Surfing, as a sport, has a peculiar relationship with the general public. I often refrain from mentioning my favorite pastime in general conversation, because unlike any other sport I can think of, there is not only a “them and us” perception, but a reality of those who surf and those that don’t. And I mean those who properly surf, not those who have taken a two hour lesson while backpacking across Australia in 2005.
Professional surfing rarely flirts with the mainstream media. King Kelly is one of the few personalities to truly transcend cultures, and I briefly heard about some Aussie guy who got his leash tangled on a large fish somewhere in the Southern hemisphere, prompting a barrage of cringe inducing reports in the media. And it’s the reporting of such events that highlights the complete lack of understanding of what constitutes professional surfing. Surfing is very much considered a hobby, a lifestyle choice, something to do on holiday; surfers are certainly not held in the same esteem as other “proper” professional athletes.
Which is strange, given that everyone seemingly wants in on the action. Who doesn’t own a pair of boardshorts or a Quiksilver t-shirt? Yet the inability to recognize decent waves, or understand what represents a quality ride is obvious, despite an often desperate eagerness to engage in the culture. And there’s a sadistic pleasure in humoring those on the periphery of the sport trying to fake their way in to what is actually, from the outside, quite a closed community.
But do we really want “them” to understand what surfing is really about? Is it this ignorance, misconception and lack of understanding that actually adds to the perfection of surfing?
Surfing is largely a solitary sport, requiring little celebration or recognition. You can score the wave of your life in complete isolation, with no one to witness the feat. And while you may mutter your accomplishment to a fellow surfer, you won’t brag about it, probably because they won’t care. It’s a sport of individual achievement, self-fulfillment, and obtaining a satisfaction from just knowing you’ve ridden an otherwise untamed wave to the best of your ability.
I just hope we can keep the secret.