Feeling blue? If you can surf, you've won the cosmic lottery.
You may have noticed your old pal Longtom, third favourite post-modern Antipodean surf writer, has been a bit slack lately.
Productivity down, AWOL below the line etc etc. I think, in this age of total transparency, an explanation is owed.
Maybe blow up a few mental health myths in the process, in an anti-depressive way, if that is possible.
Y’see things were cruising along pretty OK in the early stages of the Covid drama here when it became apparent, at first slowly and then all of a sudden, that someone very close to me was suffering a severe mental health crisis, possibly lifelong, possibly life threatening.
Dante got it just about right in The Divine Comedy: Life is a vale of tears etc. Seneca even moreso when he said the people we love are on loan from fate and can be taken at any time. It brought on a savage realisation straight off the bat.
It’s hard to suffer. It’s even harder to watch someone close to you suffer.
Especially when they are lost in an internal world of pain.
I wish this were surf-lit, but it ain’t. It’s my life and those around me, now and forever.
Despite that I’ve always been the most cheerful pessimist in the room. And the surf Gods, if there are such a thing, threw down the most outlandish run of surf in a decade. It’s the fashion, mostly in reaction to the VAL led kookocracy, to view surfing in nihilistic terms, understandably.
I have a different view, especially now. Derek Rielly on a recent Dirty Water ep.called surfing an “old friend” and that is much closer to the mark.
A corrective of the highest order would be another way to put it.
Anxiety is worry about the future, depression is the feeling that everything has gone to shit, dread is that immoveable rock in the pit of your stomach warning that something terrible is about to happen. Danish miserablist Soren Kierkegaard might have called them the three horseman of despair*.
All three march on me during the dead of night. Force me to take up arms. Leave me awake in the early hours tense and exhausted. The mind can’t escape the rabbit holes of its own making.
I used to lay awake in the half light before dawn and have a little waking dream about surfing. It was a little ritual that I used to fantasise helped me improve.
That went, there was no time to think about surfing. Days were spent with medical appointments, having difficult conversations, helping someone get through the day as best they could.
In between I could still get a go out. Ironically, despite the stress and pressure, I surfed better than ever. The close range suffering robbed me of white hot joy but even a joy bled white contains within it enough of a spark to make a life worth living. It helped me take the three horsemen and give them a burial at sea.
As far as the corpo takeover of surfing goes, nihilism is a trap, not a solution.
The raised fist is better than the resigned shrug. Pardon the French but “fuck you cunts” seems the appropriate phrase to employ.
I ain’t giving it up.
Why should we?
JP Currie called surfing narcissistic, effete, selfish to which I would reply: that’s just the conventional wisdom rehashed.
I’m no emotional champ, marriage caught me off guard, parenthood has been a minefield I’m scarcely prepared for, let alone having to guide someone through a crisis I can scarcely comprehend.
I just have to learn on the job, day by day. Keep walking beside someone, step by step. Surfing helps me be the shepherd and not the sheep. Helps me face up to life day by day.
To those who would rough up our old friend and leave her defenceless in the gutter I’d also add, check your privilege bitches.
If you can paddle out you won the cosmic lottery, even moreso if you’ve got the skills and sleds to hang when the waves go alpha.
My comrades in the surf have been magnificent. Kings and Queens to share the water with.
One stormy grey afternoon when wedges detonated along the inside sand-bar a local chalkie, shredder of QS standard, found himself inside me on a wave of the day. He motioned to me to take it and surviving a free fall drop I got spat out of a stand-up backside toob. A wave to make a winter.
Fred Nietszche was no nihilist. After the publication in ’84 of Ecce Homo, on what he called a “perfect day” he mused, “I looked behind me, I looked before me, never have I seen so many good things together”.
What was rescued, he claimed, in the process of creation, “is immortal.”
He would have made the same claim, word for word, after a wave like that.
Why even talk about it?
Our mental health is fucked. Too many kids jumping off cliffs.
Why? I don’t know.
My personal theory is the hyper-consumer capitalist model is profoundly inimical to the human soul. Atomised human beings feel profound alienation and that alienation leads to dark urges and even darker actions.
Maybe the spectre of climate change and species extinction; a world run by AI just puts too much fear into the minds of the young to function. You’ll have your own take and it’s as likely to be right as mine. There’s no shame and no stigma putting it out there.
There’s no shame either in celebrating our old friend, our soul corrective, our anti-depressive medicine.
Especially if it helps you get through the day, helps you help someone else.
Suffering has no meaning, other than the one we give it.
Why the fuck should surfing be different?
*He didn’t, but he might as well have.