Social Anxiety and surfing in 2015, with Mark Mathews
The recent swell that sent hordes of pros, photographers, and members of the general public with a disregard for their own safety, to remote corners of Western Australia and Indonesia has brought an interesting (see also: terrifying) cultural phenomenon to light. The death of discrepancy! Yep, humanity has select-all-deleted the ability to keep anything under wraps; […]
The recent swell that sent hordes of pros, photographers, and members of the general public with a disregard for their own safety, to remote corners of Western Australia and Indonesia has brought an interesting (see also: terrifying) cultural phenomenon to light. The death of discrepancy! Yep, humanity has select-all-deleted the ability to keep anything under wraps; dignity has been hucked out the window. You thought people taking photos of their lunch was bad? Well, try being a professional surfer, whose livelihood relies on chasing and riding the biggest, most escapist swells imaginable, and dealing with every surfer and media house (big and small) hyping every little bump that appears in any of the four oceans into swell of the century (us included). Where do you draw the line? You can’t set off into the yonder every time someone uploads a perfect wave shot to Instagram. Can you? We caught up with Mark Mathews to discuss how he sleeps, while he’s been led to believe that somewhere, only a plane ride away, might be pumping.
Stab: Tell me about the Nathan Fletcher theory.
Mark: I was in Chile for a big wave contest, and there were swells literally everywhere else. I was freaking out about the prospect of missing out. Nathan Fletcher just said to me, “That’s why I don’t have Instagram. Why would I want to feel bad today because I’m missing out on something?”
Ten years ago, you’d have to wait six weeks to see this recent ‘swell of the decade’ in a magazine. Was it really that special? It was a remarkable swell, but it was also overhyped. It’s a special occurrence when you get 15-20 foot waves for four days straight; that’s phenomenal. The Right was pretty special, and at moments it really highlighted the quality of the swell. But when you look at photos of other spots in the West, like Cow bombie, it didn’t even look that big. That could’ve been due to a number of factors: swell direction, tides, and maybe even too long a period (a shorter period swell makes the wave stand up more).
The Right looking like a tabloid’s wet dream. Photo: Chris Gurney
Talk about the social media buzz on this occasion. Swells get hyped exactly how shares on the stock market do. Once people start talking, and then the mainstream media gets a hold of it, it just takes on a life of its own. There were 12 skis in the channel at The Right shooting. Just media. And it was just the normal crew surfing it.
As it was happening were people calling it Swell of the Decade? After Thursday afternoon/Friday morning I was calling it Dud of the Decade. It wasn’t that big, the winds were shit, and it felt like it was dropping off. I went back on Friday afternoon just to see what it was doing, and it was 20 foot-plus. That’s when it started living up to the hype. There were some waves out there that were as big as I’d seen at The Right.
When the Swell headed to Indo, why was all the focus on Kandui? It’s one of the most amazing waves in Indo, and it doesn’t get good all that often. As opposed to somewhere like Nias that’s more consistent.
Kandui: Hypebeast. Photo: John Barton
Are surfers more open to social media anxiety? One hundred percent. It breeds the fear of missing out on waves that probably aren’t as good as they look in photos. I know I’ve put up shots that make it look like it’s pumping, and it might be the only wave that broke in an hour.
To avoid potential anxiety, who should all surfers unfollow immediately?
1. Me. I post a lot of good surf photos because it’s my profession but it looks like I’m getting way more barrelled than I am.
2. Koa Smith. He scores. A lot.
3. Anthony Walsh. He’s hard to watch. Especially if you’re cold. He’s always in another tropical tube somewhere.
4. Chris Burkard. He makes the coldest places look so strangely inviting.
Anthony Walsh in yet another warm tube. Unfollow. Photo: LASERWOLF
Any tips for shaking the FOMO? If you see a photo that looks amazing, let it motivate you to go there and score. If seeing perfect surf gets you excited to explore down the coast this weekend, then it’s a positive thing. But if you’re just going to look at it, get the shits and not do anything to help you satisfy the urge to surf that wave, then you may as well unfollow.
If you’d like to win the winter gear that Mark drapes himself in on those cold swell chasin’ mornings then O’Neill Australia may have a little competition that you might be interested in. Right here!
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