rock dance getting out, put my board on the beach and was so happy that I went back into the intertidal zone to put my fingers in some sea anemones. That day was nearly two years ago now.
Through the remainder of that year, I slowly shuffled longboarding into my routine. It had changed everything for me. I knew there was still plenty of stoke out there in the big blue somewhere, and it was much easier to tap into if I had a little more foam beneath me.
I still turned to my shortboard when the surf was cranking, but rather than go to the best waves, trying to dominate the pack, I began to seek out empty waves. I learned that the open space in the water allowed me to breathe easier. I learned that there were often just as many makeable waves at a “closed-out” beach break as there were at a go-to spot. If you took into consideration not having to dodge crowds or deal with getting burned on your best waves these facts became apparent I liked the thrill of surfing alone, pulling in alone, making tubes alone, and even, yes, getting hurt alone. My self-imposed exile from crowds thick with egos was making me physically stronger, smarter about my wave selection, and more capable of making it to the shoulder in challenging surf.
I found myself riding a longboard more often. I hunted a few other logs off craigslist and off the used board racks of local shops, adding a 10’3” Comstock, a 9’ Vector Vehicles and a 10’3” William-Dennis from some mid 70’s shaping experiment to the crew.
The liberal application of longboarding into my life and the positive impact it had manifested itself the other day while I was surfing the cove. I was on the Comstock, and it was only about waist high. I had found a little gap in the crowd where I was sitting, waiting for one to sneak through to me. Then, it happened. I kid you not, someone paddled out and stopped, sitting up on their fun-board so close to me that we could’ve whispered to each other and held a conversation. I’ve sat on couches with people and been further away. My first reaction was to give the meanest of the mean-mugs, letting this guy know that he needed to keep moving…but that would’ve been my conditioning, not my consciousness, in action. All of this ran through my head in 1/100th of a second, while I stared off the side of my board, down through the translucent green water, in disbelief. Then, for some reason I can only explain as being the final internal shift towards positivity I was to make on this journey in the quest for stoke, I smiled. I smiled and I looked at the goon! I looked him square in the eye and cheerily let rip a zealous “Hey there.” I didn’t raise my voice, the guy still being so close, but there was happiness in my words. We made small talk, both bitching about how cold the water was and commenting on how cool it was that there were so many birds out and about. He paddled for a wave, and without even looking to see if he caught it, I was booking it, satisfied with the positive interaction but not willing to let it continue into any sort of friendship. It’s like being in a zombie movie: You can play nice with people, but you might have to compete with them for a dire, life-saving resource sooner or later.
Still, I’m a happier surfer now than I have ever been before. I’m still learning how to flow through this emotional shift, but I’ve made the definitive move to not be upset in the water anymore. Every surf will stoke me out from now on. Every time I even think about surfing now gets me as excited as it did when I was waiting for a ride to the beach as a kid. Back before cell phones, when a call to the house confirming my friends were on the way sent me sitting on the front lawn with my board and wetsuit in giddy anticipation. The smell of wax has regained its magical appeal, the beckoning scent of a good time in the immediate future.
I guess in the end, I didn’t become a new surfer, I just remembered what surfing was all about. I’ve re-discovered my original stoke. There’s no need to take surfing seriously, or to take yourself seriously as a surfer. We’re trapped in the world of money, cars, jobs, bills, and ego on the daily already. Don’t bring all that shit into the water. If you want to surf for money, good for you, but don’t ruin my time out there. If you’re new to the sport, may I be the first to say “Welcome! It’s a great time, and we hope you enjoy.” That’s honest, by the way. Surfing could have saved the world if it had evolved properly. Now it’s in the Olympics, though, and competition will be forever ingrained in what should be a spiritual practice. It’s performance art, in reality; a dance with nature in the most literal form. The silver lining is that it’s still there, for those who seek it. There’s no need for bad attitudes in the water no matter who you are. Just have fun.