It is the eve of International Surf Day and I am land-locked, a thousand miles away from the ocean. I write this from the confines of a dank motel room in the north of Burkina Faso, West Africa. I want nothing more than to be on the ocean right now, and it is struggle for me every day that I am here, but ultimately I know that I am where I am supposed to be right now, and that the waves will be waiting for me when I return to them.
I had my time living the typical surfer’s dream, I think every surfer has. It was a glorious era of my short lived life. Surfing twice a day every day for a good couple of years, sunny warm-water breaks with waves of absolute perfection, endless nights of passionate partying. It was a time of satisfaction and contentedness, certainty and self-awareness. Yet I knew that it would not last forever, that there was more to my life than just the waves.
I remember reading in a magazine last year an interview with famed surf writer Matt Warshaw, where he talked about the allure of surfing culture and the way it sucks people in. He mentioned several older surfers that he knew in their fifties or sixties who were suddenly coming to the realization that all they had ever done is surf and live a laid back life on the beach, and now looking back, they had nothing to show for it. It was almost a warning from Matt to not make surfing the be all and end all of one’s life, a stunning admission from someone who had devoted his life to the activity and clearly had plenty to show for it. What I really took from that line was that we can’t all be Matt Warshaw, or Dane Reynolds or Kelly Slater, etc…
There are many passionate surfers around the world who want to really make an impact with their lives, but know that they have to give up the surf-only life to get there. I have met them everywhere – in the mountains of Bolivia, in the cities of land-locked North America, and here in Sub-Saharan Africa; surfers, cut-off from the great ocean and the waves that inspire them. The common connection between them all is that they have made the choice to be where they are, not because of a lack of passion for surf, but rather because of a desire to do something greater with their lives, beyond just themselves. Some surfers are able to do just that, to find meaning in the beach life, beyond just the waves. But they are the exception not the norm.
It is not to say that surfing is a selfish pursuit, but rather that if every surfer stuck just to the waves, perhaps the culture of surfing would not be represented by the worldly, thoughtful, and impactful group of people that currently situate themselves within its realm. It is the diversity of our experiences that ultimately fuel our appreciation for the ocean and its waves.
I made the choice to move away from the ocean, and some might accuse me of being self-apologetic for my lack of devotion to the surf gods. On the contrary, I pay heed to them every day, even from the dusty, hot hinterlands of sub-Saharan Africa. And when I finally am able to get away from here and taste the sweet salty water of the West African coastline, I will be as content as any other surfer out there.
And so I write this to all other land-locked surfers who had to make the tough choice between the ocean and a meaningful life. Stay strong, stay stoked, you will find the ocean again when the time is right, when your life allows it.