Ornithology is a branch of zoology that concerns the study of birds. ‘Twitching’ refers to a hobby/obsession of an often somewhat gimpy branch of humanity, involving counting how many different species of bird one has seen. ‘Birding’ is what I do, and is much, much cooler. It involves merely appreciating the little fuckers and their work. If the young scholar might perhaps do a bit of surfing and a bit of birding on the same sortie, well then he is getting really, really close to the source.
Birds. Photo: Ricardo Bravo
Birding and surfing aren’t so foreign. Birds are the surfer’s ultimate muse, inspiration, coaching manual, companion and protector. Sure, dolphins might win most animal popularity ankle tattoo contests, but dolphins aren’t really surfing. They are swimming, synchronized swimming perhaps, but still swimming. Birds should be looked on for inspiration, for they draw inspirational lines. Birds do airs almost all day long. Birds do beautiful arcing cutbacks, sleek bottom turns, they even stall using their tail. Birds are so, so surfing.
The greatest display of bird behaviour I ever did see was a bird getting barrelled at Ponta Pequena in Madeira. Nobody believes me, but I know what I saw. I know I saw a bird get barrelled. They come around the point there every day, low, surfing the unbroken swell lines and this one fell, wingtip just cm’s from a gorgeous blue green wall managed to backdoor the section where the swell bends in from Paul do Mar into the point. Yesterday, I saw gulls surfing at Guethary. It was grey and lumpy but clean and shiny, not very good but nobody out except two of us and several birds. She took a good sized north one which tended to miss the good bowl section but still threw a decent peak and as it did, she dropped a wing and swopped down following the face, before cranking off the bottom and aiming for the shoulder. Now tell me that isn’t surfing.
The very bird-like Craig Ando has hollow bones and a splendid, glorious plumage. Photo: Burkard
Surfers surfing look like birds. Pump high, arms (wings) go up, swoop low, wings brought down by your side. Cutback, rotate around the lower wing, upper wing extended high and regal to draw full leverage. Coastal birds, just like surfers, love the intertidal. The intertidal is their favourite. The area between high and low tide is the place they’d rather be. Birds, just like surfers, give great importance to plumage and preening. Surfers and birds tend to preen, basking in golden sunbeams. Birds cultivate striking and beautiful plumage to attract a mate for mating. Surfers are well known to do exactly thus. Seabirds must also preen to keep their plumage well oiled and tended to in order for it to function against the ravages of salt water and the elements. The surfer does herein copy by washing out his wetsuit to promote its life and function. Surfers, in shorts or in wetsuits carrying their boards to and from the intertidal even walk like birds, doing a short stepped waddling penguin walk that they will abandon for terrestrial non surfing passages.
How many fish did you see on your last surf? How many cetaceans? Now ask, how many birds? The next time, watch them a little closer, for birds are the only advice you’ll ever need on surfriding my friend.