Proven: If you don’t surf, don’t start!

Science backs up everything you’ve always guessed… 

There’s nothing in this world that is sadder, or more hopelessly encouraged, than the late-in-the-game surfer.

Those wide eyes that see the ocean for the first time. The wallet that falls open in surf shops, gobbling up board after board, each buy returned with criticisms the shopkeeper earnestly acknowledges while laughing behind his back, while swiping the magnetic stripe of his credit card. Claims of barrels and airs made with the innocence of children.

You know all that. It’s a perennial. Like trade winds or the star jasmine flower that blooms all over Sydney in mid-October.

It was Gotcha who coined the phrase If you don’t surf, don’t start in an advertising campaign from the nineteen-eighties. But did you know that it is now an established… fact… that in almost every single instance it is impossible to be a good surfer unless you started riding waves seriously by the time you were thirteen? It’s only in these early years when life is freed from the complexity of love and work that the mind can feed on the examination of a difficult sport that requires constant thought and analysis. A kid will go to bed and dream of turns he’s never made. A twenty year old will be filled with thoughts of work, money, sex.

And that anyone who started between thirteen and seventeen will only ever be competent, a good competent, yes, but never what you would call a good surfer?

The definition of a good surfer, for our purposes, is this: someone who knows, instinctively, the feel of rocker and bottom curve under his feet, and who can adjust his stance and his approach to a wave accordingly. Manoeuvres, as they come into vogue, are easily absorbed into his repertoire. He can tuberide on both sides and he can, from experience, explain the varying characteristics of shock waves and foamballs. He may or may not be into competition but, at some point, he will have competed. He may never have picked up a longboard but, within an hour, it will be mastered. He may not necessarily enjoy big waves, but he’ll look comfortable in any size.

Now, for anyone who came in over seventeen, the bad news.

Surfing will always remain a mystery. You’ll only be able to ride certain boards. When you ride a wave you’ll nearly always outrun the pocket requiring three-chapter cutbacks. You’ll pause in the lip during takeoffs. You’ll never have that time-slowed-in-the-tube feeling. You’ll never snatch that feeling of surfing being… easy. But in return for your efforts you’ll experience moments of fun, and you’ll get the bonus of having better skin than the good surfers who’ve been getting cooked and basted in UV for the last twenty years.

Below, I present lines on the same graphs. The red line is the good surfer.

See how the graph explodes in those first few years. By the time he’s 15 the good surfer has the option, if he chooses, of becoming pro. After twenty, the graph plateaus. But notice how high it remains above the competent surfer in blue. His initial spurt is relatively high, but never reaches the heights of the good surfer.

Now, in pink, we see the late-to-the-game surfer. There is no sudden surge in ability, a small lunge upwards, but then a long-term plateau, and a plateau so far under the good surfer it makes any attempt to close the gap a futile, pointless charge.

Does this science ring true for you?


The world's best unsponsored free surfer absolutely dances!
The world's best unsponsored free surfer absolutely dances!

Let’s play surfboard Rorschach!

What races through your mind when you see identifiable surfboard shapes?

You know the Rorschach Test of course. The ink blobs that psychologists show patients in order to peek into the very soul. Wikipedia, which we all know as an unimpeachable source, describes as such:

The Rorschach test (/ˈrɔːrʃɑːk/ or /ˈrɔərʃɑːk/,[3] German pronunciation: [ˈʀoːɐ̯ʃax]; also known as the Rorschach inkblot test, the Rorschach technique, or simply the inkblot test) is a psychological test in which subjects’ perceptions of inkblots are recorded and then analyzed using psychological interpretation, complex algorithms, or both. Some psychologists use this test to examine a person’s personality characteristics and emotional functioning. It has been employed to detect underlying thought disorder, especially in cases where patients are reluctant to describe their thinking processes openly.[4] The test is named after its creator, Swiss psychologistHermann Rorschach.

Wonderful! But as a surfer ink splotches mean nothing to me. Surfboard shapes on the other hand send my mind whirling. Today, for example, I was walking down the steps to go for a surf. Below I saw a pasty man with an extra two inches of blubber, long-ish trunks and a choker necklace gripping a brand new, very small, Hypto Krypto too tightly.

Now, I have absolutely nothing against Hayden Cox. If we ever met I’m sure I would wish him to be the godfather of my daughter. But when I see a chub gripping a Hytpo, or frankly anyone gripping a Hypto, my mind spins uncontrollably and thinks the following things:

  • Can’t surf
  • Paid alot
  • Paralyzed by trend
  • Ejaculates prematurely
  • Owns a French bulldog
  • Sings Kings of Leon’s Sex on Fire when he goes to karaoke
  • Dairy free
  • Snapchats
  • Has an ankle tattoo
  • Shops at IKEA but tells his houseguests his furniture is from Restoration Hardware
  • Once owned nunchucks
  • Owns a gerbil
  • Dinner party conversation guaranteed to include line, “Whatever. All politicians are lame.”
  • Really can’t surf. Like, can’t catch a wave
  • Drinks expensive coconut water
  • Uses a uniquely named Instagram geotag for his “Mans Cave” (apartment)
  • Craig Anderson

What do you think when you see a Hypto Krypto?

Jaws: “Blue scary not brown scary!”

Ian Walsh talks surfing Jaws. The lost files!

You have certainly seen the teaser for Ian Walsh’s new film Distance Between Dreams with the swirling passion, the guts, the glory. If, for some reason, you missed please click here. 

I wrote, when the clip was released, about meeting with Ian Walsh under a warm Cardiff sky to discuss. Oh we had fun and I scribbled his descriptions of big wave surfing, Maui life etc. in my moleskin and then put it away, forgetting about it until just yesterday when I was flipping through and saw the phrase “Blue scary not brown scary” in reference to, I assume, Jaws.

There were more scribbles too but the context is unclear so I will just reprint here, context-free, and call this Ian Walsh Talks Surfing Jaws (Probably): The Lost Files. Like poetry!

Blue scary not brown scary.

Big waves.  Dropout

everything bills (stills thrills?), feelin etc.

Only time I’m completely in one place, one goal

How fast everything moves

Football speed.

So much faster, the speed.

The wave is so

kind of have a general idea

part of surfing

Jaws… any big wave such a challenge

head down sending it the appreciation is so much more.

julia roberts pretty woman

“Prostitution at surf shops!”

All the kooky search words that land you at BeachGrit!

How did you land at BeachGrit? Are you a regular, for whom misleading headlines and harmless slander are as much your morning go-to as your cup of joe?

Maybe you’re just a periodical browser, tempted here and there by BeachGrit‘s anti-depressive ethos, by the occasional lure of aggregated videos and whatever else.

Or are you, like the following internet users, lured, perhaps, by our habit of tagging stories with the oddest combinations.

Did you land here, for instance, when you googled “prostitution at surf shops”, perhaps needing a pre-surf rim and golden shower along with your Sex wax.


Do you imagine a world where your every dark desire is attended to?


Would you like to see America’s first Samoan-Hindu congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard in the nude? Google drives you to BeachGrit!


A north Shore holiday needs a little extra zing?


Or are you a real creep? A real bear freak?


I’m curious! Real curious. How did you land here?

Dear Rory: “Is surfing worth it?”

It's a hard sell when you're fighting for onshore scraps with self-centered assholes…

Dear Rory,

I have given the act of wave riding most of my best years. I’m heading towards 40 now and still manage to spend a lot of time in the water, but I can’t shake the feeling that I should be doing something else. Surfing has given me a decent level of fitness but there’s a thousand sports that will do the same without the time commitment or the frustration levels. I’ve given so much time and effort to becoming a slightly aging, average to competent surfer. Is surfing worth it?

Sliding that Midlife Crisis 

Dear Rory says: I really want to say, “Yes! It’s totally worth it. Only a surfer knows the feeling. You’ve become one with the aquatic mother Gaia. The rest of the world are sad, unhip, dry-land losers.”

But that’d be a lie.

Truth be told, surfing is pretty much a waste of time. It doesn’t improve anything. Doesn’t help anyone. We can try to pretend that it’ll help you find an emotional center, serve as a crutch as you struggle through your day to day. But that’s a hard sell when you’re fighting for onshore scraps with your hundred fellow self-centered assholes.

Surfing will never make you a better person. Judging by your average wave slider it might actually make you a worse one.

Truth be told, surfing is pretty much a waste of time. It doesn’t improve anything. Doesn’t help anyone. We can try to pretend that it’ll help you find an emotional center, serve as a crutch as you struggle through your day to day. But that’s a hard sell when you’re fighting for onshore scraps with your hundred fellow self-centered assholes.

But the nice thing about life… there’s no point. You’re just gonna put one foot in front of the other until you drop dead. Hopefully in some sort of awesome explosion, or a naked lady avalanche. The latter being my choice of demise.

The real problem with surfing is that we all treat it as part of our identity. I know I do. It’s in there with the other labels I apply to myself. Writer, lover, diver, really-big-penis-haver, surfer. In that order.

And that’s a bit of a curse. What do you do when you realize you don’t love your own identity? It’s a part of growing up, for sure, and we all go through it at some point or another. But getting hit with that realization hammer well into adulthood absolutely fucking sucks.

What to do?

Just quit for a bit. When surfing stops being fun, stop doing it. Maybe for a short period. Maybe for forever. It just doesn’t matter. Nothing does.

You’ll lose your tan, your shoulder muscles will wither, but odds are that one day you’ll wake up and feel like going for a surf. You’ll have fun. Rediscover the stoke. Yeah, your ability will suffer, but who cares? It’s not like any of us are that good to begin with.

Take up another hobby in the meantime. Feel free to keep it ocean related. Those big salty bodies of water hold a never ending source of fun and excitement.

Freediving is very fun. It dovetails well with ocean experience. It’s got an awesome, always lurking, potential for death. And there’s really no better way to feel alive than by dancing at the edge of the void.

Caught in a jam? Stuck in a pickle? Send your life questions to [email protected]. Due to volume Rory cannot respond to every letter.