[This is an introduction to SURFER Volume 59, Issue 6, on newsstands and available for download here.]
Can one wave change your life? It's a question I've pondered a few times, typically after a really good day of surfing (e.g., when you somehow make a bottomed-out, Santa Ana-groomed barrel that was actually way beyond your skill level) or a really bad day of surfing (e.g., when you get entirely too confident amid a pulsing North Shore swell, snap your leash on a set wave and nearly drown). Like anything else in life, a given wave would need to offer an extreme, visceral experience to knock you out of your normal orbit and send you back to the beach with a different perspective on shit—which isn't to say it doesn't happen, but it certainly doesn't happen often.
Most of the time, surfing is just meaningless fun, and your views on life and your place in the universe remain more or less constant regardless of that fun little head dip you got before work last Tuesday. But, whether you realize it or not, over a long enough timeline, all those meaningless waves start to add up to something very meaningful, and only in hindsight do you realize that surfing has been gradually altering the direction of your life all along. While surfing may not always have a hand on the steering wheel, it's perpetually in the back seat, leaning against your headrest, whispering (or sometimes shouting) when it wants you to turn. That's why we consciously—or unconsciously—gravitate toward careers that allow for more time in the water, why we stay as close to the coast as possible even though it gets maddeningly more expensive all the time, why we choose relationships with people who are OK with playing second fiddle to a pulsing swell (until, inevitably, they're not).
Sometimes, however, the ways in which surfing gradually changes your life are much more profound. In this issue, we explore the ways in which surfing can reach for the wheel and yank it in a certain direction, leading your life down a drastically different road than what you ever could have predicted from the outset. Senior writer Sean Doherty spent time with iconic freesurfer Dave Rastovich, whose lifelong pursuit of waves evolved into a passionate commitment to environmental activism and seeking new ways to rally his fellow surfers in the fight. Managing editor Ashtyn Douglas went to the Dominican Republic with Changing Tides Foundation to learn about the rise of surf-centric volunteer organizations and how the founders of these groups found themselves attempting to balance their wave-riding desires with public-service missions. Contributing writer Nate Zoller sent us his journal entries from one of the most surreal and perspective-shifting surf trips you could take, which included surf sessions among penguins (fun!) and fields of unexploded landmines (less fun!).
In many ways, surfing is a Trojan horse, subtly slipping into your life with the promise of simple fun in the ocean, then exposing you to alternative ways of thinking and living that you never expected, which, eventually, completely take over. What starts as just another hobby might eventually turn you into a different person, be it an environmental crusader, a volunteer in coastal communities, an insatiable explorer or, god forbid, a surf writer. If someone asks, you'll say that you're better for it—probably because, at this point, you're stuck with surfing anyway.
So can a single wave change your life? Sure, it's possible, but probably not. A lifetime of waves, on the other hand? Well, that's just inevitable.