The cliffs

The cliffs

Franz Kafka was born in Prague, Bohemia, in 1883 and went on to become one of the most important writers of the 20th century. He is noted for suffering from schizoid disorders, anorexia and wanting all of his work - often written in a dark, menacing style – to be burned after his death. Kafkaesque is a way describing something that is horribly complicated, for no apparent reason.

European surfing is Kafkaesque. It is horribly, horrendously, complicated. It is governed by an intricate network of intrinsically intertwined physical parameters, whose outcome can tend the analytical mind to deduce that a sinister dark force must be at work, with the express intention of ruining your fun. To put that another way, it’s not good more often than it’s good. Yeah?

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Some places around the world, many places, there is either surf or there isn’t. It is either good, or not good. On the good days, surfers note that it is good, grab their board, perhaps their shorts, and hit the waves. On not good days, a small percentage of these surfers will go anyway, while most will decide to do something else, like drink beer, watch TV, go the supermarket, perhaps even work out.

In Europe, or much of it at least, things don’t always seem so straightforward. There are many things to consider. It might be bad here, but good there. Or vice versa. You need there to be swell, mainly. Usually, at most beaches, you need there to be enough swell, but not too much. Nothing unusual about that, same almost everywhere. But then, then you need the right tide. Not only do you need the right tide as in stage of the tide, perhaps you also need to right range of tide, an ideal part of the spring-neap cycle. But its doesn’t stop there, then you also need perhaps the right phase of the right tide, ebb or flood. On the flood, folk will often lament ‘better when it’s going out’, conversely, on the ebb, they will lament that this break ‘prefers the push’. Once configurations of swell and tide are reconciled, there is the small matter of the wind. The wind that generates the swell, the wind that is required to not make the surf bad. Mid latitude westerlies govern most of coastal Europe’s incoming weather. They might not be the wind you want at your local. The wind might be great right now, but is it going to last? There is an almost constant threat of the wind going wrong. The wind will go from perfect to ruinous in under five minutes. The wind is most definitely Kafkaesque.

Screen shot 2012-09-11 at 17.31.37

Screen shot 2012-09-11 at 17.31.37

Assume you are happy with swell, tide, wind, but let us also assume your designated surf spot is a beach break. Many are. There is now also the rather tricky question of sandbars. Are there good banks? Sandbank formation, indeed sediment dynamics are very, very Kafkaesque. Very. Einstein’s second son, Hans Einstein was warned by papa against studying sediment transport as the subject was too complicated. Alarm bells, people.

Oli Adams. Photo: Timo

Oli Adams in Scotland, photo Timo

But you don’t need to be an egg head. Let’s assume luck is with you. The surf is great, just really great. You have scored. But! You are on a surf trip, and this is Europe. Can you buy a sandwich? Is the shop open? Are they religious, and thus closed due to worship? It’s closed now but will it be open later, or is this it for the day? Do you speak the language? Are they separatists? Do they have their own language that only they know? Sure, you learned it in school, well done, but what about their accents. Their accents are complicated. Are you OK with navigating? Do you know the rules? It looks like a round-a-bout, but is it? Do you stop or go. Why are they going left in the right lane? Why are they indicating left in the left lane on the highway where all exits are right? Do I order at the bar or take a seat at a table? Fuck I just don’t know…