It’s already expensive, and the scene is fractured between the “sport” surfers and the “soul” surfers (I’m in the latter category), creating a fairly high barrier to entry to the uninitiated. Mainstream popularity could be the best–or worst–thing to happen to surfing. When sports are injected with a lot of money and interest, they tend to spoil. Just look at NASCAR.
Surfing has been added to the list of sports competed in at the Olympic Games. Despite the PR puff, the reality for surfers is there’s nothing to celebrate.
I often wax poetically about the romance of surfing, of waiting in relative solitude among the waves for a good swell. It’s waiting patiently for the next positive rush instead of–in this case–waiting anxiously for the next explosion. It’s a calming effect, like meditation or breathing exercises. Like flying, surfing changed my life, even though I don’t get much chance to practice it anymore. The experience is transcendental, and I’m sure these combat-fatigued vets will find some inner peace on the blue.
There’s no quick fix for post-traumatic stress disorder, but research has shown that surfing’s physicality and flow can give victims some relief and a way forward. The author hit the water with his close friend Brian, a former Navy SEAL whose service in Afghanistan beat up his body, tortured his mind, and pushed him into a zone where violence—against himself or others—seemed inevitable.
For my eleventh birthday, my father took me to the Dave Sweet Surfboards shop on Olympic Boulevard, in Santa Monica. From the rack of used boards, I chose a solid, sunbrowned 9’0″ with blue-green paneled rails and a fin built with at least eight different types of wood.
Once upon a time, this was my favourite song and I memorised it as best a preschooler could. At that young age, even though I didn’t get all the words right, I knew that the Boys were name-dropping various surf spots on the southern California coast. Names like “Redondo Beach” and “San Onofre” were exotic, faraway places that might as well have been Kathmandu or Casablanca to an awkward redheaded child living in what was still mostly rural Georgia.
A quarter-century later, I listen to these tunes when they come on and I smile as I’m reminded of those carefree times in my early youth, but even more because those exotic, faraway surf spots are now just down the street.
Up until World War II, surfing had not traveled far beyond its ancient birthplace, Hawaii, and, in particular, Waikiki. Small enclaves could be found along the California coast and in Australia, in large part due to the efforts of Duke Kahanamoku, the Olympic swimming champ whose exhibitions spread surfing like an aquatic Johnny Appleseed (Applesurf?).
Maybe I’ll put in a visit to Dakar at some point; it seems like the locals have a better attitude about the sport than many of the bros along the California coast. Then again, when you’re working hard for something as a scrappy underdog, you tend to have a better romance about it!
Adventitious Geekery and other distractions created or curated by Matthew "Atari" Eargle