“It was better in the old days.” That statement right there has been around surfing almost as long a surfing itself. You can just imagine the first ever surfer, saying it to the second ever surfer, just as the new guy had paddled out for the first time and doubled the (world’s) crowd. And the interesting thing is it comes from all surfers, of all ages. From 50-year old salty veterans who remember surfing in wetsuits made from mammoth hair, to 11-year old sprogs who remember the glory days, surfing their mum’s fallopian tube. But is it true? Is surfing, day by day, getting worse. Taking a span of 25 years, say from around 1986 till now, we ask the question: were the good ole days were really that good?

The Waves
Well unfortunately there has been no definitive study on the changing quantity and quality of surf over time. El Nino and La Nina effects have been tracked, and Southern Oscillation’s Index’s keep getting trotted out as determinant force. In France, the south-west just had the wettest January in 70 years, and the most snow in the Pyrenees in history. What does that have to do with anything, well not sure really, but the waves keep coming (and everyone is different) and surfers keep surfing.
It’s a hard one, as our saltwater soaked brains will remember one epic session from ten years ago, yet conveniently forget the 1000 onshore shite ones that led to up to it.

This is Ryan Lovelace and weirdly this was wave was ridden only last year.

This one is pretty easy to test. Simply hold up a 1986 wet steamer in one hand, and a state of the art 2013 titanium flecked, Kevlar welded suit in the other. The one that feels like you are holding a bucket of lead mixed with tractor tyre is the ’86 version. If you are still aint convinced, go for a surf with it. The grade five gravel rash under your arm should help you decide. Actually you can do this test with most apparatus – legropes, boardshorts, board straps, the internet and jet skis (good luck finding ‘’86 versions though), cameras, boardbags, you name it. What you’ll generally find is that the new versions are lighter, easier, smaller and, well, just better. And then there are surfboards. Not only these days are they half the volume and twice as responsive, but they are almost the same bloody price. Of course there are exceptions – waxcomb technology seems to have stalled and to my knowledge there’s been no major innovation in flip flop technology.

Dorian and his new whizz bang inflatable wetsuit. Mind you his boards seem to be going pretty old school rhino chaser. Credit Laurent Pujol

The Crowds
Ahh, that old chestnut. It was always less crowded in the old days weren’t it? Back then there were days of perfect waves, with just you, your best mate and the local talking dolphin sharing them.
For example 1986 there was 52 million French, and only about 100 of em surfed. Now there’s more than 63 million, and tens of thousands of em paddle on the inside. Add the variables of more surfers teaching their kids to surf, a massive increase in women’s surfing, the proliferation of surf schools and surfing’s mainstream acceptance, then if they’re aren’t more surfers in the water at any one time then 20 years ago, not only will I eat my six-year-old-just starting-to-surf son, but I’ll wait for a empty four foot at Le Grav to shit him back out.

The Surfing World is getting smaller
Often following on from the previous argument, it is often put forward that with so many surfers and with all the new technology, there’s nowhere else to go. The surfing world, for the first time, is shrinking. Indo’s been done to death, Hawaii is as packed and aggressive as ever, Europe is full as a state school and you need to be a super rich fucker to surf the Maldives or Tavarua. But that fails to take into account the exploration gene that most surfers still seem to be born with. If say 20 years ago you told a surfer that you had just a watched a surf vid featuring Maccas, Jaws, Ours, Teahupoo, Shipsterns, X-Box, Mavericks, The Carolines, The Superbank and Keramas, they’d think you’d been watching an episode of Star Trek on acid, rather than a surf flick. The point being; for every wave discovered, surfed and eventually overran, so far, there’s always been another one to take its place. Lets just hope that continues.

Charly and Greenbush, neither existed in 1986. credit Alex Laurel

In the end though it all comes down to one thing, your attitude. As an old mate told me once, “your next surf is always going to be better than your last one.” “Why?” I asked, confused. “Cause you ain’t had it yet.” I’m still trying to work out what it means, but I reckon he might spot on.


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