I’m out on the edge, restless, uncomfortable in my own skin.
I’m going cold turkey.
It’s been two weeks since I last …
My mind drifts back to my last good score… I need it so bad my stomach burns.
I need it so bad my stomach burns.
It’s 5am in mid-September, it may as well be midnight it’s so black, I find myself in a deserted parking lot, waiting, I didn’t sleep last night, my stomach is in a knot, the car door that doesn’t close properly is leaking ice cold rain water and the wind is clawing at the cracks, whistling, its near gale force. Why am I here?
Two others arrive in the secluded lot, victims like me, users, we sit in the dark, staring, waiting, who will make the first move?
It’s me, it has to be, I left my half naked girl in a warm bed at 4am to make sure I was first in the queue, it has to be me. The irrational decisions started long before today, skipping work, buying air tickets with money I don’t have, my condition is getting worse, I am a lost cause, obsessed, addicted…
In the pitch black, white shadows move from right to left. I can’t resist any longer. If the ice cold tarmac feels like broken glass then the course sand and pebbles feel like blades and hot coals, I keep running. Every part of my body is screaming for me to turn around, every part of my being is pushing me forward, there is no contest.
I reach the base of the channel, ice cold water shocks me to my senses for a brief moment, I feel stupid, I look around and realize, the sky is still black. This is crazy. Below zero temperature, razor sharp rocks, a massive mountains of wild ground swell, and an ocean filled with man-eating sharks are what I run towards…in the dark.
A giant white foam ball enters the arena and eats the black ocean in front of me. My addiction’s voice returns…Jbay is pumping.
The severity of my addiction is most apparent at times like these.
Long has surfing been misunderstood by the mainstream, how could we expect them to understand what it is we know. Few secret societies require the time and perseverance we endure to become surfers . Only those who have suffered the painful years of ocean induction are allowed to know.
Surfing or the allure of it has been misunderstood since Hollywood started making movies, hippy sport, drop outs, druggies, choosing to focus on the lifestyle of those rather than the psychology behind the addiction.
Surfing, or the act of riding waves, is magic. It’s a real time experience in the power of human choice and self-expression perfectly fused onto an ocean canvass, the life force of our earth. Every session, every wave, every turn is a dance or a battle with the greatest energy source on our planet. Every time we are spat out of a barrel, trim a high line or simply return to shore unscathed, we feel in sync with the planet, or perhaps, just simply better.
Pure freedom of choice, pure feeling.
On a good day, surfing can seem very spiritual to even the staunchest non-believer. It’s adventure and discovery in a world that would have you believe it has all been done and discovered.
Pondering my journey, and the sacrifices to reach this point that so few understand, even those closest to me.
Two moments in my life reveal the true meaning of what it means to me to be a surfer. There are many, but these are two of my favourite…
Surfing rewards don’t come easy, no sport matches the degree of difficulty that’s surfing demands. An ever changing medium with the only path to wisdom being experience and experience is only gained the hard way.
In early 2000 I was a regular on the 6am Newpier parking lot. There was a crew that met every day, religiously predictable and consistent. One morning there was a new face. A short crew cut business type, horribly out of place, not because of his looks, but his completely fraudulent way of holding a board, he never made it through the shore-break. We can tell these things in an instant. A few days went by and he was back, this time with local legend JJ as a paid guide through the shore-break. Weeks, months passed, every day he showed up, fighting with the ocean, every day, the ocean winning.
One day, sitting at backline, we exchanged some small talk, and explained how he had moved from Joburg and was hell bent on figuring this surfing thing out. I chuckled and wished him luck, not many enter the club after the age of 30.
A period of time passed, I’m not sure how long, maybe a year, probably two, I arrived a New pier on a sticky hot February morning… cyclone something or other had sent us 8-foot green tubes and everyone was hurling themselves off the end of the pier hoping to time the paddle right.
As I scrambled over the top of the first set, a legitimate 6 foot I will never forget what I saw looking down into the pit… Mr. Joburg standing tall, hair down to his back , soul arching (well a little bit of a mongo style but let’s give the guy some credit) screaming his lungs out through a new pier tube…
Later that morning between sets we chatted, his eyes sparkled with pure excitement, he had made it into the club, he had persevered through countless foamies and nose dives, he had taken beatings equivalent to a heavyweight boxer, but was still standing. I’ll never forget that look on his face, the reward he had won. And I thought about how he would never be able to leave. Only a surfer knows the feeling.
It’s a refuge from the pressure of our modern society, a language, a religion, a global church. It’s a social network, and a secret society. Few outside of this circle will ever understand this, perhaps even few inside will know until they need it which leads me to my second moment of clarity:
My wife never understood it, she didn’t love the ocean, not even the beach, she would tease me about our shorthand lingo and laugh at the ridiculous tan lines and shout when I arrived home 3 hours late and exhausted from another “best surf ever”. But when she was diagnosed with an incurable form of brain cancer, she saw the power of our community firsthand. People from across the world, shed the barriers of language, nationality, race, gender, and religion, with only one single thing in common, they were part of a surfing family and wanted to help. Our community pulled together for her in a way she had never seen, she was shown love, compassion and treated like a queen. She was an introvert and for the first time in my life I saw her let strangers in, and after a late night fundraiser in Cape Town, walking through the streets of Cape Town holding hands, she looked at me and said, wow, I’m really lucky I fell in love with a surfer… I was very proud of us. Her last twelve months were some of the happiest I ever saw her.
Surfing has defined my last 30 years on this planet, helped shape the person I am today, but most importantly, only the good parts. It is therapy, for many of us, it is a simple release from the daily grind, our sacred north that even the most average of conditions sets us back on course and give us the strength to fight another day.
Hollywood will continue the stereotype of our culture, and get it wrong, the world will continue the search for treasure, oblivious to the gold where the ocean meets the land. The ocean’s natural rite of passage will continue to induct only the most committed to the secret that is ours.
Riding waves hook even the most logical and balanced humans on this earth, igniting these mad frenzies where we rush toward the center of the storm on a dark African coast, risking everything to walk on water. Perhaps it is the momentary escape from the force of gravity, the very fabric of our universe when we surf, we slide, we rise, we trim and glide, it is as if we are flying. After all, we are on a little blue ball floating through a massive black vacuum of space, with no idea why or how we got here, perhaps playing with the forces that govern our existence is the only natural thing to do. Time in the tube is time well spent.
A massive set rises up on the Boneyard’s reef , adrenaline pulses through my veins, seconds away, it’s every man for himself, someone is hooting, whistles echo from the beach, and panic captures the lineup. I force myself into position, it is a big piece of water that stretches out across the bay, as the ocean speed overtakes my paddle power, and I feel myself rising up the face.
This is the moment I have been chasing
Thought stops, subconscious choice and feeling merges.
Time stops. My mind is clear .
I am alive.