Interview: How Dane Reynolds Pulled it Together
The world's favourite free surfer on getting out the game, the 'late-20s weird crisis stage', and overcoming anxiety
"Dane," said Dane, in that endearingly awkward way certain famous people have of introducing themselves: as though you might not already know who they are, even though they know you almost definitely do.
The weekend just gone, Dane Reynolds was in Zarautz for the Vans Duct Tape Invitational. When he spoke to Surf Europe late on Friday afternoon, he was wearing a white t-shirt with a black-and-white photo of a flower in the middle. Or was it a black t-shirt? The beers were free, and my notes are inconclusive. There were definitely shades of grey in there. The trousers he wore are not important.
I asked if he wanted a beer because they were free and it was the first thing I could think of to say. He replied in the affirmative, slightly cocking one eyebrow, as if to ask: "Anymore stupid questions?" I had several.
SE: What’s motivating you most these days to surf?
DR: Just being able to do it! I’ve been home for ten months, I have two — three! — young kids, and I haven’t really been able to travel. So I guess what motivates me is just being able to get on a trip — coming here is the first time I’ve travelled [since their birth]. I'm just seeing how it goes. And being able to do a bit of a surf trip in the near future is pretty motivating. It's exciting.
What’s your weekly routine like at the moment, surfwise?
I pretty much get in the water every day. But in California the surf’s so shit it turns into just a little bit of practice or something, just to keep myself from slipping away. But it gets pretty boring surfing shit waves every day.
"I think that’s actually a quote: 'pull it together or we’re all fucked!'"
Are you tuned into what’s going on in the surf world? Do you watch surf clips on a daily basis?
No, not really. I’ll watch clips occasionally but not as much as I used to. I don’t keep up on it that much.
Does the tour interest you in any way as a spectator?
Yeah, I watch it a little bit.
How competitive are you?
I wouldn’t say competitive at all — I put a lot of pressure on myself. But what’s... I don’t know what competitive means. Does it have to be with someone else?
Yeah, I guess so. Like when you see another surfer do something amazing do you ever feel slight pang of… “Fuck, I wish I’d done that” or “I wish I could do that better” or…
"…I wish I was riding those waves!"
"But I’ve always been tough on myself as far as… I don’t know, everything"
You’re not measuring yourself against anyone else?
Errr… There might be a degree of that. Maybe in my mid-20s I felt that a lot more, but you kinda have to give that up. You can’t live like that.
I get bummed if I see a mate get a good wave.
I feel that way with some people, for sure. With my friend I surf with every day back home, I don’t feel that way. I like surfing with people that don’t make me feel that way — like Craig, I get stoked if Craig gets a sick wave. I guess the way that they respond is the main thing — I don’t like people that are boastful, or tell me that I missed something. That’s shit, that makes me feel... that really makes me not wanna surf with them.
You’ve spoken before, in 'Chapter 11', about the pressure of surfing for Quiksilver. How’s the pressure situation changed, especially now that you’re representing your own brand, Former, as well? Do you feel a different sort of pressure?
Definitely, yeah! I don’t know if it came through in the film, but the pressure was coming from myself, for sure. The sponsorship thing was kinda used as a scapegoat — although there were direct conversations that put pressure on me pretty clearly. But I’ve always been tough on myself as far as… I don’t know, everything.
What sort of things did you get told?
I had meetings with guys who told me that the fate of the company was on my shoulders, like, pull it together or we’re all fucked. I think that’s actually a quote: “pull it together or we’re all fucked!” [Laughs.]
How do feel about the vocation of a pro surfer? 'Cos sometimes you’ve seemed kinda conflicted about it.
Errr… I dunno, I feel like that was a late '20s, weird crisis stage. And it’s so crazy how many people I’ve spoken to since making that film who have gone through the same thing. It’s just a weird transitional phase in the late ‘20s I feel, and you’re really into existence and what it all means and existential shit. I feel like I’ve kinda just softened up a lot. I dunno, I don’t dwell on the contradictions of professional surfing anymore, you know? It’s just what it is.
You’d be hard pushed to find a profession that isn’t contradictory in some way.
Yeah. Even a police officer, you think you’re doing a noble sort of job but then everybody thinks you’re treating everyone different. And they are, probably... I don’t know, whatever.
"It was bizarre — I couldn’t listen to music, I felt like I’d get trapped in the song"
Post 'Chapter 11', do you still suffer from panic attacks, if you don’t mind me asking?
Man, it was like a really slow process of recovery. Literally I didn’t leave my house for four months…
Not literally literally, but… I would go surf, and I’d park as far away as… I felt like I was gonna have a panic attack if someone came up and talked to me. It was bizarre — I couldn’t listen to music, I felt like I’d get trapped in the song. It’s just so bizarre. I would go surfing and surf as far away from anyone as possible. Couldn’t go to a grocery store, couldn’t do anything else, pretty much that’s all I’d do is go surf where I knew I wouldn’t see anyone. My wife — girlfriend at the time — couldn’t have friends over, I would have a panic attack if she had friends over. It was a really slow process coming out of that — it was terrifying going on my first trip. And then… I just kept doing therapy and figuring it out. I very rarely feel like I’m on the brink of a panic attack these days —very rarely.
"I very rarely feel like I’m on the brink of a panic attack these days"
Thanks for talking about it.
I don’t know why people don’t. Honestly it would help a lot of people if... I don't know if you follow what's going on in the US but it's like a thing right now. There's an NBA star, Kevin Love, who came out recently, and went into detail about a panic attack during a basketball game and it's identical to my experience. You should read it, he did a really good job of describing it.
Could you read during the period when you were suffering from panic attacks? Did books have the same effect as music?
I would have read, but I can't remember what I was reading — I was reading a lot of books on the subject. I read — what was the name of it? — Quiet Your Mind or something like that, a lot of... not so much self-help books but books about anxiety.
Was there one that helped in particular?
Not really, I'd say therapy's the best thing. Just someone that tells you that you're not dying [laughs], that you're OK and it's normal, someone who sees patients everday that are going through the same thing. I dunno, you start at the beginning and you work through how you got there.
Do you still go to see your therapist?
No. It was funny, he's a surfer — I probably saw him for two years, and by the end we'd just surf-talk. I'm friends with him, I talk to him, but not really about that. He says it's insane how many people come to him and reference 'Chapter 11'. So that's cool.