As we leave winter in the dust, we need to get serious about surfing. It's time to re-group, dig out from the snow, return that wetsuit to the garage, and get connected with the essence of freedom and fun. Winter is great to test your endurance and commitment to the sport, but you've answered the questions as to how far you will go to get a few waves. Are you a lifer? Are you willing to hurt and suffer for the possibility of some good waves? Heck yeah! And now we can relax and get into a groove and slide into a pair of baggies and enjoy the ride. So let's figure some things out and get some things straight as spring progresses into summer and we reassert surfing as Priority Number 1. Here are some ideas to make you're upcoming season the ultimate surf-centered marathon:
#1. Get a surf-friendly job
#2. Apply new tricks to your repertoire
#4. Get in shape
$5. Freshen up your surfboard
The world of surfing is one based on taking. We take a ride to the beach where we greedily take as many waves as we can. Sometimes we take a flight on which we take our boards and ipods and computers to another country and take waves from the locals and take pictures and videos of each other so we can take them back home and brag about how we "owned it."
This flies in the face of the image we have painted of ourselves as mellow sea monkeys who spend our days as the sun rises and the mushrooms grow...long haired flower children who sacrifice material excess in exchange for a life in the ocean. It's all a façade. A fallacy.
But there are entities that have taken action to show that surfers don't just take, and they don't just sit and watch the mushrooms grow. They act, and they help and are building a better place to surf. The Save the Waves Coalition has been aggressively battling corporate and government encroachment on hallowed surfing areas since 2001. Save the Waves has preserved surf spots in Peru, Costa Rica, Australia and Ireland among many other countries. If your curious, some spots include Pavones and Stradbroke Island. And while you and I are saying "Yeah, now we can go take some more waves!" They instead have quantified the value of waves beyond what we can take from them but rather what they give back to the community in terms of economics and cultural significance over the long term rather short minded profit margins of large developers.
Western Australia is delivering. The swell has been meaty and challenging and offering high performance opportunities for both powerful carving and aerial wizardry. For a wave that traditionally favors the no nonsense rail carving of guys like Tom Carroll, Margaret River has morphed under shifting swell and migrating wind directions, but has also played both the spoiler and supporter of incredible performances from the likes of John Florence, Kelly Slater, Gabriel Medina, C.J. Hobgood, and (Holy Moly!) Yadin Nicol. Nicol's 10 foot high full rotation aerial was what we all imagined surfing could be while Hobgood's speed lines in the pocket kept it all a classic affair.
While we wait for the next call, it's impossible to overlook the slick new persona of the ASP. New logo, new catch phrase, new highly professional commentators and futuristic tech-sploitation make for a pretty cool visual experience akin to mainstream pro sports. But as much as this new look and feel is all about getting as many unblinking eyes locked on to flickering computer screens, it looks like the powers-that-be have put real surfing on center stage. The judging criteria has been revised somewhat to reflect the many faces of modern surfing, especially by raising the bar for 10 point rides. While competitive rules will always put the art of surfing in a tight box, the ASP has made the best changes since Rabbit helped usher in the Dream Tour. On a strange note, I have a premonition that Medina will win his second event in a row and eventually take the world title this year. But overall, there's a real push from powerful rail surfers like Florence, Young, and Zietz who are making a case for some fresh faces in the top 5.
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.