by Dylan Holland
I’m 26 and I know nothing. Some nights I wake up sweaty screaming “Let me out of this ship it is sinking!” I get nervous when the sound of a jet engine changes mid flight and I wish I had discovered surfing at 50.
I wish my first ill fitting wet suit concealed a few extra pints of stout. I want to be the guy who arrives at the beach with a learner board facing the wrong way on his 2011 Ford Mondeo and a blue nylon rope for a leash. The guy locals laugh at, the potential drowning victim. The guy who makes a 3 foot wave look like the worst wipe out since some other famous bad wipe out that I should be able to reference because 50 is a good age to develop a problem.
The 50 year old beginner may never become an average surfer on a world scale. He might never get good at avoiding and then claiming a barrel or bogging a rail and convincing himself that he did a turn but he doesn’t care because he might like surfing more than you do. He will trade in his Mondeo, fit out a van and take to the road every weekend with an array of long boards. He will appreciate the drives and take in every detail of each small town on the way to the beach. Becoming a surfer at 50 is easy. 50 year old surfers develop friendships over cups of coffee, sugared scones and homemade soup in silver thermos flasks. They are content with a day out of the house at their local beach.
I could be wrong, 50 year old surfers could be in the middle of a crisis. They might be standing at the water’s edge, with one porous wet suite boot and a look of fear thinking “What the fuck am I doing with my life? I’m too old for this!!!!!” while their young family are left standing in the car park looking at Dad, as he turns smiles and braves his way into a near drowning situation. Five minutes later he rolls onto the beach, blue nylon leg rope tangled around both legs. His red face covered in dark sand and his leaky boot a distant memory. It’s at that moment he might look at his cold wife, give an ironic smile and think “I wish I discovered surfing when I was younger”. It’s probably a Sunday and on the way home he might think about his bank balance and the excessive amount of Sunday papers he buys and doesn’t read. On the way home he’ll turn to his wife and say “I would have been well able to keep up with them, twenty years ago”.
All I know for sure is that right now I have no money, no measurable achievements and a surfing addiction that is holding me back.
Young surfers connect over class A to C drugs, drunken violence and cold January nights huddled together in an iced car, waiting for a slab of rock and a wave. The young and the foolish poverty bond, we stand on mounds of wet grass half way up the west coast in front of an abandoned cottage throwing shit covered stones at each other like moneys in jackets, hats and gloves while our non-surfing peers take steps to better themselves. We waste hundreds of hours driving from reef to point meeting spotty teenagers in garages who serve us food and spotty teenagers in the next garage who serves us petrol. We encounter old grey men with questionable directions and baffling hair styles while surfers in more consistent destinations wake up have a lookout their bedroom window and give perfect warm waves the thumbs down like drunken emperors. We laugh while saying things like “I no longer give a fuck. Well I do , but , fuck it!” and “This recession is a great excuse to go on the dole”, because surfing lurks in the back of all our minds undermining every possible sensible decision. Surfing is a good excuse to turn away from the flame and it’s this blind pursuit of pleasure that creates an internal monster that hinders our development. 50 seem like a comfortable age, people seem to be mature enough to deal with that monster.
I like to picture surfing’s internal monster as a strong black American woman. She is 60, about 18 stone and she wears floral dresses. She attends mass on a regular basis and has never been to Ireland. When she thinks about Ireland, she thinks of Leprechauns and American cleaning products. If you pushed her for more information she would stare you down, make a “tut tut” sound with her pursed lips and point at the door. She can lift heavy items; her hair is straight and polished.
Human A; “Should I take that job?”
Surfing’s internal monster; “No, now get back in the water”
Human A; “But what about that job…”
Surfing’s internal monster; “Zip it!!There is a 60% chance that the wind will swing offshore for an hour, 300 miles from here. Get back in that car.”
Human A; “But it’s cold and early and I have had four hours of sleep and.”
Surfing’s internal monster; “Are you really a surfer?”
Human A; “Yes I’m really a surfer.”
Human B on the phone; “Come on, we are heading up north, are you up for it?”
Human A; “It’s a long way to go and its not looking great?”
Surfing’s internal monster; “You have nothing else to do!”
Human A; “Yea sure I will see you at 3 tomorrow morning.”
In Nigeria they believe in Mami Wata a mermaid-like figure, with a woman’s upper body and the hindquarters of a fish or serpent. Mami Wata is a spirit that abducts her followers when they are swimming. She then brings them to her paradisiacal realm. Should she allow them to leave, the travellers usually return with a new spiritual understanding reflected in their gaze. These returnees often become more easygoing after the encounter.
Surfing is great it has given me my best friends, amazing visual memories and the opportunity to meet genuinely interesting people. Wild sea dogs who have been captured by Mami Wata, I’m not talking about people who “charge big waves” and give cold shoulders. I’m talking about ego free, interesting people who have lead undocumented turbulent lives. These characters wouldn’t have been formed without surfing. Their laughter lines etched by sun, fun and tragedy would be replaced by the smooth bald head of suburbia. Or were these mad bastards predestined for lives of mayhem? Were they water babies destined for darkness and fun?
Ideally surfing would be a luxury for us all, a take it or leave it situation like the passing music of a street busker. But it’s not. Surfing has rearranged our minds. I’m addicted and so are you. That is the first step, realising that you have a problem. The second step is dealing with that problem. I can tell you how but you have to agree to pay ten per cent of all your future earnings and two percent of you first born child’s confirmation money into my Nigerian bank account. In reality none of this matters because I get nervous when the frequency on a jet engine changes, I think the world’s final image will be of lava raining on palm trees and I wish I discovered surfing when I was 50.