The Old Man and the Badass


Feelin’ pretty badass with my big boards, big stickers, and big hair on the North Shore circa 1988.

I went to grab a tee shirt from my closet on a recent Saturday morning and stopped dead in my tracks. It didn’t feel right for a 43-year-old non-surfer to don a surf logo shirt, much less one emblazoned with an image of a surfer riding across a wave.

I scanned the stacks in the closet, and, sure enough, they’re all surf tees. There’s nothing else. And it hit me – aside from a couple packs of undershirts for work, I haven’t bought a tee shirt since…well, ever.

I was 13 when a surf company “sponsored” me, meaning they flowed me a few stickers and a couple tee shirts. I was making it to the finals of local surf contests, so I was pretty badass. My parents sponsored the other 97% of my wardrobe, an inconvenient truth that would’ve ruined that whole “badass” feeling if I’d bothered to think about it.

At 15, I competed in a series of surf contests in Cape Hatteras put on by Quiksilver called the Warpaint Grand Prix. Against guys who were older and in my mind way better than me, I finished third. The Quiksilver reps deemed I really was a badass and put me on their national surf team.

My mom’s shopping duties instantly shrank. Instead of perusing TJ Maxx for off-price surf duds, she waved at the UPS man as he plopped a brimming box of the freshest Quik gear on my doorstep every few months.

Soon I was making annual summer pilgrimages to Southern California, where I’d stop in the Quiksilver warehouse and walk out with as much swag as I could carry – Quik shorts, trunks, pants, jackets, socks, underwear, backpacks, luggage, and yes…tees, loads of ’em.

Other sponsors followed suit, and I was given everything else I needed – surfboards, wetsuits, contest entry fees, even beer and pizza. The only thing that could’ve completed this teenage dream was if the girls at school thought I was badass too. Unfortunately they saw the real me – just a smartass.

The free clothing train has kept on trucking to this day, although I imagine it may abruptly run off the tracks in light of my new situation as a landlubber.

Getting free tee shirts now requires placing the BIllabong rep in a headlock.

Getting free tee shirts now requires squeezing the Billabong rep in a headlock until he relents.

I explained my present tee shirt dilemma to my teenage daughter, who incidentally wants nothing to do with surfing yet understands me better than any other human on the planet. She’s only surfed a couple times in her life, and that was because her surf-obsessed dad forced her to as a form of punishment. I know, bad idea.

Anyway, she laughed at my predicament and asked, “You’re going to start surfing again after this, right?”

Me: “I don’t know. Maybe, maybe not.”

Her (screaming): “Oh my god!”

Me: “What are you getting mad about?”

Her (still screaming): “You’re…not even my dad anymore! You’re just some…man who yells at me.”

I laughed hysterically.

Her (distraught): “You’re like a…normal old man!”


Her (seriously): “You’re not going to get fat, are you?”

Makes you wonder. Come the end of 2014, will I be just another fat kook, blending in with the legions of others in town, forced to ride a log to keep from sinking? Will I come back at all? Or just maybe, will I come back better? Now that would be pretty badass.

6 thoughts on “The Old Man and the Badass

  1. At the height of my physical ability at age twenty-one I joined a “missionary” group of hippie/christians who travelled around this country and the world. I stayed with them for over a year and giving up surfing for that period was akin to kicking heroin. I will never regret that experience and appreciate the changed perspective of my relationship to it (surfing) which resulted. Do I still love to surf? Absolutely. Does it define who I am? No, at least not entirely. Carl Jung said,” All forms of addiction are destructive, be it to morphine, alcohol or idealism.” and I have to agree and would even include surfing to the list. It has certainly allowed for some of the most beautiful and exhilarating experiences in my life for which I am very grateful. Choosing to refrain from something that has fed and driven our ego’s identity for an extended period is no easy thing but the result is an expanded appreciation of what we are. So, what will Jason be? Guess that all depends on what Jason will choose to be. Oh yeah, remember this: “One day at a time” and I also suggest recognizing that you are free to return to it any time you wish. I’ve found those concepts to be helpful. As for T-shirts… Ha! tell me about it!

  2. Not to mention all the contestant T-shirts…ECSC, Neptune, Billabong 17th St Series, Hotline Surf Challenge, ESA…those always made you feel cool around school 😉

  3. Kristen has made me promise that I will not write anything that embarrasses her. She claims to have known you for a long time. No, I don’t want to hear about those details.
    While I understand the periodic need to step outside and evaluate our lives from a different perspective, dude?! I’ve been reading your entries, well written, thought provoking, and completely misguided. Obviously I don’t know you that well, BUT, I have seen you surf for a quite a while. Clearly a gifted surfer, an inspiration to old and young in the water. I’m not going to polish you up to much, your prowess in the water is self evident. It is difficult to attain that level of proficiency in any endeavor without it being or becoming a significant part of you. YOU are a surfer.
    Denying that is not only futile but counter productive.
    One of the greatest struggles in life is finding who you are. Being a surfer is admirable. Sure there are parts of surfing culture that are less than desirable. Blowing off any and everything when the waves come up or even threaten to (we’ve all done it a million times) can be a hindrance to solvency and relationships. However, that dedication, that focus, bordering religious piety, is to be revered.
    What pisses me off, yes pisses me off, is that your being awfully cavalier. Most of us would kill to be able to get some of the rides you pull routinely. Some don’t even have the chance at our age. I have a dear friend that was once a pretty good surfer. I go by to see him and watch the webcast of the contest or check out the latest video or even my sons latest edit. The energy he emits while we watch haunts me. There isn’t much he wouldn’t give to get back in the water. Surf with his friends. Surf with his kids. He won’t surf though. He will lay in his bed a prisoner of a terrible disease no one could see coming. He is a surfer holding on to the memories of what was and what he still is.
    What will tomorrow bring? “Then be not coy, but use your time, and while ye may, go merry”

  4. I am in decent shape in my hiatus but I am lucky…my employment involves A LOT of walking. If I was a desk jockey; I probably would be done.

    The part that kind of pains me in your story is the part about the sponsors. I realize it is a job and an employer is not going to pay someone who is not in their terms productive. So watching the fancy logos disappear one by one off my boards was different. As is strolling into a shop to purchase something. The worst though is one group told me that I was part of their “family for life” and after calling to explain my misfortune as of late; I haven’t even received a “that sucks…we will be around when your luck changes”. The worst part is that we all were part of fund raisers to help out people in the community who had problems.

    Adversity really sorts out your friends.

    As for your poll…you will return as Jason Borte. However you decide to use the experience.

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