Why surf, because...?
I'm not sure of the actual year, but it was during the first phase of social media, when people innocently conversed on Facebook without the threat of angry nutters taking poshots. A well-known shaper typed a three word statement followed by an ellipsis.
"I surf because..."
Within hours the post had hundreds of comments. There was the odd smart-arse response, but the majority were long and considered as people drilled down into their psyche and tried to explain their behaviours. It was fascinating stuff to read.
It may have been a coincidence that shortly afterwards Billabong used the same line in a marketing campaign, though I'd err the other way. And why wouldn't they poach it? The response to that original three word post, which ultimately clocked in at thousands of comments, was proof enough of its popularity. Even if you couldn't answer the question, I'll vouch that every single surfer who read it pondered why they stand on a board.
No-one can sheet surfing away as instinct, of which humans have just one: survival. But surfing isn't survival. Surfing is frivolous. It means nothing. Some people surf, many don't. I do, in fact I surf quite a lot, and for the life of me I can't explain why beyond the fact that it's fun. I couldn't explain it when the original Facebook post went up, nor when Rasta and Taj and Andy were telling us why they surfed. I couldn't give a satisfactory reason. More recently, a thread went up on the Swellnet forums asking the same question. Still no answer.
I do, however, have some clues. Analysing them requires a bit of time travel so bear with me as the clock winds backwards.
On the night of the '86 Beaurepaires at Cronulla I had an epileptic fit. I was 14-years old and I'd been drinking goon in the afternoon, yet the doctors didn't think it was the result of a reckless pubescent binge. Apparently it was more serious than that. Next week I had another fit. Then another one. I was quickly shifted up the medical chain from GP to neurosurgeon, undergoing all manner of brain scans. Things were happening around me that I didn't understand. Until one afternoon, while sitting in a doctors practice at Miranda I was hit with a bombshell: I couldn't surf anymore. Not at all. Because if I had a fit in the water I'd drown.
I'm not sure what age you started surfing, but at 14-years old I was at my most possessed. My bedroom looked like a surfshop with posters on every wall, I bought every issue of every mag, and there was no conversation that I couldn't somehow weave surfing into. And to take that away was devastating. I turned more mournful than Morrissey, and not helping matters was the drugs I was prescribed - and still take to this day - that made me drowsy and morose.
I recall forcing my Dad to watch me surf. He'd vigilantly pace the shoreline, ready to strip to his smugglers if his only son were to keel over and not come up. He did that whenever he could, but it wasn't often enough and it caused strain in the family. My parents tried to persuade me to take up other sports, ones that wouldn't kill me. Dear old Mum even cut out a story from The Sun about Tony Greig and how he was an epileptic but that didn't stop him being a champion cricketer and spruiker of breakfast cereals.
Tough work selling that to a surf mad kid.
"It's just like a cricket bat with holes"
As the months passed I began to develop a weird relationship with surfing. One that was more notional than physical. Like the wheelchair-bound kid at the footy who wears the club colours even though he'll never run onto the park. I couldn't surf, but I couldn't let go of it either.
About five months later, after another round of scans, the doctors found a glitch in my diagnosis. At the time epilepsy was a mystery, they were discovering more all the time, and the latest tests revealed I could only have fits while I was asleep. This was significant news to my doctor as it meant I could lead a normal life and, for instance, drive a car when I reached the legal age. But it only meant one thing to me: I could surf again.
This was years ago, obviously, but I sometimes wonder what sort of effect that event had on me. At the time, everyone I knew could weave surfing into a conversation, not just me, yet few of them surf anymore. So did losing surfing mean I valued it more when it was returned? Who knows..? Like epilepsy itself it's another top floor mystery and it'd take some time on a leather couch to get to the bottom of it.
In 1999 I was in Hawaii and met a guy named Matt. He was fearless and fit, always ready to physically test himself, which made him a great surf partner. Matt was also an epileptic, except his was fully blown, it could happen anytime and not just while asleep like myself. "If I go, I go," was his fatalistic reasoning and you might call it flippant but I understood entirely.
In 2000 I returned to the North Shore where I saw Matt at Sunset carpark and went up to reacquaint myself, see where he was staying, how long he was there for. Except it wasn't Matt but his brother, who told me Matt had died during the year. He'd had an epileptic fit in the surf and drowned. When I think of him I think I'm the luckiest fucker in the world.
But I still can't tell you why I surf.