This image is a lie. This does not happen where I surf. It probably doesn't happen where you surf either. Photo: Luiz Blanco

This image is a lie. This does not happen where I surf. It probably doesn't happen where you surf either. Photo: Luiz Blanco

The Inertia

I’ve got a bone to pick with the surf industry over those incessant images of “airs” and “slabs” that inundate my eyes.  You know what I’m talking about – the promising grom-pro, thruster custom spray job replaced by a wallpaper of sponsor stickers, caught mid-air above the wave, grabbing rails, looking every part the wild wave warrior.  Or the shit-eating, cat who ate the canary look of Kelly, John John or whomever as they lean back, Zen-like repose, into the gnarliest triple overhead heaving mass of South Pacific wave you’ll never see, looking as if they’re thinking, “Wish you were here.” Because you never will be.

Problem is, most of us, will rarely if ever surf waves like this, or, more pointedly, surf at all like this.  We paddle out day in and day out, into the lineup of our crowded beach breaks, into 2 foot mushy close outs, jockeying for space amid a crowd of beginners and frustrated vets, praying for that 3 to hopefully 7 second ride that will stoke us through the day, maybe our week or month.

But the public, and even us, has been groomed to worship at the alter of the surf porn we’re sold.  Friends who don’t surf laugh derisively when they see the waves I surf.  In their minds, they envision Indo, Chicama, Peru and Pororoca, South Africa.  Have you noticed the growing disconnect between classic surf culture and the steroided up, X Games-style wave culture the industry is selling us?  Sub in Nascar and you’ve got the same hyped up, over the top testosterone-fueled unreality.

Worse still, this divide between dream sequence and reality emboldens people with no ocean experience to charge in, ignorant to the power and whims of the might of God, the ocean, and the committed surfers who people her waves.

I mean no disrespect to the pros who train tirelessly and show off the fruits of their labors at competitions that trickle down into the mainstream consciousness. But like a steady diet of Kim Kardashian, all ass and boobs and couture on a yacht in St. Tropez, it dulls our senses for the real, the everyday simple pleasure.

At my home break in Venice Beach, CA, my stars are named Brock, Marcelo, Mick, and Ian and that dude with the French sounding name who told me once that he surfs morning and night to stay sober.  You don’t know them –or maybe you do, a version of them at your break — they’ve got style, skills, shaka and stoke for miles.   Some of them can’t afford new boards, their wetsuits are full of holes and they’ve got to time their sessions around work that pays the mortgages and tuitions and feeds the family.  They have no money to pay for a “new used” board on Craigslist so they pick their discarded beaters out of trashcans.  They take on Venice Beach’s slop and mush and come back, saying, ‘Yeah, give me more!’ – cross stepping to the nose through the tiniest of sections on a closeout, carving a killer turn on a folding fade of a wave.  They are surfers.

And that’s not even taking into account the real Hecho en Venice OG’s – grizzled and snarling at the new kooks on Wavestorms, talking shit about everyone and their mother, but showing up on January mornings for the once a year chance to ride head high barrels that break off the rocks in 55 degree storm drain runoff that’ll likely leave them with ear and who-know’s-what-else-infections.  They’ve been keeping it real in Venice long before post-session fill ups down the road on Abbott Kinney included $12 cold pressed juices and $6 organic fair trade coffee.

No, they don’t have physical trainers, life coaches, sponsors, Hurley houses on the Big Island and 365 free days a year to perfect their air swivel or whatever that trick is called.  Nor do they have blogs, hipster bands or Kickstarter funding to shepherd their precious Super 8 indie movie to fruition.  But they damn well know how to make the most beauty of what lies before them.

Sure, we get our stars some days.  Chad Marshall is a local, with his gonzo funk maneuvers on he and his brother Trace’s namesake Scott Anderson log.  Sometimes Kassia Meador shows up with her fancy footwork.  Tyler Warren has skimmed through with his retro genius.  I’ve even seen Perry Farrell, that silver haired guy from ‘Mad Men’ and Julia Robert’s husband, all ripping.  Matthew McConaughey’s offices are right around the corner and ‘Californication’ regularly shoots on location dawn patrol time.  Hell, I even saw Chris ‘Breezy’ Brown working the graffiti wall once – but, no, he did not venture into our surf.

Celebrity-style waves, the 1% – the ones that’ll set you back at least $2000 in airfare, plus the costs of a boat charter to get to them, food, booze, extras – are non-existent around here.  Which doesn’t make the commoner’s session any less joyful.  I am a far cry away from styling expert but my most memorable sessions have come with onshore afternoons, waist high, smiles all around, sun dipping through that dirty sky, receding into the hope that maybe, just maybe, tomorrow a good swell, favorable winds and no crowds will show. We surfers = eternal dreamers.

I can’t control what the ocean gives me, but I can control how I react to it.  And the sooner we in the surf community stop glorifying the unattainable dream that most of us will barely ever get a taste of, the more content most surfers – and keep dreaming, the world — will be.  All we’re doing is bucking against the soul of surfing if we breed malcontents.

Because eventually you have to stop staring at Kim Kardashian and face the reality that your other half is not only good enough – but one hot piece of ass.  That’s my Venice – and your home break too.

  • Jeremy Alcock

    See you in the water on your wavestorm. Ride it with pride because you ride it well filled with just the right amount of stoke!

  • Travkat75

    Simpky awesome! And it makes me miss LA, say hello to Moder for me.

  • Travkat75

    Simpky awesome! And it makes me miss LA, say hello to Moder for me.

  • Travkat75

    Simpky awesome! And it makes me miss LA, say hello to Moder for me.

  • jim

    those “OG” venice guys are kooks for hassling people. I’ve seen them.

  • jim

    those “OG” venice guys are kooks for hassling people. I’ve seen them.

    • Suzanne Ely

      Hi Jim.  I’ve thought that a million times too. I try to think from their perspective and I think they’re just frustrated, thinking back to the day and age when there were no mass produced pop out boards and a gazillion less surfers.  But they do have a funny way of showing their aloha spirit!  

  • Guest

    “She also has a home in the surfing paradise of Nosara, Costa Rica”

    • Suzanne Ely

      aha, yes, I do – and I’d be a better surfer if I got there more than once or twice a year.  It’s my 401k and future dream all rolled into one.  Mean time, Venice will have to do.

  • I love this article.  I’m stuck on bed rest for six weeks- took a longboard to the spine (WITH it’s owner) and have broken vertebrae in my back.  I’ve been trying to get my fix with Surfer & Surfing mags, and it wasn’t doing anything for me- no stoke, not even the vicarious thrill that sometimes comes from a photo, or an article. 
    But this worked.  This made me think back to the last awesome session I had at Sunset Cliffs- a little south was working it’s way through the water, and I got four decent waves that were chest high and kind of blown out.  But I killed it on one of them, and the feeling I had as I shifted my weight, took a tiny step forward and leaned into it, just barely making the section and finding myself on the face of a reform, as the section behind me foamed out… exhilaration.  Joy.  Perfect bliss, from my three foot wave and my beat up old Becker.  
    Thanks.  Thank you for telling the truth, and reminding all of us that the perfect wave is the wave YOU caught, because in the end it’s the only wave that matters.  

    • Anonymous

      What a great bit of commentary. Thanks so much for sharing.

    • Suzanne Ely

      Amelia, I’m so sorry to hear about your injury but I’m thrilled to have given you a little stoke, if only with words.  I know that feeling you’re talking about – exhilaration and joy on that nobody else can feel on that special (or not so special) wave.  Thank you for reading and appreciating and I hope you and your great attitude make it out in the lineup again soon.

  • Toppbloke

    Loving this – wherever you go, wherever you surf – you’ll always find what it’s all truly about….surfing! I love dreaming, I love surfing, I love days that are ‘just right’ you don’t see that in any comp or Pro-surfer PA – they’re all sell out (yet rich) corporate bitc*es!!

  • Surfparty69

    Don’t Move to Hawaii its not the answer. 

  • Michaelhale2007


  • Rose

    Well put and an cool read!

  • Pat

     I can hardly read surf publications or watch surf films these days because it’s all the same crap: Big waves we’d never dare to surf, celebrity surfers we’ll never know and exotic locations we’ll never get to.

    There are a lot of non-famous surfers with interesting stories and a lot of great places that aren’t off some island we’ve never heard of.

  • Teri.B

    For someone who doesn’t surf, your piece is like a travelogue to a foreign country.  I am one of those who might be fooled by the glory shots, which seem like photoshopping to me! I can’t imagine standing up on water, let alone riding it… Thanks for making it a little more real…

  • Anonymous

    Great piece, Suzanne. You can really feel the passion in your voice. Love the one you’re with…but we’ve got no problem vacationing with exotic temptresses on occasion…

  • Mfreburger

    Beautifully written with a perspective that only you could offer!  “I can’t control what the ocean gives me, but I can control how I react to it” . . .a mantra for life.  So proud of you Suzanne.

  • April

    Hey Suzanne,
    Good Stuff!
    I don’t care to pay attention to the present state of the surfing world. it is so full of ego, localism[insecure], sexism, no connection to the wave itself, just about how “Rad” they be……Ya know “Killin’ it”.
    Actually it really hasn’t changed that much from when I started in ’71, I’ve just grown more intolerant.
    Recently I saw a film about the latest and greatest surfer girls, all I can say is I was very sad when I walked out. SLASH, BANG, AIR, Heavy music. I kept trying to feel the calm and peaceful feeling that I associate with surfing. I prefer old surf movies…..SOUL!!!!!!!!

    • suzanne ely

      I agree, April, the way surfing is marketed to us doesn’t have a lot to do with the peaceful, calm feeling riding waves elicits.  It is all about soul, the ‘good stuff.’  Thanks for reading and commenting

  • Great article.  Love the insight into the world most of us don’t know.  And I’m thrilled that all you surfers don’t have to wait around for that Kim Kardasian of a wave to be happy.  I mean I’m sooo thankful for that.  I’ll take reality over reality TV any day.  I want to read more about your surfers…holey wetsuits and trashcan boards.  Nice.

  • J Hatchett

    Loved this article, and now I want a Hoodie with this quote on it:

    “I can’t control what the ocean gives me, but I can control how I react to it.”

  • Bertil

    There ARE a handful of surfers, who are sponsored, get to ride amazing waves pretty much anywhere in the world, but don’t compete, they don’t have to show the freshest newest tricks or prove themselves in any way…I get so much excitement looking through photo shoots like that, if it makes me happy, I don’t care what you say, corporate bs or not– true, maybe I will never get to surf those amazing exotic waves in far flung places, but that’s at least one way to see them! To know what’s out there, something to maybe strive for, when you’re older and your life is already set and there is nothing else but your little pathetic home break, when you’re younger, the possibilities are endless, it’s up to the individual whether to make those exotic photo shoots YOURS or leave it to the mags. Most of us dont live in communist countries with no way out…to me, being currently landlocked, far away from the ocean, those photo shoots keep me excited, it’s amazing to look at what’s out there. I don’t feel jealous looking at someone doing the newest coolest tricks in a perfectly groomed barrel garden, I am happy for the guys who get to do it. You can’t change the fact that a picture of an amazing wave is…well amazing, marvelous..just because it’s gone through the lens of a corporate hired photog, doesn’t change the nature. I am happy Im able to see them. You’re correct, that there’s now a different attitude towards surfing than how there maybe used to be? More of a hobby/random leisure activity/something cool/a show off; but Id see that attitude more at my local break than in those mags. True, corporate marketing has something to do with it, but it’s up to the individual as to how you take it. I don’t care about people laughing at my local break, comparing it to indo or the north shore…I don’t care. And i also don’t care about you telling me, that the coporate side of surfing is wrong or whatever. Your voice is just an angry (somewhat) opposition to basically just a different side of the whole thing, yet the core is exactly the same- the ocean and the swell. You limit yourself. Same thing when people subscribe to a very particular type of music. Or food. Or anything else.

    • suzanne ely

      I hear you and I’m not saying the corporate side is all bad – but to be aware of the manipulation that comes with anything driven by advertising and $$ and to remember that you’re home break, if you have one, is of value too.  I agree also – it’s amazing to see and be exposed all the great breaks in the world through media.  I totally agree with you that the core of it all is the ocean and the swell.  

  • Beulah

    I loved reading this. Thanks Suzanne!

  • Beth

    A beautifully written, passionate and totally fun piece that gave me insight into a world I had no idea about. Thanks for telling us about Brock, Marcelo, Mick and Ian—and you! Would love to see you surf your scraggly waves anytime. Please keep dreaming!

  • Jsurf

    Don’t get the point.
    Just because we surf shitty waves and get a stoke out of it everyone else should do the same ? Pro Surfing Contests should be held in Texas, Florida and the Mediterranean ?? They should not search for more perfect waves and pushing the boundaries ? Do you really like to see more boring Air Reverses in 1ft slop ? I will never surf Cloudbreak on a triple overhead swell, but man what a great show watching this shit…
    I enjoy surfing these shitty waves as much as you do, but there is room for improvement and dreams. 
    You can decide if you organize your life around surfing a shitty beachie or organize your life to save money for trips to epic locations or do both. Don’t need a sponsorship for that, you just need to earn enough (or spend less money on other things like booze,theatres, movies, cigarettes, drugs whatever) money for a plane ticket.  You know everyone is allowed to buy one.
     A friend of mine who ist the most stoked person in even the ugliest smallest conditions you can imagine has his life organized so he can spend some weeks in Indo every year, he is not a rich guy, had nearly no money at all for some years but still managed to do a trip a year. He just came back with an album full of magazine-style-perfect pictures of him surfing  remote reef break. Its your choice what you do with your life jsut don’t expect to get everything for free, you have to work hard to score some above average waves and MOVE YOUR ASS and not sit at your local beachie and complain…

    • Ben Adler

      You didn’t get the point. The point is that surfing is much more than surf magazines, DVD & surf contests. Now if you like that kind of stuff, you are well represented (surfer, surfing, surfline, transworld surf, dvd, ASP). But if you do not like that stuff and many surfers do not connect to contests & surf stars but still want to enjoy a different kind of a surf press that represent that average surfer and their stories. It is very hard to find. and it is too bad because there are great stories. 

  • Suzanne.  This is a truly exceptional article.  The kind that made me take a serious step back for a bit of reflection.  Thank you for that.  It’s pieces like these that make me glad I took a few minutes out of my day to read and exemplifies the strength of community and character embodied by The Inertia.  Again, thank you!    

  • Maureenmac59

    Great article!  Great, cuz it’s real.  Surfing is something different for every surfer but there are some commonalities; one being is that you live in the moment, and make the best of whatever is facing you in that moment.  I’ve been surfing for nearly 40 years and I’ve never been on a real, bonafide surf trip; life circumstances have kept me tethered to my local spots for one reason or another.  Marriage, kids, and now poverty…but I still feel the essence of the experience everytime I paddle out.  Yesterday was a good case in point.  The waves were tiny but glassy and perfect.  I didn’t surf well, but it was still an enjoyable session.  I watched terns divebombing for little minnows, I watched those same minnows schooling around my board to perhaps seek protection from the terns.  I watched an amourous crab pursuing it’s mate across the sand beneath me.  I marvelled at the slate gray sky and how it melded into the water, making it difficult to discern the horizon.  I surfed with some vacationing Canadians, some dude on a SUP, a hottie trying to pull airs on his shortboard (comic relief!) and some kid wearing with a baseball cap and a GoPro vid cam welded to the nose of his board.  It was not epic…but it was real.  Thanks for pulling us all back to reality!

    • Suzanne Ely

      Your current financial situation aside, your life in the water sounds rich to me!

  • surfgoth

    awesome article! ive been thinking the same thing, wishing there were more coverage of local rippers on everyday waves. id rather watch and maybe learn something from how someone surfs the type of waves im on 90 percent of the time, than perpetually daydream about waves ill probably never surf. 
    i surf venice too, do you ride a green longboard with black stripes?

    • suzanne ely

      Yes!  Was out there today on it (it’s a 6’8, so not technically a long board).  What’s your name, or who are you?  See you in the water

  • Puravidaexc

    Very nicely put! What happened to it all? What happened to the fun and the joy of surfing, or is it one big competition and who´s gets free stickers and shirts? Thank God for the most part I still get those good old days of sheer fun! I know I must because it is so frustrating when basically grown men and woman show up like rock stars as if their was a pro photographer showing up just for them to get their picture in the mag! While I sit pretty quiet (mostly) I´ve got to hear how many times they´ve been here, they live here (after a month), how many years they´ve been coming here, where they´ve surfed before, it´s their country etc… when none of this circumvents respect for others and sharing. If it has to be the former than the latter, please take me out of the list of those who call themselves surfers!

  • Stable Cable News

    Pretty great. I thank my dad for sending me this, and I really agree with so much of what she’s saying. The only thing is that it’s all one giant contradiction……

    I’m obviously in the 99% — the mass of surfers who get but the leftover crumbs of global swells. And need it, live off it. But when I’m sitting at work getting pigeonholed, or patronized, or ordered to do this or that — whatever might be the sour side of working in any job — and I get five minutes between emails or a meeting, I don’t go looking for the 99%. It’s daydream nation. I WANT to see Dane Reynolds do something amazing, and I WANT to see Jon Jon at J-Bay. I’m learning. I’m studying. I get to see crummy surf all the time, and will probably get some after work, too. That will be enough for me to be happy, just like she writes. But her “bone to pick” is misguided. She’s right that the representation of surf is fake, but how fun is just sitting there watching the Venice live cam on Surfline? I’d rather a 1080p, well-edited surf flick with pro’s doing what we all wish we could. It’s the dream —– all it takes is imagination. 

    In short, this is a bit like writing a letter to Playboy to say, “Come on! None of us readers really get to sleep with chicks like this!!”

    Market rules all. When the demand for Pro’s at Cloud Break disappears, so too will the videos. Until then, I bet most of that 99% will go on idolizing some form of that 1%….whether it’s Rob Machado soul surfing from break to break via cheap motorcycle and tent, or Wedge Crew getting the most gnarly (AND RARE!) day at the W, or Connor Coffin doing weird, agro airs after a head-high barrel. Or old lost tapes of Archibald and Fletcher.

    Surfing is the hunt. Not the routine. It’s the variation, not the regular. If all we knew was what we had infront of us, where would be the inspiration? 

    • Suzanne Ely

      You’re right, Stable Cable.  It’s is the hunt, not the routine, the dream, the inspiration.  I was just trying to throw some props the way of the crummy waves, because they never do get any loving or appreciation for being there day in and day out.  What’s important is that we don’t fall into the trap of wanting ‘the dream’ so badly that we forget to live in the reality and thus, foster the festering of not being happy with what is.  Same would apply to Playboy or Vogue, Sports Illustrated – whatever your trip is.  It’s great to dream but there’s a slippery slope. We’re seeing so many corporate dollars thrown at surfing now (well, not much in relation to other sports, but still…) and advertising is all about making us unhappy with what is, so we’ll buy something that promises to make us happy, or better.  I think you have the right perspective – a healthy balance of appreciation but wanting more too. 
      And, to your question — “how fun is just sitting there watching the Venice live cam on Surfline?”  Not much!
      Thanks for your thoughts.

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