Saturday. Half past noon. Locally popular San Diego reef. The future just looked me in the eye.
The future was there, sitting 20 feet farther out than right now. He wore a wetsuit that was half black and half torn. Beneath it was a gut that jutted out as if a Budweiser Clydesdale had a camel’s hump. The skin of his face looked like broiled ham marinated with gooey white sunscreen, and beneath that there was a coffee-breath scowl. The future sat so far out so that he could catch the next set or at least paddle for and miss the next set and splash water. In the rare instance that his paddling efforts were met with success, there was a certain apathy about the way the future rode waves. It was as if his rail was set on train tracks…
Well, maybe he wasn’t the future. But he might be my future.
I’ve come to the realization that I’ll never stop surfing. And not because bro brah bruh and I want to get a shark tattooed on my calf and wear Quiksilver boardshorts with flip-flops to my own funeral. It’s because I wouldn’t be the same without it. Surfing is a distraction that I need in my life, and one that both my physical and mental well-being would wither without.
So I’ve realized that I’ll never stop surfing. But I’ve also realized that age is bitchfully incessant and that I’ll get older. And older. And older. And then one day I’ll be old.
I’m terrified of being old. I see old people all the time and it looks miserable. They drive like shit. Then they park like shit and cane around the streets in a daze, confused and angry at everything. Sometimes, I wonder if being dead is better than being old.
But I don’t want to die, so I guess I’ll be old. And for the sake of sanity, I will surf. So I will be an old surfer. But what kind of old surfer will I be?
There are different flavors of old — Saturday’s example was just one of many. There’s also the ripper old guy who rides a 6’2” Roberts and still surfs every wave like he’s trying to beat somebody or anybody at anything or something. Then there’s the acid old guy, who hoots everyone in and waits for waves while clutching his rails like he’s the sole proprietor of the last shard of reality left in the whole entire world. The grumpy one who sucks at surfing and makes you wonder how long he’s actually been doing it. In my hometown, there was even a guy who would sit out there and “Yow-zah” nonstop. I pray I won’t become him.
So many flavors, and none of them seem appealing to me. But maybe it’s just an acquired taste.
I’m 25 now, and my 25-year-old life would have seemed like some colorful version of hell when I was younger. I have a dog and I have to feed it. I have a girlfriend and sometimes I have to feed her too. I pay bills, I live far away from my family and childhood friends, I work in an office and my stomach threatens to bulge with each passing beer. But I’m here. And more importantly, I’m happy. Like I always have been.
When I was 6, I embraced being 6. I began surfing, began obsessing with it. I also tried eating a bumblebee and broke a bone in my leg while attempting to jump over some sort of a tent. The hospital embraced my being 6 too.
When I was 12, I embraced being 12. I called chest-high waves “7-feet” and wore my wetsuit until the Antarcticas of my skin became red and swollen. I also used my few whiskers of armpit hair to establish myself at the apex of the pre-teen social hierarchy.
When I was 19, I embraced being 19. I got blackout drunk, then woke up at 6 a.m. and surfed for four hours straight because what the f–k is a hangover? I was also largely unappreciative of everything, but pretty good at social media.
Like I said, I’m 25 now. Paying bills, feeding things, working, physically softening, doing all the things that would have terrified the me that excelled at social media. Maybe getting old isn’t so awful. Maybe you just have to embrace it.
One day, I’ll be in my 30s and I’ll have a baby who screams and cries and produces awful odors. My freedom will deteriorate, so will my cutback, and I’ll still smile. In my 40s, I’ll go on surf trips with boards that have less than flattering outlines and in my 50s, I’ll snort Viagra. I’ll surf through my 60s and if my body ever quits on me, I’ll drink whiskey on my front porch and watch as the people with the nice hips come strolling by. I will embrace every sip of it.
It’s still Saturday, 12:45 now, and a set comes in. The future and his steamboat catch it three miles before it starts to break and he sets his rail on his traintrack line. I decide to swing behind him on my 5’2”. I climb his foam and ditch my fins on the section he avoided. I did it because I’m 25, my knees still work and I felt like it.
Plus, I know that when I’m his age, I’ll get to burn a bunch of young pricks. —Brendan Buckley