This post was written for Corduroy Lines Surfing Magazine last year. I wanted to post it here, now, because I spent the whole of the last weekend engaged in surfing activities, whether surfing myself, helping out at Bideford Bay Surf Life Saving Club, teaching Maggie to surf or just dicking about on the beach. We achieved absolutely nothing, spent very little and had one of the best weekends we've had for ages. It reminded me of this:
....I thought it’s about time we got on to something altogether more important than my misadventures in Franglais. Something to provoke a bit of lively discussion, perhaps some embittered emailing and hopefully a few imaginative death threats (just remember to make it really, really good or it doesn’t count).
So here goes. Surfing is pointless. As sports go it is completely lacking in purpose and meaning and the people who do it, on the whole, are wasting their lives. There. How does that feel? To be told you are frittering away your time doing nothing much at all? Does it hurt or does it make you feel good? Does the work shy tosser in you relish the fact that you have got to the point in your life where you are throwing the whole thing away in spectacular fashion? (Hey, you could be golfing.) Or do you feel a bit dirty and disappointed with yourself? Perhaps a little embarrassed that you could have spent the time earning money, developing a cure for cancer or building bridges? Has your contribution to the progress of man been little more than a fine cutback and a couple of unconfirmed tubes?
If it has then you should be proud of yourself. Tubes aren’t that easy to come by. And being considered a useless, good-for-nothing waster is nothing new in surfing circles. It is a fine tradition that goes back to the ancient Hawaiians, Tom Blake and all those sixties surf bums who made a living as extras in Gidget movies.
It’s a long time since I did my dissertation on ‘Advertising and the Sport of Kings’, but I can safely say, even from this distance, that surfing has always been, pretty much, a pointless activity. (Dissertation was the Old Spice Advert versus the Surf Automatic advert on a socio and cultural level. For real. And I passed. And yes, in case you were wondering, Old Spice is just one big cum shot.)
The Hawaiian Kings surfed because they had bugger all else to do (my theory) because life was so easy they’d start killing each other if they didn’t surf. In those days they had no books, no telly, no cars and lived in small island communities where the nearest blokes to have a scrap with were thousands of miles away. They were well fed, warm and had the lower castes to take care of their every need. They probably didn’t even need to compete for a shag, unlike the rest of the population (more of that later). So they pissed about on ‘Olo’ boards for the thrill, the glide, the buzz, the serotonin kick that it gave them - because they had time to spare. Humans, living on an island paradise, with mangoes and pineapples and Waikiki Beach and hula girls, never had it so good!
Surfing is pointless because riding waves doesn’t get you anywhere, unlike something seemingly pointless like paddle boarding, which has a destination. It doesn’t clothe us, shelter us, help the environment, put food on the table, heal our ills or protect us from the beasts of the night. If it did I suspect it’d be even bigger than it is today.
For most of us it is the same. Very few of the surfers who take to the water around the globe will make a living out of surfing. Some might make a few bucks out of the trappings that go with it, but very few will be lucky enough to go out there and earn money just for catching waves and riding them to shore. If you do then you are very, very lucky indeed. Some might say that you, like a Victorian surfing sideshow, are even more pointless than the rest of us. At least those of us who work to surf can claim some useful human purpose like flipping burgers or pumping gas. And those of us who make a fortune out of Ollypop towels and popular lifestyle clothes brands are doing the same: finding an easy way to put food on the table in order to waste the rest of their lives doing something with no purpose whatsoever. Just for kicks. Those kicks must be something mustn’t they?
Most other sports have a purpose and have grown up from some kind of competition, survival technique or way of living - even if they have forgotten where they came from. Take football, for example. It’s all about getting your prize home and stopping the other village from getting it back to their home. Territory. Hunting. Tribalism. And so it goes on: archery is bleeding obvious. Skiiing is all about trapping and tracking, covering long distances, finding food. Athletics, likewise, running jumping, spearing things to eat, killing your enemy. Even a modern sport like Mountain biking gets you from A to B. Surfing, in its purist form, isn’t even about competition. It is non competitive because it is about you and the wave, not you and the rest of the world. Can you think of another sport that has no point at all and isn’t even about beating the other fella? No? There you go then.
Unlike most sports, surfing was never about anything other than showing off. The side benefits prove it. These are being physically fit and looking cool, which ultimately, might lead us to attracting the attention of a worthy mate and perhaps getting us laid. Today though, with modern wetsuit technology and easy paddle shapes, this is becoming less and less true.
Surfing shows how far we have come that we don’t need to spend all our time searching for food, building mud huts or fighting wild animals and lurgies. It’s the thing we can afford to do when everything else has been done. Fun. Recreation. Nothing more, nothing less. We, like wave riding dolphins, are so good at what we do that we can arse around for the hell of it.
And you know what? It’s absolutely excellent. That buzz is enough to sustain a whole lifetime’s worth of kicking back and refusing to go with the flow, grow up or buy a suit. I am proud to say that I have wasted many, many hours of my life. I am a spectacular under achiever and I feel all the better for it. I live in a cultural wasteland and a backward backwater and I love it. I compete a little for food and have to put in the hours at work to keep the pointlessness alive, but I don’t mind because it’s fun to go out and ride waves, to be beside the sea, to spend time in the company of other wasters. Even as I write this I should be writing something else for money. But that’s just the way it is. I am a waster, having fun. Nothing more, nothing less.