I may as well be shooting up heroin in a desperate doorway in the centre of town. This desire, passion, that has spawned from the ocean is nothing more than an addiction. It’s true; my desires are selfish, in the sense that there is no direct benefit to others. My dedication serves no purpose, when purpose is defined by progression. I can’t commit, won’t, to weekend plans. My parents despair as, yet again, I choose to abandon my duties in pursuit of this ungodly compulsion.
Although surfing is no longer exactly counter-cultural, there is still some disparity between how it is viewed in comparison to more ‘wholesome’ sports. Team sports, athletics, hierarchical sports with defined success and failure - competition. Time spent developing these pursuits is synonymous with commitment and dedication. In surfing, success is not so easily defined. Yes, there are comps, there is the WSL; the emergence of wave pools provides a structure which pushes progression and competition to the forefront. But not for us laymen; that’s not the point. It sits in complete contrast with the heart of surfing - the heart which is so hard to define, though we do try. Were my time devoted to a different sport, my dedication would be looked upon more kindly by colleagues, friends and family. Measurable success sits very favourably in our engrained societal values.
Our indoctrination starts young. We start school at the age of 4. Our success is measured, we make progress. We earn points for ourselves, points for our schools. Our success in this imposing system sets us on a path for the rest of our life. Schools get points if you go straight to college. Colleges get points if you go straight to uni. They all try to collect points, to be as successful as possible; and there’s something for everyone. Everyone has a value. You are a pawn, being pushed to the next step, that will earn you and your institution the most success.
Then you get a job. You do what you’re supposed to. Progress. Everything has a purpose. You must have goals, then you must achieve them. Get on the property ladder before it’s too late. Earn money - if it’s not a lot then make sure it’s stable. Be good. Catch up with friends. Make babies.
At the risk of sounding like a very stereotypical surfer, can we just chill out? We can’t be present if we are constantly chasing the next step. Surfing fixes you in the moment, there is no past and there is no future. We react to what is presented - set a line, adjust, flow. It is all consuming. An escape from the reality that does not feel real. The purpose is not progression, but a connectedness to what is real. Community, nature, being. An addiction perhaps, but the addiction is pure. We chase reality, feeling. You can keep your success, I have no need to progress. I’m going surfing.