I've come to the conclusion that most of us are not JUST surfers anymore.
We didn't quit surfing. We still wake up at dawn and check the buoys. Riding waves still possesses our body, mind, and spirit. Make no mistake, our reclassification revolves around the surf, we're just no longer simply surfers. We are more. We're evolving, dare I say, into watermen, and we're doing so through a reconnection with our gromhood.
“You don’t have to be the best. You just have to be committed. After all, as in life, being a waterman is about the journey, not the destination.”
When it comes to equipment choice, 8-year old uber-groms are unpretentious. My son and his friends will drop their thrusters in a heartbeat to skimboard the slick low-tide butter. They'll grab bodyboards and get pounded in the whomp only to emerge with wide grins and the desire to do it again. Or they'll just as quickly throw a fishing line in the mullet infested lagoon that empties out at our local break. Groms just want to have fun. They've yet to be fully influenced by the industrial surf complex. Their scope has not yet registered the three-fin-pro-model mentality that we (the surf media) project through advertisements and editorials. The groms' viewpoint will be pressured soon enough. Right now they just want to have fun, and they're free to explore various equipment options to achieve this outcome.
Soon enough the pressure will take over. By the time they reach 12-years the I-will-ride-what-I'm-told-is-cool death grip will squeeze away any thought of variety. But by going through this phase they come to understand its limits. Some are too myopic to have shaken this stranglehold. Some were liberated sooner than others.
For many the liberation began with the longboard renaissance, which took off in the early-to-mid '80s after a hiatus during the shortboard revolution, and opened the door for many: relaxed fit surfing if you will. Then paddleboard races, primarily the Catalina race, began to get noticed as some of our local heroes (shapers, lifeguards and fireman mostly) took to the 19-footers. Many followed suit. Then, in succession, the big-guy-tri (Rusty's Desert Island model and such) and the resurgence of Steve Lis's Fish design continued the liberation. The revisiting of older methods of wave riding such as body surfing, tandem, mats and standup paddle style continues the evolvement. And well, quite frankly, now a lot of us are having too much fun to quit –any of it. To further nurture the evolvement many have embraced sailing, outrigger canoes, various of forms of fishing (diving or from our boards), and kite surfing. Of course we still hold the contemporary tri-fin dear to our hearts, as that design has many merits.
Notice that in the second paragraph I didn't say we are watermen, for that would involve the big bad ego, false benchmarks and the same myopia that engaged us during our post-grom pubescent competitive years. Rather, I suggested we are evolving into watermen.
Most of us have never crossed the Molokai Channel using our own power and we probably never will; we're are not Brian Keaulana and that's ok. We've never surfed waves over 20' and we probably never will; we're not Derrick Doerner and that's ok. We've never bodysurfed at Pipeline and we probably never will; we're not Mark Cunningham and that's ok. We've never practiced yoga with a Swami in Indonesia and we probably never will; we're not Gerry Lopez and that's ok.
However, we do distance paddle. We do surf big waves. We do ride a variety of surf craft. We do examine swell charts. We do jig for kelp bass. We do downwind paddle runs. We do position ourselves in a Downward Dog. We do dive for Yellowtail. We do.
You don't have to be the best. You just have to be committed. After all, as in life, being a waterman is about the journey, not the destination. To maintain our connection to the ocean, to continue our water oriented stress management solution, and to nurture our natural spirituality we are slowly morphing into watermen. That's a fancy way of saying that we want to have fun. We've come full circle. We're groms again.