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.