“Just like winter ice, we all change with a little heat. It keeps us getting up each morning, keeps us awake at night, keeps us stealing precious scraps of time out on nature’s highways, hunting that clear, cold weight. Waves that are ageless, that go down slow and are as strong as the roots of ruined roses. And just as shadows hide in winters skyline, at some point we lost the innocent feeling of looking and understood what we wanted. Dice tumbled for passionate hopes that couldn’t hide in the eyes of boys, men, maids — all of us lost, found, changed, trusting our hearts at sea, searching for one thing, the simple satisfaction of our own mortality. And as hard as it feels to explain nostalgia, when the sun comes up tomorrow on another day that counts, it shines back down on us all one and the same. Heavy eyes and ice on the road. Grinning, nervous faces at the end of the land and the start of everything else. And those ambassadors of landless latitudes, that roam as they desire, without god or country. There, journeys end as ours begin. Senses heighten, minds open and spirits define themselves. Lungs and veins, bones and brains. Arrogance, ecstasy, pain. Heads roaring with belief, special feats happening in turn. Lives let go like birds from a cage. Minds are changed forever, ideals become clear, but all remain ultimately ignorant of the sea. She’s always hunting, ready to humble the martyr, sinner and saint in us all. I once heard that if a man feels at home outside of where he was born it is a place he is meant to be. Cold and coming up for air. I blinked, knew it true, and shivered with joy.”
“Searching for one thing, the simple satisfaction of our own mortality,” British surfer Matthew Smith features in and narrates (transcribed above) Mickey Smith‘s Coming Up for Air, a Finisterre film produced by the Astray Collective. The depiction of cold water surfing is heavy and inspired, and we figured it would be good to talk to the charger about what, in turn, inspires him. Smith reflects on growing up in Cornwall, living in Ireland, the community of passionate like-minded folk he calls his own and what makes him proud.
How did all of this start? What turned you onto surfing?
Cornwall (where I’m from) is pretty saturated with mainstream surfing so it’s hard growing up on the coast not to be exposed to it. We have surfing and everything that probably surrounds California in terms of what we can see; it’s really beautiful. I’m not very old, but I didn’t grow up in an area with internet and all of that so it was very much just the older brothers and friends and seeing what they were doing, and then just being magnetized to the sea. It starts with getting your feet wet — buying a wetsuit if your parent can afford one and running a bodyboard — and eventually going through everything else to stand up surfing.
How did your relationship with surfing evolve into what it is now? Especially when considering the cold water surfing you most frequently do.
Naturally and slowly and organically. Surrounded by the beauty of Cornwall to where I am now [in County Clare, of Ireland]. The Celtic nations are in some ways similar in terms of geography as well as cultures, with regard to the oppression of the British Empire. Everyone resisted as much as possible, so they ran to the fringes, which is these places — and so the communities, the people, are similar. And with surfing, I just really enjoy it. It went from something that I was mad passionate about to something more complete. I don’t make enough money to live off surfing, I only make a little extra on top of everything else. Therefore I go overseas and work on sailing boats and do some surf guiding and stuff. So surfing for me, its a proper connection, it’s a meditation, it’s a grasp on living in the moment. It’s taught me heaps of stuff through the years.
You’ve been called an eco-surfer. What does that mean?
I’m a massive hypocrite — which I’m really forthcoming in saying — in that I definitely don’t always practice what I preach, but I am a vegan and try not travel as much as possible. Instead of taking a plane, I’ll go by train. It’s something I do as much as I can, but it isn’t everything. I really wish there was more of these people that inspired and showed other surfers there are other lives out there apart from what we’re told what is “cool.”
What keeps you going? What shakes you awake and has you paddling out in the morning?
I’m surrounded by these passionate, progressive people. And I’ve not only surrounded myself with these people, but there’s also an attraction — an energy: I wake up really early in the morning and so do most of my friends. These people don’t necessarily have traditional jobs, but they still wake up at 6 and do things from then until night. Take Tom and Ernie of Finisterre. It’s not about money. They work hard to make a company that as soon as they got to a certain a point what they needed, they then paid Mickey — who also wakes up really early in the morning — to make something for them. It makes me proud to be a part of that. On the west coast of Ireland, there has been this recent “discovery” of these waves with the surf getting better and better each year, and I see lots of companies come in and take advantage of the waves and not give anything back to the community of people living among them. It’s not that the waves belong to anybody, but some of the best people in the world live where the waves are. There has been gross misuse of those communities.
When you’re not taking care of your own coastlines, what are your favorite breaks and/or regions to surf?
There are special places in southern Europe, but I love Western Australia. I’ve also seen other spots, these great setups when on the way when dropping off a boat in the Caribbean from San Francisco. But I’d say if I could mix a little of France with a little of Oz, I’d be buzzing.