Charging Into The Quiet Corners
I’ve bought an electric bike.
It’s a big, techy, flashy looking thing. Fat wheels for the sand, military-looking frame, folds up small to fit in the car. I’m genuinely embarrassed by it. It grates against the whole way I try to live my life: quietly, low key, minimal fuss. It’s a purely utilitarian purchase, a tool to escape the crowds by accessing up the beach.
I park my car in a little covert area, grab the bike and sneak down a more inaccessible but isolated track onto the sand hoping that no-one sees me.
The blessing and curse of the area up the beach is its relative inaccessibility. It's an effort to get up there, but the chance to surf alone is the trade-off. Now with the bike, the effort part has become an almost non-factor.
Whether it’s human nature or inherited Western thought, it seems we're driven to seek out ways to make our existence and experiences easier, while exploiting our environment. In the surfing realm it's no different.
Wetsuit technology has improved to the point where trips to snow-covered coastlines in the Arctic circle are content fodder. Boardshorts no longer rash your private parts to pieces. Wax comes with temperature ratings. Sunscreen no longer comes with coconut oil to help you develop skin cancers more efficiently.
Board manufactures around the world fuss over curves, contours, materials. We have boards for small waves, performance waves, big waves, fat waves, grovellers, foils, paddle-boards, mid-lengths, twin fins, long fish, mini-Simmons, boogers, hand-planes, soft-tops, SUP-squaches.
We surf open swells, slabs, points, shories, beachies, tidal bores, boat wakes, rivers, glacial calvings. We use sleds and air compressors and paddles and pumps to make artificial Wave Gardens, BSRs, and Tubs and Ranches.
Progression and technological advancements have given us a seemingly endless array of ways and means to engage in what is ostensibly a simple act of riding a swell.
As I pedal up the beach...well, not really pedal but move my legs around while effortlessly cruising at 30 odd km/h, I wonder if I'm cheating myself of something; lessening the experience somehow.
In our increasingly comfortable lives it seems we still want to be challenged, people want to suffer and overcome. They sign up for Push-Up Challenges, Triathlons, Ultramarathons, Dry July, No Nut November, a smorgasbord of deprivation and pain, the old maxim of the journey being more important than the destination in the path to self discovery.
It used to be a drag walking up the beach into a headwind, constantly swapping the board carrying arm, backpack weighted down with the required surf equipment, balls chafing, sand-scraping heels, sun beating down, but the paddle out at the end was all the more sweeter.
Don't we all surf to pit ourselves against nature? Persisting with the paddle out, struggling against the sweep, clambering under the close out set. Suffering to accumulate the knowledge, experience, and guile needed to better navigate the lineup and grab more waves.
I think about all the small details the beach trek used to allow me. Seeing the way the winds and the tides constantly shifted the sand and reshaped the dunes. The driftwood and the detritus. Sea eagles soaring and ghost crabs scrambling. Time spent alone with just thoughts and observations.
Now it all whizzes by in an instant as I beeline for the breakers.
I wonder if I might be an accidental foreshadower of disaster. I think of Trestles in Southern California. It used to be an untapped escapist playground for a handful of San Clemente surfers prepared to stretch their legs a little. Today it’s an E-bike superhighway. Surely that wouldn't happen here..?
"Someone has to be first," I justify to myself, "so it may as well be me, right?" However, often people won't cotton on to an idea until someone else does it. In my desire to get away from everyone, what if I'm instead helping to unlock the gate to the masses? What if I'm the trickle that begets a flood? A little harbinger of death to my cherished area of quiet?
So will I be ditching the bike?
What used to take me an hour to walk I just knocked over in less than ten minutes without breaking a sweat.
I can score fun waves to myself and get home before the wife and kids are even out of bed.
Give me convenience or give me death!
// DAN DOBBIN