So I’d always wanted to a pro surfer. I mean, who doesn’t? And you know I could have been a contender. If I only had the talent, and the looks, and the drive, and the balance, and the stickers. Did I mention talent?
And yet I thought I'd dealt with those demons. Thought I'd driven a sharp arsenic-laced stake through the heart of the divide between what I wanted and what I am. And then I came to Huntington, for the Honda US Open. A place built, designed, refined, and aligned with the Godification of the the pro surfer. Here these mini-gods are able to walk around with shiny white new sticks, their brown skin and their glittering futures, right through the adoring Californian mass disciples. Knee tremblingly beautiful girls want to be with you, mohawked nipple pierced 40-somethings want to be you and every one from fat Montana mums, to 17th street bums to young surfie groms want to know you.
And well I figured if you can't beat em, join em. My simple plan was to tag along with a pro surfer for a day, just to try and soak up the adulation, share the pressure (heck, maybe even the prizemoney) and live the dream. I knew what it doesn't take – I wanted to find out what it does take, to make it, especially in this joint – this pro surfing high church.
In the end it was French surfer Tim Boal, who was to be the unfortunate vessel for my parasitic journalistic endeavors. Without knowing exactly what he was in for, we started off with a surf trip down the coast. I snuggled up next to him in the car, willing myself Siamese-style into his slipstream. It didn't start well, leaving three-foot sweet runners out the front of the Red Bull house at 15th, we ended up checking one foot Salt Creek about an hour later. Then it was on to Lower Trestles, which was occupied by the population of Bangladesh, and that was just on the left. The only shining light was a trip to the SURFER HQ – this was a shed with lots of people doing nothing in it at all, but I was close enough to the photo shoot of Tim and the rest of the Rising gang to receive flash blind and scored a free magazine (that had been given to Tim.)
So anyway, this wasn't the pro surfing dream, and slowly I began to realize that this pro surfing caper might just entail some hard work. Later, back at Surf City I followed Tim around for a surf just before dark in the competitor’s area, shading him so close I could hear his mind ticking.
"I've been thinking about tomorrow's the heat for a while. I mean I've traveled a long way for this event, so you know it's there. Now I'm checking out how my board feels and getting ready, and so it’s only human to go over what might happen in the heat tomorrow," he told me, in between smacking windy wonky lefts to the pier.
Dinner, too, was quiet, a simple meal with his mates. Where were the shots of tequila, the groupies? I sulked, when Tim opted for an early night, and asked me to leave his room.
Then it was up and out for the event the next morning. Like Tim, and showing my journalistic empathy, I had next to no breakfast (early heat 3 you see) and bolted for the comp. We had time for a free surf on the other side of the pier, and Tim, to me, looked good. Me, less so. "I actually felt pretty good in the free surf," he told me afterwards. "I finally have a good board so it was a confidence booster. I've had some pretty bad results in the last few comps which affects your confidence, so it felt good to be surfing like that."
“Pro surfers have confidence issues too,” I thought in amazement. But when you spend 10,000 bucks and fly 10,000 miles and everything rests on two waves in 20 minutes, it really shouldn't be a surprise.
Then there was a 10-minute strategy session with Red Bull Rising Coach, Andy King, talking of where to sit, what waves work and what the judges are paying. Surprisingly, neither Tim, nor the officials would let me tag him in his heat. It didn't seem to matter; he blasted a 7.5 strategic left in the first minute and never looked like losing.
Ah, the elation! The triumph! Well, for me anyway. Tim was more circumspect. "When the hooter goes it’s a bit of a relief. You know you haven't won the comp or anything, but to get through, especially after I've had a bit of a bad roll, so to try and break that bad rhythm was important."
But my time was up, I'd shared, for a day, a smidgin of a pro surfer’s life; it was the closest I was going to get. I watched on as Tim received texts of support and checked as his fellow demi-gods surfed and flicked and lost and won and spun their surfing web. Tomorrow I'd be back with the disciples, back in with the packed Californian adulation, groping for my kicks.
Tim – well, he'll be surfing, and I'd know who I'd rather be.