Not long ago I spoke with Derek Rielly at BeachGrit about surfing’s last taboo topic—and I don’t mean Duke Kahanamoku’s deep cover work on behalf of the Freemasons. (A semi-well-known surf photographer explained it all to me in detail in my Facebook DMs last year—never mind that Duke was too busy with the John Dillinger “murder” coverup to have time for the Masons. Connect the dots, I told the guy, before blocking his ass.)
No, I’m talking about the idea and practice of quitting surfing. Which I more or less did in 2011. Not a hard-stop, never-again deal. More of a soft quit, I guess you’d call it. At 51, with just over four decades in the surf game, I quit being hardcore. Gave my boards away. Allowed my Surfline Premium subscription to lapse. With a few exceptions, over the past eight years I’ve surfed only while on vacation, in warm water, on whatever equipment I could find. Costa Rica, Mexico, Nicaragua, and last month I almost signed up for a 10-day Maldives binge until I found out it was on a damn boat, not a resort, and no apologies there, my place in the tropics includes a purring AC unit, in-room Nespresso, and a choice of nearby restaurants.
I’m on the other side, folks. And it is fine. Life as a hardcore surfer was great. I wouldn’t trade a moment. Life as a paler and less-fit (but still pretty damn trim!) husband and father and chronicler of surf is just as good, and probably better. Or better, given at this particular stage in my life, for sure. You ride the times. My surfing years were fantastic. My non-surfing years are too.
Back on BeachGrit, most of the remarks in the comments thread that followed the article were supportive, but here and there I was duly lit up, the gist being that any able-bodied person who quits surfing was never a real surfer to begin with. Water off my grey-haired back, boys. (Always boys. We are a sad and angry gender.)
Anyway, and finally getting to the point, my above-mentioned trimness is because I’ve become a hardcore walker (15K steps a day, suck it Laird!), and today’s jaunty perambulation gave me time to think about those famous surfers of the past, sound in both body and mind, who have quit. This is off the top of my head, and I could be wrong, or maybe half-wrong, with some of these names. Let me also add that by “quit” I mean going from surfing being more or less a daily thing to just a few times a year. So here we go. Phil Edwards quit in his 30s. Greg Noll, ditto. Velzy and Weber, heroes from last week’s Joint, both quit. Buzzy Trent, Joyce Hoffman, and Jackie Dunn quit. Hobie Alter moved to Idaho. “He hasn’t surfed in months,” Sean Doherty wrote of Wayne Lynch in 2013, “and as he’s strapping the boards to the roof he says he probably won’t start again today.” Fred Van Dyke didn’t quit, but I got a distinct impression, talking to him late in life, that he wished he had.
To flip the equation: Despite what I just said about Lynch, Aussie surfers as a rule do not quit. Hawaiians cut way back, but also do not quit. Mimi Munro quit, then unquit. Shaun Tomson will never quit. Seventy-five-year-old Felipe Pomar claims he will be surfing at 100, and this will happen even if he dies at 97, the man is willful.
Not until I was in the middle of quitting did I really think I’d ever quit. The thought of not surfing whenever I wanted filled me with dread. Should I ever be allowed a passing moment of communication with my 25- or 35- or 45-year-old self, I will smile and wave and say, “It’s okay! Don’t worry!”
Keep surfing, everyone, at whatever pace and in whatever form, suits you.
Thanks everybody, and see you next week!
PS: I got carried away there, and almost forgot to direct your attention to this clip of Peterson Rosa, aka Bronco, a VERY active surfer indeed. Ride ’em!