Ideally, somebody could just pay me to be me. Personally, I think I’d provide pretty good value for money but as yet I haven’t been approached. So, like the ninety-nine percent of fellow surfers who aren’t either sponsored free-surfers able to dictate their own agenda, or the wave riding offspring of the filthy rich, I have had to accept that as well as surfing, I need to be working.
I hadn’t really planned it as such, but looking back it appears that I’ve used most of my twenties as one extended experiment. One that revolved almost exclusively around getting as many good waves as I possibly could. I had no intention of it working out this way when a few months before my twenty first birthday I walked out of my final University exam and into a world where I didn’t have to be back somewhere come September, but that seems to be how it’s played out.
Getting the best waves possible, or “Barrels before breakfast” as my friend Kelly coined it. I’ll expand on that a little bit, because if that had been my sole aim then I wouldn’t have moved after the end of the first six months and I’d have found a way to stay put in Indonesia. I guess, digging a little deeper, my intention over the past eight or so years has been to find and maintain a way to surf good waves regularly while still leading a life that fulfills me. Probably pretty standard. Deep down I always knew that my aspirational dirtbag lifestyle of living in a tent on the beach or out of the back of a car wouldn’t seem so crash hot in ten or twenty years time. Girls don’t dig it after a week, and it’s rubbish when the weather’s bad. The aim is not to end up being the middle aged guy propping up the bar telling everybody stories about how bitchin’ life used to be. How could I sustain a diet of waves that make me smile in balance with all the other things that make me smile, until I’m too old to care?
So far I’ve taken three different angles of attack. Don’t ask me which one works the best; I haven’t drawn my conclusions yet.
This is how so many of us get started. When I was sixteen years old I got a job in my local surf shop sweeping out sand and making cups of tea. I used to read out the surf report to the local radio station and shuffle the wetsuits on the rails, then ended up spending my summer holidays outside on the beach hiring out foam surfboards. It was great fun, but my friends over the stream at the surf school started later, finished earlier, earned more and sometimes even got to surf on the job. Through my late teens and early twenties I surf coached alongside my friends and housemates in the school holidays, which seemed really glamorous, but we were solely concerned with saving for surf trips so we worked long hours repeating ourselves parrot-fashion over and over, and peeing in our wetsuits over and over. It was worth it, though, as during the lag time between regular school holidays and university starting again we could make trips to Europe and then further afield to places like Indonesia. When we no longer had to return for university, our trips to Indonesia extended across the winter months. So many people we knew did this seasonal work routine, working a summer on the beach then a winter in the mountains moving from one scene to the next with the only difference being a change in temperature and the type of board underfoot. Same faces, same long hours and same party scene. I wasn’t into snow as much as I was into waves, so I worked hard for the summer season then tried to see how long I could make it last. Inevitably, it wasn’t as long as I’d have liked it to have been and I’d be home before winter had faded, pulling pints in bars and carrying plates in restaurants before the surf school opened up again and I could start the saving process over again. So this is the bi-polar option of either half a year of hard work followed by perhaps the next half a year of nothing but blissful release to surf your brains out, or six months of working hard and playing hard in one environment before shifting location for another six months of the same. I didn’t see any longevity in this approach, so one year, at the end of the summer season, I bought myself a one-way ticket.