The Wall

Will surfers ever grow up?

We try to fool loved ones into thinking surfers are responsible adults. Really, we are children facing a wall. Photo: Ellis

This article is from our 2012 Big Issue. Click here to see what else is inside or here to purchase a copy.

1: KID TREASURES

The severity of my problem didn’t dawn on me until my brother took a cold, hard look at my garage. With our first baby on the way, my wife had asked me to organize the man cave, to make room for strollers and car seats. She knew better than to ask me to get rid of any surfboards—41 at last count, not including those stashed in Chile, Indo, SoCal, and up north. My wife asked me instead to sort through the wall of boxes that had recently been displaced from my childhood home. I’d been putting it off for months, despite the enticing labels scribbled on boxes in Sharpie—“Surf Journals, High School,” and “Kid Treasures.” I knew of Pandora. I knew from years of practice that ignorance can be bliss.

Then one winter day, I cracked a beer and lifted a lid, and found myself sucked in by the talismans and artifacts of my formative surfing years: webbed gloves, warranty tags from my first Victory wetsuit, stacks of journals detailing each session, wave-by-wave, from 1990 onward. Instead of purging and moving on, I began to nest. I organized my ’80s back issues of SURFER on a shelf. I plugged in my boombox and sorted and stacked cassette tapes. When I unearthed the pile of surf posters that once decorated my walls, I began putting them up behind the board rack, along with my Hendrix posters and old sunburnt photos. I felt not just a twinge of nostalgia—I felt content, at home in a way I hadn’t in a long time.

Then my brother came over, took one look, and asked me why the fuck I had re-created my childhood bedroom in the garage.

It seemed like a valid question—one my wife was too kind to ask me. There I was 35 years old, and still so obsessed with surfing that I feared my daughter’s birth would coincide with an epic swell. Beneath the nuclear family façade I felt very much a child, who was about to have a child himself. Hell, I was hiding out in my re-created childhood room, reading faded surf mags while my wife read baby books upstairs. Honest truth: I’d managed to grow older without ever growing up…and I suspected it was my devotion to surfing that infantilized me.

2: CHILDISH ACTS

Once, when our passion was young, surfing was considered a childish act—a thing of whimsy, like catching fireflies or playing Go Fish. Then surfers just kept on surfing as they grew into middle age. But this merely represented an extended adolescence, no more admirable than a gamer living with mom at 30. When I began the journey, being a surfer was synonymous with being a burnout. As the globe became dotted with ostensibly responsible adult surfers who balanced family, career, and water-time, surfing’s reputation changed. The Sport of Kings became known and generally well-regarded as an actual adult activity, like playing golf or doing yoga.

But where grownups saw upstanding citizen-surfers, I saw weekend warriors. I dismissed these surfer-adults (an oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one) as kooks, or good surfers who were slowly becoming kooks due to how little they got to surf. The rest of us, who happen to have “lives” but are still mad about surfing, are merely trying to fool loved ones into thinking we are responsible adults. Really, we are children facing a wall. We are standing at the base of it, dripping wet, sand in our hair, salt drying on our skin. We are unkempt and dry-eyed, happy and peaceful, looking up in awe at that big obstacle we’ve yet to climb over, wondering about the mysterious land called “adulthood” that lies unseen on the other side.