The Smell of Liberty

An inspiring photograph of an unknown surfing soldier

An unknown soldier, Oceanside. Photo: Gilley

“All you need to do is post a photo and write a little something about it.”

That’s what my editors have been saying for months. An allusion to over-thinking and over-doing it. A way of telling me that I’ve been creating way too much blog work for myself by writing long essays and posting thematic, word-heavy photo features.

What the wordsmiths might not understand, however, is that these essays are written out of desperation. Out of an older surfer’s pressing need to liberate long-harbored thoughts, ideas, and opinions. It’s like Monty Python vomit—there’s no controlling the amount (or odor) of the eruption. It just comes out.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve purged my gut feelings about Southers, locals, SUPpers, geocentrists, half-men, geezers, women, cold-water surfing, commercialism, log riding, beach breaks, parenting, culture, egotists, travel, comment board venom, journalism, conformism, surf vehicles, unsung heroes, digital delusion, aging, wipeouts, writers, neophytes, crude Aussies, wave pools, hatred, resilience, monotone power, home schooling, hand gestures, and fecal orbs.

Maybe it’s time to pause, brush my teeth, and ponder future emissions.

In the past, I looked at posting a captioned blog photo as a bit of a cop-out. Coupling an image with a few words seemed too easy—something that anyone with half a brain could do. Something that, to a discerning consumer, had a good chance of smelling undercooked and underprepared.

But then I started going through my files and realized something. There are a few photos out there that deserve special treatment. That require explanation. That need some back story. That deserve to be held up to the light and examined.

Take the above image, for example. Although it’s something you can see in person on most mornings at Oceanside Harbor, it’s something you wouldn’t normally see in print. It’s not a radical air shot of some pro—it’s a surf image I find infinitely more inspiring: An image of self-sufficiency and hardcore dedication. A visual testament to a surfer who, despite a significant handicap, goes out and rips without help. Who surfs and then, without fanfare, an entourage, or a tailing media crew, shimmies himself back up to his gear, and hobbles back to his car. A photograph of an unknown soldier without a leg who, day after day, leaves his crutches—and his earthbound limitations—at the water’s edge.

An odorless moment of liberty.