[This is an introduction to SURFER Volume 59, Issue 2, on newsstands and available for download here.]

A lot of people refer to surfing as an escapist pursuit. “You get to leave your worries at the water’s edge,” is a common refrain in our culture. To me, however, this never really rang true. If anything, I feel like surfing is the time I’m best able to confront my worries, to think things through, to take a hard look at myself, my life and the world around me. When I’m stressed out about work, concerned about a relationship or rattled by something in the news, the lineup is my therapist’s couch, the place to become aware of and work through my shit. I’m not “escaping” anything.

I remember paddling out at a San Diego beach break last summer after reading a news story about escalating tensions between the United States and North Korea. President Donald Trump had just issued his now infamous threat of “fire and fury like the world has never seen,” and the gravity of that remark only really started sinking in as I waited out the back for a set wave. I pondered San Diego’s military bases and my proximity to them in that moment, wondered about their viability as targets for a North Korean missile strike and tried to picture what a nuclear blast would look like if I happened to be in the lineup at the time. Would all the water around me vaporize in the moments following the blast? What would that look like? Would it at least be a beautiful parting vision, or would I be too busy being vaporized myself to even notice?

Perhaps surfing should be thoughtless fun and I’ve just been doing it wrong this whole time, but I think the more likely possibility is that whether we realize it or not, we all utilize surfing in this way: to serve as a time and place for us to pick our world apart, examine its pieces and stitch it back together in a slightly different way when it’s time to set foot back on land. This issue is about that dialogue we have with ourselves, and how surfing can serve as the catalyst for contemplation.

In the following pages, contributing writer Kyle DeNuccio paints a nuanced portrait of Southern Baja, where a surge in drug violence is forcing surfers to acknowledge cracks in the façade of a once idyllic surf destination (“A Storm of Violence”). I interview Maui-based charger Kai Lenny about his meteoric rise in big-wave surfing, and the mental gymnastics required to lead the pack in an era of quantum leaps in death-defying surf (“The Infinite Line”). And senior writer Kimball Taylor visits a stretch of California coast ravaged by wildfires and mudslides to dissect the inner conflict that surfers experience when tragedy and stellar surf arrive hand in hand (“The Flames and the Flood”).

If you’re able to paddle out and truly tune the world out for the length of a given session, that’s very fortunate for you, and a testament to the power that surfing has over our lives. But if you don’t experience that feeling of escape, that might not be a bad thing, either. Surfing can be an opportunity to lean in and figure out the chaotic elements of life, or at least come to grips with how you feel about them.

Our world can often feel upside down, and much of what gives us unease is completely beyond our control. Riding waves can’t stop cartel violence in Mexico, it can’t rebuild a home lost to wildfires or mudslides in California and it certainly can’t stop a nuclear bomb from vaporizing all sorts of things. But, you know what, it sure as hell can’t hurt either.

TODD PRODANOVICH, Editor