A blinding mess of lifetimes of accumulated knowledge, love, hate, frustration and elation that can only be unpicked by those that have been through it.
Just ‘cause you swing a club once every couple years don’t mean you play golf.
So to it goes, then, with weekend warriors that see surfing as a pastime, or a means to an end.
Longtom pulled me up because I called surfing ‘an impenetrable mess understood only by those cursed enough to be betrothed to it.’ He reckons surfing ain’t no thing to those that do it. Just another part of life.
That’s true, for many.
To the Silicon Valley entrepreneur increasing his wellness.
To the shred-sister washing off that ex.
To the gym bro improving his core.
Surfing’s a vehicle to get them some place else that sits back beyond the shore.
Plenty of people fuck with surfing. There’s more recreational dabblers today than ever before.
It’s accurate to say they’ve become the rule, too. Numerically at least. Those that use surfing as part of a balanced lifestyle to be healthy, happy individuals.
Good for ‘em.
But that’s not surfing’s true face.
With groms it happens immediately. For those that come to it later in life, it may be a little slower. I don’t know.
But often without realising you’ve become like Candy’s junkies. You could stop, but you don’t want to. Then you want to stop, but you can’t.
The entrepreneur’s working less. The newly single lass is off Tinder and the piss. Gym bro’s missing leg day.
Surfing becomes the end, and the rest of your life is a means to it.
Work, family, friends, tail. All bow to your ignoble pursuit. It’s a sad state of affairs. Not honourable, like in Breath. Not adventurous, like in Barbarian Days. Chandler would not abide.
It’s petty. Selfish. Narcissistic (so actually, maybe Finnegan was on the money…).
But how many surfers do I know that have given up on it, other than for medical reasons? Good people that see the error of their ways? Raskolnikovs confessing to their crimes.
None. We just joke about what shit cunts we are in the line up while our partners, friends, family, relationships, careers, whither away on the beach.
Also, any attempt to try and articulate this grip it holds over us, especially in popular culture, is doomed to failure.
We can’t even do it ourselves.
The British philosopher Alan Watts would tell a story of the Zen master being asked to give a lecture on Zen. Crowds would gather, waiting, eager to hear the insight of this expert in the field they were so keen to be a part of. That they had paid money to come and see.
The master would walk on stage, tap the microphone with his knuckle, and promptly walk back off.
I wouldn’t be the first, or the last, wanker to compare surfing with Zen. Even I don’t inflate our aquatic poncing to that level.
But trying to put a framework around surfing is like trying to catch water with a net, to push the Zen analogy a little further.
You can only know it by being it.
What surfing means to me is different to what it means to you.
Or the guy that devotes an entire lifetime to mastering that one slab of rock.
Or the girl that kicks her board into the kook that has just dropped in on her.
Or the degenerate that smokes crack and beats his wife, but draws lines so beautiful they’d make Matisse weep.
There’s beauty there. Horror, too.
But no narrative arc, or tale of redemption.
Tying it all up into a neat little package is like trying to stare into the sun to see its centre.
There’s no point.
Just a blinding mess of lifetimes of accumulated knowledge, love, hate, anger, frustration, elation etc. that can only be unpicked by those that have been through it.
Only a surfer knows the feeling rings hollower than a WSL press release nowadays.
So maybe I’ll just misquote Biggie Smalls and say, “If ya don’t know, ya don’t know.”