"I have (mental health) battles. I'm not nice to myself. I do these things to prove to myself I'm worthy."
Down in Cronulla, the hard-core surf town right there on Sydney’s southern rim, they call him Forest Gump.
Peel back the curtain at four am and you’ll see this blond cat with the wild beard, former WQS pro Blake Johnston, pounding out the clicks, finishing off his pre-dawn spin with an ocean swim before rolling up to the beach to teach kids how to shred.
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After nailing a bank of insane long distance runs, Johnston, who is forty, is now set to stomp the Guinness world record for longest sesh, forty hours and 500 waves.
Johnston was gonna do an easy six-hundred mile run to Queensland to raise awareness for mental health but, after a little Googling, discovered the world record for longest surf sesh, set by South African Josh Elsin, was only thirty hours, eleven minutes, with 455 waves eaten up.
“I reckoned I could smash it. I can run for forty hours,” says Johnston. “And, this way, I can surf with people I like and make a difference.”
He wants to make a diff ‘cause suicide is something real close to Johnston. His daddy took his own life and when he was a kid riding for Quiksilver, one of that company’s most popular employees Andrew Murphy, died at the hands of the black dog.
“It affected me a lot. I have my own battles, too,” says Johnston. “I’m not nice to myself. I tell myself, ‘You’re hopeless at what you’re doing’. I’m pretty mean. I do these things to prove myself I’m worthy and that’s what my battle is. In those dark moments, I have to tell myself, well, how good is this? My boys (he’s got two of ’em, one with a spectacular mullet) deserve a strong dad.”
Next March, Johnston is gonna hit a joint called The Alley, a wave next to a breakwall right in town, and charge corporates money for the thrill of surfing during a world record attempt and to challenge ‘emselves with a night surf.
Red Bull picking up the considerable tab for lights, judges, probs a bit of water safety to keep the Great Whites out.
The money peeled off the corporates is going into raising mental awareness ie, helping to address the plague of suicides, particularly among young men.
I asked Johnston how he deals with the blackest moments during his endurance runs, when there ain’t a soul around in the middle of the night, ain’t nothing but your head, the voices.
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“Man, you go to places… I’m thinking about making myself proud, my family proud. I put it on myself not to make it a big deal, that people can run further and for longer than I do. But it’s hard to explain. One minute you feel invincible, the next you’re in tears. It’s like you’ve got short-term bi-polar. It’s so up and down. One minute you think you’re killing it, then the next forty k’s feels like it’s going to take four years.”
Johnston apologises for being inarticulate, which he ain’t, and says, “You don’t have to be a superstar to live a full life. You just gotta make an effort. You gotta go after it.”