Mr. Costanza has entered the minds of surfing’s masses. His banter is now mimicked by ocean dwellers who aren’t afraid to offend the landlocked dad bods patronizing inland manufactured surf-arcades.
Where am I going with a reference to old Georgie, Jerry Seinfeld’s ever-angry cohort?
Wave pool surfing is the shriveled dick of the surf world.
I, too, am a denizen of the sandbar and reef break. One of the natural ones. The ones that our demented and senile mother ocean has formed and reformed over years, birthing everything from complete pituitary giants such as The Right, Chopes, and Pe’ahi, to the currently “hung like an infant” places like Long Island, New Jersey, and Florida. Now, with my love of being a tattoo artist and a newly acquired spare tire/pale tan combo, I now reside in Austin, Texas. Life’s great; I’m focused at work amongst a talented group of people, my friends and family back home probably talk to me more now than they did when I was living just a mile from my local break, and I’m less frustrated at the surf report for Dune Rd. My surfing carries on between the nearly-melted copy I’ve been replaying over and over of Dear Suburbia, a horrifyingly elaborate Instagram follow-list of as many Indonesian and Maldivian surf lodges as I can find, and a f****** envelope I stash money in for the next surf trip.
I’ve lived in Austin for five months now but have been visiting it frequently for the past six years. I learned how to deal with being out of the water while acquiring a full-body tattoo. Aptly named Great Wave Tattoo, the shop is now home to most of the waves I get. That dad joke of my luck began when I would fly into Austin for a visit, and almost to the day of my landing, Long Island would get hit with waves. Many of you know how rare this is. What many of you don’t know is how goddam accurate this became.
In August of last year, I got a ton of amazing waves by complete chance, with two close friends on the day my friend Bob was buried. It was epic. Long Beach had no report, and the break we surfed was under jetty construction; truly a one of a kind day. Shortly after, I loaded my truck up with two shortboards, a Mini Simmons, some tattooing equipment, and headed to Austin to finish out my back tattoo. As a celebration of nearly five years of intense sessions, tons of pain and healing through so many swells back home, I planned on heading out to California and camping up the coast, tattooing my way through a what-would-be long overdue surf trip. About the exact time my truck crossed into Texas, the report back home lit up like I couldn’t believe. I wasn’t surprised, but I sure as shit wasn’t stoked. There was no end in sight to the run of swell hitting the island. By the time I started working that trip, everyone’s pictures rolled into my feed. And I mean everyone’s. I was distraught. My friend Ben came outside on a break from tattooing and looked at me as I was crouched in a corner in the front of the shop, looking at NYSea’s live feed of Long Beach and asked me with cautious concern why I was just watching the ocean. You couldn’t make this shit up.
I was about two weeks into this seemingly fictional run of swell before I had to hit the wave pool here in Austin. I did so like a complete madman. I changed into my suit in the parking lot instead of their locker room, like a stubborn old fuck who won’t give in his flip phone for no smart tool, blasting Motörhead and holding my breath while inching past my towel like I was setting up to surf in a finals heat. My friends were getting so many waves that they couldn’t keep wetsuits dry, and I would have been damned if I didn’t get some for myself. While I was paddling out through the manmade channel, people were casually walking out on the thick liner holding the sandbars together. It was the first time I ever felt sad on a surfboard, and I just illustrated a funeral held on one a few sentences ago, so keep that in mind.
I made my way to the starting position for goofy footers. I patiently waited for the winding sound that brings the foil up to speed, driving my $100-an-hour groundswell to its breaking point, and thought to myself “this is all I have right now, how bad can it be?” The subway sound started up, followed by the rushing of water, and I pushed off the fence and immediately got to my feet. The wave itself is the easiest entry you’ll ever surf, followed by the fastest mushy face you’ll ever have to keep up with. Rail to rail on the high line is really the only way to surf it, and if you bottom turn off the drop you’ll lose your wave completely. The mechanics of the pool do not lend anything to classic performance surfing. I had found this out thankfully from my mandated safety video, and even while on a rocket ship Mini Simmons, I found it imperative to surf in absolute compliance.
The first wave I got was a run from end to end, complete with a casual lip exit. I can’t lie, it felt pretty good. Even from a standpoint of a novice surfer, I had time for three or four snaps and some style arches in between racing the pit on the 120-yard ride. The reality hit when my hair provided a chlorinated run off into my eyes and mouth, an unfamiliar and unwelcome burn, much like the remainder of my session. The midsection of the wave provides the biggest fake out of a barrel section that I could think of, and a subsequent semi-beat down that I’d assume comes from the drag of the foil. It was disheartening how setup I was for the barrel, how they managed to make the entire place but couldn’t figure out how to hollow the thing out just a hair more, and how fucking tossed I got when I tucked into the mirage. The rest of the session, which spans an exact 48 minutes from start to finish, was spent trying to figure out where I fit in the maniacal order the company made up for the reef wave patrons and boringly repeating the same process of mushy, powerless 120-yard rides.
At the end of the session, even with heavy paddling from one end of the pool to the other due to the right break being off-kilter, I didn’t feel surfed out. As a matter of fact, I felt slightly cheated out of a hundred bucks. The fact is, surfing is a business, and it always has been. This version of it just happens to resemble Walmart, where the big chain put all the mom and pop shops out of business and this is all I have.
I doubt I’ll be back in that pool anytime soon. The amusement park vibe held from entry to exit doesn’t even give a deal for two sessions in a row, let alone a head turn for a smoke. The multiple bracelets needed to enter damn near cut off circulation during drop-ins, and there’s nowhere to hide if the supervisor gets wind of a renegade run. For me, constantly reminding myself how lucky I am that I learned to surf in the ocean has a new face beyond the normal landlocked friends asking a million times if I have seen sharks and if I’m out of my mind for surfing in February in New York. It’s now all accompanied by newly discovered inland localism, (which is not me being creative — it’s happened) and my weekly wave pool budget being stashed with my passport in hopes of escaping the Texas blues for Peru. My advice to all reading this is to not knock it until you’ve tried it…and then tried it again when your hometown is f****** macking. Only then can you snicker at the Georges of the world like Jerry did, or perhaps backpedal out of the room, laughing in Costanza’s face at the sight of what a wave pool can now do to a grown-ass man.