Editor’s Note: Photos by Federico Vanno.
As the season of giving has passed, the experience begs the question, are surfers generous by nature? Certainly not in the lineup. We know that much. When it comes to sharing waves, an act unheard of in our sport, dog-eat-dog can be found at every surf spot in the world. Take or go without. Such is our lust for the objects of our desire. Waves, like one night stands, most often give us acts of love without the honor they truly deserve.
The reason for this greed is simple. There just aren’t enough waves to go around. Which is an extraordinary thought when one considers the vastness of our oceans. And this is what has driven us to all the points of the compass in order to try and find solace. To make unchallenged love in a place with plenty of elbow room. Even the most famous quote in surfing’s history reflects the pipe dream of “mine, all mine.” It was John Severson who in 1960, in the first issue of SURFER magazine, ended it with the crescendo, “In this crowded world, the surfer can still seek and find the perfect day, the perfect wave, and be alone with the surf and his thoughts.”
Fat chance these pandemic days. Unless you are either wildly wealthy or wildly resourceful.
Face it, an average of, say, four ridable waves per set will never feed the multitude from Trestles to Winkipop. And so our behavior becomes primal. A matter of survival. Get the high you need, or go cold turkey.
Surfers are extraordinarily motivated when it comes to getting waves. But back on land, when it comes to the hands-on work, the heavy lifting of helping out during hard times, surfers as community members can be lacking. Even the top pro’s efforts often come down to uninspiring Instagram posts, or lending their name to an effort or showing up at a protest and braying into a megaphone for a minute or two. Surfers clearly worship their individuality, but as a mostly apolitical community, does this individuality result in community isolation? Where the problems of the world seem to have nothing to do with them as long as they’re getting their quota?
And yet, there remains hope for the common man. And an example is being set by, of all things, the Boardriders clubs of Bali. “Yeah, I think surfers are built to be generous, it’s just a matter if they want to be,” says Sam Mahony, Co- Founder of the non-Profit Project Nasi in Bali, “but they just need the platform. I mean, look how many rescues just normal everyday surfers do a year, or how they always paddle toward shark attacks to help their buddies or even strangers.”
When describing the success of Project Nasi, an organization created by surfers that for over two years has been delivering rice, food, and basic survival supplies to the pandemic needy, Mahony points out that Bali’s cultural structure has a lot to do with it.
“The Boardrider clubs here have adopted the philosophies of the Banjar system. With the island divided into thousands of family oriented, self-governed neighborhoods. They jumped at the opportunity to help during the pandemic,” says Mahony, “because the clubs are already set up like families and with thousands of temples here, way stations and distribution centers are practically on every corner. So it’s been relatively easy compared to the rest of the world for surfers to pitch in. But in the end, helping during a crisis always just comes down to elbow grease and I think surfers have plenty of that when suitably motivated”.
So obviously it isn’t all bad news out there. But obviously there isn’t enough good news either. As a tribe we could change this. Adopt generosity as one of our unspoken creeds. Find power in it. Build the empowerment of others. Of the generations to come. Can you imagine a new world where surfers are regarded as far more than misunderstood goofballs? Imagine taking our place at the table of honor? Protecting the ocean and each other wherever we come from or wherever we find ourselves? Seeking not to be alone with the surf and our thoughts, but to be with each other as a force for humanity?
Suitably motivated. Community involvement. Elbow grease.
Just something to consider.
If you’ve ever surfed a wave in Bali, or want to some day, go to Projectnasi.org and do the right thing. It’s tax deductible.