Why pursue something with such fervor if it doesn’t always bring you joy?
All my life I have clung to things: dreams and ideals; undersized leather jackets imbued with memories of flashing lights and freedom; Clipper lighters; flatbed vans (certainly not clean); obscure cables; a misplaced sense of self-importance; adolescent poetry with dog ears …
But it’s not worth anything, really. All.
Nothing matters except what you are doing right now.
And so you have to cut things, relics, and specters.
Some things should be able to move away. You have to slip the slipknot off the cleat and turn your back. Keep moving, don’t look back. You will feel better for it.
Last weekend I put a bullet in another surf dream, and in some ways I couldn’t be happier about it.
It’s like losing skin, piece by piece.
At this time last week, I could never have predicted the end. I wasn’t even thinking of surfing. Then a friend alerted me to a rare swell. After seeing it, I couldn’t think of anything else.
There were a million places I could go. A host of sure values. But for my money, there’s only one approach for a rare swell: play.
I’m in the west of Scotland, looking north. If it weren’t for the swell shadows created by the islands (and the prevailing SW winds) this would be pumping here all the time. But it’s not, so I drive north and east or take ferries to the islands when I can.
My dreams are probably the same as yours. They are dreams of waves in unlikely places. Waves that could, could break once every few years, maybe a decade, maybe a lifetime. Or never. But I keep a list of spots in my head. A plan of potential etched in my mind, just waiting for the right swell.
Then it comes in: 20ft, 18-20s, the perfect angle, and light SE winds through the daylight.
It seemed like an impossible perfection. I may have waited 10 years or more for this. There have been others, but not so ideal, and I can’t remember any without having accompanied land winds of over 40 mph.
If a swell had to work, it was this one.
When I moved here, it was with the idea that it would be a stopover. I had sworn that when I finally settled down, it would be a place that would make surfing a fulcrum for everything else. As I write this, I realize how pedestrian it seems, no matter how boring and embarrassing naivety.
In any case, that did not happen. I arrived, I found work, I met a girl, I bought a house, I had children, I never left.
No more pedestrians, it seems. Except it doesn’t, because I feel more updated now than at any time in my life, but not in a way I could have predicted, and nothing to do with surfing. .
I surf here, of course. It involves a lot of travel, a lot of uncertainties, a lot of disappointments, a few tough decisions, and undoubtedly a lot of good lost days. I don’t feel connected to this in any meaningful or consistent way.
When I moved I was surfing a lot. Rage against the death of light, perhaps. But it was untenable, and ultimately not very rewarding. Often times, I would come back angry, frustrated, and this seeped into other areas of my life. I started to wonder if it was worth it.
Why pursue something with such fervor if it doesn’t always bring you joy? Life is too short, and there are plenty of other good things in it.
Bad surfing can be difficult to get rid of. Not so much when you can get home tomorrow, or a few hours later. But imagine you’ve spent an entire week planning and agonizing over it, and still need to drive for hours after failing at what you set out to do. Then try to get rid of the feeling of insufficiency and failure.
It has become a value judgment for me. It’s not that I don’t think surfing is great, of course it is, I just need more control in my life, more certainty. Obsessions keep me going. But if they cause more stress than pleasure, you have to let them go. I never ran out of other things to do.
It’s not about hating surfing, it’s about self-preservation. It’s about evolution. It’s about growing up. Surfing is no longer my identity, it’s just another thing that I do.
But of course I’m still excited about the potential of surfing, maybe even more than ever, and I can’t remember the last time I was as excited as last weekend. The van was loaded the day before, maps and forecasts were checked and then re-checked. Every conversation at work and at home was happening somewhere on the outskirts of my consciousness. I was already gone.
I had to go alone, but it was good. Some friends were looking for certain things closer to home, others were engaged elsewhere. It would be far away, there would be no one else in the water, and maybe just a few small houses scattered around. But again, all is well. I left instructions to call the Coast Guard if I hadn’t contacted the house by 6:00 p.m. It would be dark in a few hours. If I was in trouble, I figured it would probably be too late anyway.
It’s a flaw in my nature to always swing, and this weekend I figured out the elements of surfing that got me so deep in the first place again. I always wanted to chase the unknown. The potential of lucky moments could still delight me.
Years ago in South West France, living a sandy life of hot baguettes and hotter wine, I lamented the chill in the house to a ding repairman as he worked on a box fin damaged. He listened politely as he worked, nodding his head quietly. A more enlightened self would have cleared up and just gave the man space, understanding that surfers don’t really want to talk about surfing, but I was young and in love.
At one point, as I was expressing my joie de vivre for France against Scotland, he stopped and then looked up at me, spreading his arms and eyes wide.
âBut,â he said incredulously, âyou’re lucky! It’s just beachbreak. You have reefs, points, everything … “
He was right, and I never forgot him.
It was a lesson not only on the surf, but also on the place and the context. Make the most of what you have, see what’s in front of your face.
And so this weekend, I drove west with my head full of dreams, feeling, knowing it would be better than ever.
I won’t bore you with the details.
It didn’t work, as it almost always does.
I saw ripples in places where I expected more. I watched huge waves crash over the offshore reefs and thought of boats. The swell did not pass. I caught a few mediocre ones on a reef that I had surfed a long time ago, but I couldn’t remember going so shallow. I was thrown onto dry rock twice before calling it a day. I had a long argument with a farmer about parking on his lot. The assault surfaced which had nothing to do with him and everything to do with my own frustrations. It reminded me of why I quit this shit. It was nothing like what I had hoped for.
But there was also some good in it. There was one unequivocal result that I cannot ignore: I now know that several of the places I held onto are worthless. There was nothing wrong with the swell this time. And now I can finally forget them, move on.
I can slip the noose and let these dreams drift away.
Piece by piece, it falls, and I am perhaps not poorer.