Waves are the whole show. Waves are the only interesting thing about surfing. You’re a poetry-hating anti-New Age atheist with a penchant for hardcore rationalism? Same here. But at some level we know, we feel, that we are riding ocean-transported sunbeams, and it is magical. It is what makes surfing the very best of all sports. It is what separates us from parkour.
Surfers, furthermore, are only interesting because of waves. The things we do over the course of a life in pursuit of, and on behalf of, waves—the 10,000 bad decisions, the fiery burn rate of time and cash, the rivers of espoused bullshit, the volumes of arcane and otherwise totally worthless knowledge painstakingly gathered, catalogued, and deployed—are what makes us different, and, giving ourselves the benefit of the doubt, cool.
For 40-something years now, I have experienced variations on the same anxiety dream in which the surf is excellent, but I can’t get to it. The board is is locked in the car. Contact lenses are missing. Endless duckdives in the shorebreak while the sun drops into the horizon (thank you Ocean Beach, you wounding bitch). The number of times I’ve truly and completely had my fill of waves can be counted on one hand, and in each instance the craving was never further away than a meal and a nap. In terms of a life partner, that type of perpetual desire—a taste here and there, but never enough—is a greased playground slide to insanity. But as far as a pastime being able to hold your attention, desire is the gift that lasts forever. Big-wave legend and humanist Fred Van Dyke, even when he was no longer able to surf, would pull off to the side of the road during a big swell, look out to a raging ocean, paddle out in his mind, choose a spot in the lineup, and wait for the right wave. In the end, surfing, for Fred, wasn’t even about standing on a board. It was just waves.
This all comes up because the WSL bought Kelly’s wavepool company, which means a CT event on the schedule next year or the year after, and then surfing in the Olympics, followed by dial-up perfect surf for the pros, followed by dial-up perfect surf for the rest of us, and God I just hate it all. Yes, we can keep searching for waves, but the imperative will be gone. Our Ahab obsession with good empty surf has up to this point been necessary, mandatory, defining. Now it will be optional. We’ve always been seekers—greedy and indulgent as a rule, yes, often frustrated, bitter at times, but seekers nonetheless. We’re about to become gymnasts. Kelly’s wavepool makes surfing 75% less interesting.
Or so I told myself this morning during a moody walk to Starbucks. So indignant. So righteous. But really . . . just so very confused.
If I were nine years old again, stepping across the threshold to my surfing life, with a choice between north side Santa Monica Pier (actual setting for my first summer on a board), and whatever beginners wave Kelly’s got in his back pocket, I’d take the wavepool. Fifteen-year-old me, obsessed with torquing out my off-the-lip and as desperate for tube time as I was for pussy, would drive straight away from Manhattan Pier to surf Kelly’s pool. Last week I got back from nine days in Nicaragua, where I got maybe a dozen great waves and a hundred pretty good waves, the distilled perfection of which would not add up to 25 yards’ worth of one Lemoore fresh-water barrel.
Kelly’s wavepool has been in my head now for six months, and these thoughts will not settle down. I honestly think our sport is heading for—is perhaps already in the midst of—an existential crisis. I’m there already. Hoping I’m wrong the way the leash-is-killing-surfing Luddites were wrong in the early ’70s. But no. This is a deeper, weirder, far more insidious development.
Had to bang out a “dogs and surfing” edit for EOS to make myself feel better. That German shepard riding past that lil’ Hawaiian kid at 00:49, so cute!