Society has conditioned us to think that we have to get a job, go to work, save up for a mortgage, breed, consume, accumulate / discard / replace a whole pile of possessions, and then die quietly.
Personally, I’d rather go surfing.
Sure, there’s an element of materialism connected with surfing. You don’t strictly need a board, but it sure comes in handy when the waves are big or breaking a long way from shore. Then there’s the wetsuit - essential in colder waters - and accessories like legropes, wax, fins and a whole heap of other shit that makes surfing easier or more comfortable. But ultimately, it is what you make of it.
Sure, you can go down the route of the ultra-consumerist ‘surf culture’ junky who wears all the right brands, uses all the right phrases and knows who’s who in the world of professional surfing. But all that’s just a distraction from what really makes surfing a lifestyle, rather than a pastime. I’m talking about the moments of clarity and insight experienced when you take a moment to sit and contemplate after paddling out before sunrise on an icy winter morning. The focussed mindfulness achieved when taking off on a two-storey wall of water that’s been travelling unhindered across thousands of kilometres of open ocean since being spawned off Heard Island. That moment of pure joy when a baby dolphin surfaces less than a metre away from you then catches the next wave in at your side. Surfing at its best is a transcendental experience that takes you out of your comfort zone, exposes you to the pure elemental forces at work in this world, and lets you know in no uncertain terms - just. how. inconsequential. you. really. are.
“Tree-hugging hippy bullshit” I hear you mutter as you capture your latest Pokemon and click ‘proceed to checkout’ on another pair of designer shoes. Well fuck you. You don’t know. It may seem like I’m contradicting myself by quoting the 1990s catchphrase of one of the biggest ‘surf culture’ behemoths, but “only a surfer knows the feeling”. It’s trite, but it’s also true.
I’ve been surfing for nearly 30 years and I was hooked from almost the first wave I caught on my brother’s inflatable surf mat, way back in the 80s. It took me a few more years to get hold of a proper surf board, and at least a couple more before I felt confident on that old clapped out slab of foam and fibreglass. But there was never any doubt that I’d stick at it.
Surfing was in my blood, it dominated my waking hours and the walls of my bedroom were plastered with images of waves and the (predominantly) men who rode them. Luckily I had three older brothers who all rode some form of surf craft as well, so on weekends there was a chorus of voices demanding to be driven to the beach. Another option was getting up at 4am and riding 3km in the pitch black to a friend’s house, whose dad was always up for the dawn raid. We did it, and never thought twice about it. It was a compulsion - an addiction to salt water and adrenaline that could only be satisfied by regular immersion in brine.
But I also learned pretty early on in the piece that all the gimmicks and trappings of the so-called surfing life were a sham. Like so many other occasions throughout my life, it was my dad who opened my eyes to the reality of what I was, literally, buying into. “What, you’re going to pay $30 for a shirt that’s nothing more than a glorified billboard?” he asked. “You’re an idiot if you do. You’re just paying them for the privilege of walking around advertising their product. Is that really what it’s all about to you?”
He made me think and, although it didn’t happen overnight, I did end up walking away from all that bullshit consumerism - the illusion of ‘cool’ that the brands were trying to sell me. It wasn’t always a painless experience and I regressed a number of times before leaving it all behind, but when I did, it was like a weight being lifted from my shoulders. I no longer felt compelled to conform, nor did I feel any regret when I didn’t.
Let me don my old man hat for a moment (having just turned 40, I think I’m now allowed to do that). When it all boils down to it, life is all about authenticity - or should be at least. Don’t try to be something. BE it. Surfing’s not about wearing the right shirt, having the right sticker on your rear window or following the right people on Instagram. It’s about getting in the water and catching waves. And the same can be said for many things - playing or listening to music, painting, making wine, living an ethical lifestyle, just to name a few. Don’t do something so you can be seen to be doing it, just fucking get on and do it and the rest will take care of itself.
Right, well that’s enough of my high-horse bullshit for now. Take heed of what I’ve said, or don’t. I don’t really care either way. There’s a deep low pressure system winding up in the Southern Ocean as I type, and by the time the ripples it sends out reach the coast I’m hoping to be there so I can paddle out and meet them.
About the Author: Cass Selwood
Cass Selwood is an independent wordsmith/surfer/shaper based in the Adelaide Hills. He has a diverse professional history including over a decade working the line in commercial kitchens. When he's not slaving over a hot keyboard, Cass can be found either chasing after his two young children or locked away in his man-cave shaping under the Sea Dragon Surfboards label.