“Surfing: Person rides wave on stick.”
— Corky Carroll
The above quote by surfing champion Corky Carroll was taken from an article I did on him somewhere around the middle of the last century, for the Australian publication Tracks.
The story was filled with Corkyisms like: “As a surf star I didn’t drop out; I pearled.” As with most Corkyisms, he was only half serious.
Ancient Hawaiians termed surfing “he’e nalu,” which roughly translates to “a study of the wave.” He’e nalu comes pretty close to nailing my feelings about the sport I’ve been hooked on for the past 60 years.
While not exactly a definition of surfing, Skip Frye once summed up the feeling of riding a wave by comparing it to watching a pelican glide.
There continue to be birdlike flutters in Frye’s surfing as he works to minimize excessive movement on a surfboard, shifting his trim line into fifth gear, moving with the wave, rather than in opposition to it.
I will not pretend to have the authority to speak on surfing in the wake of these masters, but I will attempt to sum up my own experiences.
My dad had grown up near Santa Monica and been a part-time surfer in the late ’40s. Still, it wasn’t until the original “Gidget” movie sent me running home with surf lust burning a hole in my soul that I became hooked.
It must seem strange in our era of omnipresent surf media, but neither me nor any of my friends had ever really seen surfing before. I mean, yeah, we had seen some guys at Huntington stroke out on paddleboards and go over the falls a couple of times.
But never had we seen a point wave, like the ones at Secos, which served as a double for Malibu in “Gidget,” much as the legendary Mickey Munoz doubled for the non-surfing Sandra Dee.
I tried explaining what I had seen on the big screen to my dad that day, but he just smiled knowingly, thinking that surfboards still weighed about 80 pounds, as they had in his day, and were far too dangerous for a kid of 12.
I tried riding waves at the time, but it wasn’t until a few years later that I began surfing in earnest.
If you would have asked me what surfing was about in the early ’60s, I probably would have said hanging five for as long as possible. By the early ’70s, however, I would have said surfing was about getting into the tube.
For all of my and my superiors’ efforts to define surfing, however, it seems that non-surfer Kenneth Grahame comes the closest.
In his so-called children’s book “The Wind in the Willows” he writes:
“This day was only the first of many similar ones for the emancipated Mole, each of them longer and full of interest as the ripening summer moved onward. He learnt to swim and to row and entered into the joy of running water; and with his ear to the reed-stems he caught, at intervals, something of what the wind went whispering so constantly among them.”
I can no longer hang five or get in the tube, and a day will come when I will not be able to surf at all.
Still, I will forever remember surfing and the joy of running water, although I will never fully understand how it held me in its grip for my entire life.
Chris Ahrens’ latest passion project, the YouTube Channel God N Gangsters, can be viewed at: youtube.com/c/GodNGangsters