Surfer/Writer/Burrito Enthusiast

If these were the kind of visions clouding your mind, who wouldn’t want to remember? Photo: Ben Selway//Unsplash

The Inertia

“I’ll make a deal with you,” Surfline’s lead scientist Cam Angle said to me in a phony British accent: “If you allow us to implant this chip inside your brain, you will be able to remember every wave you’ve ever surfed. Every hack. Every turn. Every barrel. It’s all yours.”

“In exchange for this advanced unlimited camera rewind technology – which our marketing team is tentatively calling BrainWAVES – Surfline gets the exclusive rights to stream sessions through your eyeballs so our subscribers can watch on-wave conditions unfold in real-time. Will these terms be acceptable for you?”

“Deal,” I told him. He didn’t need to know I would secretly be blowing take-offs and dodging barrels to the horror of their legions of subscribers. But that’s on a need-to-know, before-you-go basis, and Cam didn’t need to know.

“Excellent,” Cam said. “Now sign this paperwork giving us your full streaming rights and you will be on your way to full session enlightenment.”

This is a totally fictitious scenario, but I like to imagine it COULD happen. My personal surf memory bank is awful. For all the time that I’ve spent surfing, thinking about surfing, and writing about surfing, I don’t recall many specific waves. I can remember in vivid detail an entire animatronic performance at a Chuck E. Cheez in Maryland circa 1997, but press me on recounting five complete waves over my twenty years of surfing and I am guaranteed to come up short. My brain’s prioritization skills are suspect at best.

It feels like robbery. I have poured thousands of hours into an activity only to have access to maybe thirty seconds of the good stuff. The rest is just a blur of blue walls and whitewash. All I want is to remember some damn waves. And I know that no amount of ginkgo biloba, B-12, or gas station elixirs are going to help improve my deeply impaired brain at this point – which is why I find myself having a SciFi daydream about a scientist with questionable medical credentials seducing me with experimental new surgery.

Surfing has occupied a large and important role in my life. To know that so many moments evaporated from my mind to make room for, say, a new cauliflower recipe, is endlessly depressing. It’s like I’ve been on an entire cross-country journey but can only tell you about a handful of billboards I saw along the way. An enthralling tale! The power of an elephant-like memory is enticing to me not just because I would be able to remember every wave I’ve ever surfed, but also to reclaim part of myself. These are my feelings and experiences, after all. I own the rights to them and should be able to recount these moments freely and vividly at my leisure.

But there’s a potentially crippling danger in all of this – I could wind up forever haunted by my past self. Behind every wave that I can show to the world as proof that my surfing competence does exist are thirty others that I have bungled into oblivion. Those waves would all be there, too, and dwelling on them could mean venturing down a rabbit hole of failure laced with painful bruises and broken fiberglass. One minute, I could be reliving past glories of waves gone by, and the next, my anxiety would have me surrounded, paralyzing me with fear because I spent too long thinking about that one time I didn’t surf well for an entire summer. The line between convincing yourself you are a hero or a fraud is precipitously thin. Sometimes your brain forgets things on purpose to save you from yourself.

But these are risks I’m willing to accept in order to cope with this existential surfing crisis. I don’t really care if the memories are good or bad, I just want all of them to exist as proof that my own personal surf odyssey happened, as imperfect as it may be. Even if it comes at the cost of getting an experimental new surgery performed via a surf forecasting site. I just hope Cam Angle’s procedure is in my insurance provider’s network. That implant won’t come cheap.


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