I have everything a surfer needs except balance, stamina and skill. In other words, I own a wetsuit. But I can surf a longboard.
Last week a muscle-bound metrosexual gen Y peanut accused me of dropping in on his wave. I told him to have sex and travel. The experience got me thinking about why I surfed and the attitude of surfers towards each other.
Surfing can learn from golf. Seriously. Shake hands with strangers on the first tee and be greeted with welcoming smiles. Fine shots are applauded while poor ones are falsely dismissed as anomalies in your game. Golf’s a supportive and social game and when the hitting’s over, there’s cold beer, salty snacks and friendly ribbing.
Surfing can learn from football, it bonds you for life. Play in a grand final with your mates and overcome the blood, vomit and violence to emerge with a premiership flag…….it’s a suburban boy’s Kokoda. 20 years later when you see a familiar face across a crowded pub the collective happiness returns.
Surfing isn’t a social activity. For a sport with an abundance of freshness and art, it lacks a more humanistic element. Surfing is the worse for it. Most of my surfing experiences over the past 10 years have been disappointingly anti-social. Sitting on a board and waiting for the next set can be enjoyable if there’s a familiar face next to you. Inevitably the banter is about the last wave, a session last week or the predicted swell. My brother and I have dissected Richmond’s playing list and the next five seasons while our toes froze in Western Port bay. But often it’s a silent wait with strangers who crave the next wave beyond any self-governing surf law. Five blokes paddle for one wave and there’s no generosity, just self-interest and competitiveness.
Rarely in a surf session are there more waves than surfers and I’ll contend that right now, with the attitude of surfers being what it is, this is the only scenario where surfing becomes a social experience. But even in this exceptional situation, altruistic surfing is tenuous. Surfing would be more enjoyable if its social aspect was given more credence.
Surfers, you can’t imagine shaking hands with the blokes in the water around you, introducing yourself and your ability level. You rarely encourage one another’s wave performance but are passive aggressive in your critic of others. You don’t offer good humoured sarcastic improvement pointers. You stare unsociably and even behave aggressively towards a new bloke in the water at your local break. Who needs that shit? No wave is worth it.
Surfers, your culture is poisoned.
Look to golf and football for examples, but don’t stop here. Look at skiing, tennis, skating, cricket and the list goes on. Notice golfers shake hands before and after a game, discuss their handicap (how crap they are) and bemoan bad shots. They laugh at a partner’s 10-bunker shots, but only after the steam subsides from his ears. They offer tips to cure a hook, a slice and how to open a non-twist-top stubby on a golf cart.
Surfers, get over yourselves. Stop being stoked about the wave you just caught, nobody wants to hear about it. They want their own stoke-inducing wave and they want you to notice and to applaud. Watch the elation on a footballer’s face after their teammate’s success. Grown men hug and even kiss the filthy, sweating and bloodied head of a colleague. Win or lose, they’ll support each other with fist taps, high fives, low fives and pats on the arse.
For 10 years I’ve enjoyed surfing with my brother and it’s never always been about the water. I find enjoyment in the dawn drive from Melbourne down the Geelong Road, the wrestle with a middle-age spread and four millimetres of neoprene. It’s even worse taking off a wetsuit with a crook back and a westerly so cold it would terrify a penguin.
We discuss our surfing techniques and offer critique, laced with ragging. He’s a footballer, I’m a golfer and we were socialised by sport early in life. It’s through this social experience that surfing has a remained a part of my life and because I have this relationship with my brother and friends that surf with us, I know that surfing can be a collectively rewarding experience.
All it takes is a little self-depreciating humour, some banter and an unselfish wave count and we’ll have socialisation in the brine.