The Ocean Doesn't Care

I first moved to Brisbane from Byron Bay to take up a PhD opportunity in 2008. It would be a gross understatement to say I was not thrilled about the move at the time, but I was thrilled about the chance to undertake my study (about women's surfing). Putting surfing first was not making me happy. Living where I did meant  limited job opportunities, and I was bored. I'm not saying my life was boring, nor that life in Byron Bay is boring. I'm saying that I was bored.

But the transition from surfing every day to a much more a mediated surfing life was not easy. I was over an hour from the closest break and I was poor as you can imagine, so I couldn't regularly afford the petrol money. I couldn't just take off when I wanted, but often had to wait until I could get away, so I often got skunked on the surf as well. Getting shit waves might not have too much of an effect when you can surf all the time, but when it's rare that you get into the sea, it can really bite.

It took a while, but I slowly relaxed into making sense of what surfing could mean from a different perspective. From a non-local, weekend-warrior, city-based surfing perspective. A couple of experiences (here and here) really drove home how desperately crazy about waves local surfers can be, and how surfing every day can make you even hungrier and less appreciative of waves than people who get to the coast to surf much less often. And yet, I saw these people - me included - treated as though they'd given something up! As though they - we - weren't real surfers.

Not that I care what anyone might think about that, about my surfing. But I do care about how I can access the surf and the sea. Even though it doesn't always work out - that I don't get waves that I get smashed or that I don't always even enjoy it (which has been the case lately, but that's a whole other story). Because the ocean doesn't care either - not about me, not about you. It is always there, and it's always an option for seeing how I feel, but that doesn't guarantee it will be kind or make me feel better. It does, but not in that "the cure for everything" romanticised way. It makes me feel better in that I can get there.

So the film below resonated with me. As the film tells us,

I know this is a bit of a marketing exercise, but it's nice. And sure, Brisbane is no NYC. Brisbane city is nowhere near as populated or busy as New York, our winters are crazy warm and we live in fairly close proximity to the coast, so sure, none of that was anything I have a reference point for (except the cold, a little, from my time in NZ). But I did understand the points about making time to get out into the world in ways I want to. Cities are very beautiful, but it is also pretty wonderful to get out of them and to the coast. (Or to a forest, or to a mountain.) And to be in the water where there are no phones, no emails, no knocks on your door. That's all so wonderful. Wave-riding offers me all that and more!

Please don't get me wrong in thinking that just being in the sea is always enough or that I don't care about waves, or that waves are a backdrop to the other stuff, because that's not how I feel at all. Not at all. I love getting waves and I wish I could get more of them. And that's sort of the point.

A lot of what I know about surfing in cities come from Toddy over at Endless Bummer NY. If you . don't know that blog, I don't really know what to say to you. Toddy talks as much about not-surfing as he does about surfing, and how despite that, surfing still shapes the way he sees, thinks about and experiences his city. it also means that belonging to a place is a bit different, and seems to be more based on going to a place, rather than claiming a place. He, along with a bunch of others, was recently asked about the NY surf scene:
“The thing that defines the New York surf scene? How intimate it is, even among strangers. This is evolving, of course. But it still holds true. People still talk in the water, say hi in the parking lot after a session. Yesterday an older guy came up while I was drying off the kids and just started talking about how the high tide was bumping him off the waves then smiled and said, ‘Well anyways, I was watching you out there, I really like your footwork!’ and walked away. Typical of certain corners around here. How’s it different? Well, there is a seeming inverse proportion of stoke to consistency of quality waves. And that’s weird.”
Getting waves when you live away from the coast isn't easy. It is a hard won prize, based on decision and effort. When you're working a lot (by choice!) then going surfing means taking a day off or waiting for the weekend, or not seeing your friends, or not getting things done around the house, or not sleeping in when you're dog tired, or missing a deadline, or myriad other things that you have to decide not to prioritise, when surfing means all of that, well, surfing means a lot.


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