Bad Waves, Solitude And The Indiscriminate Nature Of Satisfaction
How to look at the wrong conditions the right way.
The ocean looked furious.
Overhead walls battered by cold, relentless wind. Rain falling hard enough to sting. Muddy water swirling every which way with that very specific sparkle of hepatitis. Everything looked lifeless and eery.
It was a great day to go surfing.
I’ve been fortunate enough to surf some of the world’s best waves. Pipe. J-Bay. Desert Point. Rincon. Snapper. Sneaky lefts in South America. Less than sneaky lefts in the Basque Country. I’ve also been fortunate enough to surf some truly bad waves — and still leave feeling completely happy.
When it comes to waves, ”good” is subjective and relative to location. Good could be a gurgling South Oz slab or a rolling wall of Southern Californian oatmeal*.
“Bad” is a little more universal. And by bad, I don’t mean small. I’m talking about when there’s swell, but the wind is cranky. When the reward might not seem to match the required effort.
Reward, effort, the distance between the two — let’s talk about all that.
Some people enjoy surfing because they treat it like sport. The pursuit of the neurological explosion that comes from performing to the best of one’s ability.
Well, guess what, Swiss ball fuckers, you can outperform yourself in bad waves too. You can surf a 4-foot shit bowl better than you’ve ever surfed a 4-foot shit bowl before. You can get a personal 10 in conditions that would make give Jadson Andre PTSD flashbacks looking at it.
And then some people view surfing as a creative outlet. They take a board in the ocean and let impulse and imagination take over. Enjoy the fleeting kicks, mindlessness. Probably get a couple tattoos of birds or flowers on their forearms after. To them, I say, awful waves are nothing more than a complex canvas. They require more creativity than good waves. Awful waves are the bare knuckles ripe for design, if you will.
Really, no matter how you approach surfing, a horrible wave still offers you everything you need to have fun.
All things considered, though, you never paddle out in bad waves thinking that anything good is going to happen to you. Your expectations are low — like, Ian Gouveia’s seed for 2018 low.
When expectations are dropped, there’s nowhere from which to be let down. Let’s be honest: there are few things in life that will make you want to ram your face into a wall more than paddling out firing waves and not getting a good one. (An impossible task when the waves suck.)
Then there’s the solitude. If you find truly bad waves, you often find a session to yourself. In the age of WannaSurf, wave pools, and 60-man circus sessions at Jaws, this opportunity is rarer and rarer.
When you look at the wrong waves the right way, you’ll find a secret, private dreamland of sub-par peaks that’ll let you hammer a turn or two in complete isolation.
I’ll take that over sunny skies and a crowd ten times out of ten.
Mickey Munoz once said, “There are no bad waves, only a poor choice of equipment and a lousy attitude.” I disagree. There are bad waves. Terrible waves. Atrocious waves, really.
But somewhere hidden in that defiant mess of jumbled water is the very distinct sense of fulfillment that only surfing can provide.
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