Can… you… imagine a life without surf?
Yesterday, a story about the non-addictive nature of surfing loosed terrific emotion. At one point, surfing’s great archivist and historian Matt Warshaw called the notion “total bullshit.”
Eight years ago, Matt moved to Seattle in Washington, northern northern California, you could say. Shortly afterwards, he quit surfing in any meaningful sense. Not once a week or once a month, maybe twice a year.
And only in tropical water.
I asked him why.
BeachGrit: Let’s begin with Longtom’s treatise on the non-addictive nature of surfing. You don’t buy into it.
Warshaw: Or let’s begin with — you want me and Longtom to hiss at each other.
I love two Mean Girls clawing at each other’s pretty face…
I need to go back and read the whole thing. But as the great-grandson of Stravrapolian Jews I can tell Steve that back in the Caucasus we all died at 37. At 70, best case scenario is you were a counterfeit fingerbone relic on display at the local chapel.
So . . . Steve is very wrong in all things?
I not sure if he was saying that I personally lack the proper amount of surf addiction, or if surfing in general isn’t addictive. Both, I think. Which takes us back to my original reply which was “Bullshit” (re my lack of addiction), and “Total bullshit” (re Longtom’s point on surfing addiction in general).
And yet, apart from the very occasional sortie overseas and to the Slater pool almost two years ago, you’ve stopped surfing.
I was thinking about what you wrote earlier this week, about driving across town only to find blownout surf. In my teens, 20s, 30s, that would be part of the adventure. Even if you’re just laughing about it later with a friend on the phone — or posting about it on your website. You find ways to turn a misfire into, not a positive thing exactly, but part of this fantastic high-low life-less-ordinary experience you’re having. That’s what makes the good parts of surfing so good. That’s what makes surfing so incredible — so addicting, Longtom, you smoke-throwing Russophile — and why, going off-topic for a moment, the idea of wavepools fucking up our 9-to-1 shit-to-gold ratio has me swinging my cane.
The target, or sweet spot, or pleasure zone, got smaller and smaller, and I got tired of firing and missing. It dipped way below that 9-to-1 ratio, and I buckled. From age 45 on, my rails were stickier, the takeoffs were harder, and next thing I’m kicking the trashcan like Coach on Letterkenny screaming “It’s fucking embarrassing.”
What about your actual surfing?
Same thing. The target, or sweet spot, or pleasure zone, got smaller and smaller, and I got tired of firing and missing. It dipped way below that 9-to-1 ratio, and I buckled. From age 45 on, my rails were stickier, the takeoffs were harder, and next thing I’m kicking the trashcan like Coach on Letterkenny screaming “It’s fucking embarrassing.” I was good at surfing for a long time, and was still good now and then when I stopped, but the trend was obvious, and getting out was the right thing to do. I should have stopped two or three years earlier.
You do know that, unless you’re chasing CT points or trying to impress with your new clip, nobody cares if you surf well or not.
I know. It is embarrassing.
How much muscle memory do you retain? What do you lose? What do you keep?
I went to Costa Rica for a week last May. No wife, no kid. I hadn’t surfed in a year. If the wave lets me in early, and my feet land in the right place, and the section before me is generous — I still do it pretty well! I got to the end of 10 or 12 waves over the course of the week all smiling and fluttery, and once or twice walked back to my plush resort feeling very zen and stoked and well-connected to the whole wonderful impenetrable mess.
But . . . ?
But mostly it was a shitshow. I don’t even know anymore, given the amount of time between my surfs, what kind of board to ride, how fast I can paddle, how hard to push, when to pull back, what my place is in the lineup. All those markers I had as a surfer, all my fixed points, are gone.
Mostly it was a shitshow. I don’t even know anymore, given the amount of time between my surfs, what kind of board to ride, how fast I can paddle, how hard to push, when to pull back, what my place is in the lineup. All those markers I had as a surfer, all my fixed points, are gone.
Was it worth it? You going back?
I am, yeah.
So you haven’t fully quit.
I’d like to surf twice a year, somewhere warm. Two trips. Then maybe bodysurf a little when I’m visiting my family in LA. But yeah I quit surfing full-time, or however you want to phrase it. I quit my addiction.
Did the decision to stop come at once or was it a slow build? Can you describe the thought process? Did you really find it “incredibly easy”?
“Incredibly easy” wasn’t quite right. We moved to Seattle in October 2011, which is the beginning of the surf season up here, and in San Francisco too, and for six months or so it was hard. Very withdrawl-like, in fact. But after that, and overall, not surfing a lot turned out to be way easier than I thought.
The idea of quitting terrifies me, the notion that there’s no turning back. Don’t surf for a few years, change your mind, and suddenly you’re almost back to being a VAL. Such a thing would give me nightmares.
Me, too. I remember really clearly having dinner with August Hildago, my best surfing pal in San Francisco, this was around 2000, and were playing out all the scenarios for our surfing future. How long we could last, given a clean bill of health. And how, no matter the number of years remaining, it wasn’t going to be enough. August is still surfing all the time. New hip and all. Ocean Beach, Mavericks, all those shark-infested places north of the bridge.
Did you ever consider, well, I’m this age now, ten more years or whatever and I’ll be staring at decrepitude so how about I make hay now while the sun still shines, however dimly?
No, I’m happier at 59, not surfing, than I’ve ever been. Not because of the fact that I’m not surfing. But the whole deal is just more balanced now. Every big thing I wanted, I got. Including a long wonderful messy surf life. Working on EOS, scrolling Instagram memes with my son, loosening my cravat just so before Jodi gets back from work — chasing and bagging little things really suits me at this age. Longtom, God permitting, will be climbing mountains, riding horses, and chasing women at 70, and I’ll be throwing Bingo hellfire on the Scrabble board, and we’ll both be happy.