“My definition of surfing? Person rides wave on stick.” — Corky Carroll
I always liked Corky’s definition, while over the course of my life surfing’s meaning has changed for me, and I assume for him.
First it was something only done by strong men like my father. He had tried surfing in the 1930, and when I asked him if I could try it he declined, saying it was too dangerous.
What he didn’t realize was that surfboards by then had dropped weight like a TV dieter and were far lighter than they had been back in his day. With the advent of foam, they weighed in at around 25 pounds, rather than the nearly100-pound redwoods he had wrestled with.
While I was interested in surfing, images of iron men on wooden boards didn’t really move me too close to what would eventually become a lifetime obsession. That occurred when I saw the movie “Gidget” in 1959.
I had seen surfing before, so why would “Gidget” do for me what National Geographic photos and tales from my dad could not. The answer I now realize was in Gidget herself, who, played by Sandra Dee, sent my heart racing to meet a petit surfer girl and ride off into the sunset with her.
Yes, it was love that brought me to surfing, but not entirely the love of a pretty girl. Riding a wave itself had seduced my naive soul and sent me on an endless treasure hunt where waves were the most valuable commodity in the world.
But surfing is far more than riding a wave, and it is a new experience each time you attempt it. In a deep game of chess you play wind, tide, swell direction and crowds in order to score the best surf with the least amount of people.
And while people often get in the way, they can also be the best part of the trip. As surfer/film director John Milius so aptly put it, “Perhaps the central experience of surfing is friendship.”
Perhaps, but if it was simply about friends and sharing perfect barrels, a wave pool with buddies would be all their was to it. We all know there’s more.
Surfing is a sport, a lifestyle, an adventure, relaxing as a warm summer evening and as terrifying as the violent Aleutian storm.
Surfing is watching a pod of dolphins ride waves, or pelicans gliding endlessly on an invisible swell of air.
Surfing is making lifelong friends and being yelled out for not being a local.
Surfing is getting a new board and dinging it or breaking it on a big swell.
Surfing is the best of health and the worst of skin cancer.
Surfing is a slow, gentle ride on a 10-foot noseride, or dropping in on your tiptoes over a jagged reef on a board half that size.
Person rides wave on stick. Friendship. The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.
Surfing is the cure and it forever changes. Yesterday it meant bouncing alone on 3-foot chop. Today it is smoother, and more inviting. Tomorrow it will be different again. Like love, it forever changes.
What’s love got to do with it? I would answer, everything.