Outdoor Junkie

These are the ones that get burned into our memory forever. Photo: JP Van Swae

The Inertia

The memory of a single great wave can keep us all going for years. We always remember that one magical day, that set wave that seemed to be delivered directly to you out the back, flying through that section you never thought you’d make, and without fail, we want to recreate it all and tell somebody about it at least 50 times.

I’ve heard friends say “That session was so good it’s burned into my eyelids.” The funny thing is those truly magical days only happen once in a blue moon…or sometimes only once ever. And we prefer to forget those absolutely horrific sessions which somehow happen more frequently, but in some sadistic way dwell on them, hoping to learn a lesson or two. Everything in between those extreme highs and lows just seems to get caught somewhere in the abyss of time.

In this quest to remember the entirety of one’s surfing experience, some surfers keep different forms of session logs. Some (logbooks) are very simplistic, indicating the day, the location, swell height, and maybe the board used. Others are more involved and follow a writer-esque flow detailing not just the when and where, but how the surfer felt about their session. It is all very personal.

As mentioned, the surf log can take various forms. Some are simple; a desk or wall calendar with a checkmark is all that is needed for some surfers. A checkmark indicates the days surfed coupled with a maybe a smile or frown to indicate the quality of the session. Some are more involved, like a physical book that almost resembles a nautical log or diary. Another version could be technology-focused, like a spreadsheet that captures all types of details. Even deeper in the technologically-driven realm of logging your surf sessions, staying connected through devices like a GPS enabled smartwatch can track everything about that magical or horrific session and push data to a mobile app.

I have personally used both the lo-fi and hi-fi versions and thus traversed the “no tech” to “high tech” spectrum, and so goes my journey. I started with a simple logbook — a nice notebook I picked up at an office supply store.  I remember being chilled after a long session one day. I put on a hat, a wool sweater and grabbed a pencil in my still cold, wet hands, and started to scribe. The writing was staccato; Date: Oct 23, Wind: W, Swell: 11 seconds, Height: Chest, Board: Mabile Fish, Tide: incoming. And then a short phrase or two about the session. The prose seemed almost nautical. The pages often got wet from dripping hands or stained with coffee spilled from my thermos.  The details seem to jump off the page and the book somehow came alive. It had character. I remember thinking it would look really awesome to see these books placed on the shelf next to my  boards. Then after a few years and a “book catastrophe” where I lost a year or so worth of hand-scribed sessions, I thought there must be a better way. It was tough because I imagined myself as an old man, still salty with that gleam of awesome waves in his eyes and a hint of a windburn or tan, handing the books over to my kids or grandkids, passing on my life’s work on in waves.

In the spirit of this digital age, I figured there must be something better. Why not capture all this in a spreadsheet? There is rarely a day that I am not logged in on my laptop and I have more cloud storage than I can use, so the geek in me smiled over all the data available to sort through like wave height, the board used, breaks surfed, and so on. I could even search for comments like “awesome” or “really sucked” or my favorite “great sesh, late again.” Instead of an old salty dog with shitty handwriting and even shittier prose, I imagined myself as some sort of intelligence or data analyst creating graphs, finding connections in the data. It all sounded great and it worked.  Then one day smartphones, mobile apps, and GPS-enabled watches all intersected. Voila! It cannot get much easier to log all kinds of cool data and then view from an app, even sharing the good stuff to brag about it to my friends who “missed it.” What a great solution, that is until the $300 watch and or device breaks.

And that is exactly what happened.

So onward about ten years, a few dead laptops, a few sessions lost to tech issues (despite cloud storage), and an expensive broken watch, but mostly 10 years of surfing preserved in those zeros and ones. Every so often I look back at old sessions, some of which I remembered, some of which I’ve forgotten. I smile about all those days. I’ve looked through a box of old logbooks and read about sessions for many years ago. I’ve geeked out a few times with my spreadsheet, ran a few sorts, and realized I use fewer boards than I thought. But despite all the technical benefits when I come in from a cold session and pull on my wooly, I often miss the feel of that cold pencil and old, stained, damp logbook with wrinkled pages and occasional drawings. And I wonder if  I should I go all the way back to those simpler days.  For now, I am on row 3,594 and still counting.

I hope all of you find a way to preserve your surf memories in a form that works for you, and that whatever it is you enjoy the ride.


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