What Surfing Can Learn from Skating

I rip around a deep concrete bowl in Bali, cautious not to hit the tiles or the pool coping above. It’s hot and sweaty and I’m shaky-legged after not skating for a couple of months. A local gent I don’t know hands me a beer, even though I did nothing particularly well, and we get chatting. While we talk, another guy rips a clean 50 over the spine and everyone pauses to smash their decks against the ground. I can’t help but think back to my morning surf at Canggu, and the hour-long paddle battle I had with 40 other surfers who were just as agitated and antisocial as I was.

Since skating split from surfing’s evolutionary path, it has carved its own language, style and culture. It has major branding, wealthy professionals and a place in the Olympics (ha!). But most importantly, in its social environment, skating has been able to retain what surfing lost, some 30 years ago.

I phoned Floridian Eric Geiselman, who has been wildly fluent in both surf and skate since he was a kid, to discuss the change.

“With surfing, everyone is so competitive, kinda dog-eat-dog – which is cool because we feed off each other – but it’s a lot of testosterone and sometimes you don’t want to even go that route,” Eric says. “In skateboarding, I always feel like no matter what you want to do, the individual is accepted. Your freedom of expression is embraced. It doesn’t matter if you show up to the park and suck, if you try a trick and make it, everyone in the park is clacking decks and rooting for you. There is more camaraderie.”

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Yeah, Ev can dance over concrete. Photo: @lyles

Due to its reliance on the inconsistencies of nature, surfing might just be the most competitive sport in the world. The fickle combination of tide time, wind direction, swell size, sandbanks and daylight, creates a pressurised environment that surfers have to battle on, hustling each other for the next set wave. How many other sports dictate that you must compete just to practise it?

“It’s purely a fact of the starvation of waves,” says Eric. “With skating, it could be raining right now and I could be in my living room practicing a kickflip on the carpet. Skateboarding, you can literally do anywhere. You can go to the skate park and the ramp is always there.”

This isn’t the case with surfing, and there’s no denying that the feeling in most lineups has changed over the years. Back when surfers were the degenerates and skating didn’t exist yet, surfing had a carefree attitude that was accepting and supportive, no matter if you shredded or were just starting out. Many of us are too young to remember these times, but the old salts at your local will tell you (especially if you drop in on them). Watch Morning of The Earth again or some clips from Endless Summer with five dudes on a wave, all laughing together.

The only problem is that clips like these led to the popularisation of surfing and a surge of bodies in the water, particularly over the last two decades. Around 2.4 million Americans and 2.3 million Australians now identify themselves as surfers, and most of them live in centralised locations. Waves in San Diego and Daytona, Gold Coast and Bondi, are totally packed out. And while perfect unridden waves continue to roll into shores around the world, most of us are either too time or money poor to be able to find them.

“It’s not a bad thing that there is more people doing it – and the level of surfing has risen a fuckload,” says Eric, explaining why he finds himself skating more than surfing. “But you’re never going to go to the beach and feel welcomed or accepted. With surfing, especially if you’re at a pointbreak, it’s a fucking nightmare. You are just a piece on a conveyor belt, all snaking each other just to get a wave. While everybody’s friends, you have to be aggressive. And there is always going to be that vibe in the water, which sucks. That’s what I hate the most about surfing, that ego and entitlement."

So, what’s the answer?

The signs at Snapper showing a stick figure dropping in with a big red cross through the middle don’t seem to be doing a whole lot. 'Be kind to learners' and 'share the lineup' are the obvious maxims, though people won’t always follow them.

"Just get along and be real," is what Eric says, though he doesn’t seem hopeful. "At the moment, I’ve been skating heaps and surfing zero – skating is keeping my sanity."

We end our conversation talking about the last week of swell that hit the Gold Coast, and Eric says that he hopes there are waves in a month when he flies over. I tell him we don’t need another guy in the water, and he laughs. It really seems that if surfing could be fixed, returned to its former Morning Glory, in some robot dreamland future, then it would need the equivalent of skateparks (wavepools). And, lots of them. Too bad Kelly has the only one worth visiting – and he only invites his friends.