Surfing addiction

Surf police keep etiquette in the Gold Coast, Australia. Photo courtesy of

I moved to the surf in 1998 with several motives: to surf, to meditate and to live simply. Little did I know that meditation would be the easiest of my goals. Living simply is a complicated process that I’m still struggling with, and surfing was wrought with all the pitfalls of the drug addict.

The impression voyeurs and dabblers have of surfing is a lazy life of fun in the sun, hanging on the beach, and doing headstands on waves as they roll shoreward, all followed by beach parties with sun-drenched babes and hunks. The grim reality is that many surfers around the globe are addicted to surf like junkies to crack, and fistfights occur in parking lots over the ownership of something as transient as  gravity waves. Surf pimps.

The addicted surfer

The addiction sets in when a normally scattered brain enters the water and finds a relatively clear mind is necessary for him to navigate surf and to catch waves without having a board crack the side of his head. While learning, or later on when attempting challenging surf, extraneous thoughts--of finances, work, lovers--distracts from the task at hand. In the thick of a heavy swell, a surfer can no more think of these things than an Olympic lifter can ponder dinner while hoisting 200 kilos over his head.

People who would never be able to sit for more than a minute to attempt meditation have it thrust upon them in the surf. They leave the water feeling connected, clear-headed and at least happier than when they went in the water.  For a lot of them, it’s the only peace they get. Like alcohol, it becomes dysfunctional when you begin to slack off on personal and professional responsibilities or abuse others in order to get and use it. Planned dinners are nixed, work is done poorly since your mind is on the drug, and you get sweaty palms just thinking about being away from it. Relationships suffer.

Surfers are the least inclusive group of people I’ve ever observed: younger  short boarders hate older, laid back long boarders; long boarders hate immature, rude short boarders; long and short boarders can’t stand surf kayakers or boogie boarders because to them it’s not legit--they aren't standing up.  And even though a lot of surfers earn their living through  tourism, they hate tourists and "foamies" (a term for the novice who rents foam topped boards), and wish more than anything that when they’d moved to the surf that they’d dragged a locked gate behind them. Ahhh, one with nature.

Almost every surfer I’ve ever met thinks he is the beginning and end of all surf knowledge--even if he only moved to the coast two and a half years earlier.  God help you if you’re at a lookout and make a comment about the surf within earshot of another surfer, because you’re about to get lectured on how you're wrong. Most of them don’t even know how to measure a wave, or the history behind it--like how Californians in Hawaii measured the back of waves--rather than the front, where you ride-- to dissuade others from coming, and cut that measurement in half as a lark. If you show up late to the beach, you’re going to hear about how good it was till you got there. It gets really bad, though, once you’re in the water.

Zero tolerance

Foamies, newbies, novices, or really anyone who wasn’t born at the surf spot are considered  second class citizens, and are expected to take a back seat. “DO YOU KNOW WHO I  AM?” one local pro yelled when a skilled surfer from out of town was catching lots of rides. I personally know a man close to 60 who was forced into a fistfight in a parking lot after his long board showed-up the short boarders on a small summer day. I was there when a local challenged an out of town surfer to a fight on the beach. The out of town surfer was a ranked collegiate wrestler and more than willing to  oblige. The fight never happened. I know a woman who had to pick fiberglass out of her eye socket when a board was shot at her by an irate surfer. Fun in the sun.

There is no  hope for religious or racial tolerance in this berg when surfers can’t accept non-locals, or even equipment different from their own, and it’s no wonder man needs to plant a flag on absolutely everything so he can sell it, when a breaking wave is claimed by the person living closest to it for the longest.

Surfing has been used in literature due to the analogies that can be made to life: One person struggles to get outside the break while another  is getting pounded in the impact zone, and yet another is getting clear, long rides. But there are other analogies to be made: the traffic, the crowds, and when I left the surf, I knew a half-dozen people who were in drug rehab, and many times that who should have been in surf rehab. I knew the signs. I’d gone cold turkey myself.

That doesn’t mean you can’t find your niche, that you can’t use surf responsibly. And good luck with  that.

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