Like Martin Luther King, Jr., “I’ve been up to the mountain.” Nice place – warm, palm trees, waves, WIFI. Truly paradise. And like the good doc, “I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the promised land.” (Can I get a hallelujah? No? Fine, be that way.) Unfortunately, I cannot shake the reality that having stood atop this peak, any direction I move inevitably leads downhill.
Yes, I’m less optimistic than MLK. I’m not a fucken saint. Unlike him, I am concerned with longevity. And for me, not just for my people. But as I look forward, I see my gradually declining ability to ride waves.
I have a disease. It’s called “Competitive Bastarditis.” I contracted this condition by having an inkling of talent in an era where waves were ridden to the beach, aka the eighties. Not easy to shake that mentality even when I realize the futility and impossibility of trying to “outsurf” another human. For me, surfing has been – in addition to all the wondrous things like escape, and nature, and camaraderie, and fun – about progression. For 30 years, I’ve improved, mostly during the first fifteen but subtly during the second. This rare affliction (CB) strikes a small percentage of surfers, and it’s nearly impossible to cure.
I should consider myself lucky. Most guys my age have already rolled halfway down the hill. I won’t dare claim to have had any miraculous ability; that isn’t the point. I will say, without boasting, that I surfed as well in 2013 as I ever did.
Furthermore, my surfing met its soul mate last year when I made a pilgrimage to surfing’s ultimate playground, Indonesia. (Thanks again to DB the airline mile fairy.)
In April, my brother and a couple friends and I went to the Mentawais. I won’t bore you with the details, but it was the rare adventure that manages to exceed expectations. We didn’t even catch it good, but from where I was standing it was so perfect a place that I’m still not convinced that it’s real. I have pictures, but you can do anything with computers these days.
One thing I realized on the trip was that I never want to eat a giant, writhing tree maggot even if it is good luck. Another was that if I ever make it back to said paradise, it will be as a lesser surfer. There’s no way around the fact that I was on the mountain looking down. I don’t know about you, but for me that’s harder to swallow than the aforementioned tree maggot.
I honestly don’t know if this idea was in the back of my mind when, six months later, I made the decision to take a leave of absence from surfing. The impetus for my experiment formed after I read a piece in The Surfer’s Journal last November about quitting surfing. What the author, Brad Melekian, said was that it doesn’t happen. Sure, we fade away due to mounting responsibilities or injuries, but surfers can’t just stop surfing. I’m like a little kid in that when someone tells me I can’t do something, I want to do it.
If I hadn’t taken this year off, I would have compared all future years to 2013, when I was clinging to my peak in the best waves in the world. As it is, I can come back and compare future years to 2014, when I didn’t ride a single wave, a meager bar that can be topped by a boogieboard in a bathtub.
Again, I’ve only recently thought about that whole mountaintop thing, but it makes sense. No matter how far my skills deteriorate, and how long I’m stuck surfing crappy waves, anything will be better than this.
I believed wholeheartedly that part of surfing is progression. Stop progressing, and you may as well not surf. With that thought, I paid a visit to my most elderly surfing pal Smitty, a 57-year-old kid who was also part of Indo journey. I wasn’t expecting wisdom, just some thoughts on how bad it sucks to grow old.
“I was never what you’d call a good surfer, but I never thought about progression,” Smitty said. “I think of it as evolution.” Wholly Smit! Despite being a yoga instuctor, a life coach, and really short, he’s not someone I’d consider a Yoda figure. Wisdom was nevertheless flowing from his lips. “A different board or drawing a different line on a wave. It’s all about living in the flow.”
Yoda he is not, but give him another eight hundred years.