I CAN`T SURF ANYMORE. I DO THOUGH STILL CALL MYSELF A SURFER, ONCE YOU HAVE LIVED TO BE A TRUE SURFER YOU WILL ALWAYS BE A SURFER IN YOUR HEART. MY BODY HAS FAILED ME.
My back is shot and my knees feel like an old pair of rusty pliers struggling to open, my hearing is down to 40%, my knees and feet have knots, I am scarred by reefs, rocks, fins, wildlife, and women. I am though in one piece, complete, and my mind contains treasures only known to myself, attained through a lifetime of adventure on the high seas for 50 years. I regret not a beat of it.
I have found nirvana in some of the most unexpected of places, as is the way of the universe but I came to realise that it isn`t so much in the water that you will find our surfing `culture` but on dry land. It`s in the carparks, laybys, surf shops, shaping bays, in the sand dunes and in the coffee shops. These are the places where the surf is talked, information is shared, like a portal into the unknown, decisions, inspirations and friendships founded that can lead to a complete change in the course of our lives.
While we sit in the surf, discussion can often be fractured by the arrival of a set, howling winds or an inability to make it back out in big surf but almost anywhere you can park your car near waves, be it on the roadside, council car park, a patch of mud next to a farmer’s field or above the sand dunes you can find other tribesmen and women. This is the sacred spot whilst changing into your wetsuit or out of it, stories are shared, lies told and hopes and dreams are exchanged. Forecasts, knowledge of good sand banks are divulged here, bonds are made, photos are taken and sometimes even quarrels can erupt or be resolved. We stand, coffee in hand evaluating the crowds, wind, swell direction seated on our car bonnets, perhaps sharing a beer or a joint in the evening. We make our excuses for why we are not going in, boast how you should have been here earlier. It’s in car parks where we share wax with forgetful folk, it`s where we see the secret stashing of car keys and form the trust of us as a tribe. Ultimately, the surf and surfing is a solo adventure and as Phil Edwards said `the beach is just something he crosses to get to the surf` or something like that but for most it’s on the beach where legends are born, bullshit is exchanged and it`s my last tie to a life’s love.
Although my body is broken, I often sit with some of my old surf dogs, some are still lucky enough to be able to surf and others just swap stories of which grow more exaggerated with time. We have a bond that decades of adventures and life’s ups and downs brought us closer as a tribe before the surfing explosion we are witnessing today. It is these moments and memories that I still hold dear and keep me stoked on life even though I am dry-docked. The slow decline of my physicality was gradual, fortunately. I got a longboard firstly, as I began to stumble to my feet rather than spring like a panther, then my back had ideas of its own so I started to use a knee board, primarily on my knees and as I moved kicking and screaming into my 70`s, I would lay down and take immense pleasure at just being out there, lying flat, hooting like a child.
I confess, I went through a dark patch where I would be bitter at every able-bodied seaman and couldn`t even look at the sea although I have had my turn out there, I had the best of it. Surfing in the early days was a different ball game. Yeah sure, essentially you are doing the same damn thing as we did but we had a camaraderie and a sense of discovery that is more elusive today. We were a primitive tribe and I am now just a tribal elder.
Let me give you a piece of advice. These years of your body working in unison with the ocean are the best you are going to have. Everyone knows time seems to accelerate rapidly the older you get but I wasn`t prepared for this. Yes, go out every time there is swell. Never drive away from good surf. Surf until your arms and legs give out from exhaustion. Smile, laugh, share, give, love, dream, hope. I was once like you, my memories are all I have, my treasure, safely stored in an old shipwreck. Yesterday I was 25, tomorrow I will be 75. I am a surfer and I am proud. Happy birthday to me.