Wave quality is all relative. If you are fortunate enough to live high on the dunes above Jeffrey’s Bay, then the chances are you’ll have a different perception of good surf to someone who is optimistically eyeing the weather charts in Norway. And an average day at any of the Australian super peaks is likely to be far superior to what is classed as an average day in the Atlantic waters surrounding the coast of England.
But how does this affect our attitude in the water? What does it do to our makeup as a surfer?
On a recent trip to Indo, I lucked out in terms of the waves I was surfing. El Nino stoically played its part in delivering a conveyor belt of picture perfect waves. In fact, I’d been so spoiled by consistently pumping conditions that one morning I perched above the shoreline to assess the conditions and uncharacteristically dismissed the chance to surf a clean, glassy 5-foot wave that was lazily breaking over another perfect reef because, in my opinion, it wasn’t quite doing it. Instead, I opted to saunter to the nearest warung to overdose on excessively sugary coffee. In hindsight, sitting at my computer and craving the briefest exposure to the ocean, that seems mental. I’d drop everything in an instant to surf that wave now, but at the time, in amongst everything else on offer, it was just a bit… meh.
Does this mean that people who live in the path of consistently classic surf are less stoked than those who spend more of their time scratching around surfing junk? Possibly.
A truly memorable surf session starts with anticipation. The will it/won’t it aspect gets the adrenaline pumping even before salty air has reached the nostrils, and if it’s on, the elation is like nothing else. And for every day, week, and month that goes by without a decent wave passing through, this pent up anticipation continues to grow. Just ask surfers residing in Texas. Or at the other end of the spectrum, those invited to brave Waimea’s finest in the Eddie.
I’ve recently been forced into a short stay of absence from a beachfront existence, finding myself living in amongst the palm plantations of southern Malaysia–which is not graced with an abundance of swell thanks largely to the presence of Sumatra, which selfishly blocks the swell and denies the power of the ocean to everything off its Eastern coast. Since living here my surf trip count has gone through the roof, so I’m not expecting much sympathy, but a trip, however short, requires planning, packing and some time in an airport; it can never be particularly spontaneous.
The thing I miss most in my absence from the sea is the drop-everything-and-run, dash-to-the-waves mentality. So much so that I’ve scoured the swell charts to discover that actually, there are rideable waves lurking not too far away from me. It needs a bloody great big storm out in the south China sea to send what’s effectively wind chop to the Malaysian coast, but occasionally, it gets good. Not California good, or south of France good, but for a few short hours there can be a semi-decent sized clean wave that presents a few solid sections crying out to be ridden. Hell, it even breaks alongside a rocky outcrop so at a push it could be called a point break. But the biggest surprise that this spot delivers is the enjoyment to be derived from riding such a mediocre wave. It’s such a rare occurrence that levels of exhilaration usually reserved for screaming out of hollow head high barrels are suddenly experienced riding what most of us would certainly describe as average surf. Couple this with the build up of anticipation from a few dry weeks spent pleading with the storm charts to deliver something of note, and you’ve got a unique surfing experience.
If I’ve learned one thing from my short period of time away from the water’s edge, it’s that surfing crappy waves gives me a greater appreciation of the good waves that I find. Perhaps we should be making the annual anti-surf trip a regular fixture on our calendars? Instead of packing our board bags and seeking a continuous stream of world-class waves, we should instead opt for the world’s most fickle of surf spots, spending some time seeking out frustratingly unpowered waves. If nothing else, it would give us an increased sense of gratitude for our home breaks that we often spend so long bitching about.
So while wave quality is all relative, so is the enjoyment that can be derived from surfing. And if you’ve been lucky enough to just exit the water from a 5-foot wave lazily breaking over a perfect reef, make sure you’ve fully appreciated it.