Question: Does The Ocean Love You Back?

Stu Nettle
Swellnet Dispatch

A foreword to Chris Gudenswager's latest work, 'Does The Ocean Love You Back?':

A quick look around the urban lineups of Australia reveals that surfing is changing. However, the change isn’t how we’re surfing, but who is surfing. There are currently more learners, particularly adult learners in the water than ever before. The changing demography in the water is reflected on the shelves of my local bookshop with what appears a whole new genre of literature targeting surfing’s newcomers; titles aimed squarely at those who’ve just picked up a surfboard and are embarking on a surfing life. 

These books are not written for those surfers.

I understand that may sound confrontational but allow me to explain. This two volume set is compiled of experiences from surfers of a particular milieu. All of them are what I call ‘lifers’. Some may be on the cemetery side of fifty, others right in the guts of middle-age, while a few are still running high on youthful energy, but the thing all lifers have in common is an unshakable commitment to surfing. Each contributor has devoted themselves to the ocean and by dint of time and effort they now have stories to share, and in these books they do.

To call them mere stories, however, is to undersell the offerings inside. When something becomes so central to your identity as surfing has for all the contributors in these books, it pervades your soul. You begin to see the world through the surfing perspective: you open your eyes to nature through surfing; surf trips allow you to meet people beyond your local clique; shared lineups reveal the array of human behaviour; physical limitations are tested in big and heavy waves; while impermanence is understood through the unremitting change of seasons. Beyond all the perfect waves ridden, the real gift of being a lifer is how bloody-minded dedication sublimates itself, sometimes as fitness and ardor, sometimes as knowledge and prowess, and sometimes it even presents itself as wisdom.

Lofty stuff, yes? But let’s back away from the precipice for just a moment. After all, surfing has a bit of a guru problem with cheeseball chin-strokers like the Kahuna, Bear, Bodhi, and Chandler playing the obligatory Wise Elder roles on screen. Thank heavens for real life. 

When I began surfing I also began devouring surf media in earnest. Each trip to the newsagency would see me returning with two, three, or even four surf magazines under my arm and I’d read each of them cover to cover, taking in the names, the places, the board labels, even all the inconsequential small print about publishers and employees would be ingested. 

In fact, I first became aware of the author of these books through an early issue of Australia’s Surfing Life. Among glossy photos of Gold Coast hotties like Michael ‘Munga’ Barry, Sean ‘Reg’ Riley, and Craig ‘Scat’ Pitchers, was a fellow named Chris Gudenswager - ‘Swag’ for short - pulling in backside at Kirra. “Poor bastard,” I recall thinking to myself, “a goofyfooter on the Gold Coast”. But I digress... 

My attitudes and opinions were being shaped by the early surfing magazines that I devoured. Thousands of them over the years. Yet I don’t ever recall reading an article that posed a question such as the central query of these two books. Partly that’s to do with the nature of magazines, which at heart are immediate and breezy, with surfing magazines being particularly fun and irreverent. Yet it’s also partly a result of how surfing has developed. Time was that surfing was a young person’s sport, that surfers would quit once they became adults and assumed responsibility, yet surfing gradually became a thing you could do all your life. The surfing magazines I devoured were catering to a young audience, but the audience grew up and they didn’t stop surfing nor thinking about it.                

The magazines of my youth barely exist anymore - victims of the great digital disruption. But if magazines were unsuited to asking weighty questions then the online world is even worse - too fleeting, too volatile for gentle and timeless considerations. A savvy operator might see a gap in the market: a mature subculture who loves telling stories and sharing experiences, yet with no adequate forum to do so. Thankfully Swag - the poor bastard goofyfooter from the Gold Coast - stepped up to fill the gap. This is his fourth book in as many years. 

Let’s not brush over that fact as it’s an almighty effort. Some writers go through their whole life without finishing a book, but Swag….well, he almost went through his whole life without being a writer. Once he decided to be one, however, he took on the job with gusto. Surfing always presents best when the stories are told, not by Hollywood movie directors or media moguls or pens for hire, but by surfers, and we should all be thankful that Swag - who’s not just a lifelong surfer but a third-generation surfer! - is keeping the job inhouse where it belongs. May his quill never sit still.

Before ending, I’m going to revisit the point I made earlier about this book not being for new surfers. Books targeting new surfers will show you how to pop to your feet quickly, or they’ll show you how to put a legrope on correctly, but none of them will show you where a surfing life can lead. These books will. So if you’ve just joined us, treat this two volume set as inspiration and understand that the reward of a surfing life will be much more than what you ever realised.

// STU NETTLE

'Does The Ocean Love You Back?' Vols 1 and 2 will be released in October. Click for pre-orders here.

Comments

fuhrious's picture
fuhrious's picture
fuhrious commented Wednesday, 8 Jul 2020 at 12:33pm

“The cemetery side of fifty eh! “ I could think about that for a moment but I’d probably forget what I was thinking about. Time to go surfing!

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 commented Wednesday, 8 Jul 2020 at 12:43pm

I'm probably biased because I've seen Swag ply his wares, both on the the waves and now with the pen, for a long time, but it's a pretty impressive achievement. He's got mad skills in both domains.
The quantity and the quality makes for a great read.

He's doing God's work laying it down.

Island Bay's picture
Island Bay's picture
Island Bay commented Wednesday, 8 Jul 2020 at 12:57pm

Firmly on the Cemetary side of 50 - meaning way past the guts of middle age? Yikes!

Curious to read these stories. Good writing, Stu. As always.

zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain commented Wednesday, 8 Jul 2020 at 1:22pm

Cool review and looking at some of those names would make great reading. Some of those 'where are they now?' stories would be very interesting.

1173

bipola's picture
bipola's picture
bipola commented Wednesday, 8 Jul 2020 at 2:36pm

gotta laugh, i am on cemetery side of 69 and i am just tryin to get to 70 at the moment.
. i still loving going for a surf. the wet suit is hard to get on, after a surf i go home and have a nanna nap.
be interesting to read them books.

simba's picture
simba's picture
simba commented Wednesday, 8 Jul 2020 at 2:32pm

Cemetery side of fifty......catch phrase of 2020.....how depressing....but how true

simba

zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain commented Wednesday, 8 Jul 2020 at 2:36pm

If it's any consolation, technically, we're all on the cemetery side of any age.

1173

lostdoggy's picture
lostdoggy's picture
lostdoggy commented Thursday, 9 Jul 2020 at 7:45am

I’m getting cremated ;)

Eggstar1000's picture
Eggstar1000's picture
Eggstar1000 commented Wednesday, 8 Jul 2020 at 7:18pm

Great write up of a great write up

Eggstar1000's picture
Eggstar1000's picture
Eggstar1000 commented Wednesday, 8 Jul 2020 at 7:19pm

Oops big fingers

rooftop's picture
rooftop's picture
rooftop commented Wednesday, 8 Jul 2020 at 7:35pm

Pity about the cover, but would be keen to have a read.

andy-mac's picture
andy-mac's picture
andy-mac commented Thursday, 9 Jul 2020 at 7:43am

Fuck, I did not think ya hit middle age to 55!

Botak

blackers's picture
blackers's picture
blackers commented Thursday, 9 Jul 2020 at 8:02am

You have clearly touched a nerve with the over 50 jibe Stu. It’s bad enough putting up with the gradual decline without pups like yourself rubbing our noses in it! It will come to you one day young whippersnapper. Sounds like a good read, may have to buy it for my even older brother..

ringmaster's picture
ringmaster's picture
ringmaster commented Thursday, 9 Jul 2020 at 9:41am

Hey.......I'm North of 50 and not fazed about it. Fit, healthy and still surfing whenever it's decent.

Better to be on the 'cemetery' side of 50 because at least we got that far. For anybody gloating about not being that advanced......realise that there ain't no guarantee that you ever will.

Yesterday's drowning of snowboard champ Alex Pullin in his prime at 32 is a timely reminder.

ringmaster's picture
ringmaster's picture
ringmaster commented Thursday, 9 Jul 2020 at 9:53am

"Does the ocean love you back?"

Interesting question........what about the 'tough love' when you scratch over an 8ft wave to be confronted by a 10 footer, lip already starting to pitch and about to land a few feet in front of you?

I spose if you keep coming back again and again after that it's gotta be true love doesn't it!

zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain commented Thursday, 9 Jul 2020 at 1:13pm

Maybe it's an unrequited love?

1173

Ape Anonymous's picture
Ape Anonymous's picture
Ape Anonymous commented Thursday, 9 Jul 2020 at 11:13am

Good to hear from a fellow 3rd gen surfer ;-)

surfstarved's picture
surfstarved's picture
surfstarved commented Thursday, 9 Jul 2020 at 11:55am

We're all of us on the cemetery side of birth, so let's just make the most of the time we have.

To address the title - As a confirmed 'lifer', my relationship with the ocean defines to a large degree who I am as a person. But no, the ocean does not love me back. At its best, it's completely indifferent to my existence. At its worst, the bastard is actively trying to eat me!

It teaches me humility, resilience, patience, mindfulness and gives me a profound insight into my own physical & mental limitations (more with each passing year), but all this is based on the understanding that the ocean doesn't give a flying fuck about me personally.

Don't let the bastards grind you down

Ape Anonymous's picture
Ape Anonymous's picture
Ape Anonymous commented Thursday, 9 Jul 2020 at 4:13pm

What is love?

tubeshooter's picture
tubeshooter's picture
tubeshooter commented Thursday, 9 Jul 2020 at 10:54pm

50 is the new 30 ,, hang in there .
Don't worry about the snow on the roof , the fire inside is what counts.
As for the sea ..The ocean doesn't love , care or give a shit.
I think the question should be 'Do you love the ocean back'?

oldman's picture
oldman's picture
oldman commented Friday, 10 Jul 2020 at 10:20am

Nice comments surf starved. Agree totally.
Here are some quotes i read from time to time that go with this theme.
Kelly Slater:
"The ocean will continue to school you for as long as you engage her"
Unknown:
"Into the ocean i go, to loose my mind but find my soul."
Shit I'm cemetery side of sixty and starting to sound like it!!

juegasiempre's picture
juegasiempre's picture
juegasiempre commented Friday, 10 Jul 2020 at 10:22am

Does the ocean love me back? I fucking doubt it. This morning as I put on my oil-derived wetsuit, which surely has an environmental cost, I jogged to the beach. Passing the high tide line I notice a can of V, a tennis ball and some other plastic shit, belched up by the ocean as a tidal regularity, before getting sucked back in and punched north.

"What a shame" I thought as I gripped my toxic foam board, wrapped in toxic resin. Out I paddled into our spiritual home, where all humanity came from given a big enough time frame. It looks the same, smells the same and still fills me with joy.
Although the joy is tempered knowing that microplastics are already in our food chain, swallowed by our marine friends, passed on to their young through their milk and eventually into us; and the problem is getting worse everyday :( We're talking about the lucky marine wildlife that hasn't been fished to near extinction.

Will my kids know a clean, healthy ocean?

The only surfing book worth a pinch of shit IMO is Barbarian Days, because it portrays surfers as the egotistical, selfish, destructive creatures we truly are. Burning oil, jet fuel, time, resources physical and financial and even other surfers to scratch that itch that never offers any permanent relief. Unless this book is written as well as that book, I'll pass. Listening to surfers go on about surfing is like listening to wankers go on about wanking. Just cause it's really fun for you, doesn't mean people want to hear about it.

ringmaster's picture
ringmaster's picture
ringmaster commented Friday, 10 Jul 2020 at 11:18am

"Listening to surfers go on about surfing is like listening to wankers go on about wanking. Just cause it's really fun for you, doesn't mean people want to hear about it."

I like that!

Spuddups's picture
Spuddups's picture
Spuddups commented Friday, 10 Jul 2020 at 1:57pm

Juegasiempre, you strike me as a bit of a glass half empty guy. Each to their own though. Carry on.

dastasha's picture
dastasha's picture
dastasha commented Saturday, 11 Jul 2020 at 9:00am

Now there's a budding author right there

oldman's picture
oldman's picture
oldman commented Friday, 10 Jul 2020 at 10:49am

Fuck me that's dark bro.
Cremate me now!!!!!

frog's picture
frog's picture
frog commented Friday, 10 Jul 2020 at 1:50pm

I am afraid I will judge the book by its cover - remove the roses and it might have had a chance...

Frogg

Spuddups's picture
Spuddups's picture
Spuddups commented Friday, 10 Jul 2020 at 1:57pm

Yeah, the roses wouldn’t have been my first choice.

zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain commented Friday, 10 Jul 2020 at 1:59pm

What's wrong with roses?

They look nice, smell nice.

win/win

1173

Ape Anonymous's picture
Ape Anonymous's picture
Ape Anonymous commented Friday, 10 Jul 2020 at 5:08pm

What is Love? Surely that must be defined before we can even approach an answer to the book's question??
The Ocean gave birth to all - everything - our mother.
Do/should mothers reprimand their children for wrong-doing? Yes. Do they also forgive? Yes.
The Ocean will be there from dawn to dusk, from the beginning of all life, and until the very end; how could you even question her boundless unconditional love for us - her children? Because we're ignorant - don't understand the scale and depth of her love - true nature.
Keep surfing, children ;-)
AA

dastasha's picture
dastasha's picture
dastasha commented Saturday, 11 Jul 2020 at 9:03am

<3<3<3

Mecco's picture
Mecco's picture
Mecco commented Friday, 10 Jul 2020 at 5:20pm

I'm fast approaching the cemetery side of sixty, but couldn't really give a flying fruit loop. I'm reasonably fit and can do all the things I want to do. Enjoy every day, I say.

Does The Ocean Love You Back? Well, as a Z grade bodyboarder I hope she/he/it at least feels some sympathy for me! Nah, I don't think some H2o, Cl- and Na+ mixed together loves me back.

I certainly love the ocean though, especially so now I'm locked down in Melbourne - no, I won't try and make and make any sneaky visits to my beloved 13th Beach - for the next six weeks. So perhaps we can all try and do our bit to keep it in the best condition possible.

tubeshooter's picture
tubeshooter's picture
tubeshooter commented Friday, 10 Jul 2020 at 9:04pm

The beauty of the ocean is it's indifference. It does what it it does . With or without the subjective interpretations of those that think they have a ' relationship' with it.

batfink's picture
batfink's picture
batfink commented Saturday, 11 Jul 2020 at 3:43pm

Nice write Stu, loving watching you develop your craft.

So how long till you’re on the cemetery side of 50 Stu? Pretty sure you got past 40 some time ago.

Me, still just the right side of 60, but a whole new life ahead of me. I figure I’m on my 4th life in this body anyway. Can’t complain about what I’ve managed to fit in.

Does the ocean love you back? I quite like the amorphous indifference of the ocean. It cares not for me or anyone else and yet it can entertain me all day, just sitting and watching it. It heals me, who cares if it loves me.

Surely some interesting reading in there though.

tango's picture
tango's picture
tango commented Saturday, 11 Jul 2020 at 8:28pm

Geez, the comments section is gonna be 2 miles long when the books actually come out.....