Conformist Destiny

After a hard fought battle, Rob Gilley begrudgingly pledges his allegiance to the monument of comformity. Photo: Gilley

Rob Gilley

Previously in denial about his photographic past, Rob Gilley now rummages through his trove of mediocrity.

Public accusations can be brutal--especially ones made in print. Regardless of truth, and despite subsequent retractions, once a printed accusation gets out there, it tends to mercilessly haunt its victim for the rest of his or her days.

I know something about this because I was a victim of a particularly scathing attack myself. In SURFER Magazine, no less. A one-time editor of said publication--a certain Evan Slater--once publicly accused me of listening to...of listening to..."classic rock."

It left a mark.

This opened a wound because at the time, I considered Evan a good friend (and still do, strangely). In his monthly editor's intro, for all the world to see, Evan mercilessly gathered my entire musical taste and whittled it down to ancient Rolling Stones, The Who, and Led Zeppelin vinyl.

Under a debatably thin pretense of literary humor, Evan threw me under the Magic Bus.

If the normally diligent Mr. Slater had done his homework, however, he would have learned about my appreciation of violin concertos and early blues, of ska, reggae, and associated skanking skills, of non-Ramone punk and mod, of occasional bits of Techno chill, and a serious college flirtation with some progressive jazz fusion (an experimental stage I now deeply regret, incidentally).

What really stung, though--what really cut to the core--was that deep down I knew Evan was right. I DO like classic rock. In fact, I happily raise my Bic lighter to it. So what if I happen to like the sound of a wailing Les Paul in the morning?

No, I knew that the source of my lasting pain must be symptomatic of something deeper. This was about more than just music. This was about following the herd. This was about being one of the mindless masses. This was about doing things just because other people do them. This was about conformism.

Conformism is a sensitive area for me, and here's why: I live in a tract home, I drive a mini-van, I wear conservatively colored clothes, I have a western diet (read: I like Ding Dongs), I have a black fullsuit, and I ride a thruster.

It's well within the realm of possibility that if you Google Imaged the word conformist, my mug would appear on page one.

Although I'm paranoid about my conformism, I also understand it: I live in a tract home because I can't fix things for shit, I drive a mini-van because it's the most functional surf/kid transport out there, I eat Ding Dongs because I happen to like the taste of refined sugar and cancer-causing preservatives, and I wear a black wetsuit because I like blending in at secret spots.

I don't really have an excuse for wearing drab clothing but I suppose I could blame puritanical lineage and my repressed, cork-up-the-butt Anglo Saxon ancestors.

No, probably the only thing I would do differently given the opportunity would be to purchase a more varied quiver. Under a different financial paradigm I would add to my current sticks and own a variety of surfboards with different fin setups. Weird boards. Progressive boards. Vintage boards. Not Lazer Zaps (worst design ever, if you ask me), or fishes (don't get me started), or alaias (I'm too old and fat), or four-fin guns (giant waves scare the shit out of me), but Bonzers, twin fins, Widowmakers, hulls, mini-Simmons, and at least one good ol' fashion Parrish 7’6”.

In lieu of winning the lottery, however, I will continue to use two boards, and two boards only: a log for small days, and a thruster for everything else. That's it. Functional, but ultimately...boring.

But recently, something truly inspiring happened. Rob Machado lent me a board--an experimental prototype. A 12-foot tandem soft board with rescue straps up front, and a pulled-in tail.

The initial intention was to ride this pink behemoth with my daughter, but I rode it solo first on a small glassy day and was shocked. The thing worked insane. It flew like a Skip Frye Eagle, but was much more comfortable to knee paddle. It was a revelation.

And then there was a kicker: because of the pulled-in tail, it worked in bigger surf too. I mean really worked. I mean it held in. I mean it gripped a steep face. In fact, I'm pretty sure you could get barreled on a big wave if it didn't have Nerf fins.

So here it was: my ticket to non-conformism. My opportunity to shake my conservative ways. My path to visible irreverence.

As soon as possible, I started to ride this board in almost every condition. I knew I was on to something when Cyrus Sutton was eyeballing the board one day at Cardiff and gave me a compliment. I had officially arrived.

Feeling smug by summer, I rode it on the Fourth of July at my homebreak. I caught wave after wave. After a few good rides, I happen to notice another surfer take off on a good little glassy wave. The board he was riding looked familiar but I couldn't place it at first. It was obviously working well for him--really well.

I looked closer and couldn't believe it. It was a long pink softboard with a slightly pulled-in tail, and it was holding in on steep faces. This guy was stealing my act!

And then I noticed that the surfer looked familiar. Are you kidding me?

It was Evan Slater.

I was crushed. Suddenly I was part of the herd again. Sent back to the masses. Thrown back to a sea of conformity.

The only thing I can think of to say is this: Evan Slater likes to listen to Neil Diamond.