The surf world forever marvels at the future of our sport. Board materials and fin configurations are quickly cataloged as "old" the minute something new is unveiled. Surfers who inhabited the excitement of eminent greatness are shuffled back to haunt their home breaks as soon as the media decides they aren't worth the video time, soundtrack, or magazine space. Sure, all sports have this problem, but surfing does very little to honor its forefathers (and mothers) save for precious few memorial contests here and there while small contingents of youngsters jump around in beaver tails (see Beck's "Loser")waving their single fins like a 70's cover band plays "Stairway to Heaven" almost as a joke.
Nothing has really changed. Martin Potter was John Florence before John was, and it's great to see Pottz commentating at the Quiksilver Pro, but entire generations of athletes, craftsmen, and innovators have come and gone with barely a blip on the historical radar screen. Heck, Gerry Lopez was Martin Potter before Potter was. And nobody will ever know if they don't look. But sometimes, something comes along that reminds us of the days when surfing wasn't just older, but more special. It was a time that Fred Hemmings calls the "Golden Age" of surfing. It was a time when surfing had yet to permeate the culture or even leave the few miles of Waikiki Beach that created it in the first place (although Tahitians and Peruvians say otherwise). The lineup was empty and the surfers rode boards crafted straight from local trees. It almost seems like fiction.
A.R. Gurrey was lucky enough to be a surfer and photographer in Waikiki during that time and documented it in an interesting way through a hand-crafted photo book called the Surf Riders of Hawaii. It's considered the first book dedicated to surfing, making Gurrey the little known "father of surf photography." Check out the video discussing the Surf Riders of Hawaii. You can see the insane images that were pasted right into the pages. For me, it's the photos that mean the most. They capture Hawaiians (namely Duke Kahanomoku) riding these virgin waves under the shadow of Diamond Head before the sport was a sport. I wonder if those guys realized how lucky they were to have this experience. It will never happen again, and this book dating back to 1911 captures a moment that has been long buried under epoxy and air reverses. Long live surfing!
The 2014 Quiksilver Pro held at Snapper Rocks in Coolangata, Australia showed all the familiar elements we've come to expect from the first stop on the ASP Tour: long rippable point waves, Taj Burrow losing in the semis, and Parko in the final. It was all to plan...except one small thing. One small, goofy foot thing named Gabriel Medina. His approach to the winding walls at Snapper tell a tale of a surfer who has matured, his normally quick slash aerial display toned down to fit the vertical point peaks. But it wasn't just the more controlled and precise attack by the goofy foot Brazilian but rather something else that struck me as I watched the Quiksilver. For all the progress made by progressive surfing, Snapper's conditions showed that some waves still mandate old school rail to rail carving. And Joel Parkinson was the epitome of that surfing at his home break, exhibiting huge gaffs and floaters after air drops into the tube off the take-off. It wasn't epic Snapper, but it was shreddable for sure. And now the stage is set as we head to Pipeline in December. Will Medina keep it up and win the title? Will Burrow finally get it together? Will Slater go for his final title? Or will a dark horse grab the reins in next event. In women's surfing, it looks like the status quo has been extended with Steph Gilmore reasserting her historic dominance. So get all your surf stuff together and get ready for another great year of pro surfing.
Winter will end...eventually and spring will bring good winds and good waves. So remember that spending this winter "surfing" the Internet will give nothing but flabby arms and big old love handles. So before Old Man Winter lets up his grip on you, start now getting those frozen bones back in motion. Hit the gym and start stretching.
I have found that yoga is a great way for surfers to stay loose and focused even when the waves are flat or the snow is falling, and no one connects yoga and surfing better than Peggy Hall and her Yoga for Surfers DVD series. I have been through them all (except baby on Board) and will honestly say that my surfing feels better than ever. The series moves from basic poses in Volume 1 all the way to the the most gnarly Volume 3 - Unleased. Look for a parade of notable surfers and clips of great waves as you stretch and focus yourself to physical and mental health. Hall makes it a point to connect all the poses to powerful and progressive surfing maneuvers and most routines are filmed on the beach in exotic locales. Once you and the water are all warmed up, get on it.
Surfing is so fun that many people overlook its great health benefits, but you'd be hard pressed to find a better (and more enjoyable) cross-training exercise for athletes of all ability levels. Surfing is essentially a blend of swimming, balance training, and jumping rope (with a splash of riding a roller coaster). Surfing offers many health benefits. I think you'll be surprised.
- Paddling increases aerobic and cardio fitness.
- Lastly, surfing brings together the mind and body and nature. Saltwater cleans the sinuses; sunshine helps the body create vitamin D, and riding a wave makes you feel gooooood. Surfing is without a doubt a healthy
- Paddling also builds strength and muscle in the upper back and arms.
- Springing to your feet and holding your line on the board strengthens the legs (thighs and calves) and lower back.
- Turning and twisting your surfboard to catch waves stretches and strengthens the back.
- Catching and riding a wave greatly improves balance and gross motor skills and builds long lean muscle that helps resist future injury.
Tim Baker's piece over at the Inertia comes a few weeks after a conversation I had with photographer Pete Hodgson. The gist: surfing is no longer an activity of rebellion but rather an act of compliance. Kids are being groomed by little league parents to become surfers as if it's some viable career choice. Even more ironic, they surf to please their parents. 30 years ago, most moms would squirm at the thought of her little boy or girl hanging out all day at the beach and foregoing academic lessons for surf sessions. An average dad would gladly break that board in two pieces to keep his kid from wasting his life, but somehow today, average parents are "pushers" (as Baker puts it). They run interference to make sure little Jimmy gets the wave and bark strategy to their sweet Suzy in the lineup even during free surfs. They video and promote, give out hugs for big maneuvers, and glare at rail digs or missed aerial opportunity.
If the kid is no good, the disappointment is palpable. However, if there is a shred of promise, the industry takes over from there by shaving down any rough edges (hair, clothes, back story) to create an advertising machine. Besides the fact they are lugging big board bags, there is no visual difference between your average college frat kid and an up and coming surf star. Does it matter? No, not for today's generation because they never experienced surfing as an outlaw activity. They grew up in a world where you buy Quiksilver at the mall and watch Blue Crush on the TV Guide channel and order surfboards on-line and can't find a beach where someone isn't giving surf lessons. Surfing is now just another sport.
But I mourn not for surfing so much because I still love it, and it's still the greatest way to spend a day. Instead, Baker's little article hit me where it hurts. At home. I spent a year trying to shove surfing down my own kid's throat and in the process doing two horrible things: 1. I was treating surfing like some computer program that could be learned through if-then steps, like a paint-by-numbers Picasso tutorial. I took the natural joy out of it. 2. Worse. I made what should have been a day at the beach with dad into some kind of force feeding bum out. The take away? Surfing will be great. It will survive and change into something I barely recognize and my kid will be great whether he's surfing or not.
Jaimal Yogis' newest surf-based memoir slash research thesis is entitled The Fear Project. On the surface it comes off as a standard memoir that chronicles a given gamut of time and follows a thematic thread along the way to an eventual epiphany that illuminates the journey he has just taken. That was the thoroughly enjoyable approach Yogis took in his freshman effort, Saltwater Buddha. Buddha is a spare yet satisfyingly rich delving into the author's own mission to find spiritual meaning in classrooms and books while his own obsessive-religious devotion to riding waves guides him along a meandering path to true suffering and enlightenment. He nailed it: Short, pithy chapters dripping with surf laden sound and fury. But The Fear Project embraces a different aesthetic. Yogis plays researcher as he delves into the history and reverberating effects of human fear through exhaustive references and interviews with prominent scientists, doctors, and extreme athletes all set to the rhythm of his own mission to surf giant Mavericks. It's Saltwater Buddha all grown up...definitely worth the time.
The Fear Project got me thinking about the place of training and preparation in surfing. For the most part, just surfing a lot is enough prep work. But when things get heavy, Yogis makes the point that only mental and physical training can improve confidence and overcome fear. Even if massive amounts of paddling and wave riding keep you loose and strong, taking big wave surfing seriously by learning the wave, swimming laps, and doing underwater breath work gives you that extra edge when the waves get real. And that makes all the difference when you are caught in a rip or pinned down by a macking set because fear uses more oxygen.
But make no mistake. Surfing is not about fear. It's about fun, the outdoor experience, and finding your happy zone with maneuvers and experimentation; but sometimes, there is nothing like finding a new limit and pushing yourself to another level as long as you're still smiling. And getting prepared will keep you smiling and keep you safe.
This video of Hawaiian maniac Mark Healy getting soundly creamed by a 20 foot cold stone beast at Mavericks via Go Pro brought back a flurry of feelings. As you watch Healy's face, you see the steely realization that there is nowhere to go and no fleeing this avalanche of freezing freight from getting unloaded on his head at ground zero. Boom! There is a moment when you see those shadows on the horizon peaking over the water line and you think there might be a chance, but once you paddle over the next wave and see that set in full display standing erect and feathering in full menacing beauty, a certain understanding replaces the panic. It's the realization that no heavy breathing, cussing, or any manner of spazzing will save you. There is only one option: relax. You understand that the wave will have you and you must square with that truth. The next 40 seconds will be a thrashing whiplash that will either be another slip through the wormhole into safety that you will talk about over beers tonight or something all the more ominous. Healy has been through this all before a hundred times, but you can see that there is no taking this beating lightly. We must all face the music at some point. We just hope the music is Jack Johnson over a beach fire, nice and dry, and a bottle of wine...not Black Sabbath and salty foam under 40 feet of freezing cold water.
The vast majority of us take life for granted. We take each breath for granted. And, as logic would follow, we take surfing for granted as something that will always be there. But like our loved ones and the environment around us, our time in the water is precious and finite. Even if you stay fit and strong, there will be a time when you (and I) will no longer have the physical capacity for surfing. Are you in the frame of mind to imagine a world without the artistic and athletic release that our sport provides? Now think about the millions of great humans who have never experienced the joy of wave riding (or have had it taken from them) by way of an illness or physical disability. Okay, non-surfers, I understand that surfing may not seem important to you in the big scheme of things, but what do you know? You don't surf. The deal is that surfing has proven itself a healing and mind expanding activity, affecting the subconscious and cardiovascular system like something akin to a religious awakening or three rounds of boxing or an atom bomb full of stoke. We're talking something special that needs to be accessible to those who seek it and deserve its magic.
And there are special folks out there making it happen. In California, the Adaptive Surfing Foundation, founded by "Happy Barrels Surf & Pro Surf Coaches" owner Robbie Nelson who was misdiagnosed after a surfing accident and told he would never walk again. That moment sparked the foundation concept which states as its goal to help disabled athletes fulfill their surfing dreams and to make surfing available to anyone regardless of disability. In Australia, the Disabled Surfing Association is making dreams happen. Formed in Sydney, Australia in 1986, the DSF helps surfers with a serious illness or disability get back into the water. After a motorcycle accident, Gary Blashcke, the founder, was told he would never surf again and thus was inspired to create the DSA, which "caters to all disabled people wishing to have a go at surfing in a safe, happy environment." One of the most successful foundations for sure is "Life Rolls On." This foundation has been around for over ten years and focused on raising funds and awareness for spinal cord injury research and related programs. "In 1996, on the verge of becoming a professional surfer, Jesse Billauer suffered a spinal cord injury while surfing. While physically rendered a quadriplegic, Jesse's spirit was not broken, and the phrase 'Life Rolls On' was born." They are not alone:
Surfing can be a selfish act in that it is an experience of one person. It is unique to each surfer, but like a writer can take to the page and change the world, or a musician or band can change the way you see the yourself, maybe a surfer can affect change in the way he rides waves. In that, I mean using your gift and giving it to others. Volunteer your time to an organization like the ones above (research organizations in your area). For a day or a week or whatever, take someone surfing who has never had the opportunity. It's not pity. It's humanity. Heck, if we're a surfing tribe, then we owe it to our family of surfers to act as one.
I am still blown away that surfing has not made it to the world's most prestigious arena. Now as with every aspect of the exploitation of surfing, I find myself thinking something like this and then immediately realizing that once it happens, it has somehow soiled the purity of the sport. But heck the purity has been soiled already. Have you read a surf mag or watched a surf movie lately? The transformation is complete; let's at least see it go all the way. Here is my idea:
The secret would be a really good wave pool. Therefore, the playing field would be level. Every wave is the same. There would be no worries about forecasting good swell. Every surfer has the same opportunity. Every drop, every wave the same. Cameras, lights, sponsors, logos, glittering LCD scoreboards all blazing. How is it different from snowboarding (or skateboarding which has an even better reason to be in the Olympics)? Heck, how is surfing different from figure skating (I'm ready for a wave of comments on that one)? But think about it. It's a graceful, athletic expression that is totally subjective. Both are acrobatic tests of balance and style. True story, when I was working as a full-time professional judge, we would practice using the surf contest criteria by watching the winter Olympics. Think about it, completing the most radical and high risk maneuver with the most control and speed wins. That could be gymnastics or figure skating or snowboarding or whatever.
Since the early days of surfing, purists have hated to see surfing given to the rest of the world. Big chages like tow surfing and aerials have changed the landscape. Mob mentality and competitive sensibilities often manifest themselves into negative aggression in the lineup. But heck, even George Freeth made money from surfing. Plus, one look at an overcrowded lineup that 10 years ago would have been empty can turn one's stomach, but the Olympics comes from a pretty cool place with a focus on healthy national pride. Surfers could be part of this. And maybe, if every country built some more of these wave pools, it might free up little space in the lineup for the rest of us. Oh well, it's all just random thought at this point, but just think if Brazil would have built a wave pool for this event and then been able to use it as a giant amusement aquatic center thereafter. I don't know Olympics, I think you are missing the ball here. Look at what it has done for snowboarding.
Sure, wave pool history will tell us that they have yet to be fully proven either a legitimate alternative or as a financial boon for investors, but with new concepts from Kelly Slater and Greg Webber, surfing in the Olympics might just happen. But even stranger, you might see cars with boards on the roof racks as you drive through Iowa.
Surfing a post-Christmas ocean is so full of promise. Kids froth on bright white boards covered in virgin coats of wax over those first painful hints of pressure dings, and they are so full of hope. Hope for some design edge that will make them faster, more radical, more vertical, more surgical in their wave attack. Hope that this new board will make them better than their buddies and somehow elevate their maneuvers to match those that dance to punk rock in their minds.
The kids carry these sticks from Santa like treasures, safely wrapped in board bags. You can almost feel their energy as you brush past. It's a far cry from next year when same said boards are yellowed and dragged from car windows. Devoid of their possibilities and filled instead with predictability, an "old" board screams of slug and sloth. Today, it seems that surfers are updating their boards alarmingly fast. A year-old board isn't what it used to be. Thicker glass jobs in a pre-disposable society saw boards treated like new gifts for years, passed down and used until dings were repaired, gashed open, and repaired a second time. Thick gray wax globbed over a bruised deck and thumbed thick into splits in the fiberglass. Each spider crack tells a story. Each delaminated blister wails of afternoons spent steaming in a hot car with windows sealed tight. That sharp, crooked nose longs for a time before a leash string untied and sent it straight for the pier.
Old boards are like chapters of your life, the airbrush a glimpse into your psyche and the board's dimensions a testament of your age and self-image. But a kid who walks onto the beach with his fresh Christmas board doesn't know about all that. Instead, he beams with pride and longs for that first wave to throw down all those moves he dreamed about last night. That's what the gift of a surfboard really is: a gift of hope and possibility. Old boards tell the tales while new boards look forward to new experiences. Happy New Year! May your new board bring all the stoke you are hoping for. I'm confident mine will.
Surfing teaches us everyday or at least it should. Surfing should show us that nature is precious. Really, why do the hordes of visitors scrimp and save all year for just a relative few fleeting moments on the sand? We have it every day and we should appreciate every second and every wave. We should learn that for every wave taken, one should be given. If the bustle and grumble of Christmas doesn't teach us this, then maybe surfing can be our star to navigate by. Surfing is about balance and patience and being observant. Riding a wave takes focus and a willingness to take chances, but it also requires that you need to surrender sometimes to the zone and just flow with the forces of gravity and motion. Do you see my point? As we embark on the oncoming new year, it seems that in a world of chaos and turmoil, surfers should count their blessings and realize what they have - the ultimate teacher.
In my recent interview with Dennis Dragon of the infamous SoCal punk band, the Surf Punks, he hit on some elements of the evolving surfing experience that are at once sad and alarming, but he also describes the ever-present gifts it continues to give. Check out Part 1 and Part 2 of my conversation and get to know a guy you thought was just screaming about chicks and parties. Some thought the Surf Punks highlighted all that was wrong with surfing...and it turns out that was his plan. As with all problems, we have to know what's wrong in order to fix them. But he doesn't leave out the stories about chicks and parties. He also digs on his concern for the environment and that he was never a fan of Dick Dale.