What depresses you? War? Ethnic cleansing? A nuclear Iran? If you’re of a stripe that values surfing above all, it’ll be the act itself that kneecaps you.
You know what I’m talking about, even if I’m forced to whisper it. Any diversion from the surfing-is-great-is-art-is-life positivism preached by surfing magazines is banned and actively enforced by the various publishing empires. Deviate at your peril.
Surfing magazines sell a dream, to both advertiser and reader, of palm trees, caramel teen asses inflated by microscopic lycra, ruddy cheeked and robust young men united with nature, exquisite blue-water tuberides and sand betwixt the toes.
Surf literature therefore follows a simple and well-worn pattern of loss and redemption. Every story must conclude, by teen publisher law, with a magical epiphany. Common factors in these epiphanies include rainbows, clear-water duckdives, an audience with a posing soul brother artiste, sunsets, dolphins, tubes.
However, once sold the dream, you might begin to feel a little short changed. Because surfing is not always great; it’s not always even good. Sometimes it’s shithouse. Sometimes, despite all the rhetoric and the platitudes, yes, you should’ve stayed in bed and, yes, you should’ve spent that money on something other than a custom sled.
I’ve ridden in the front seat of this emotional rollercoaster for 20 years. And, like an epileptic or a schizophrenic, I can recognise the symptoms and causes of my depressing episodes. I’ve got it so nailed that I know exactly when to surf and when I should be couched in front of the idiot box in my den, fishing processed ham out of a jumbo-sized blister pack and poking it into my mouth with sticky fingers.
1. A bad surfboard. It’s always boards that are too thin, too narrow and too curved. Too thick? You’ll get more waves. Too wide? At least it’s stable. No curve? You’ll rocket past the pack. Despite a delusion that has lasted into my thirties, I never will have the athleticism, desire or natural balance to surf like a professional and therefore cannot ride a board designed for one. It’s a dreadful reality to face. Even when I wrote that last sentence, with its admission of failure staring me in the face, it was just about enough to make me want to bench my sleds. Bottom line: an unforgiving surfboard erodes confidence. Surfing is hard enough when you’re at your peak let alone when you’re of feeble mind. If you get a reliable sled, stick with it. There’ll come times when you still think you can ride a pro board, of course. And when you do? Dark days, my friend.
2. A bad crowd. Sorry guys, but European crowds can be the worst. Worse even than the Hawaiians or Balinese who might bark, unprovoked, at you to go in, to f-off or to die on the spot. Why are the Euro crowds so bad? Because you can’t work out where you fit in the pecking order or what’s going to happen when a set comes. In Hawaii, Bali, minute portions of California and great parts of Australia, the best surfers get the best waves and no one rocks the boat. On the Continent’s summer beachies on the other hand, every beginner from Munich to Zurich stubbornly asserts his right to set waves. Got the best waves in the world, Hossegor? Not real good if there’s a dozen freaks falling out of the sky or that kook just paddled inside you after his last wave and he’s now screaming in one of his three gutteral tongues for you to beat it.
3. Alpha males. A man don’t wanna be a Beta, in surfing, life or in love. More talented surfers in abundance bring me down and shatter my sense of ID. I know, I know, it contradicts my previous point. I’m a mess!