Why Do We Quit?
The conventional wisdom, honed to perfection through sixty years of surf media, hijacked by advertising campaigns for everything from cars to retirement homes to haemorrhoid creams, shining with the light of a thousand suns from the Wozzle, is that surfing is the greatest thing on Earth. The thing that the whole planet craves, deserves, and cherishes.
Don't get me wrong, it's fucken awesome, but if you look around and take an honest view, most people quit.
Most people quit surfing. They give up. They stop.
There, for the first time in sixty years of surf media, it's been said.
The question is: If surfing is the best thing on Earth, why do they stop? Or maybe, how?
A quick rewind...
I've always pondered this question of quitting and the mismatch between the conventional wisdom and reality, but it was a recent interview posted here on Swellnet with Ultimate Surfer producer and Ultimate Fighting Championship Prez Dana White that really made me sit up and think.
Dana is 52, fit, rich beyond belief (net worth 500 million, yearly salary 20 million), claims to love surfing, and yet he quit.
For a guy who has made bottomless money sending half-naked men and women into a cage to beat the living shit out of each other his reason seemed faintly ludicrous. He claimed it was too dangerous and that at 52, “I've got no business being out there”.
OK, I guess that is reason 1 - and one I'd never really considered. Danger in a world where Dana could spend every weekend at Kelly's pool with every possible variable tweaked to suit him seems surreal.
Dana also gets reason 2 under the belt in that interview. He took his kids to Fiji from a young age, hoping that they would embrace the surfing lifestyle and yet they, “didn't gravitate towards surfing like I hoped.” Despite, or maybe because of, every effort made to get them into it, some kids don't dig it.
Surfing isn't interesting, or cool, or even fun, ain't a headline I expect to see anytime soon but for a certain percentage of kids exposed to it, that's the truth. Minecraft and Fortnite and YouTube offer far more reward for effort and instant gratification. Surfing is hard, takes lots of time to learn, and is ill-suited to dabbling.
Paradoxically, kids with too much access to good surf and who get good quickly are also prone to quitting. They grow up in the country with plenty of time and good surf on hand, get expert, then move to the city to study, make a living etc etc. The diminishing returns of crowded city beachbreaks, or commutes to the coast for surf soon get tiresome, especially if the hedonistic pleasures of city nightlife come into play. Time speeds up and five, ten, fifteen years go by and the teenage shredder is no more. Drugs and alcohol dull the mind and body. It no longer responds to the ocean.
Adulthood is a more traditional barrier, and one still seen in the till seen in less developed countries. Kids do it, then they grow up and are expected to make a living and provide for a family. Mexican kids become fishermen, Indonesians have family and/or religious obligations, neither of which are compatible with downing tools and ducking off when the surf is pumping.
The Western world has seen a reversal of that arc; adulthood is now the time to start, not quit. That reflects socio-economic realities: you need a good job, a steady, even high income, to live near the coastline in California, New South Wales, France etc etc. High-income adults and working from home has been the perfect storm for a boom in adult learners.
When adulthood morphs into parenthood a rubicon is crossed for many. Too many demands, too little time. The little windows available don't match up with waves. A couple of weeks go by, then months, without a go out. The next surf is a chore, even a disaster. The skills have atrophied, the timing is off, the lack of fitness feels humiliating. Joy turns to frustration, stoke to bitterness.
Amazing really, this incredibly common phenomenon has never been studied, let alone admitted to in public.
The downward spiral can come on more stealthily. An injury, or even just a form slump, maybe an extended period of bad waves: a terrible spring followed by an average summer. Two or three bad surfs in a row starts to become a little monkey on the back. A half a dozen and other things start to become more appealing. A better return on time invested.
Golf claims many. Running and cycling too. No need to worry about winds, tides, swell, crowds and the other vicissitudes of the surfing life. You show up and tee off. Every. Single. Time.
Some quit when they reach the summit of some personal Everest they have decided on. I've never associated goals with the surfing life but others have. Greg Noll wanted to ride the biggest wave and when he did, that was it. Done. Walked away. Never went back.
We all experience that when coming back from Indo, or anywhere with good, consistent waves. After peak experiences in great surf the more mundane surf we normally ride just doesn't make the grade. A good case of Indo-itis usually subsides within a month, but for some it's a much more persistent disease. A pal I know hung up the boots after a particularly insane season at Desert Point. Too much tube time melted his brain and he simply had to quit.
Crowds can drive a person to quit. As can predators. All respect to our fallen comrades who have ended up on the wrong end of shark "encounters", but I've seen increased shark encounters/attacks make people dry dock the boards for good. 2015, when Ballina had a horror year you could surf by yourself every day. Most of the quitting was temporary but for some the risk became too great. They never paddled out again.
Other factors are more prosaic. From the cult film Big Wednesday: “Some died, some moved inland.” Both excellent reasons to cease paddling out.
Really, when you look around, the lifers are the exception and for so long, to sustain the founding myth of modern surfing - that it is the “ultimate thrill” - we've confused the exception with the rule. Maybe it's an inconvenient truth too painful to acknowledge?
The rule is: Most people quit.
As for me personally? To paraphrase the old Iron Lady herself: “The lady's not for turning”.