Surfing is a lot more than just riding a wave. Sure, technically all you’re doing is sliding on a lump of water, but surfing is the search. It’s the achy shoulders at night. It’s the salt on your skin. It’s that feeling you get when a big darkens the horizon and just make it under, a stiff offshore pelting your skin with the feathered lip of the wave you just squeaked under. It’s the fires at sunset, it’s those brisk, early, silent mornings when the only ones there are you and the seals. “The joy of surfing is so many things combined,” said Kelly Slater. “From the physical exertion of it to the challenge of it, to the mental side of it.” And he’s right. For many, surfing is a sanctuary; a place where resetting is possible. It’s a place where your whole life can change.
Martin Pollock knows that better than anyone. In 2010, Pollock was deployed in Afghanistan on Operation Herrick 11 as part of the 3 Rifles battle group. After getting shot in the leg in the first six weeks, he lost both legs and an arm when his company was hit by an IED explosion. “I’ve got two little fragments on memory,” he says. “One from about 30 seconds after. I couldn’t see anything, so I think my eyes were filled with dirt. I couldn’t breathe, and I remember digging dirt out of my mouth. The other one was maybe ten minutes later, when I was on the stretcher waiting to be picked up. I was feeling like I was drifting out and dying, basically. There’s a lot of other guys who’ll say that the day they got blown up is like their alive day. But to me, that person did die then.”
Martin goes on to speak about how surfing helped him cope with a host of issues stemming from the war and his injuries. “It’s lifted my confidence of being able to do stuff. Having the focus of something to work on or work towards and try and be better at—it’s partly to take your mind off the situation, but also to show you that you actually are capable of doing a whole lot… I didn’t really find who I was again for—it was two-and-a-half years later that my alive day moment came—which was actually learning to surf…I’m way freer on the water than I am on land.”